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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.

But here I mean "born" in the intellectual/theoretical sense -- it's where it was designed by Broadcom's engineers. Broadcom is what's called a fabless semiconductor company, which means that it doesn't have its own foundry, outsourcing the physical fabrication (or fab, in chip lingo) to some other company that does the grunt work. Companies that Broadcom works with to produce chips like those in my Wi-Fi card include GlobalFoundries (with factories in Singapore and Germany), Semiconductor Manufacturing International Corporation (with factories in China), United Microelectronics Corporation (with factories in Taiwan and Singapore), and TSMC (with Taiwanese factories that also make the A5 and A6 chips in iPhones and iPads).

Graphics chip

The laptop's graphics chipset, the GeForce 320M that Nvidia makes especially for Apple, has a similar provenance. Designed by Nvidia engineers, who are mostly based in the company's Silicon Valley headquarters, the physical chips are manufactured in Taiwan by the aforementioned TSMC. ZDNet did the dangerous computer-opening work on a MacBook Air with the same chipset, and they'll show you the Made in Taiwan label, if you're interested.

All these components are of course just the next layer down from the computer. Where did the metal and plastics and silicon that made up the components come from? That's a question from another article. I do hope that the description here has given a sense of how global and disparate the sourcing needed just to put together one laptop is -- and that the "Made in China" label may only tell part of the story of any electronics you own.


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