Apple Releases New OS, New Hardware


Having refreshed the MacBook Pro line in February, and the iMac lineup at the beginning of May, Apple gave its low-end hardware got some love today, with new versions of the Mac mini and MacBook Air, a new display featuring the Thunderbolt interface technology, and the release of the latest version of the company's flagship operating system, to which the company is currently referring alternately as "Mac OS X Lion" or "OS X Lion," with no apparent pattern.


This leaves the Mac Pro tower as the only class in need of a refresh, and I expect that to happen soon, since the Mac mini isn't really an adequate server in any setting beyond a small workgroup.

Here are today's hardware highlights:

  • Apple has updated the Mac mini, which now features dual-core Intel i5 processors, a Thunderbolt interface and up to 8GB of RAM; the low-end model has a 2.3GHz CPU, 2GB of memory and a 500GB drive as the standard configuration, the mid-range model has a stock configuration of 4GB of RAM that can be upgraded to a dual-core 2.7GHz i7 CPU. In these models, Apple's doing away with the built-in optical drive, choosing instead to make the space available for a second drive, as it does with the Mac mini server configuration.

[caption id="attachment_4878" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The Mac mini adds support for Apple's Thunderbolt interface, which joins the existing FireWire, HDMI and USB ports on the rear of the computer."]

2011 Mac mini rear view


These start at $599 and $799 respectively, can be ordered online today and will be in stores tomorrow.

  • Speaking of which, the Mac mini server gets new guts, with a 2.0GHz quad-core i7 replacing the Core2Duo used in the previous model. Like the other versions and unchanged from last year's model, it can be configured with up to 8GB of memory. The Mac mini server has more drive options than ever before; dual 500GB hard drives remain the stock configuration from last year, but these can be swapped for 750GB hard drives, or 256GB solid-state drives.

[caption id="attachment_4879" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The new Mac mini server may look unchanged from last year's model, but the insides tell a completely different story."]

2011 Mac mini server front view


The starting price remains the same, at $999; availability is the same as for the other Mac minis.

  • The MacBook Air has been refreshed with a Thunderbolt port and new processors; the 11-inch model is available in two base configurations, 2GB of RAM and 64GB of flash storage, or 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage, while the 13-inch model offers two flash storage options - 128GB and 256GB - and a stock configuration of 4GB of RAM. The 11-inch model's basic CPU is a 1.6GHz Core i5; the 13-inch model bumps that to 1.7GHz, and in either instance can be upgraded to a 1.8GHz Core i7 when purchased online. Online purchasers can also bump the flash storage of the MacBook Air to 256GB if needed.

[caption id="attachment_4880" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="The new MacBook Air models offer new processor options as well as the addition of a Thunderbolt interface for video and data."]

Apple's new-for-2011 MacBook Air


The 11-inch model starts at $999, and the 13-inch starts at $1,299, and like the Mac minis, can be ordered today and will be in stores tomorrow.

  • The new Apple Thunderbolt Display simplifies the connection of a notebook or desktop to the 27-inch monitor, by using the high-speed interface to carry video signals as well as data; the display also offers a MagSafe connector for charging a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.The new display costs $999 MSRP and will begin shipping by mid-September.

[caption id="attachment_4881" align="aligncenter" width="300" caption="Apple's new Thunderbolt Display puts video and data signals through the same interface, reducing desktop clutter."]

Apple Thunderbolt Display (2011)

[/caption] Now for the bad news: it looks like the MacBook and its white plastic shell have been removed from Apple's product lineup for good. That leaves the company without an inexpensive notebook computer for now, but since Apple's never really cared much for that market segment, I can't say that I'm surprised.

I'm going to install Lion on a MacBook Pro with Thunderbolt later this morning; the download (3.47GB) took about an hour and a half on the lab's 20Mb link; the Lion download I started this morning at 6:30 from my home's DSL connection was projected to take about six hours, by comparison. It looks like Apple's download servers are handling the traffic pretty well so far.