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Apple's MacBook Air refresh may boost RAM, SSD specs

Apple's forthcoming refresh to its MacBook Air line may up the value proposition for customers through increases to the notebook's standard memory and storage components, in addition to the latest ultra-low voltage Sandy Bridge mobile chips, should checks within the company's supply chain prove accurate.

In a communication to AppleInsider on Thursday, Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo said his industry checks suggest Apple is no longer placing orders MacBook Airs with 2GB of RAM. Instead, those checks indicate that all new 11.6- and 13.3-inch models will include 4GB of RAM as standard, as it will improve performance of Mac OS X Lion, also due to ship on each model.

Similarly, Kuo cited the same checks in suggesting that Airs with just 64GB solid-state-drives may go away in favor of Apple shipping only 128GB and 256GB models as standard, given that the bulk of Apple's shipments have been for models containing those larger drives. Contrary to some reports, however, the analyst and proven insider said his checks indicate the SSD drives will remain pluggable, and won't be soldered to the logic board.

In terms of which Sandy Bridge CPUs Apple has chosen for the Air, Kuo pointed to three specific Intel ultra-low-voltage chips (comparison chart) that launched just last month as prime candidates based on his checks: the Core i5-2467M (1.6GHz), i7-2637M (1.7GHz), and i7-2677M (1.8GHz). Each of the chips consume only 17 watts, making them suitable for the slim design of the Mac Book Air, and support systems with up to 8GB of total memory.

While, AppleInsider cannot corroborate all of the aforementioned details, it relays the information given that Kuo has a respectable track record of producing accurate predictions for Apple's future hardware designs. For instance, he was the first to accurately predicted the launch of an 11.6-inch MacBook Air and iPod touch with camera last year, and this year followed up with accurate specifications for the iPad 2 and white iPhone 4 production, among other products.

For its part, AppleInsider has reported that the new Airs would mark the adoption of Sandy Bridge processors and Thunderbolt ports, as well as the return of backlit keyboards. It however warned on multiple occasions not to expect (1 ,2) the new Macs this week, despite continuous unsubstantiated claims published elsewhere on the web that have ultimately proven to be grossly inaccurate and overhyped.

Instead, Apple has been waiting for the release of Mac OS X Lion before issuing any new Mac hardware updates. As reported last month and reiterated this month, those updates will follow the launch of Mac OS X Lion in the coming weeks. Although Apple is believed to have had some ambitions of launching Lion this week, at least one person familiar with the matter said earlier in the week that last minute concerns with one of the system's new features (app Resumes) would likely cause a minor delay.

Meanwhile, Kuo in a report released this week confirmed a recent claim from AppleInsider regarding the return of backlit keyboards to the MacBook Air, saying Darfon will be "the sole source" supplying those components to Apple.

"We think Macbook Air is becoming more and more important for Apple and other notebook brand vendors will follow Apple's move (Intel called it Ultrabook)," he said. "Like iPhone and touch panel's story, Apple is redefining the notebook and we believe other brand vendors will follow Apple's design requirements so some components will benefit a lot from the trend such as metal casing, SSD, thermal module, slim hinge and backlight keyboard."

The redesigned MacBook Air launched last October with a thinner and lighter design and a new 11.6-inch model with a $999 entry level price. The major changes, including the adoption of only solid-state flash hard drives, took the MacBook Air from being a relatively niche product in Apple's lineup to one of its hottest selling Macs.

In particular, the sub-$1,000 11.6-inch MacBook Air was said to be a major hit with consumers for both its price and lightweight design. In the first quarter of availability at the end of 2010, Apple shipped more than a million of the new MacBook Airs, making it one of the company's most successful Mac product launches ever.