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BLOG: Where did I come from? The origin(s) of my MacBook Pro

Josh Fruhlinger | May 8, 2012
I remember when I bought my first new Mac. The label on the box read something like "Assembled for Apple in California." Famously, that has now changed: Apple computers (and iPhones, and iPads) are assembled in China, and the conditions of the workers there came under scrutiny when Mike Daisey's one-man show about his trip to Foxconn factories there was featured on NPR's This American Life -- scrutiny that continued despite revelations that Daisey fabricated some of the incidents he described.

I remember when I bought my first new Mac. The label on the box read something like "Assembled for Apple in California." Famously, that has now changed: Apple computers (and iPhones, and iPads) are assembled in China, and the conditions of the workers there came under scrutiny when Mike Daisey's one-man show about his trip to Foxconn factories there was featured on NPR's This American Life -- scrutiny that continued despite revelations that Daisey fabricated some of the incidents he described.

But take a minute to contemplate that word "assembled." Those Chinese factory workers aren't making Apple products from scratch; they're putting them together from pre-existing components -- components that weren't built in the same factory, or even in the same country. Curious about how the family tree of a typically complex piece of computer equipment, I decided to try to track down the origins of the major components in that computer -- a mid-2010 13" MacBook Pro model. Where did it come from before it got to me? How many parents did it have? The journey travels over much of Asia, of course, but there are also components that come from right here in the U.S.A.

[ Watch Chinese workers build an iPad ]

Processor

At the heart of my MacBook Pro laptop, which is a couple years old at this point, is a Core 2 Duo chip from Intel. This is one of Intel's Penryn family of chips, and was therefore probably manufactured at Intel's relatively new fabrication facility in Chandler, Arizona. Computerworld's Sharon Gaudin wrote about this fab when it opened in 2007. Intel has other factories in the American Southwest, in California, and in Ireland and Israel.

Body

The MacBook Pro's unibody shell may be one of its most distinctive features, but they aren't handcrafted by Apple's own artisans; they're manufactured by companies that make laptop bodies for a number of companies, including Lenovo, Asus, and Dell. One of the primary vendors Apple uses for this most basic of components is Catcher Technology, which is headquartered in Taiwan but does its manufacturing in mainland China. One of the plants where MacBook bodies are made -- perhaps the very one where my own laptop was born -- was shut down last fall because it was violating Chinese pollution laws, which led to Apple announcing it would audit its supply chain over environmental concerns.

Display

Apple sources displays from multiple manufacturers, including companies that compete with it in other fields, for instance, Samsung, with whom Apple is locked in vicious competition (and legal fights) in the smartphone and tablet markets, also makes all iPad retina displays. Finding out who made the display on your laptop is a little trickier, since there are multiple possibilities. Go to System Preferences > Displays > Color, then highlight Color LCD and click Open Profile. This will bring up a table of information about your monitor; scroll down to line 17, which will offer a manufacturer number. A little judicious Google searching should match the number with a real company.

 

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