Zune HD: Microsoft Debuts New Manufacturing Talent

September 24, 2009 Hardware — Miro

We glossed over one very important detail when we tore apart Microsoft’s new PMP last week. The Zune HD is the first mass-market gadget we’ve seen that has a machined aluminum case!

Machined aluminum parts are harder and more rigid than plastic parts, at very little (if any) cost to the overall weight of the device. Machined aluminum is also not as easy to dent or mar as the plastic counterpart, meaning that the Zune won’t suffer from case scratches that plague other music players. So what’s the catch? The main negative factor in using machined aluminum parts is the increase in manufacturing cost.

If you’ve ever opened up a recent MacBook or MacBook Pro, the milling pattern on the Zune’s back panel will look familiar. The mill’s bits start out large, and progressively get smaller as the internal features of the shape become pronounced. Every milled part includes a “final pass,” a slow and light finishing pass that provides a smooth final surface. We measured the final pass milling marks and found that Microsoft used a 3 mm bit on the Zune HD, while Apple used a larger 3.5 mm bit on our MacBook’s upper case. Interestingly enough, the Zune’s milling marks are readily more apparent than those on the MacBook, as evident in the photos below. Apple must have polished the interior side of the upper case to achieve such a smooth finish.

Comparing the Zune HD with a MacBook Unibody upper case.

Comparing the Zune HD with a MacBook Unibody upper case.

Microsoft has spared no expense on the Zune HD. The guys at iSuppli may prove us wrong, but we’re doubtful that Microsoft is actually making money with this product. Consider that they put an OLED screen, machined aluminum back cover, top-notch processing power, and solid user interface in a 32 GB package retailing for less than $300.

When we conducted our teardown, we found that Microsoft went the extra mile and engraved a “For our Princess” on the inside of every Zune HD as a tribute to a Zune team member who passed away during development. The cost may be meager — a couple of seconds of additional machine time — but their sentiment was priceless. With traditional manufacturing process, changing a mold at the last minute to add an engraving would be prohibitively expensive, but their new milling process allowed Microsoft to add a touching note without substantially increasing their costs.

A clear view of the For our Princess engraving and machining marks.

A clear view of the "For our Princess" engraving and machining marks.

So what’s this mean for the future? Microsoft has beaten Apple at their own game and produced a multi-touch PMP that is smaller, lighter, and vastly easier to repair than the iPod touch. We expect other devices to follow the Zune’s lead. Expect to see other companies use advanced manufacturing processes and materials to add rigidity, substance, and flair to their products.


  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by iFixit.com and ErlyD. ErlyD said: RT @ifixitThe Zune HD uses same milling manufacturing technique Apple uses in the MacBook Pro! http://bit.ly/3r5S8I […]

    Pingback by Tweets that mention Zune HD: Microsoft Debuts New Manufacturing Talent « iFixit Blog -- Topsy.com — September 24, 2009 @ 6:34 pm

  2. […] Zune HD: Microsoft Debuts New Manufacturing Talent [iFixit] […]

    Pingback by Zune HD Has a Mac-Like Unibody @ Technology News — September 25, 2009 @ 3:15 am

  3. Now if only the would publish the machine code to mill the case. I can see one in brass or even gold, one in acrylic, and one in ebony.


    Comment by 4DThinker — September 25, 2009 @ 9:38 am

  4. […] team over at IFixIt.com performed a teardown on the new Zune HD and the device had a few surprises to reveal, mainly, a unibody design. This means the case of the […]

    Pingback by Teardown reveals unibody Zune HD : TechVi: Technology matters. — September 25, 2009 @ 1:41 pm

  5. Yeah, I still wouldn’t touch it with your dick.

    Comment by Ringo — September 27, 2009 @ 12:33 pm

  6. Nice tribute to a lost friend.

    Comment by eric — September 27, 2009 @ 4:57 pm


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