Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

Rumors surfaced over the weekend that Apple might announce a new MacBook Air at this week's special event on Wednesday -- but if it still has a Core 2 Duo, I'm not buying.
Written by Jason D. O'Grady, Contributor

Rumors surfaced over the weekend that Apple might announce a new MacBook Air at this week's special event on Wednesday. Although the photo above dates back to April, Engadget was still able to learn quite a bit about the new MBA:

  • 13.3-inch display (despite rumors of an 11.6-inch model)
  • The SATA hard drive has been replace with a non-upgradeable, on-board SSD
  • The new battery consists of four clusters of cells that occupy almost 60% of the interior
  • Dual USB ports, one on each side
  • Other ports: MagSafe power adapter, mini DisplayPort, and SD card reader
  • Same 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo processor found in the current MacBook Air (in the April prototype)
  • 2GB of RAM standard
  • 1.07GHz bus speed
  • The unit identifies itself as MacBook Air 3,1 in System Profiler

If the photo is indeed from April, that makes it over six months old -- a long time in the hardware lifecycle continuum. Apple frequently tests new hardware designs with chips that are currently available, so it's reasonable that a test mule from April would contain a Core 2 Duo rather than the latest-and-greatest Core i3 chip.

Shipping the MacBook Air with a Core 2 Duo processor, when a faster and more battery-efficient Core i3 processor is shipping, would be a mistake. The same mistake Apple made with the unibody Mac mini announced in June. Apple would be foolish to ship an "updated" MacBook Air with an Intel SL9400 processor (circa Q3 2008) that is bigger, slower and hotter than the current generation i3-530.

The things that caused me to abandon the original MacBook Air were its lack of horsepower and ports. While I don't know if the new MBA (even with an i3) will address my need for speed, it apparently does a better job with ports. From the looks of the photo the new MBA's ports are no longer tucked inside a tiny drawer and are now flush with the side of the notebook. It also has two USB ports, a 100% increase over the solo USB port on the original model. While an SD reader is a nice addition, I'd prefer a third USB port.

The timing of a new MacBook Air announcement makes sense. Originally introduced at Macworld Expo San Francisco in 2008, the MacBook Air got a speed bump and a price drop in June 2009, but nothing since then. It's been almost 500 days since its the MBA was revved -- an eternity for an Apple hardware update -- while previous models were updated on average, every 255 days.

The rest of Apple's MacBook line of notebooks was refreshed in April 2010 with the 13, 15 and 17-inch models all getting a bump to the new Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. Then in May 2010 Apple revved its consumer-oriented white MacBook to 2.4GHz and NVIDIA GeForce 320M.

I guess we'll find out on Wednesday what Apple has up its sleeve for the MacBook Air.

What would make you buy a new MacBook Air?

Photo: Engadget

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