'Cutting-edge' MacBook Air silicon getting old

The MacBook Air still offers the same Intel processors and solid-state drive that it was offering nine months ago.

The cutting-edge MacBook Air is not so cutting-edge these days. The high-profile, ultraslim notebook still comes with the same hardware that was offered initially by Apple nine months ago.

The sleek silver 3-pound notebook was announced with great fanfare back on January 15 with configurations that sported older Merom-class Intel low-voltage processors and a 64GB Samsung solid-state drive.

"I think everyone had widely anticipated that there would be some other product announcements in Steve Jobs' address (on Monday) on the notebook or computing side," said Patrick Wilkison, vice president of marketing and business development at STEC, a supplier of high-performance solid-state drives.

"But it's gotta be coming. They're certainly very committed to the notebook space," he said.

Apple observers claim that a notebook refresh is coming in October, and it is anticipated that updates to the Air will include larger solid-state drives and newer Intel processors.

Whether Apple will turn away from Intel chipsets is a rumor still in play, though Apple is expected to stick with Intel for the main CPU.

On the processor front, Hewlett-Packard may offer some guidance. HP has just refreshed its 3-pound ultraportable lineup with the newest low-power Intel silicon based on the Centrino 2 platform. The EliteBook 2530p line offers Core 2 Duo LV (low-voltage) and ULV (ultra-low-voltage) processors including the 1.6GHz SL9300 and 1.86GHz SL9400. Both are 45-nanometer processors that come with large 6MB caches to speed performance. Current processors in the Air are based on 65-nanometer technology and have smaller 4MB caches.

The EliteBooks use Intel's Mobile Intel GS45 Express Chipset with integrated graphics.

Solid-state drives are the other big question mark. New solid-state drives are hitting the market in quick succession. "Our drive was in mass production in early Q2. Looks like Samsung had theirs ready for the Dell launch, maybe mid to early Q3 timeframe," Wilkison said.

STEC's drives come in capacities up to 256GB. Dell offers a 128GB SSD with its new ultraslim Latitude E4200. (Dell E4200 "fits in an envelope too" video here.)

Meanwhile, Intel is shipping high-performance "X" series SSDs in 80GB capacities now. The drives achieve up to 250MB per second read speeds and up to 70MB per second write speeds.

The 80GB version is priced at $595. Though expensive, these drives deliver performance far better than the standard 4200rpm hard-disk drives used in ultraportables to date.

Dell's 128GB SSD option on its XPS M1530 notebook goes for an extra $450, though performance numbers are unknown at this point.

Wilkison said high-volume 128GB SSDs may get "closer to the $400 range."

About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.

 

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