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Wednesday, January 30, 2008, 03:35 pm PT (06:35 pm ET)

Apple's MacBook Air support docs reveal one-of-a-kind solutions

Without a built-in optical drive or a user-replaceable battery, the MacBook Air requires several unusual solutions that may stymie experienced Mac users — including special tricks for resetting the SMC and installing Boot Camp. Apple's new support documents reveal these and more.

The sealed-in nature of the MacBook Air's battery prevents Apple from simply asking users to remove the battery pack and hold down a power button to reset the System Management Controller in last-ditch troubleshooting, according to Apple's support article on the subject. Instead, users have to issue a unique keyboard and power button combination and are encouraged to plug in into AC power where MacBook and MacBook Pro owners are cautioned against the same step.

The Mac maker nonetheless sends mixed news of what's possible with the Air's currently unique Remote Disc feature. Significantly, users can not only run Apple Hardware Test from data stored on the new MacBook itself but also from a Mac or Windows PC using Remote Disc: the installer application for Mac OS X includes a keyboard shortcut to run the test, with results appearing on the MacBook.

However, those hoping to use another computer as a complete substitute for an optical drive will be disappointed. While it's already known that Remote Disc can't be used for playing music CDs or DVD movies, a new support document confirms that a USB CD or DVD drive is absolutely essential for Boot Camp: though the Air can boot or install Mac OS X over a network, neither Windows XP nor Vista can recognize anything but a USB drive on the MacBook Air, Apple notes.

The company also cautions that the remote installation feature for Mac OS X won't work with WEP encryption enabled on a wireless network. Owners must either use WPA or switch off security altogether to install the software.

Other information revealed by Apple's new support documents:
  • The Migration Assistant reveals a numeric passcode system similar to the secure media sharing interface from the Apple TV or on Macs using Front Row.
  • Apple highly recommends using the USB Ethernet adapter, rather than Wi-Fi, for the Migration Assistant; the wired connection is "significantly" faster, the company says.
  • Ejecting discs from a Windows Remote Disc PC is no different than for a Mac; in fact, the Windows PC provides no warning when this happens, creating a potential surprise for anyone using the Windows system.
  • Some potential technical problems have also surfaced. In extremely hot environments, 3D performance may slow down as the Air throttles or shuts down one of the CPU cores to reduce heat.
  • Owners who haven't yet installed QuickTime 7.4 may experience jittery video in Photo Booth.
  • Some speakers and other audio devices may not fit the headphone jack due to the small space afforded by the swivel-out port hatch.
  • Lastly, the user guide (PDF) notes that the system's mono speaker is hidden underneath the keyboard, and that the display should not be opened past 125 degrees.