Third-gen MacBook Air arrives with backlit keyboard, Bluetooth 4.0 (updated)

I ordered a new 13-inch MacBook Air with 1.8GHz Core i7 processor upgrade today that will finally replace my trusty MacBook Pro 15-inch for good and make by bag a whole lot lighter.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

Apple today announced the availability of its third-generation MacBook Air with with Intel Sandy Bridge processors, high-speed Thunderbolt I/O technology, a backlit keyboard and Mac OS X Lion. Apple stuck to its game plan and is offering the new MacBook Airs at the same price as the previous model.

ZDNet's Adrian Kingley-Hughes covered the specs this morning:

The base model starts at $999 and comes with a 1.6GHz Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor, 2GB of RAM, 64GB of flash storage, 11-inch display and Intel HD Graphics 3000. Taking the storage up to 128GB and the RAM to 4GB bumps the cost up to $1,199.

There are also two 13-inch models. Both come with a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge CPU, 4GB of RAM and Intel HD Graphics 3000, with the 128GB storage flavor costing $1,299 and the 256GB storage flavor $1,599.

RAM This time around Apple configured all the new Airs with 4GB RAM, except the entry-level 11-inch ($999) configuration which only comes with 2GB. The 2GB model can be upgraded to 4Gb for an extra $100. Surprisingly Apple isn't offering an 8GB option in the new Airs which could cause trouble for pro/semi-pro users using RAM hungry apps like VMWare Fusion and Adobe Creative Suite. But then again, that's what the 13-inch MacBook Pro is for.

SSD The all flash MacBook Air comes with a Solid State Drive for main storage. The 11-inch configuration is available with either 64GB ($999) or 128GB ($1199). The 13-inch Air comes with either 128GB ($1,299) or 256GB ($1,599). It's unclear as to whether the SSD module is on a blade (like on the previous Air) or if it's soldered to the logic board as had been rumored. The issue is whether third-party SSD upgrades (like the Aura Pro Express SSDs from OWC) will work in the 3G MacBook Air. (I'll update this post when the first tear-downs occur and this can be confirmed.)

Thunderbolt One of the most intriguing new features on the MacBook Air is its Thunderbolt I/O port which replaces the Mini DisplayPort found on the previous model. Although they look the same, Thunderbolt is capable of transferring data up to 12 times faster than FireWire 800 and up to 20 times faster than USB 2.0. In addition to the new 27-inch Apple Thunderbolt Display it will also work with external storage devices and other I/O peripherals. Unfortunately discrete graphics are required to drive two Thunderbolt displays, so the MacBook Air's Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor won't do it. If you need dual Thunderbolt monitors you'll need to go with a MacBook Pro 15 or 17-inch

Sandy Bridge Both of new MacBook Airs come a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge processor and are upgradable to a 1.8GHz Core i7 for $100 extra. Apple claims "up to 2.5x the processing performance over the previous generation" with the 1.8GHz Core i7 option.

Backlit keyboard I've been complaining about my 2G MacBook Air's lack of a backlit keyboard almost since the day that it came out. I was blown away that Apple didn't include the feature in the second-gen MacBook Air because it was in the first-generation Air. Fortunately, Apple listened to our complaints and included a keyboard backlight in the 3G Air -- to the delight of late night writers everywhere.

I placed my order this morning for a 13-inch MacBook Air with 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD and the 1.8GHz Core i7 processor upgrade. It will finally replace my trusty MacBook Pro 15-inch for good and lighten by bag by several pounds at the same time. Although I use a 2G MBA11 now as an ancillary/couch/weekend Mac, I've determined that the 11-inch screen is a tad too small for 100 percent daily use. While I usually connect it to an external monitor at my desk, the 11-inch screen is just a tad too cramped for long term writing. Another bonus with the 13-incher is an additional 2 hours of battery life.

Update: MacRumors notes that the new Mac mini and MacBook Air support Bluetooth 4.0 and Bluetooth low energy:

...a new specification that offers ultra low-power data transfer and has been touted as opening the door to a host of new wireless peripheral devices.

Does the 3G MacBook Air temp you? What configuration are you coveting?

Editorial standards