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Apple quietly updates MacBook Air line

Cupertino's lightweight notebooks get new processors, plus $100 price cut

Apple has fitted its MacBook Airs with updated versions of Intel's Core i5 and i7 processors
Apple has fitted its MacBook Airs with updated versions of Intel's Core i5 and i7 processors

Apple has announced minor updates to its MacBook Air line of lightweight notebooks, as well as cut the recommended retail price on each model by $100, reports said yesterday.

The cheapest MacBook Air, an 11-inch model, will now retail for $899, Apple said. This is only the second time that Apple has sold a sub-$900 laptop. The company briefly sold a plastic-cased MacBook to educational organisations for $899 from 2011 to 2012.

Meanwhile, the top-end MacBook Air - with a 13-inch screen and a 256 GB SSD - will retail for $1,199.

The price cuts close the gap between the base MacBook Air and the top-end 128 GB iPad Air, which currently sells for $799. Perhaps more tellingly, though, the base MacBook Air now retails for the same price as the Microsoft Surface Pro 2, which provides half the storage and comes without a keyboard.

In terms of updates, Apple has fitted its MacBook Airs with updated versions of Intel's Core i5 and i7 processors. Like the last MacBook Air range, the processors are based on Intel's Haswell architecture.

The top-end, 13-inch MacBook Air now has a 1.4 GHz Core i5 processor, which can hit speeds of up to 2.7 GHz with Turbo Boost. This is a minor upgrade to the 1.3 GHz i5 processor that was found on the last top-end MacBook Air.

And, as with the previous model, buyers can optionally upgrade to a 1.7 GHz Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 3.3 GHz.

There has also been a slight increase in battery life for the MacBook Air line. While both the 13-inch and 11-inch models still sport 12 and 9 hours of battery life respectively, they now provide better movie playback time. The 11-inch model increases movie playback from eight hours to nine hours, while the 13-inch model goes from 10 hours to 12 hours.

Meanwhile, Intel's HD Graphics 5000 chip remains standard across the board, as does 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0.

According to some analysts, the timing of this announcement - and its minor nature - could point to a larger Apple announcement at the company's WWDC conference happening in June. Independent analyst Ben Thompson noted that Apple could be saving a significant launch for the conference.

"Quiet release of slightly new MacBook Airs points towards iWatch and/or significant AppleTV update at WWDC," he tweeted on Tuesday.