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First look: Apple's new 11 and 13 inch Thunderbolt MacBook Air

Apple's new Thunderbolt-enhanced, fourth generation MacBook Air models upgrade the company's light and thin notebook category with new high-speed connectivity; faster, more powerful Core i5 and i7 processors; faster RAM; larger SSD options, support for Bluetooth 4.0 and a new backlit keyboard.

In with the new

The new Thunderbolt MacBook Air models now join Apple's MacBook Pro line in adopting Intel Core i5 and i7 processors rather than previous generations which used Core 2 Duo chips connected to a Nvidia-designed controller with integrated graphics. This shift, along with the faster 133MHz DDR3 RAM bus (up from 1066MHz DDR3 RAM in use on the Airs since late 2008) enables the new machines to hit benchmarks more than twice as fast as the previous generation.

The use of Intel's Core i5/i7 architecture also puts memory management and other features formerly handled by a separate Nvidia controller chip on the CPU itself, and necessitates that Apple use Intel's own integrated graphics. The new MacBook Airs both use Intel's HD Graphics 3000 chip using shared system RAM rather than the former Nvidia GeForce 320M with its 256 MB of dedicated DDR3 SDRAM on previous Core 2 Duo machines. AppleInsider will publish full graphics benchmarks in our complete review to determine how this architecture change affects performance.

Two other new embellishments to the MacBook Air line include its standard new backlit keyboard, which first appeared on the original MacBook Air but was dropped last year when the line plummeted from a ritzy priced ultralight notebook to being Apple's entry level notebook starting at just $999. The latest models retain the same lower pricing but add back the backlit keyboard feature.

The other feature is new to the MacBook Air and Apple's Mac product line in general: Bluetooth 4.0, which debuted on the Air and the simultaneously released Mac mini. Bluetooth 4.0 replaces "Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR," adding support for new very low energy devices that are designed to run from a small battery.

Mid 2011 11 inch MacBook Air

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