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Apple to update MacBook lines in time for holidays

Apple Computer plans to update both its MacBook and MacBook Pro lines of Intel notebook computers in time for the holiday shopping season, but may take some time before it does so, AppleInsider has learned.

People familiar with the matter say development of Core 2 Duo versions of all three models —the 13-inch MacBook, 15-inch MacBook Pro and 17-inch MacBook Pro —are now complete and all that's left is for Apple marketing to pull the trigger.

But those same people indicate that precise launch dates for the respective models remain fluid and Apple customers should expect the updates to arrive anytime between now and the time Thanksgiving rolls around in late November.

Similarly, it's unclear whether Apple will launch the new consumer MacBooks and professional MacBook Pro models simultaneously, or if it will space the releases to assure it maintains enough of Intel Corp.'s Core 2 Duo processors to properly facilitate each launch.

Similar specs expected

According to industry contacts, Intel began shipping the Cupertino, Calif.-based company mobile variants of its Core 2 Duo chips (Merom) during the last week of August. However, Apple opted to use those initial shipments in revamping its iMac all-in-one desktop systems earlier this month.

Upon their release, it's expected that the new MacBook and MacBook Pro lines will feature specifications very similar to existing offerings, mainly due to similarities in processor frequencies between Intel's Core Duo and Core 2 Duo processor lines. However, the Core 2 Duo line adds a 2.33GHz chip, which is expected to be available to buyers of higher-end MacBook Pro configurations. (A 2.33GHz Core Duo "Yonah" processor was recently released by Intel but not adopted by Apple.)

MacBook Glory Shot

Notebooks: the latest music to Apple's ears

Notebook sales have been the fastest growing sector of Apple's computer business as of late, with the tandem of the MacBook and MacBook Pro combining for sales of nearly 800,000 units during its previous fiscal quarter —a company best.

As would be expected, Apple's share of the US notebook market has also been on the rise, up from 6 percent in January to 12 percent in June (the last time such data was made available). And analysts on Wall Street remain bullish on the Mac maker's notebook prospects, with expectations that the company will continue to ride the mobile gravy train.

Last week, Credit Suisse analyst Robert Semple told clients that checks in Asia revealed MacBook shipments were tracking at approximately 200,000 units ahead of his initial 580,000 unit estimate for the company's September quarter. Despite these impressive figures, Apple is still struggling to to meet overall demand for the notebooks as a result of the recent educational and back-to-school buying seasons.

MacBook Family of Notebooks

Semple revised his estimates for the quarter to 775,000 MacBooks plus some 250,000 MacBook Pro systems, bringing his combined notebook estimate to over 1 million units.

When all's said and done, Apple will have sold nearly 3 million notebook systems during the 2006 fiscal year, and even more so during the calendar year. While the company isn't updating its notebooks at the absolute fastest pace possible, it's clear it plans to do so more frequently than in the past. And it has to, especially if it has ambitions of maintaining recent share gains.