Apple's new MacBooks carved from blocks of aluminum

New MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air designs carved from blocks of aluminum for strength and lower costs.

Apple Tuesday unveiled an entirely new lineup of laptop Macs, carved from blocks of aluminum for strength and lower costs, and equipped with powerful graphics chipsets.

The new MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air designs are intended to build on Apple's fast-growing sales in the notebook market. Executives say Apple has now over 17 percent of the US retail notebook market and has supplanted Dell as the market leader in the all-important education market, at 39 percent.

All the new notebooks use a manufacturing technique developed for the original MacBook Air: instead of starting with an aluminum frame and bolting in parts, Apple starts with a 2.5-pound block of aluminum, which is carved out and shaped to receive parts. The result is a very light but extremely strong and rigid body, a design that also uses far fewer parts than previous Apple notebooks.

The new MacBook now has an LED backlight display, a sleek multi-touch glass trackpad,and new graphics based on the Nvidia GeForce 9400M chip, which combines the chipset and graphics processing unit in a single die. Apple says the result is five times faster than conventional integrated graphics designs, delivering 54 gigaflops of performance.

There are two models of MacBook, one with a 13.3-inch display, 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU, the Nvidia chip, and a 160GB hard drive, priced at about US$1,300. For $300 more, you get the backlit display, a 2.4GHz Intel CPU, and 250GBs of disk.

The two new MacBook Pro models include two Nvidia graphics chipsets: the embedded 9400M, with about five hours of battery life, and the GeForce 9600M, with about 4 hours, as a separate part, for a total of 125 gigaflops of performance.

The Pro's new glass trackpad has nearly a 40 percent larger tracking surface, and now acts as a button itself, eliminating the need for a separate button. The trackpad now supports multi-touch gestures.

One model has a 15.4-inch screen, the 2.4GHz Intel CPU, both Nvidia chips, and 250GB hard drive, and a roughly US$2,000 price tag. The $2,500 model adds a 2.53GHz Intel CPU, more memory and a 320MB disk.

The two new MacBook Air models, with prices unchanged at about US$1,800 and $2,500, also sport the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics chip, replacing an Intel chipset. Apple says the change will boost graphics performance by four times.

The lower-priced model features a 120GB disk, compared to 80GBs previously; the more expensive model now boasts a 128GB solid state disk, compared to the previous 64GB device.

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John Cox

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