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Laptopalooza
March 19, 2007 2:47 PM   Subscribe

Ever wondered where your laptop's parts come from, what it's made of, or what toxins are in it?
posted by aerotive (19 comments total) 1 user marked this as a favorite

 
PC Magazine is apparently staffed entirely by slack-jawed, drooling, mouth-breathing idiots.

Somewhere in the deep, foggy crenulations of my mind I have a vague, comforting recollection of that magazine not entirely sucking. At this point, I'm not entirely sure if I'm simply hallucinating vividly or willfully mis-remembering things.

Does Dvorak write for them yet? If not, he should.
posted by loquacious at 3:07 PM on March 19, 2007


For example, on the toxins link, at the bottom of the table under the entry for Mercury - "To avoid exposure, try not to break the LCD screen."

Granted, they correctly identified that the Cold-cathode Flourescent Lamps used to backlight an LCD screen contain Mercury. But it's not in the LCD itself. The LCD is just glass, plastic and a very tiny amount quartz crystals in liquid suspension.

The lamps themselves are generally above and below the screen, either mounted in plastic reflectors or mounted in plastic reflectors and then firmly encased in a thin, strong steel clip or frame. CCFL tubes are extremely fragile, and require protection.

You can smash the LCD all you want. The most dangerous thing about it is going to be glass shards. If you break the CCFL tubes, that's bad. But nowhere near as bad as, say, breaking an 8 foot long "hot" flourescent tube, or a compact flourescent bulb.

I pick a nit, but it indicates to me that the author of the article has absolutely no working or even partially grasped clue about how the insides of laptops are constructed, and computers in general, and moreover - that the author is simply clumsily rehashing pre-digested press releases about a subject they probably know jack shit about.

So.

Take this entire article with lots of salt. It probably contains more grevious errors.
posted by loquacious at 3:18 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Sounds like my laptop needs an enema to get rid of all those awful "toxins."
posted by drjimmy11 at 3:37 PM on March 19, 2007


Jesus, people on this site act like childish assholes sometimes.
posted by serazin at 3:42 PM on March 19, 2007


In an effort to say something productive, can anyone explain why Intel makes the CPU in Arizona, then ships it to the Phillipines?
posted by selfnoise at 3:45 PM on March 19, 2007


Metafilter: people on this site act like childish assholes sometimes.
posted by Joe Invisible at 3:54 PM on March 19, 2007


It aint an act. But loquacious's remark is sensible enough -- would you, writing on a technical issue, put your credibility at risk with such asinine advice?
posted by gorgor_balabala at 4:04 PM on March 19, 2007


In an effort to say something productive, can anyone explain why Intel makes the CPU in Arizona, then ships it to the Phillipines?

Skilled labor pool. Tempe/Mesa/Chandler, AZ has been a center for making and designing chips for years. There are a number of chip foundries and research labs there. The Freescale facility is also there in south Tempe.

Besides that, the climate is good and they're probably getting some kind of ginormous tax write off or incentive package. That whole area of the south-east Phoenix Metro is pretty much a (very shitty, bleak, depressingly uniform) bedroom community with few jobs to offer outside of service industry drek like fast food.

And remember, new chips have a fairly high profit margin. Per unit, the cost to ship them to the Phillipines is a minimal cost compared to packaging, especially if they can save money on the packaging.

Also note that by "packaging" they don't mean "putting things in a cardboard box for shipping to the consumer". They're talking about the process in which individual chips (or "dies" as they are called) are sliced off the wafer, placed in a "package" such as a ceramic or plastic casing with pins on it, and wiring the chip to those pins, and then testing it, and then either packaging the chips for OEM use (sometimes packaged in large plastic and paper "tapes" on rolls for use by robots in assembly, or other robot-friendly "magazine" style packaging) or for consumer use, which would be the more familiar chip-in-a-box one would buy to build their own computer from parts.

So, considering that Intel is probably shipping entire trays of etched silicon wafers - wafers being the individual slices of the cast silicon ingot that they etch the chips on - each with dozens or hundreds of chips per wafer, drastically reducing the shipping costs further. I don't know what wafer size they're working with these days, but I've held a tray of about 50 6" wafers, and it's neither very large nor very heavy, and it contained hundreds or thousands of chips.

So, the packaging and testing is less skilled labor then making them. So they ship them there for that part.


Also note that AMD "makes" their chips in Germany. Skilled labor pool. Making complicated Very Large Scale Integration style integrated circuits is a very, very complicated task which requires both talented engineers and very skilled and specialized laborers. It's easier to make less complicated things like NAND memory chips, simple logic circuits, controllers, etc, then it is to make an actual, modern and functioning CPU.

Another factor to consider is trade secrets. It's easier to retain trade secrets and patents if you maintain as much control of the production facilities as you can afford to.
posted by loquacious at 4:13 PM on March 19, 2007


My laptop is an Apple, so I believe it is as pure as the driven snow, being comprised chiefly of fairy dust.
posted by veggieboy at 4:15 PM on March 19, 2007 [4 favorites]


Has anyone yet formally defined a Godwin-like variable for dropping an Apple bomb like that?

If by fairy dust you mean cocaine, then, yes Virginia, your computer is made of fairy dust.
posted by loquacious at 4:56 PM on March 19, 2007


I don't know what wafer size they're working with these days

Intel's Arizona plant uses 300 mm wafers.
posted by musicinmybrain at 6:15 PM on March 19, 2007


Mmm wafer thin.
posted by Hildegarde at 6:19 PM on March 19, 2007


That's the way to beat a happy, fluffy post to death with a prodigious amount of knowledge.
posted by recurve at 7:34 PM on March 19, 2007


Ever wondered where your laptop's parts come from, what it's made of, or what toxins are in it?

Yes, actually.

That's pretty messed up about endocrine disruptors being in plastic casings. Even if they're in pretty much everything else by now, it depresses me when I'm told specifically of yet another source.

Certainly though there are supplemental sources that could've rounded this one out a little.
posted by poweredbybeard at 8:40 PM on March 19, 2007


My laptop is an Apple, so I believe it is as pure as the driven snow, being comprised chiefly of fairy dust.
posted by veggieboy at 4:15 PM on March 19


And the creamy heat sink the come of laughing cherubs.
posted by dobie at 8:46 PM on March 19, 2007 [1 favorite]


Yes, I have wondered where the parts of my computer comes from, and it's a pretty amazing story of global business integration. Unfortunately, the interconnectedness of the technology supply chain is an issue that most people don't think about, although maybe they should.

Any escalation of tensions between Taiwan and China, for example, or an earthquake in Taiwan's Hsinchu region (home to the two largest chip manufacturers in the world), could potentially drive computer/consumer electronics costs way up.

Technology has been a huge part of improving business productivity over the last few decades, not to mention allowing us to do things like post on Metafilter, so any disruption to its supply chain could have a substantial impact on our everyday lives.

BTW, the PC Magazine general stats on where the parts are sourced is a little out of date. For example, Taiwan had a 50+% percent market share in TFT-LCD panel shipments in 2006, overtaking Korea.
posted by gemmy at 10:32 PM on March 19, 2007


so any disruption to its supply chain could have a substantial impact on our everyday lives.

This is why I obsessively hoard old computers, software and hardware. In my fever dreams I have a giant massively-grounded Faraday cage in which to archive and store a broad spectrum of useful hardware and protect it from EMP bursts.

Of course, when the technocalypse comes I'll be sitting on this giant pile of gear with no one to talk to. It'll be like a really terrifying Twilight Zone episode.

So, to build a Faraday Cage you need to build a box out of either heavy conductive mesh (like braided copper) or plate (thick copper!), strap it all together at the edges with more heavy conducters, and then earth the thing by grounding it. You stick a big conductive spike of metal deep into the ground, and strap your cage to that. Now put all your gear on an electrically insulated pad in the middle, and I'll see you on the flipside. Remember, pack solar panels and batteries!
posted by loquacious at 5:17 AM on March 20, 2007


can anyone explain why Intel makes the CPU in Arizona, then ships it to the Phillipines?

Semiconductor test engineer here...

Silicon fabs are fairly widespread throughout the US, Europe, and Asia, but semiconductor packaging (the process loquacious described) is done almost exclusively in southeast Asia, primarily in Thailand, Malaysia, Singapore, the Philippines, and there is some in China as well. loquacious' other points about the skilled labor pool are more or less correct. The semiconductor assembly and test process does not require the same level of skilled engineering on site as compared to the fab.
posted by MillMan at 12:58 PM on March 20, 2007


Does Dvorak write for them yet? If not, he should.
posted by loquacious at 3:07 PM on March 19 [+] [!]
He's been their lead editorial writer for at least a decade, probably two decades.
posted by blasdelf at 8:26 AM on March 21, 2007


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