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New MacBook Air Adds Capacity and Graphics Performance

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As expected, the MacBook Air remained largely untouched during Apple's refresh of the rest of the MacBook line, receiving only a few small but welcome upgrades that improve the svelte laptop's specs. Included in these is an updated graphics card (a move to the Nvidia GeForce 9400M), the addition of a 120 GB hard drive, and the inclusion of the new Mini DisplayPort. Two versions, priced at $1,799 and $2,499, give you 1.6 GHz and 1.86 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors respectively - no changes there. The higher-end model comes standard with a new 128 GB solid state drive, though you can save $500 by dropping back to the 120 GB hard drive. The refreshed MacBook Air will not be immediately available, but will instead hit stores in early November 2008.

The limited storage capacity in the MacBook Air, with a 120 GB hard drive or a 128 GB solid state drive as the only options, and no reasonable way to install a larger replacement drive, makes the machine most suitable for those looking for a small auxiliary Mac to supplement a desktop Mac with more capacious storage options. The MacBook Air's slim form factor means Apple must use a smaller hard drive than the 2.5-inch drives that are available in standard laptops; the 1.8-inch mechanisms (also used in hard-disk-based iPods) allow for the smaller laptop, but restrict Apple's supply choices - and so far, prices have remained high despite the limited capacities.

One notable improvement, presumably thanks to the Nvidia GeForce 9400M, is that the MacBook Air can now drive an external monitor at resolutions up to 2560 by 1600 pixels - the size of Apple's 30-inch Cinema HD Display. Previously, the MacBook Air could drive an external monitor at only 1920 by 1200. Although this points toward the MacBook Air coupled with a 30-inch Apple Cinema HD Display as the ultimate executive combination, Apple isn't including any display as a build-to-order option with the MacBook Air, presumably since the new 24-inch LED Cinema Display isn't yet available, and Apple doesn't (yet) offer a 30-inch LED Cinema Display.


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