Apple launches new MacBook Air

Starts at $999, but you’ll want to spend more

AS EXPECTED, APPLE has launched its new MacBook Air, well, the company actually launched two new models, a 13.3-inch model, as well as an 11.6-inch model. As rumoured, both models comes with an SSD instead of a hard drive, but sadly Apple decided to stick with the Core 2 platform rather than move the MacBook Air to Intel’s Core i processors.

The 13.3-inch model is a direct replacement of the old 13.3-inch MacBook Air, although Apple has managed to make the new model a fair bit thinner than the old one. To do this Apple has come up with yet another unibody chassis and the new model measures 0.68-inches (17mm) thick at it’s thickest part, compared to 0.76-inches (19.4mm) for the older model and a mere 0.11-inches (3mm) at its thinnest part compared to 0.16-inches (0.4mm) at its thinnest part. The new MacBook Air has a distinct wedge shaped design and it’s 12.8-inches (325mm) wide and 8.94-inches (227mm) deep (that’s the same as the old MacBook Air) and weighs in at 2.9lb (1.32kg).

The processor options and the base memory haven’t changed from the previous model, but Apple has upped the screen resolution from 1280×800 to 1440×900. The graphics/chipset has also been upgraded from the GeForce 9400M in the old model to Apple’s custom GeForce 320M which you’ll also find in the 13.3-inch MacBook’s and the Mac mini. In terms of connectivity you’re looking at a mini DisplayPort connector, two USB 2.0 ports (that’s one more than the old model), a headphone jack that works with Apple’s headsets with mic and an SD card reader. There’s also a side mounted microphone and built in 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and a FaceTime camera of unknown resolution.

The SSD on a stick will be available in either 128 or 256GB for the 13.3-inch model and it’s using a Toshiba SSD controller and what appears to be 128MB of memory from Micron, both of which are clearly visible in MacBook Air video on Apple’s website. Apple claims 7h usable battery life with Wi-Fi on and up to 30 days worth of standby, although we’re not quite sure what good this is on a notebook. The 13.3-inch model has a 50Wh lithium-polymer battery pack which consists of four separate units, as per the leaked image.

The 11.6-inch model is Apple’s smallest notebook to date and it uses what we presume is a CULV processor from Intel. We’re guessing on the SU9400 as this model is a 1.4GHz processor with 3MB L3 cache, as per Apple’s spec and the 1.6GHz processor option is most likely the SU9600. The SU9400 is over two years old now and the SU9600 is well over a year and a half, so we presume Apple got a good deal on these chips from Intel. The 11.6-inch model uses the same GeForce 320M chipset/graphics as the 13.3-inch model.

Size wise the 11.6-inch model measures 0.68-inches (17mm) at its thickest part and the same 0.11-inches (3mm) at its thinnest part. It’s 11.8-inches (299.5mm) wide and 7.56-inches (192mm) deep and weighs in at a mere 2.3lb (1.06kg) making it lighter than most netbooks. The screen has a native resolution of 1366×768 and this is as far as we know, Apple’s first 16:9 panel on one of its notebooks. It also comes with 2GB of RAM as standard and with either a 64 or 128GB SSD. All of the other features are the same as those of the 13.3-inch model, with the exception of the SD card slot which the 11.6-inch model lacks and a smaller 35Wh battery which is good for 5h of usage with Wi-Fi enabled.

Both models are supplied with a 45W power adapter and interestingly a software re-install USB drive, something we’d like to see more notebook manufacturers do, although we have some vague memory of one or the other PC notebook maker already having done this some time ago. Apple has also managed to fit full-size keyboards to both models, as well as its typical multi-touch track pads.

So what about pricing? Well, the 11.6-inch model starts at what appears to be an affordable $999, but you’re going to want to upgrade the memory to 4GB, especially as this is not upgradable after purchase and this will cost you another $100 which is an outrageous price premium considering that the retail price difference is a mere $30. The 128GB SSD version starts at $1,199 and again, more RAM will cost you $100 and a faster CPU will cost you another $100. The 13.3-inch base model starts at $1,299, with the 128GB SSD while the 256GB SSD model starts at $1,599 and again you’re looking at $100 extra each for the CPU and memory upgrade options. It’s worth noting that only the more expensive models feature a CPU upgrade option.

Apple also announced iLife’11 which will ship free on all new Mac’s including the new MacBook Air models, or $49 as an upgrade. Apple is also making FaceTime available for its line-up of Mac’s and it’s available as a beta from today. Furthermore the company announced that it will be launching an app store for Mac in 90 days and that the next version of OS X called Lion will launch by summer 2011.

Overall the new MacBook Air models look tantalizing, but we feel that Apple was stingy by fitting a mere 2GB of RAM as standard, especially as this is not user upgradeable. Apple’s custom SSD form factor will also make it impossible for users to upgrade this at a later stage, unless Apple or potentially some third party like OWC for example starts to offer SSD’s with Apple’s new connector. Steve Jobs mentioned that some day Apple was hoping that all of its notebooks could look like this, but we’re not sure that will happen any time soon, especially considering all the trade-offs that have to be done. Still, the new 13.3-inch base model is $200 cheaper than the old MacBook Air and offers a much more appealing specification overall.S|A

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