Apple unveils the new MacBook Air

It has had a few weeks of speculation now as to when the MacBook Air update would land, and when OS X Lion would see a release. Well, they both happened yesterday.

We’ll be covering OS X Lion and other updates Apple has made elsewhere as the MacBook Air deserves its own post due to the amount of changes that have been made and the performance gains they bring.

Apple has rejigged the whole line-up to offer brand new specs for two 11-inch and two 13-inch models. The main improvements include a move to Intel Sandy Bridge Core processors, the addition of a Thunderbolt port, a backlit keyboard, and the fact every Air now ships with OS X Lion installed.

The processor included in your MacBook Air depends on the screen size you select. The 11-inch models ship with a 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5, where as the 13-inch models up that slightly to 1.7GHz. If you require something a little faster then it’s possible to select a 1.8GHz Core i7 chip in the 128GB 11-inch (+$150) and 256GB 13-inch (+$100) models. The two lower end Airs don’t seem to have the option.

Apple is claiming the new processors make the MacBook Air up to twice as fast as the previous model. That claim alone may see a few last-gen MacBook Airs appear on eBay. The performance claim of course depends on which chip you combine with the Intel HD Graphics 3000 and up to 4GB of 1333MHz DDR RAM.

As for the Thunderbolt port, it has been added to the right side of the laptop behind a USB 2.0 port. On the 13-inch model there’s also an SD card slot included. Now all we need is a decent range of peripherals that take advantage of the Thunderbolt’s super speedy data transfer capabilities.

One of the most desired features has made it into this revision: a backlit keyboard. Apple has included a sensor that adjusts the brightness of the light dependent on the ambient lighting. This is combined with a glass multitouch trackpad. The other user-facing feature is of course the screen, which is a super thin LED backlit panel. You get a resolution of 1366 x 768 on the 11-inch and 1440 x 900 with the 13-inch.

Battery life is very good considering the hardware contained within each laptop. The 11-inch manages 5 hours, where as the larger battery the 13-inch affords takes that time up to 7 hours. Apple claims all MacBook Airs can survive 30 days in standby mode.

As you’d expect with any new Apple product, these laptops aren’t cheap. The base 11-inch model is $999 with 64GB on-board storage and 2GB RAM. The 128GB and 4GB 11-inch model takes that price up to $1,199. Moving to the 13-inch model and the price starts at $1,299 for 128GB of storage and 4GB RAM. Increase that storage to 256GB and you pay an eye-watering $1,599.

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