New MacBook Air expected this week

Leaked pre-production pictures tell a story

THIS WEEKEND A PICTURE of Apple’s purported upcoming MacBook Air turned up online and it looks like Apple has done some serious work on its new wafer thin notebook. Ok, so it’s not actually wafer thin, but the new MacBook Air, which is expected to launch during an Apple event on the 20th, is said to be not much thicker than a USB port, not counting the lid of course.

It’s hard to not be impressed by Apple’s engineering skills, despite the regular proprietary solutions, but this is also what makes Apple products unique in a market full of samey products. Although we’re looking at the innards of a prototype MacBook Air from earlier this year, it’s expected that it’s mostly going to be what we’ll see inside the new models. It has a couple of rather intriguing features, such as four battery packs, an SSD and some rather unusual internal connectors.

The picture was posted on Engadget, but several of the Apple rumour sites have added further commentary to what’s expected to end up in the new MacBook Air. Some are suggesting that we’ll see an 11.6-inch version as well as the purported 13.3-inch model in the pictures. We’re only going to have to wait a couple of days to find out if this will happen or not, but let’s take a closer look at what Apple might be offering in terms of hardware in the new MacBook Air.

The four battery design is highly and unusual and some are suggesting that this is only a test setup and that we’ll see a single large battery in the final units. However, by doing it this way, Apple can utilize the space inside of the notebook better and as such the battery life should potentially be improved by having a total higher capacity than from a single battery. This also helps keep the MacBook Air as slim as possible without affecting the battery life in a negative way.

The SSD is highly unusual and has been referred to as an “SSD card” which has a proprietary connector in one end. Unlike what most are suggesting, we believe that the SSD uses a PCI Express interface, as it has the same connector as the Wi-Fi card located next to it. Considering the exact match of the connectors and the fact that the Wi-Fi card wouldn’t use a SATA interface, we’d expect the SSD to be directly connected to the PCI Express bus. The SSD appears to be using a Toshiba controller and has at least four Flash memory chips as well as an unknown amount of cache memory.

Apple seems to have gone for the smaller connectors to save space, as they appear to be only about half the size of a standard mini card PCI Express connector commonly found in notebooks. Part of this might have to do with lack of USB support, something the mini card connectors features as standard. One major disappointment, if carried over to the final production machine, is that there doesn’t appear to be any way of expanding the RAM, as the memory chips are soldered onto the motherboard without the option of a SO-DIMM slot. This is very worrying if it only comes with 2GB of memory as standard which has been suggested.

In terms of connectivity the new model appears to have a mini DisplayPort connector, a USB port and an SD card reader on the right hand side (left on the picture) and a power connector as well as another port which might be a second USB port on the left (right on the picture). Oddly enough, there’s no sign of an audio jack, but we’d expect the final retail models to come with one. It also appears as if Apple has given up on the flip down ports of the current model, which is something we’d call an advantage of the new model.

So what about the rest of the specifications? Well, the prototype used a Core 2 processor, but we’d expect Apple to have moved on to Intel’s Core i processors by now. We might end up seeing one of the new ultra-low power or low power variants. It’s also possible that Apple has once again been given access to Intel’s next gen hardware, which has happened in the past and as such we’ll see a custom solution for Apple in there. Apple doesn’t think too highly of Intel’s integrated graphics, but with only two chips visible and no dedicated graphics memory seemingly located close to either chip, it’s anyone’s guess as to what solution Apple has gone for. One possibility is that they’re using the same Nvidia GeForce 320M chipset as in the Mac mini and paired it up with a Core 2 processor which would if for no other reason makes financial sense as Apple has already had the GeForce 320M custom made for itself.

Only Apple knows what’s inside the new MacBook Air, at least until Wednesday which is when Apple is hosting an event at which the new MacBook Air is expected to launch. We’d expect the new model to cost more, or at least the same as the current model due to the move away from using a hard drive to fitting an SSD as standard. This is a costly, if weight saving option to fit as standard and as such we don’t expect Apple to offer the MacBook Air at anything less than the current model. At the end of the day, the MacBook Air is an aspirational product rather than a mass market product and as such it will retain its premium pricing.S|A

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