MacBook Air Updated: Spec Bumps All Around

The new MacBook Air, announced this morning, is a significant upgrade to the ultralight portable from Apple. The machine retains the same appearance, but the technology inside has been updated with some of the new features of the all-new MacBook and MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Air continues to come standard with 2GB of RAM and remains at the same price points of $1799 and $2499, but the specs at those price points are much improved. The exciting changes are in storage options, CPU bumps, and the dramatically improved graphics capabilities of the new MacBook Air. The updated Air will ship in early November.

The new MacBook Air comes with either a 120GB SATA drive or a 128GB solid-state drive. The drive performance is likely to be the same as the original MacBook Air, but the 50% bump on the SATA drive option and the 100% increase on the solid-state drive is welcome news. In my opinion, hitting 120GB is a minimum for any laptop that you plan to use on a daily basis.

The new Core 2 Duo processor package in the MacBook Air is clocked the same at either 1.6GHz or 1.86GHz, but the front-side bus has been pushed to 1066MHz and the corresponding memory spec has been pushed up to 1066MHz DDR3 SDRAM. The improvements to the front-side bus and RAM speeds should result in a noticeable, if not exactly breathtaking, performance increase for CPU-intensive tasks.

What really makes the new MacBook Air interesting is the dramatically better graphics performance promised by the on-board nVidia 9400M graphics processor. Apple suggests that the new graphics processor can provide a 4x performance boost over the original MacBook Air. With dedicated graphics on board the MacBook Air, this little machine could be a great workhorse for editing in the field, or playing the occasional video game.

In addition to the increased performance provided by the nVidia 9400M, the new MacBook Air is also capable of driving much larger displays with the mini DisplayPort output. In fact, there is a new DisplayPort to dual-link DVI adapter that will allow the MacBook Air to drive a 30″ Apple Cinema Display. And it should work beautifully with the new 24″ LED Cinema Display because the included MagSafe adapter appears to be shaped to fit the MacBook Air along with the other new notebooks announced this morning.

With these updates, the MacBook Air should appeal to a much broader audience than it did originally. Previously, there were a lot of compromises on CPU performance, storage, and graphics in order to get the ultralight package when it was priced right in between the MacBook and the MacBook Pro with much better performance. The new MacBook Air narrows the gap on performance, storage and graphics to make the choice more clearly about the cost of the smaller package and lighter weight. For those people that were tempted by the MacBook Air before, I wouldn’t plan on walking into an Apple Store unless you plan on walking out with one.

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