MacBook Air Update: More Battery, Less Cash

Apple MacBook Air refresh features faster processors, longer battery life, and lower price points.
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Apple updated its line of MacBook Air computers Tuesday with speedier processors, longer battery life, and lower price points. The MacBook Air moves up to Intel's Haswell chips, and the entire lineup sees price points dropped by $100.

The new processors are the fourth-generation Core i5 and Core i7 chips from Intel. The base configuration for both the 11-inch and 13-inch models is a dual-core i5 chip clocked at 1.4 GHz (plus TurboBoost up to 2.7 GHz), with Intel HD Graphics 5000, 4 GB of RAM, and a 128-GB internal solid-state hard drive. This setup is more power efficient and helps improve battery life across the board.

The 11-inch model now supports up to nine hours of usable uptime, and the 13-inch model supports up to 12 hours. That means most professionals can easily get through an entire work day. The battery life gains are realized in iTunes playback. The laptops can now play music or movies for the full nine and 12 hours of battery life offered by the laptops, respectively. According to Apple, the processor and graphics specs allow the MacBook Air to support dual displays (external monitor up to 2,560 x 1,600 pixels) and video mirroring. Customers may upgrade to Intel's 1.7-GHz Core i7 chip (plus TurboBoost up to 3.3 GHz) for an extra $150.

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The 11-inch MacBook Air with the 1.4-GHz processor costs $899. Doubling the SSD HD to 256 GB costs an extra $200, and Apple charges $100 to double the RAM to 8 GB. The 13-inch MacBook Air now starts at $999 with the base processor, storage, and RAM. Upgrading the storage and RAM cost $200 and $100, respectively.

Other MacBook Air specs include two USB 3.0 ports, one Mini DisplayPort, one Thunderbolt port, a headphone jack, and dual mics. The 13-inch model sports a slot for SD cards. The 11-inch model weighs 2.38 pounds and the 13-inch model weighs 2.96 pounds. Apple's laptops ship with OS X Mavericks installed, along with Apple's core iLife and iWork software suites.

"With MacBook Air starting at $899, there's no reason to settle for anything less than a Mac," Philip Schiller, Apple's senior vice president of worldwide marketing, said in a press release. "Macs have never been more popular, and today we've boosted the performance and lowered the price of MacBook Air so even more people can experience the perfect everyday notebook."

The timing for the update is curious. Apple typically updates its portables in June, often during its Worldwide Developers Conference. This year's WWDC is scheduled to kick off June 2. Last year, Apple unveiled an updated MacBook Air and updated MacBook Pros. Many are hoping to see updated hardware again this year, but Tuesday's announcement throws a bit of cold water on hopes for redesigned MacBook Airs.

Separate reports suggest that Apple plans to launch an entirely new portable at this year's WWDC. The device in question is thought to offer a 12-inch Retina Display (actual resolution unknown). The 13-inch MacBook Air's 1,400 x 900-pixel screen doesn't even qualify as a full HD panel, and many are hoping Apple makes the big jump to Retina with its next-generation ultra-portables.

It's entirely possible that Apple plans no other updates for its MacBook Airs and wanted to get them into its lineup sooner than the WWDC. This makes sense, as long as Apple has a surprise in store for its developer conference. During its recent earnings call with analysts, Apple CEO Tim Cook did say that new products are "closer than ever."

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