Walking in the crevice, choice of millet notebook

Lei Feng network (search "Lei Feng network" public number attention) by: Shen Shao Neo, author of this article, Zhejiang Institute of Control Research Limited chip engineer.

The millet notebook in my eyes

In fact, the reason why it is looking forward to, but also because of the previous performance of Xiaomi - in the mobile power industry and USB socket industry, are almost starting from scratch, quickly occupied the market first-line or even leadership position, so that the original industry giants suffered a blow. Will history repeat itself in the notebook industry?

Presumably one can see the configuration and price, many competitors are relieved: millet does not have magic. It seems that this time, Xiaomi cannot get the ultimate cost-effectiveness from the frenzied cost of purchasing channels.

It can be said that the configuration of the two millet notebooks has the shadow of the giants in the industry. The Core 3M version of 3499 yuan is naturally a low-priced version of the standard MacBook. As a lightweight netbook, it will be sufficient; and 4999 The single highlight version of the yuan, the biggest bright spot is undoubtedly equipped with the ultra-strongest NVIDIA GeForce 940MX graphics card at this price, directly against the standard million level Surface Book, and paper performance beyond the higher-priced MacBook Air A lot of common online games such as DOTA2, LOL, or FireWire are easy to talk about. It can be said that millet is seizing the hearts of potential users of ultrabooks .

Even after the conference was not finished, many friends who had originally prepared to start MacBook Air immediately consulted me if they could consider buying millet. After all, Apple's low-view TN screen is really difficult to gain a firm foothold in today’s IPS flying era. Now.

At first glance, Xiaomi made a very precise card slot: Instead of stacking i7+960m-like extreme performance notebooks like Geek and digital enthusiasts, they chose the first two ultrabooks. As a relatively large segment of profitable space in the notebook industry, it is natural for millet to have a “best price/performance ratio” category.

Millet notebook choice

As for why Millet Notebook Air did not create the myth of cost-effectiveness once again, we had to go back and look at the main processes of notebook computer R&D and production. After entering the consumer market for more than 20 years, notebook computers have come through a period of rapid development and slowly entered the platform period. Just like the automotive industry, in the first decade or so, new models with faster and more powerful horsepower have been introduced. Afterwards, it was very difficult for each company to have an explosive breakthrough. Only differentiated competition and marketing wars can be started.

Laptops are no exception. After undergoing a market full of baptism, the CPU market for the notebooks in the early years has only left Intel alone. AMD, however, is barely supported by the anti-monopoly law. It can be said that the market status has already existed in name only. The display chip GPU market, although there are three giants, but the "nuclear display is Intel, alone was NVIDIA" also became the consensus of the industry, AMD's graphics cards can only appear in some super low-end and niche customization field.

First, establish the degree of customization

Whether it is millet, or any company that wants to kill a world in the notebook computer industry, the first choice they face is to determine the degree of customization. From the supply chain perspective, there are only three options:

1, full customization

The biggest characteristic of full-customized notebooks is self-developed or custom-made chips. For example, on January 15, 2008, Apple released the world's thinnest notebook computer, the MacBook Air (abbreviated as MBA). The ultra-light and slim design has shocked the industry.

One of the secrets is to require Intel to customize the CPU, the area is about 60% smaller than the standard Core 2 processor, power consumption is reduced from the conventional Core 2 35W to 20W, which also greatly reduces the MBA's cooling Demand enables MBAs to use epoch-making ultra-thin appearance while ensuring performance.

It is also because of the uniqueness, starting price of up to $ 1,700 did not diminish the enthusiasm of buyers, MacBook Air has become a very successful Mac series computer, even in the entire notebook computer industry has an important historical significance.

Custom chips often also include exclusive use, or terms that are used exclusively for a limited time. Therefore, MacBook Air turned out for more than 3 years, and the entire notebook market could not find a decent opponent. Until 2011, the giants of the Windows camp began to launch the earliest ultrabook model, and at this time the MBA is The market share and profits already obtained are far ahead, which shows that a successful custom chip can bring a certain degree of competitive advantage to a notebook computer.

However, there is only one apple after all. Without the accumulation of the PC market for many years and the user base and good reputation brought about by the great success in the past, any company would not dare to customize the chip easily. As a chip engineer, I can responsibly say that custom CPU or GPU chips are very expensive, tens of millions of dollars is just a threshold price, and once taped back and found to not meet design expectations, 1 to 2 years of R&D production and huge amount Put all the money. Looking at the laptop industry in recent years, except for the MacBook Air mentioned earlier, only the NVIDIA Tegra K1 Tablet PC is used as an exclusive chip, the money is not spent, sales are not up, and the chip has to be resold to the millet tablet before it is diluted. Some of the R&D costs. Therefore, most manufacturers don't dare to take risks in the course of customization.

2, semi-customized

The so-called semi-customized, is to buy mature CPU, graphics GPU chips, these R & D costs are high, the risk of great accessories. Self-researched relatively speaking, the price is not particularly expensive notebook appearance molds and internal motherboards, and some also customize the battery modules that can maximize the use of the laptop's internal space, it is best to purchase standard interface cards, memory, hard drives and other accessories, Assembled the entire computer. At present, the cost of mold set-up for a notebook computer case on the market is about RMB 10,000, which is a few orders of magnitude lower than the aforementioned custom chip budget.

As a manufacturer, semi-customization can be said to be the safest choice if you are interested in differentiated competition in the market and are not willing to risk too much. Including the now more representative MacBook series, Dell's Alienware series, Razer's Blade series and Lenovo's Thinkpad series are using semi-customized routes, but also let them each have a unique look and style Fan groups will not be overwhelmed by the crowd.

In 1996, Alienware Computer Company was established as an example. Even after being acquired by Dell in 2006, the company still maintained the concept of “light operation”, that is, design only, not production. In fact, Alienware's original foundry was the blue sky Clevo company, but the mold of the blue sky itself is maximizing the versatility, which also caused the following problems:

The ultimate cost savings, so that you can use engineering plastics will not use metal, arc and unconventional style will increase the difficulty of production, decisively abandoned.

The ultimate pursuit of versatility, to the current mainstream graphics card as an example, 960M, 970M, 980M must support, thermal space must be left enough, choose the traditional hard drive or solid state hard drive determined by the customer, then the location has to stay good.

The conservative design, in order to make a mold can apply as much as possible customer aesthetics, to maintain the product life cycle as long as possible, can only favor the most conservative design. LED lights this unconventional design, decisively give up.

And Alienware's design philosophy, in addition to the hardware performance is better, the appearance must be cool. First of all, it must be shaped like an alien spaceship. At the same time, it must be RGB full-color lighting effect from the keyboard to the heat outlet. Therefore, Alienware chose a semi-customized design route. Because of its aggressive appearance and cool lighting effects, Alienware has been able to stand out. Until many years later, it still holds the throne of the gaming notebook.

In order to better illustrate semi-customized effects, we can simply compare the appearance of Alienware Alienware 15 and the Shenzhou Ares Z6-SL5D1 computer using the blue sky N151SD mold.

Looking at the top cover part, Alienware not only designed some dividing lines, but also added a color-changing light-emitting LED light bar. Together with the protruding alien logo and the same eye that can emit light, the appearance is obviously flatter than just the male mold. The Shenzhou God of War, which had a product name printed on the top cover, won.

Looking at the hinge part again, Alienware chose a large curvature of the "waist" design. Compared to the relatively plain version of the Shenzhou, it is easy to give people a more upscale feel.

In the screen and the keyboard section, Alienware also added a number of light and arc design, which is indeed more abundant than the Shenzhou level design.

All of these are the key factors for Alienware's premium over Shenzhou's several thousand dollars in the same configuration. Naturally, even if Alienware chooses to transfer OEMs from Blue Sky to Compal Compal, it continues its own unique mold design, and has signed a permanent exclusive use rights to maintain its competitiveness.

3, barebones

In addition to semi-customization, there is also a parasystem model that has become very popular in recent years. This program directly purchases mature OEM ODM design solutions and chooses the spare parts to match. For example, many game titles represented by Shenzhou and future humans have selected the mold provided by the blue sky Clevo Company, commonly known as the male model. In other words, the size of the entire notebook, the internal motherboard, the recommended CPU, and the GPU model are all confirmed, and Blue Sky has already conducted preliminary heat dissipation and stability tests. For those who are unwilling to invest too much in the company or small-volume products, it is a very good choice, so everyone can see how the game titles of various domestic brands that are relatively hot in Jingdong are all the same? Because it's a mold.

But the problem with barebones is that since everything from fittings to appearance molds is universal, naturally it is difficult to have a standout effect, and the consequences of inability to differentiate often lead to price wars, which will inevitably dilute profits.

In this way, we can have a clearer grasp of Xiaomi’s choices:

As the top manufacturer, it is not necessary to go upstream to customize high-end chips like Apple, or to build downstream factories like Dell, Asus and Lenovo to lower costs. But these two are too expensive, and now the notebook market is not a period of rapid development, so Xiaomi chose to give up.

ODM laptop manufacturers, buy male models, take the lead, can indeed reduce part of the R & D costs. But the price is that it is difficult to have a unique advantage, and in the end may be immersed in the quagmire of price war.

Semi-custom manufacturers, such as Alienware aliens, Razer Razer: take the middle route, design their own molds, motherboards, find someone OEM, choose good accessories, do not fight the price war, but in the Red Sea to find their own blue sea Finally seek to win.

Millet took a look and chose the route of semi-customized + looking for a foundry. It looks like moderation, but in reality it is best for you.

Second, industrial design considerations

After determining the degree of customization, specific design is required. The core of this is the appearance of mold design and motherboard design. The appearance of the self-produced needless to say, the trend of the current ultrabook is light and thin, taking into account the layout of internal accessories. Millet notebook design, or draw on a lot of successful notebook product design, using a horizontal and vertical metal fuselage. The benefit of this design is that the manufacturing process is mature, high yield, low cost, and looks relatively tough.

And there is a purpose behind it, that is, you don't need to use a custom battery module like the Apple MacBook to maximize life, and you can use the existing rectangular battery module to achieve better results.

The same important internal space design , from the structure chart given by the official website, should be the use of "on the motherboard, under the battery" design. The advantage of this is that the palm rest and the keyboard part of the user's hand contact are relatively not too hot. At the same time the USB interface and other locations have also done some shielding design.

The motherboard design , which is the PCB circuit board design, is also the largest area where the vendor can control:

CPU, memory is welded or slot-style?

Equipped with several USB ports, reduced to 2.0, upgraded to Type-C, or added shutdown charging function?

Does Thunderbolt's high license fee interface be added?

USB 3.0 connector does not choose the standard blue interface?

Should the alignment of the motherboard be done without increasing the area and production costs?

The details of these designs add up to the competitive field where the manufacturers' design capabilities and experience have accumulated. Millet in the choice of expansion interface is still relatively rich, but there is no choice of high licensing fees such as Thunderbolt this new high-speed interface, whether it can produce a satisfactory answer, but also need to wait for detailed disassemble verification.

Third, production protection

Finally, it is the production process. At present, several large companies in the world, such as Dell and Lenovo, are mainly relying on quantity to establish their own factories to produce. Asus is born from the manufacturer and succeeds. However, in general, companies entering the notebook market generally do not need to build their own factories immediately in terms of risks and costs. Therefore, they usually cooperate with some professional foundries in the industry. Only design, not production. According to industry news, the production of Xiaomi laptops also selected two old factories, “WeiChuang Capital” and “Inventec”, and it is expected that the assembly quality will still be more secure.

Millet notebook ingenuity

Try to choose the best hardware as the basis, and then strive to make the difference in the design, production problems, and finally in some small places to seek a breakthrough. After all, the success of the initial generation of Xiaomi mobile phone, but because the mobile phone hardware is still in a period of rapid development, simple high and low prices can win. In the already highly competitive notebook computer market, Xiaomi has to come up with some small players that differentiate the competition in addition to the right hardware and the right pricing.

One, no logo design

This move first circumvented some Chinese consumers, especially the urban white-collar workers who just had a certain degree of economic power. They did not stand up for the Xiaomi brand itself. And there are the following benefits: Muji soundless wins and sounds, give the ultimate simplicity of the user a white board (such as me).

In addition to the possibility of deep customization, in addition to the stickers displayed at the conference, there is also a use of customized gifts, company logos for prizes, promotional phrases, and so on. This has been verified on the first batch of media testing machines, and Lei Jun is also Weibo said that the nation’s Mi family currently offers free engraving services. Together with the pricing of less than 5,000 yuan, it is very likely that the iPhone 5, which replaced 5288 yuan, will become a popular prize for major companies at the annual conference.

Second, the full fit of the screen

It is not easy to achieve a full-fitting screen at this price point, plus a 170-degree viewing angle. On the paper, it becomes a killer for MacBook Air and a million-plus Windows notebooks. However, if the quality of the screen itself is poor, then everything is empty talk, so we must look at the effect of the real machine.

Third, PCIe SSD plus expansion slots

To ensure the current top-level hard disk speed, it also guarantees the fluency of the user's daily use, plus the reserved expansion slots, can be said to be the first in this size notebook. Although technology is not difficult to achieve, it shows the carefulness and atmosphere of the manufacturers.

Fourth, USB interface MacBook customization

In addition to the all-metal body, Xiaomi notebook did not choose to match the traditional blue USB 3.0 interface.

To know that Rasheel spent more than $300,000 to design and produce mold for the green USB interface. Of course, with Xiaomi's supply chain capability and the plastics processing industry as an industry with high pollution and certain technical thresholds, China is currently in a leading position, and the black USB interface is also more common than the green USB interface, so Xiaomi's customization cost should be No Razer is as high.

This is the design of these bits and pieces, and careful selection of materials, so that everyone will have more of a look of the actual notebook millet. But at the same time, there will be some worry. For example, whether it has deeply customized global flagship-level pervasive targeted advertising in its own system. What exactly is the actual performance of the screen, battery life, and heat dissipation, and is the 940MX capable of 100% performance? These also need to be measured to confirm.

In addition, the millet game project that has continued to appear in rumors since last year has not been completely shut down. It is believed that the internally tested engineering prototype has been iterated several times. It is expected that Xiaomi will decide whether or not to launch after the NVIDIA GTX 1060 notebook card is mass marketed. Configuration believes that the standard MacBook Pro 15 inch alone and Dell XPS 15 inch single significant version, the price of 8,000 yuan or so. Whether it is still stable to only launch a model, we will wait and see.

to sum up

As mentioned earlier, the notebook computer industry is now very competitive, and many of the traditional giants are at a break-even point. New companies entering the company with high-end custom chips or self-built factories are certainly good, but they are also very risky. In contrast, they still design their own molds and motherboards, spend some research and development expenses, and try to use good design to gain the user's favor. This is the path taken by Alienware and Razer and is currently the choice of Xiaomi.

Together with the brand reputation that Xiaomi has accumulated in other fields; the advantage of “zero” inventory in the “shua” purchase mode; and the minimal production and warehouse management of only two SKU models in the district; as long as Xiaomi’s marketing is appropriate, Products do not have quality problems, or have a good chance of winning a place for themselves.

This article is an exclusive draft of Lei Feng Network, please contact the authorized reprint, must not revise the article!

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