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Air Apparent

November 1, 2010
By Dave Hecei,

On Oct. 20 Apple held a special press event on their campus. During this event Steve Jobs, Apple's CEO and original co-founder, showed a preview of the next version of Mac OS, OS X 10.7 codenamed Lion. He also showed a new version of iLife, Apple's digital media suite. What really stole the show this time was an update of the MacBook Air, Apple's ultra slim and lightweight notebook computer.

The MacBook Air was originally introduced back in January of 2008. It was touted as the thinnest full-powered sub-notebook computer. At that time netbooks, the super cheap and small Windows based laptops, were starting to hit the market. Compared to a netbook the Air had a bigger and better screen, a full sized backlit keyboard, and a multi-touch trackpad.

Like a netbook, and most sub-compact notebooks, the Air had no optical drive. You could opt for either a traditional spinning hard drive, or the more expensive and faster SSD drive (SSD stands for Solid State Device - a drive based on flash memory chips). Unlike a netbook, the original Air was priced at a premium. It started at $1,799 with a spinning 80GB hard drive. The SSD model was over $3,000.

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Over the last couple years, the Air has been updated with slightly faster processors and better graphics chips, but has not changed physically, making this update well overdue. This biggest complaint about the original Air was the lack of ports. It only had one USB 2.0 port, a mini DisplayPort and headphone jack. That was it. The biggest problem was that to use Ethernet for networking you had to use a USB-to-Ethernet adapter. Since there was only one USB port that left you with NONE.

Available now are two new MacBook Air models. There is still a 13.3-inch Air, but there is now an even smaller 11.6-inch model. The 11-inch Air is the smallest notebook Apple has ever made, yes even smaller than the old PowerBook Duos, if you can remember that long ago.

The 11-inch Air has a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor (1.6GHz is an option), 2GB of RAM, 64 or 128GB flash-based storage, and an NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics chip with 256MB of VRAM. On the left side there is a MagSafe power port, a USB 2.0 port, and a headphone jack. On the right is another USB 2.0 port and a mini DisplayPort. The incredibly thin screen has a native resolution of 1366x768. The battery is still not user replaceable, but it is said to last five hours. The 11-inch Air weighs only 2.3 pounds.

The 13-inch Air is a replacement for the original Air. It has a 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo processor (2.16GHz optional), 2GB of RAM (4GB optional), 128 or 256GB of flash-based storage, and GeForce 320M graphics. It has the same ports as the 11-inch, but on the right side is an additional SD memory card slot. The 13-inch Air's screen has a native resolution of 1440x900 and weighs only 2.9 pounds. Its battery is said to last up to seven hours.

Both models have a non-backlit full-sized keyboard, a glass multi-touch trackpad, Airport Extreme 802.11n, Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR (enhanced data rate), iSight camera built-in, and an omnidirectional microphone. They both have support for an iPhone type headset/microphone device. This would allow for better audio recording or video/voice chatting.

Power is an important part of any portable computer. The Air is unique since it has no moving parts inside. Storage is all chip-based and since there are no spinning drives, the Air is also very robust. Tests during the event showed that the Air can boot in as fast as 15 seconds. It also goes to sleep and wakes almost instantaneously. When it has been sleeping for a certain amount of time, the Air will then go into a deeper sleep mode. This mode uses very little energy. In this deep sleep mode Apple states that the Air's battery will run for up to 30 days. Waking up from deep-sleep mode is stated to be just as fast as waking from regular sleep mode.

With the proper mini DisplayPort adapter, the new Air can be connected to a variety of external monitors. It can either mirror the built-in display or it can run as a secondary display up to a maximum resolution of 2560x1600 pixels. This makes the Air a perfect part of a portable presentation system. The weight of an Air and one of the new compact digital projectors could be less than just a single 'full sized' laptop.

This also means that the Air can be used with Apple's new 27-inch LED Cinema Display. The new Cinema display has three USB 2.0 ports, stereo speakers, microphone, and iSight camera built in. This display also has a unique single cable made just for newer MacBooks. In one cable it has a mini DisplayPort, USB, and MagSafe power connector.

To use the Cinema display you don't even have to open the Air if you don't want to. Just connect the Air with this single cable, and if you have a wireless keyboard and mouse, you have just turned your new Air into an amazing desktop computer.

Priced at $999, the new 11-inch Air is going to be extremely popular. The 13-inch Air starts at $1,299 - quite a bit less than the original SSD based Air from just a few years ago.



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