New MacBook Air, now with extra SSD goodness

Thin as ever, the latest Air offers up to twice the storage and snappy performance

One of these MacBook Airs is not like the other. The first-generation model is on the left; new one is on the right.

One of these MacBook Airs is not like the other. The first-generation model is on the left; new one is on the right.

I really like Apple's newly revamped MacBook Air, which got extensive under-the-hood updates last month. And I really, really like the apparent speed boost offered by the larger solid-state drive (SSD) in the Air I've been testing for the past week.

I'll have more to say about that SSD in a bit, but suffice it to say that the drive makes a noticeable difference in how fast the Air boots up, how fast programs launch and how fast this slimmest of Apple laptops feels -- especially in comparison to the stock 4,200-rpm hard drive included in my first-generation Air.

New Core 2 Duo processors

For those who may have missed the changes in the Air's specs unveiled by Apple on October 14, here are the basics. The 3 lb. MacBook Air still comes in two models, both of which now use stock Intel Core 2 Duo processors instead of the custom jobs that powered the first generation announced last January.

The base model has a 1.6-GHz processor, the same speed as before. The top model, the one Apple sent over for review, has a 1.86-GHz chip -- 60 MHz faster than the 1.8-GHz processor that debuted on the top-end model at the start of the year. Both processors now feature 6MB of Level 2 cache RAM, 50 percent more than the older models.

More important, there's increased room for your files. The base model now comes with a 120GB hard drive, 50 percent more than the first version did; the pricier, 1.86-GHz iteration sports a 128GB MLC (multilevel cell) SSD, double the amount of space offered originally.

The 1280-by-800-pixel LED screen remains unchanged from the earlier Air, according to Apple officials, which is a good thing. It's stunningly bright, even in broad daylight with the sun shining directly on the screen.

The price for the entry model, which has yet to ship, remains unchanged at US$1,799. The more expensive model, already on store shelves, goes for US$2,499. That's not cheap, but it's a lot cheaper than when the SSD version went on sale in January -- the 64GB SSD cost a whopping US$999 extra for less storage space than the base model. The growing use of SSDs in laptops has brought prices down from stratospheric to merely expensive.

The changes in processors and drives aren't the only new things in the second-gen Air. Apple has changed the video-out port to the new Mini DisplayPort, meaning you'll need an adapter if you're planning to use an Air with anything but Apple's new 24-in. LED monitor. Apple no longer includes an adapter in the box, by the way.

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Ken Mingis

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