Less than six months ago, Apple (s aapl) 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 (s intc) 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 (s cbs) 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?
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