17 Comments

Summary:

Less than six months ago, Apple launched a redesigned MacBook Air. It was almost a completely new machine, but only “almost” because the new MacBook Air still uses the “old” Core 2 Duo, same as the first. That could change soon.

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Less than six months ago, Apple launched a redesigned MacBook Air, introducing an 11-inch model, better battery life, and universal solid-state storage, as well as lower price points. It was almost a completely new machine, but only “almost” because the new MacBook Air still uses the “old” Core 2 Duo processor: the same class of CPU the original MacBook Air had when it was launched in 2008. That may finally be about to change.

CNET is reporting the MacBook Air will be transitioning to Sandy Bridge, Intel’s latest microprocessor architecture, as early as June. While Sandy Bridge and Core “i” series CPUs offer improved performance, especially with Intel HD integrated graphics, a hardware flaw related to SATA ports temporarily slowed shipments this month. While the issue has been resolved, it likely pushed back MacBook Pro updates until mid-March. Depending on whether or not that update happens will set the stage for Sandy Bridge for the MacBook Air in June.

There’s still a degree of uncertainty, because there remains some debate as to whether Sandy Bridge supports OpenCL, the programming framework favored by Apple that allows use of the graphics processors. If the 13-inch MacBook Pro moves to Sandy Bridge, Core i3, and Intel HD graphics, Sandy Bridge for the MacBook Air is a certainty. If the 13-inch MacBook Pro gets a discrete GPU in addition to Intel HD, like the other MacBook Pros, that probably means trouble for the MacBook Air. If Sandy Bridge doesn’t fully support OpenCL, Apple will have to wait for Ivy Bridge. Ivy Bridge is the die shrink of Sandy Bridge that supports OpenCL, which is on track to be released in the second half of the year.

Apple could well just wait for Ivy Bridge. According to DigiTimes, Apple is doubling orders of some “hot-selling” models of Mac laptops. That would be the MacBook Air, which has been credited by analysts as largely responsible for the record 2.9 million Mac laptops sold during the holiday quarter. Clearly, the use of an older microprocessor architecture isn’t hurting sales, and arguably only the die-hard tech crowd would even care if Apple held of on updating the MacBook Air until late this year.

As a member of that crowd, the thought of not getting a Core i3 MacBook Air this summer with OS X 10.7 is hurtful indeed. Would you be upset if Apple skips a mid-year spec bump?

Related content from GigaOM Pro (sub req’d):

  1. I just want a macbook air that can play 1080p video :0

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    1. Hamranhansenhansen Friday, February 11, 2011

      My 18 month old MacBook Air plays 1080p video. That happens in the NVIDIA GPU and has nothing to do with what Intel CPU the machine has.

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  2. I would rather Apple take the time to do it right the first time, then introduce a “slightly” improved MacBook Air just to keep in line with the “normal” release dates for new hardware. If that means waiting a year for that to happen…so be it.

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  3. I have an air, and it is by far the best laptop I have ever owned. I’d suggest one for anyone.

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  4. I have the top end 13 inch and agree with ted, it’s the best laptop I have ever owned. Stellar performance even working with 2GB Tiff files in CS5!

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    1. Rick, I’m running a maxed out 13 inch, and I’m able to run all of my virtual machines with no problems. Its hard to not to sound like a huge circlejerk when praising the air, but damn its a nice machine.

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  5. My wife’s 11″ Air is the first new computer she’s ever let me buy her. She loves it.

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  6. I doubt I’ve got any reason to care about OpenCL, but if waiting means a dramatic improvement in battery life for the 11″ model, I’ll happily wait.

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  7. Like the author, I too would be very disappointed if Apple skipped a spec bump. I’ve been soldiering with a MBP 17″ (2.33 Duo 2, 667Hz bus, etc) which is starting to feel real sloooow. I’m hoping for a new MBP 13″ with at least an Core i3 or better and hopefully higher resolution, ala the MBA 13″. That said, the MBA 13″ is very appealing … and fast as is … if not for the cost.

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  8. Hamranhansenhansen Friday, February 11, 2011

    Do you just want the latest buzz words or do you want the best performance? Because a MacBook Air with Core 2 Duo and NVIDIA GPU outperforms a MacBook Air with i5 and Intel graphics. Me, I would not even consider buying a machine with Intel graphics.

    A lot of spec nerd thinking assumes you are running in a big white box with a fan and on AC all the time. Different rules apply in a MacBook Air. What is the use of putting in a faster chip when you are already under-clocking the current chip? You only make the machine more expensive and risk a hardware bug on the newer chip.

    > Open CL

    Open CL enables OS X to use the GPU for general-purpose CPU tasks. That is part of why an 11 inch MacBook Air with 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo is a very fast machine. The NVIDIA GPU in MacBook Air has something like 32 cores, so in a very real sense, the current MacBook Air has a 34-core CPU.

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  9. @Hamranhansenhansen
    That’s not the way to see it. the GeForce has 32 CUDA cores but you cant take that for GPU cores. The real reason why the MBA is fast is its SSD.

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  10. Since my Nov2007 white macbook is still functioning I’d wait for the Ivy Bridge update.

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