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Apple boasted in unveiling the new Mac mini hardware that the systems were "designed without an opitcal disc drive." The company noted that the Mac mini can access optical drives on other PCs and Macs, and also works with the MacBook Air external SuperDrive accessory.
While the new Mac minis lack optical drives, they did gain Apple's new high-speed Thunderbolt port, allowing it to connect to high-performance storage devices, RAID arrays, and the new 27-inch LED Thunderbolt display.
Apple began to move away from optical drives in its Mac lineup in 2008, when the first MacBook Air was released without any built-in disc reader. But the Air remained a relatively niche product in Apple's lineup until 2010, when the product was redesigned to be thinner and lighter, and was expanded to screen sizes of both 11.6 inches and 13.3 inches, all at a lower price.
For those who bought last year's MacBook Air, the notebook came with a USB reinstall drive for its built-in Snow Leopard operating system. Its inclusion eliminated the need for any optical media to restore the system.
Apple is moving away from legacy formats in favor of digital downloads, and is pushing its own Mac App Store as the default way to obtain software. Apple's new operating system upgrade, Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, launched on Wednesday exclusively on the Mac App Store.
To further encourage users to obtain Lion from the Mac App Store, Apple revealed on Wednesday that it will charge twice as much for customers to obtain the upgrade on a USB thumb drive. The new version of Mac OS X will be available on a thumb drive for $69 in August, and for the first time ever the operating system will not be sold on a disc.