New 11" Macbook Air: as close to a netbook as Apple gets

Macbook Air 2011

As expected, Apple on Wednesday launched a new version of its two-year old ultraportable Macbook Air, and revealed a new, smaller version that could be described as the first Mac netbook.

The 13.3" Macbook Air has been bumped up to a 1440 x 900 display, an Intel Core 2 Duo processor, Nvidia GeForce 320m graphics processor, and a total unibody aluminum design. Unlike previous versions of the Macbook Air, it has no hard drive; and has shifted over to 100% flash-based memory like the iPhone and iPad. With the shift to Flash memory, the battery life has stretched to 7 hours from the previous 5, has a 30-day standby time, and features instant-on booting.

To compensate for the lack of an optical drive which used to necessitate an external disc drive, Apple has introduced Software Reinstall flash drives with this generation of Macbook Air.

It also has an SD card slot, two USB ports, the standard MagSafe port and a Mini DisplayPort. It can be configured with a 1.86GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB on-chip shared L2 cache; or a 2.13GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 6MB shared L2 cache; and it comes with either 128GB or 256GB of Flash memory.

The whole package weighs 2.9 pounds.

The new addition to the Macbook Air family today was the model with an 11.6" screen.

Though Apple CEO Steve Jobs has repeatedly derided the netbook form factor, this is about as close as Apple will ever come to making one. Ross Rubin, Executive director of industry analysis for consumer technology at NPD, said it "Isn't Apple's official netbook, [but] it's surely its de facto one."

The 11.6-inch Macbook Air can be configured with a 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB on-chip shared L2 cache; or a 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 3MB shared L2 cache; and it can be outfitted with either 64GB or 128GB of flash memory.

"We've taken everything we've learned about miniaturization from the iPod and iPad and applied it to the Macbook," Jobs said in his presentation on Wednesday.

The 11.6" Macbook Air weighs 2.3 pounds, and offers up to 5 hours of continuous use or 30 days on standby.

The 1.4GHz 11" model with 64GB of flash storage costs $999, and the model with 128GB of storage costs $1,199. The 13" model comes with a 1.86 GHz processor and 128GB of storage for $1,299 or with 256GB of storage for $1,599.

The four pre-configured Macbook Airs all offer 2GB of RAM, but an upgrade to 4GB can be done in custom builds. And though Jobs said Apple has taken everything it has learned from the iPad and applied it to this version of the Macbook Air, none of the models offer 3G mobile broadband connectivity as an option.

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