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Titanium MacBook Pro Cost, Thermals, Strength & Lightness, Answered

There were a number of points that came up a few times from different viewers yesterday and I really appreciate you bringing these up – I’ve been diving into the details here and there were some assumptions I made that weren’t quite on the nose and also some things that we just didn’t address, so lets clear some up now.

Titanium doesn’t conduct heat as well as Aluminium, so it will make the thermals worse.

The first half of this statement at least is correct. Titanium is a worse conductor of heat that Aluminium is, but actually Apple doesn’t intentionally use the MacBooks casings as a heat sink, the opposite actually. Because the base of their notebooks is heat conductive, apple separates their cooling systems from it to avoid the base becoming uncomfortably hot on your lap.

Remember though we’re now in the era of Apple Silicon, and even if the casing was an intended heat dissipation, since the shift away from Intel processors and Nvidia or more recently AMD graphics cards, there is WAY less heat to dissipate these days, to the point where the successor to that MacBook Air that Linus tested and “fixed” doesn’t even need a fan any more, let along some leg cooking modifications. Of course, as we get into the more powerful Apple Silicon SOCs with M1X, there will be a little more heat, but even when we do get to that point, Apple would rather blow it out through a vent than toast your trousers, so they’d probably prefer that less conductive chassis.

Titanium isn’t lighter than Aluminium or Stronger than Steel.

Titanium is 60% stronger than the same mass of Aluminium – but yes Titanium is denser. Aluminium has a density of 2.7g/cm cubed, while Titanium is 4.5, so 1KG of Aluminium will be almost twice the size of the same weight of Titanium, but titanium has around 3.5x the tensile strength of 6000 series aluminium. Tensile strength is not the best type of strength to compare these on, but it was the one I was able to find what I’d consider to be reasonable numbers for. If you have some better comparative numbers, please let me know in the comments.

Even though the same component made from Titanium would be heavier, if you’re designing to the same strength that was needed with an Aluminium part, the Titanium version will be lighter and use less material, which means it can be thinner. And we all know how Apple feels about making things thinner and lighter.
More specifically, if you made the laptop’s top shell from Titanium instead of Aluminium, the metal could be thinner, giving more depth for those better cameras everyone is crying out for, or maybe even the dot projectors and more that make up a FaceID rig.

Also, because of the strength of Titanium, less of the computer could be made of metal in the first place, as I mentioned yesterday. The whole palm rest COULD be a single sheet of incredibly strong, maybe Ceramic Shield glass. So your track pad could extend the full width of the computer in theory, but also enable the wireless charging via iPhone 12 style MagSafe.

About 2.5x more expensive, when we’re talking about the base cost of the metal itself. Bummer. But wait… how much would that add to the price of a system?

Lets look at the big one, the 2019 16” MacBook Pro weighs 4.3lb, or near enough 2 kg. Now not all of that is aluminium, we have batteries, a logic board and processor, keyboard, display, trackpad. Let’s be super generous and call all those parts in total 500g, leaving us 1.5kg of Aluminium – what is the cost price of that? Well a metric tonne or 1000kg costs around $2000, so in this example, we’re paying out around $3 for the raw metal that goes into the computer, so it would be almost $7.20 worth of Titanium which costs $4800 per tonne in the most recent figures I could find., and that’s assuming you’d need as much, which you wouldn’t because it is in fact, stronger.

Titanium has massively dropped in price over the past few years, and around 95% of titanium sold is sold as Titanium Oxide, which is one of the most common white pigments in the world. It peaked around 2006 at almost $17,000 per metric tonne, which corrected for inflation would be around $22,000 today, but the pricing is around the lowest it’s been in the past few decades right now.

Of course, This whole thing started with a new patent that I thought was interesting that Apple had filed. Apple files A LOT of patents. Just yesterday, Apple won 31 patents. Those included 3 related to eye tracking for Apple Glass, multiplayer gaming around other players Avatars appearing as monsters to you so that everyone can play the hero, more patents on a vr style head set that can contain your phone like Google Cardboard, an much, much more. So just because Apple has filed patents, doesn’t mean they’re immediately doing all the stuff they’ve patented. It just means they’ve at least been looking into it, and that could be very interesting.

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