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Apple updates MacBook Air laptops, axes the white models

July 21, 2011|By Nathan Olivarez-Giles, Los Angeles Times
  • Apple Inc. has updated its MacBook Air line of laptops with faster processors, backlighted keyboards and Thunderbolt data transfer ports.
Apple Inc. has updated its MacBook Air line of laptops with faster processors,… (Business Wire )

Apple Inc. updated its MacBook Air laptops Wednesday and released the much-anticipated 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 1.6–gigahertz dual-core Core i5 chip in the lower-end, 11-inch-screen model, to the dual-core 1.8-GHz Core i7. The i5 and i7 processors are known for being powerful, with variations of this chip line running in Apple's MacBook Pros and iMac computers.

A backlighted 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 because of the cost of implementing the technology; a Thunderbolt cable itself sells for $49.

Despite the changes, the price range for the MacBook Air remains the same: $999 to $1,699.

And it just might be that the $999 price of the 11-inch base MacBook Air was responsible for Apple's killing off the much beloved white polycarbonate MacBook laptop. Apple officials weren't available to comment on why the white MacBook was getting the ax.

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 gone.

The move to discontinue the polycarbonate MacBook will leave Apple without a solid-white laptop for sale for the first time since the iBook G3 was introduced in 2001. A stroll across almost any U.S. college campus in the last decade offered ample evidence of the popularity of Apple's entry-level laptops.

But if Apple no longer sees a need for disc drives in its entry-level notebooks, a view that the MacBook Air seems to reflect, the MacBook must have made a lot less sense to Apple Chief Executive Steve Jobs and other executives of the Cupertino, Calif., tech giant. Now, every Apple laptop (and desktop for that matter) is clad in silver aluminum.

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