Apple Updates the MacBook Air, Mac mini and a New Thunderbolt Display

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Today Apple released a new bag of goodies. They’ve got a fire-breathing new 27-inch display that boasts a rocking FireWire 800 port and new Thunderbolt capabilities. There are new razor-thin MacBook Air laptops with faster i5 and i7 processors, backlit keyboards and the sizzling Thunderbolt port. New Mac mini computers arrived without optical drives but with the Sandy Bridge i5 and i7 processors and you guessed it: the obligatory Thunderbolt port. And the latest big-cat version of the Macintosh operating system, OS X Lion 10.7, became available to download from Apple’s App Store, and will ship installed on all of these new computers.

Taking this all in, it’s easy to see where Apple is headed. Their computers are shrinking down into tiny metal objects; Internet connectivity, peripherals, media and software are fed to these machines through the air and the brunt of their inputs and outputs are being handled by a single port. The Lion operating system is more touch and app friendly, helping to bridge the gap between Apple’s wildly popular mobile devices and their growingly popular Mac computers. And instead of being perceived as elite status symbols, the entry-level prices of these computers are easily within reach for most budgets.

The overwhelming success of the iPad has given Apple users a good taste of how nice it is to have a portable computing device that’s powerful and easy to use, yet super lightweight and a breeze to carry around. However, there are still lots of things that people need to do which require a full-blown computer: running standard software (Microsoft Office, Photoshop, etc.), doing work that involves intensive typing, connecting audio interfaces for multi-track recording, doing more involved video editing (things that can’t be done with the iMovie iPad app), etc. This is where the new, more powerful MacBook Air comes in. It’s a truly capable laptop computer, and the tantalizing 11.6-inch model weighs just one pound more than an iPad 2.

The new MacBook Air has all of the technology that made the previous generation so attractive. The memory is flash-based, so there are no moving parts. That means your battery life won’t be eaten up by a spinning hard drive and your data will be safer (flash drives are far less likely to crash). It also means that boot-up times are lightning fast. The MacBook Air wakes up from sleep mode 700,000 times faster than a human being. Like the last generation, it’s available in two sizes: the ultra-compact 11.6-inch model (take your pick between the 1.6 GHz i5/2GB RAM/64GB, the 1.6 GHz i5/4GB RAM/128GB, or the 1.8 GHz i7/4GB RAM/256GB model), and there’s a 13-inch version for those who prefer a bit more screen real estate (available with 1.7 GHz i5/4GB RAM/128GB, 1.7 GHz i5/4GB RAM/256GB, or 1.8 GHz i7/4GB RAM/256GB).

Instead of being anchored to a desk for CPU-consumptive computer tasks, the new MacBook Air enables you to work anywhere you please. You can even type in the dark because the keyboard is backlit (a feature you’ll never want to give up once you have it). A backpack isn’t required to head out the door with this thing. A simple cloth tote bag gives you all the cargo space necessary to transport a MacBook Air and an iPad. If you own an iPhone 4 with a tethering plan, you can share its Internet connection with both of these devices, thanks to its Wi-Fi hotspot capability. There’s even an app called Air Display which enables you to use the iPad as a second monitor for your Mac. Welcome to the age of featherweight power computing, to go!

Speaking of computer monitors, the new Apple Thunderbolt display does a lot more than just supply you with a high-resolution 2560 x 1440 screen. It’s called the Thunderbolt display because it’s equipped to take full advantage of the blazing new Thunderbolt technology. You’ve heard about how a Thunderbolt port is 10 ten times more powerful than a USB 3.0 port, right? Well, this is where the proof is served up in a tasty bowl of pudding. The Thunderbolt display is equipped with three USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. It’s got a Thunderbolt cable and a MagSafe power connector built in, so you can fully attach your Apple notebook without having to fuss with a power supply (which is why Apple dubbed the Thunderbolt display as “the ultimate docking station”). An HD FaceTime camera is built in so you can video-chat in full resolution, and you can even daisy-chain two Thunderbolt displays together for the ultimate workspace (however, a MacBook Pro or Thunderbolt-equipped iMac is required to pump out all 14 million of those pixels).

Last, but not least, are the new Mac mini computers. The Mac mini plays an important role in Apple’s line of personal computers: it’s still the most affordable Mac computer. The new models offer an excellent way for new users to get a nice chunk of the iLife without having to buy a new monitor, keyboard, mice and other peripherals. Long-standing Apple devotees also like using the Mac minis as media servers and as economically painless desktop substitutes.

The new Mac mini takes up very little space, yet provides the full horsepower of a larger desktop machine. Like the new MacBook Airs, the minis are equipped with Intel’s Sandy Bridge dual-core i5 and i7 processors and an all-powerful Thunderbolt port. In addition they’ve got an HDMI port, four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 port, an SDXC card slot, Gigabit Ethernet and mini-plug audio in and out. Everything you’d expect in a modern computer is present, such as 802.11n WiFi, Bluetooth and AMD Radeon HD graphics, with the exception of an optical drive. However, if you still like to load the occasional CD into iTunes and watch a DVD or two, you can simply buy an external Superdrive. The new Mac minis are available at B&H with 2.3 GHz i5/2GB RAM/500GB, 2.5 GHz i5/4GB RAM/500GB, or the Lion Server version with 2.0 GHz quad i7/4GB RAM/dual 500GB.

Thanks for checking out this B&H InDepth article. If you have any questions about the latest Apple gear, we encourage you to ask them in the Comments section below!

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I'm interested in longevity as much as performance. I wonder how the heat output of the 2.3 GHz, 2.5 GHz and 2.0 GHz quad Mac Minis compare. I can only imagine that higher computing power equals higher heat output. And they probably all have the same cooling fan. Interested in any comments.

I also read a review of a late 2012 Mini that had video display problems, i.e. blackouts and snow (for which B&H very satisfactorily handled the return). Has Apple admitted the problem and accepted responsibility? Has Apple fixed the problem? What's the risk of buying a Mac Mini at this time?

Thanks.

Hello -

Although Apple provides no specifications, it is hard to imagine that there is a significant heat differential between these processors. Apple is very customer focused and typically responds to any issues of manufacturer quickly and responsibly. For design and component details please contact Apple directly:

http://www.apple.com/support/

Apple Store Customer Service at 1-800-676-2775

Apple Inc.
1 Infinite Loop
Cupertino, CA 95014
408-996-1010

Please contact us via e-mail if you have additional questions:  AskBH@BandH.com