Apple has chosen WWDC week to announce an update to its MacBook Air line. It may lack the Retina display of its newly upgraded, headline-grabbing cousin, the MacBook Pro, but the 2012 Air sees significant advances too. An upgrade from Sandy Bridge to Ivy Bridge processors with improved integrated graphics is chief among the upgrades, and onboard memory has also received a boost.
What hasn't changed is the ultra-thin form factor and (with the thick end of the wedge maxing out at 0.68 in or 17 mm), weighing in at 2.38 pounds (1.08 kg) for the 11-inch model and 2.96 pounds (1.35 kg) for the 13-inch. Battery performance remains as is (which is no bad thing), with a touted 5 and 7 hours for the smaller and larger models respectively while wirelessly browsing the web.
What's new is an upgrade from Sandy Bridge to the faster Ivy Bridge processor, which brings with it a switch up from Intel HD Graphics 3000 to Intel HD Graphics 4000. This should bring with it a noticeable performance boost, though its doubtful that hardcore gamers will be rushing to buy the new Airs as portable gaming rigs this year.
The included random access memory allowance has doubled from 2 to 4 GB (configurable to 8 GB), and has been upgraded to lower voltage 1600-MHz DDR3L SDRAM. Flash storage remains at 64 GB and 128 GB in the entry-level 11- and 13-inch models respectively, though this is now configurable up to 512 GB.
Connectivity sees a significant boost with the inclusion of two USB 3.0 ports in addition to the Thunderbolt port. The USB 3.0 standard allows data transfer more than ten times the speed of USB 2.0. The power connection has been upgraded to Apple's MagSafe 2, which is simply an even smaller version of the MagSafe port that lets the power cable disconnected safely in the event of jarring cable snag, preventing unwelcome MacBook/floor interface scenarios.
Though the 11-inch Air still starts at US$999, the 13-inch has dropped $100 to $1199, making it all the more compelling to laptop-hunters on the prowl for an ultrabook.
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