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More murmurs surface about 15-, 17-inch MacBook Airs

Apple is once again said to be working on larger versions of its popular MacBook Air notebook, with 15- and 17-inch models in the hopper that could end up replacing its "Pro" line.

Apple's current MacBook Air model--soon to come in a 15- and 17-inch size?
Apple's current MacBook Air model--soon to come in a 15- and 17-inch size?

Apple is once again said to be working on larger models of its MacBook Air line, with a new report making a rather bold suggestion that two new Air models would replace the company's popular MacBook Pro line.

Citing people familiar with Apple's computing roadmap, Apple Insider says Apple is cooking up an overhaul to its MacBook Pro line that involves stripping out components like the optical disc tray and hard drive, and replacing the latter with flash memory like it did on the MacBook Air.

The report suggests Apple is focusing its efforts on making those changes to its 15-inch model first, later rolling out a similar design for its 17-inch MacBook Pro model.

This is, of course, not the first such report of Apple working on larger versions of the Air, one of the company's most popular portables. Two anonymously sourced reports in Macrumors and TUAW last July claimed Apple was working on both a 15- and 17-inch model of the Air, with TUAW's going so far as to say one of those would be out in time for last year's holiday shopping season.

More recently, a pair of reports from Taiwanese component news site DigiTimes in November claimed Apple was already working to source parts for a 15-inch Air, with plans to release it in the first quarter of this year.

Apple Insider goes so far as to say these new models "could" end up replacing the existing MacBook Pro line, leaving Apple with just one general model of notebook at varying sizes. That puts into question how much longer Apple will offer portable computers with optical drives, something it's done away with both on the Airs as well as the Mac Mini, pushing users to buy software on its Mac App Store and digital media through the iTunes Store.

Apple completely overhauled its MacBook Air line in October 2010, doubling down with both a 13.3-inch and smaller 11.6-inch model. At the time, Apple CEO Steve Jobs described the machines as "the future of notebooks." The company released updated versions last summer, adding speedier processors and Thunderbolt I/O ports.

The company's MacBook Pro line has not seen a massive external overhaul since the company switched to its unibody design in 2008. A nearly year-old iLounge rumor suggested that Apple planned to give that line a big face-lift sometime in the beginning of this year.