Monday, September 22, 2014

Apple's new campus to be 'greenest' on Earth?

With 7,000 trees and buried parking lots, CEO Tim Cook expects the new headquarters to be a major statement of Apple's environmental push.

Apple CEO Tim Cook on Monday offered up the heady goal of making his company's new headquarters the most environmentally friendly building there is out there.
"We're building a new headquarters that I think will be the greenest building on the planet," he said during the Climate Week NYC conference. "It'll be a center for innovation, and it's something clearly our employees want and we want."

The building, which has been likened to a spaceship, is now under construction in Cupertino, Calif., and expected to be completed in 2016. When done, it will take up 2.8 million square feet and be doughnut shaped.

Apple has said that the headquarters will be 80 percent landscape with more than 7,000 trees. Parking lots will be buried underground, and the campus will include one of the largest onsite corporate solar energy installations in the world. The facility will be able to accommodate over 14,000 employees, more than five times the number Apple's current Cupertino headquarters can fit.

With the headquarters as a prime example of what Apple hopes to do to fight climate change, Cook said at the conference his company will focus on making its supply chain greener, as well. The company in 2012 faced criticism after The New York Times published a series on Apple's Chinese suppliers, which spotlighted questionable labor and environmental practices. Apple has since worked to improve those conditions.

Cook said the effort to make the supply chain more environmentally friendly was "dirty" and "detailed" work, but he reinforced Apple's commitment to making improvements.

"We know that we will not make enough of a difference if we only solve our little piece of the world," he said. "We need to be one of the pebbles in the pond that creates the ripple."

Connections, performance, and battery

Even a few years into the USB 3.0 era, we're still seeing a lot of slower USB 2.0 ports. In this case, you actually get one of each, which is better than some other ultraportables, and with only 16GB of internal SSD storage, it's not like you're likely to need fast data transfer speeds anyway. Having faster 802.11ac WiFi is a plus, but the idea of fishing out a dongle or special cable every time to use the micro-HDMI port doesn't appeal to me.

We've seen some differences in Chrome OS performance over the past year between systems with Intel Celeron processors, such as this one, slower ones with ARM chips such as the Samsung Exynos and faster ones with Core i3 CPUs. Nvidia and Acer upended the apple cart a little but with the recent Acer Chromebook 13, which uses the Nvidia K1 processor for average overall performance scores, but excellent 3D scores (as one might expect from Nvidia).

The N20p was middle-to-top of the pack in most tests, but keep in mind that much of your Chrome OS experience is going to be based on using online tools, most of which are pretty lightweight and easy to run. The N20p felt faster and easier to use than some other Chromebooks, but a lot of that also comes from the better-than-average keyboard and touchpad, making interaction less of a hassle.

One area where the system did especially well is our online video streaming playback test. The N20p ran for 8:19, just a few minutes longer than the Nvidia-powered Acer Chromebook 13, and well ahead of Lenovo's own Yoga 11e Chromebook, which ran for 5:36 on the same test.

Chromebooks have become common enough that shoppers can now expect either a rock-bottom price or one or more special features. The Yoga 11e has a hybrid hinge that transforms into a tablet, the Acer Chromebook 13 does mainstream-quality graphics, and the Acer C720p (a long-time favorite) packs a touchscreen into a very inexpensive system.

The N20p straddles that line. It's not the least-expensive, not the most expensive, and it adds a touchscreen and decent design. But its main calling card, a semi-hybrid 300-degree hinge, is of dubious practical use. Much like the IdeaPad Flex line of Windows 8 PCs that preceded it, the N20p still stands on its own as a very good clamshell laptop, even if you'll never use its fold-back hinge.

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