Notebook material war: from plastic and aluminum alloy, to three-dimensional molding carbon fiber on all sides

As a person who loves laptops more than mobile phones, I have been obsessed with 1KG for a long time. In my mind, notebooks under 1KG are the ultimate thin and light notebooks.

By 2021, notebooks weighing less than 1KG on the market are no longer rare, but there are not as many as the sands of the Ganges. However, unlike previous years, the two 900-gram notebooks listed at the beginning of this year are enough for people. develop interest.

▲ ThinkPad X1 Nano, weighing 907 grams

One is Lenovo's ThinkPad X1 Nano, and the other is the new VAIO Z 2021. The former 13 inches weighs only 907 grams, and the latter 14 inches weighs only 958 grams. And the key is that the latter also uses the Intel i7-11375H standard voltage processor, clocked at 3.30GHz, through Turbo boost 3.0 up to 5 GHz. What does this mean? This means that not only low-voltage and thin laptops have entered the 1KG range, but now even performance laptops have also come to the 1KG club.

▲ VAIO Z 2021 new model, weighs 958 grams

The reason why the performance is difficult to be thin and light is because in the face of a CPU with 35W TDP, passive cooling or a small fan cannot suppress the heat, which will eventually lead to frequency reduction and difficult to exert the performance of the hardware, so it is necessary to put it on the motherboard. Fans are bigger and stronger, and heat pipes should be laid to help dissipate heat. These new accessories not only take up space but also increase weight, so for a long time, it is difficult to have both performance and lightness.

The other side of the topic of performance books entering the 1KG club is actually the notebook material war: in order to make the notebook thin and light, the efforts of various manufacturers on the material are no less than the performance upgrade.

Prior to this, Ai Faner had discussed "Mobile Phone Color Wars" and "Mobile Phone Material Evolution History". On mobile phones, materials are often used for color, texture, signal and charging methods. These factors are superimposed to determine the current situation. The high-end machine takes a metal middle frame and a glass back cover as the mainstream unified solution.

On a notebook, the body material has a different positioning: it needs to be strong enough to protect the fragile screen and motherboard. It also needs to be light enough to take care of the equally fragile shoulders and lumbar spine.

▲ Toshiba T1100 notebook, the first notebook in the true sense

For a long, long period of time, the material of the notebook was dominated by plastic, just as plastic dominated the material of the phone body. From Toshiba T1100 to IBM Convertible 5140, the original creations of notebooks, to many low-end students, plastics have never faded out of the vision of engineers and users.

After all, plastic is cheap, light, malleable, easy to process, strong and flexible, and it is not an exaggeration to say that it is the best material to tame.

However, the shortcomings of plastic will also be magnified on the notebook body. For example, if you want to achieve a certain strength, the thickness of the plastic is considerable, and compared with materials such as metal, plastic has poor thermal conductivity, which is not conducive to heat dissipation. Also, it is difficult to make a good texture, so on the A side of high-end notebooks, there is basically no chance to play.

On the flagship lightweight notebooks that reflect the manufacturing and design levels of various manufacturers, the material war has officially started.

In this war, aluminum alloy is as common as the Russian-made AK-47. Its highlight moment is undoubtedly when Jobs took out the original MacBook Air from a kraft paper bag in 2008. It had enough shocking lightness and texture at the time.

However, the original MacBook Air is not the first notebook computer to use aluminum alloy. After all, since 2003, Apple has used aluminum alloy in the PowerBook G4 facelift. Earlier PowerBook G4 used expensive titanium alloy.

The first-generation MacBook Air is probably the first time Apple tried aluminum alloy CNC integrated molding process on a computer, and then officially announced this process on the second-generation MacBook Pro. Until today, almost all Apple products are combined with aluminum alloy and CNC technology. Have a relationship.

▲ Dell XPS13

Another company that has experience in aluminum alloy processing technology on notebooks is Dell. In its XPS product line, the main body material has always been aluminum alloy: 6000 series aluminum metal with CNC integrated molding technology, and Apple It's exactly the same, but the slight difference is the polishing and cutting process of some details.

HP's flagship series Spectre, including Asus's high-end lightweight ZenBook, is the same, and they all have a preference for aluminum alloys. Earlier, ZenBook actually used Corning Gorilla Glass for a while on the A side of the notebook, but after playing this episode, Asus returned to the main theme of aluminum alloy.

Compared with plastic, aluminum alloy is undoubtedly a more suitable material for light and thin notebooks. Basically, it has all the advantages of plastic, even stronger and more textured.

Even so, aluminum alloy can only be said to be excellent, but it is not the ultimate, because in the 1KG club, there is almost no aluminum alloy notebook. A certain strength aluminum alloy has such a contradiction: it is light enough, but still a bit heavy.

General 6000 series aluminum alloy (6061-T651) has a specific gravity of 2.70 g/cm³, which is naturally much lighter than steel with a specific gravity of about 7.8g/cm³, but if you want to enter the 1KG club, this specific gravity is still a bit higher . So engineers thought of other materials: magnesium alloys.

Magnesium is lighter than aluminum. Using magnesium as an alloy substrate can achieve a lighter weight under a certain strength. Generally speaking, the specific gravity of magnesium alloy (magnesium aluminum alloy) is about 1.80 g/cm³, which is two-thirds of aluminum alloy. , The use of a large amount of magnesium alloy in the body material can effectively reduce the weight of the notebook.

▲ LG Gram 14

For example, HP's Elite Dragon 13.3 inches, just because of the use of magnesium alloy materials, it can just enter the weight range of 1KG, also can pass the line there is also the 11-generation i5 LG Gram 14-inch version, weighing 999 grams, also adopted A new material called carbon-magnesium alloy (the scientific name is magnesium-based carbon nanotube reinforced composite material).

It is foreseeable that in the future, more notebooks will use magnesium alloys. In fact, it is very simple to distinguish magnesium alloys and aluminum alloys. Generally speaking, aluminum alloys have a strong metallic texture and luster, while magnesium alloys look even better. Some like plastic, it is difficult to make a shiny effect. For example, Surface Book also uses a part of magnesium alloy, there is a feeling of keeping a low profile, and many people mistakenly believe that the plastic material used in LG Gram.

▲ Carbon fiber notebook 10 years ago

About the time when the MacBook opened the aluminum alloy technology tree, the VAIO on the other side opened another technology tree: carbon fiber materials. The specific gravity of carbon fiber material is similar to that of magnesium aluminum alloy, ranging from 1.50 g/cm³ to 2.00 g/cm³, but the strength is one order of magnitude higher, and there is no metal fatigue, and the chemical properties are very stable.

Although carbon fiber materials have always been known as advanced and high-end materials, they have been used in notebooks for more than ten years. The most used ones are the two brands mentioned at the beginning of this article: VAIO and ThinkPad.

10 years ago, VAIO was able to make a thin and light carbon fiber notebook of about 1KG, and then ThinkPad X1 simply named the main model ThinkPad X1 Carbon.

Until this year, these two brands have come up with their respective proud works: VAIO Z 2021 new and ThinkPad X1 Nano.

Just as the processing technology of aluminum alloy and magnesium alloy has made great progress in the past ten years, in fact, the processing technology of carbon fiber composite materials has also been improved, and VAIO is still continuing to click on this technology tree.

Generally speaking, in fact, most of the notebooks that use carbon fiber use carbon fiber materials on the A side, such as ThinkPad X1 Carbon and ThinkPad X1 Nano. There are also examples of Dell XPS13 using carbon fiber materials on the C side. Why do they not use more What? Is it reluctant? In fact, it can't be done.

Because the carbon fiber material is too hard and too rigid, it is difficult to be made into three-dimensional, curved surface, which is easy to achieve in plastic thermoplastic, aluminum alloy die-casting, or CNC, but it is somewhat "difficult to strengthen fiber."

However, on the new VAIO Z 2021, VAIO has achieved the use of carbon fiber materials on all four sides of the fuselage, which is a three-dimensional molded carbon fiber fuselage.

▲ VAIO Z 2021 carbon fiber “sturdy shape''

But in fact, from using carbon fiber materials on one or two sides to three-dimensionally molded four-sided carbon fiber fuselage, there is a span in the middle.

At the beginning, VAIO did not consider doing this on this computer. It only considered using carbon fiber on the A and D sides, and later changed it to all four sides. However, a new problem has arisen. If only four sides are used flat If the carbon fiber is used in other places to transition with plastic, it is only "using a strong material, not a strong shape."

Therefore, VAIO is very entangled inside. After all, the style of Japanese companies is gradual, but only use carbon fiber on two or four sides, and the product is not convincing enough. The final result of the company's discussion was that for the fans, for innovation, and also for challenges, it was decided to try to make solid materials into solid shapes.

Therefore, on the VAIO Z 2021, the engineer integrated the top surface and the frame, and bent the front of the palm rest to the bottom, forming a three-dimensional shape to make each part stronger and lighter. Of course, this also has to use a rolling process similar to metal forming (by applying pressure to a metal plate, extrusion molding processing technology), to be correct, it is not to be squeezed, but to stretch the carbon fiber along the core material Put it inside.

In the end, the use of four-sided three-dimensional carbon fiber materials can be more than 100 grams lighter than the use of traditional materials, which just compensates for the weight pressure caused by the addition of fans and heat pipes, and finally achieves a weight of 958 grams in a 14-inch standard pressure processor model. .

Having said that, I'm always discussing the influence of materials on the weight and strength of the notebook, which is a bit straightforward.

On another material line, the use of logs, bamboo and leather is an aesthetic story, and some classic or beautiful products have also been born, but after all, it is a niche product, and the high price of natural materials is difficult. Large-scale, making them difficult to use on large-scale industrial products such as notebook computers.

The only thing that remains unchanged is that this notebook material war will not stop. There will always be lighter and stronger materials. Maybe in a few years, the 1KG club will be crowded.

In the plastic greenhouse of destiny, every cabbage that has been sprayed with too much pesticide once had a dream of becoming a pollution-free organic vegetable.

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