Apple updates the MacBook Air, axes the white MacBook

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Apple updated its thin-and-light MacBook Air laptops on Wednesday, alongside the much anticipated release of Mac OS X Lion, while also unceremoniously discontinuing its white entry-level MacBook line.

The new MacBook Air notebook computers, which lack optical drives (another example of Apple pushing users toward a disc-free future), gain speedier Intel processors -- ranging from the 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5 chip in the lower-end 11-inch-screen model, to the dual-core 1.8GHz Core i7. The i5 and i7 processors are known for being pretty powerful, with variations of this chip line running in Apple’s MacBook Pros and iMac computers.


A backlit keyboard and a Thunderbolt port have also been added to the Airs in this refresh. Thunderbolt ports are capable of transferring data at a rate of 10 gigabits per second, much faster than USB 2.0, which transfers data at about 480 megabits per second. But, as of now, there aren’t a lot of external hard drives or cameras and other items that utilize the ports due to the cost of implementing the technology -- a Thunderbolt cable itself sells for $49.

Despite the changes, the price range for the MacBook Air is staying the same; from $999 to $1,699.

And it just might be that $999 price point of the 11-inch base MacBook Air that is responsible for Apple killing off the much beloved white polycarbonate MacBook laptop. Though we don’t know for sure if that’s the reasoning -- as of Tuesday morning, Apple officials weren’t available for comment on why the white MacBook is getting the axe.

Without any notice, the white MacBook (which also started at $999 and had a 13-inch screen) was yanked from Apple’s lineup and online store. Some old refurbished models of the MacBook are still available from Apple online, but new models are done.

The move to discontinue the polycarbonate MacBook will leave Apple, for the first time since 2001’s introduction of the iBook G3, without a solid-white laptop for sale. A stroll across just about any U.S. college campus in the last decade was a testament to the massive popularity of Apple’s entry-level laptops, which makes this move a bit surprising.

But if Apple no longer sees a need for disc drives in its entry level notebooks, which the MacBook Air now seems to be, the MacBook must have made a lot less sense to Steve Jobs and other Cupertino execs. Now, every Apple laptop (and desktop for that matter) is clad in silver aluminum.


Those looking at a laptop and also wanting a disc drive can either pair a MacBook Air with a portable disc drive for an extra $79, buy a pricier MacBook Pro laptop, or look to one of the many Apple competitors.


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Images: At top, Apple’s MacBook Air laptop and, at bottom, the discontinued MacBook laptop. Credit: Apple