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Apple updates to MacBook Air and Mac minis: What changed

Erik Eckel notes the changed specs for the new models of MacBook Air and Mac mini's and what it might mean for business user decisions.

Late July was busy for Apple. In addition to releasing the new Mac OS X Lion OS, the company announced new Thunderbolt displays and introduced updated Mac mini desktops and improved MacBook Air laptops. The Mac mini and MacBook Air refreshes directly impact business users, a constituency helping to fuel both models' popularity. Just what changed? Here's the skinny.

Mac mini

Apple boosted the Mac mini's processing power, improved graphics performance and added a Thunderbolt port to the popular, bring-your-own-keyboard-and-mouse, pint-sized-but-capable computer. The introduction of Intel Core i5 and i7 processors mean Mac minis can be specified with CPU capacity twice that boasted by previous models. Graphic performance benefits from the refresh, too.

The 2.5GHz model includes an AMD Radeon HD GPU with 256MB of GDDR5 RAM. That means businesses can leverage low-cost Mac minis to power more demanding graphics applications than before, as well as render video more quickly and complete typical tasks faster, thanks to the faster Intel CPUs.

Apple's Thunderbolt push continues with the Mac mini, too. The I/O standard enables up to 20 times faster performance than typical USB 2.0 speeds.

Currently businesses can choose from three Mac mini models. Two-2.3Ghz and 2.5GHz models-are workstations and one-a 2.0GHz version-is a server. The 2.3GHz version comes standard with 2GB of RAM, versus 4GB RAM for the 2.5GHz model, and both feature 500GB base hard drives and Mac OS X Lion. The 2.3GHz CPU costs $599, while the 2.5GHz version runs $799.

The server version costs $999. It includes 4GB of RAM, two 500GB SATA disks and a 2.0GHz Intel Core i7 CPU.

MacBook Air

MacBook Airs received important updates, too. Possibly one of the most underrated features lost in previous models was a backlit keyboard. New MacBook Airs again include the backlight.

Other improvements to Apple's incredibly thin-and-light laptop include the addition of a Thunderbolt port, faster processors and the new Lion OS. Available with either 11-inch or 13-inch displays, the 64GB 11-inch model runs $999, while a 128GB 13-inch version costs $1,299.

A 128GB 11-inch model is also available for $1,199. That model includes 4GB of RAM, versus just 2GB for the 64GB model. Both 11-inch versions boast Intel HD 3000 GPUs.

A 256GB 13-inch model is also available. Retailing for $1,599, the model includes an Intel Core i5 CPU and 4GB of RAM. As with the 11-inch models, the 13-inch iterations include Intel HD 3000 graphics processors.

Business users requiring an incredibly portable but powerful laptop can opt to increase the 13-inch model MacBook Air's build to include an Intel Core i7 CPU for just $100. However, no additional RAM nor a larger flash drive can be specified, meaning the base 13-inch version will prove about as capable a MacBook Air as can be currently had for highly mobile users requiring an advanced processing or graphics-capable machine for powering engineering, scientific, video-editing or other intensive tasks.

About

Erik Eckel owns and operates two technology companies. As a managing partner with Louisville Geek, he works daily as an IT consultant to assist small businesses in overcoming technology challenges and maximizing IT investments. He is also president o...

15 comments
jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376

On a Mac Mini the cost factor to add RAM to a Mac Mini to 8GB is $200! That puts a configured Mini at $999 and you think that's good?! You must be a Apple fan to think that is cost effective.

jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376
jscott418-22447200638980614791982928182376

I would think most businesses these days look to flexability. I don't see the Mac Mini with its now eliminated optical drive a positive for business. I don't even see the Macbook Air as a business first chice or even second choice as it is expensive and limited in flexible options too. Thunderbolt is still very new and supported ad on hardware is still very limiting. What business whould invest in a new technology when especially it does not support what they alreay have? USB 3 would have been much more plausable for Business. Upgradability is also lacking in both of these computers. Sorry, but I see very little that would intice me to invest in either one of these for my business.

Justin James
Justin James

The lack of RAM in the base models is a concern. I've been considering a Mac mini for a while as my standard productivity machine and relegating my Win 7 machine to development and other Windows-only situations, but it the cost of the mini gets way too high when you include adequate RAM. J.Ja

GeoffMichael
GeoffMichael

The cost for an 8.0GB kit is $69.00 from OWC!. Yeah, I think that price could be considered cost effective.

Justin James
Justin James

... is that I can't fully replace my Windows system with it. I like to occasionally watch DVDs on my PC, and I insist on buying all of my music on CD still (nice to have the physical copies). J.Ja

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

When RAM is so cheap these days I know there is a good profit margin but it's just rude. I find it insulting that they think I would pay that much for a memory upgrade.

Slayer_
Slayer_

They are internet browsers and word processors...

Randy Hagan
Randy Hagan

Mac Minis would be fine as workhorse systems. With a 2GHz quad-core i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM, this little box would keep up with most any business system on the market. Whatever isn't in the box can be hooked up to it through 4 USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port and/or one Intel Thunderbolt port. I think the latest Mac Mini is one slick little system.

Justin James
Justin James

Years ago, when I first considered moving to OSX, my Mac friends told me that 2 - 4 GB was just equal to the same on a Windows PC (the was the beginning of the Vista days), where 2 was really "bare minimum" for a tolerable experience and 4 was the bottom of "acceptable". That was then, I'm sure RAM requirements have gone up since. J.Ja

spdragoo
spdragoo

Per Apple's website (see link in the article), the 2.3GHz models use onboard Intel HD 3000 chips (share 288MB with the system RAM), & the 2.5GHz models use a separate AMD Radeon HD 6630M with its own 256MB. Of course, the statement "businesses can leverage low-cost Mac minis to power more demanding graphics applications than before, as well as render video more quickly and complete typical tasks faster, thanks to the faster Intel CPUs." seems to indicate that it's the CPU that's expected to handle the majority of the rendering. I mean, honestly, 256MB of video-card RAM is not exactly peak performance here, so unless the statement means it's an improvement over prior Mac Minis it's not exactly saying much. And since they're apparently pushing them as something better than simple "write letters & answer email" machines, you might need to consider upgrading the video card on it. As for processing power... for the same or lower price at my local, non-Best Buy computer store, I have my choice of *quad*-core i5-2300 PCs (speed rating 2.8GHz) with choice of 4, 6 or 8 GB of RAM, 1TB harddrive, DVD+/-RW drive, & choice of either on-board or separate GPU. Aside from any OS preferences, the only edge the Mini has is its Thunderbolt port & a smaller size... the former only being important if you have Thunderbolt-capable peripherals (& assuming you let your employees use them), the latter only if you're super-squeezed on space at your desk/cubicle (& most employers again will prefer that you get rid of "personal" or non-work-related items in your desk/cubicle area if you're *that* pressed for space).

Slayer_
Slayer_

So I will just assume you are correct.

Randy Hagan
Randy Hagan

The "graphics card" and the "sound card" are built into the motherboard. 1) Don't confuse an inability to plug in an add-on card with a lack of built-in capability. Built-in AMD Radeon and and Intel HD graphics processors can drive single-port resolutions up to 2560x1600 -- better than your average add-on dual DVI card. The built-in HDMI port can also drive quality multichannel 5+1 and 7+1 audio and 1080p video just fine. 2) This same box is designed to run as a server, holding two 7200rpm 2.5 drives in RAID configuration. All day, every day. I think you presume a lot when you assert that just because it doesn't have an add-on box bolted onto its chassis with a fan and transformer, that the Mac Mini somehow doesn't have a cooling system. 3) I didn't see 8GB of RAM in this article. I've seen it -- and installed it -- as a consultant servicing clients who have been using Mac Minis for the last three years. While I haven't done a 16GB upgrade on one yet, I trust my regular vendors who say it's easy provided I want to spend a truly stupid amount of money to do it. I haven't done much work with the latest Mac Mini yet, but I've worked with previous generations of the product. I can tell you that countless of these little boxes are working smoothly all day, every day with the publications and corporate graphics operations I work with. These machines are used for everything from deadline publication production to broadcast video editing -- some of the most processor- and graphics-intensive tasks you'll find. I think your mistake is you are making assumptions based on what's written in a nine-paragraph article on the web. This isn't the definitive statement on what Mac Minis are, nor does it pretend to be. Even a cursory effort at researching this on Apple's web site and a couple of vendors would have provided answers to your assertions and saved you from making such broad, unfounded statements. Before you go off half-cocked, you can save yourself some embarrassment. I work with both Mac and Windows platform machines on a regular basis. A Mac Mini may not match the frame rate you're getting for Call of Duty: Black Ops on your gaming box, but when properly equipped they're more than adequate "work horse computers" for even the most demanding business operations.

Slayer_
Slayer_

Where is the sound card? So no graphics capabilities, no sound capabilities. Where is the cooling system? So no extended tasks... That about leaves it with word processing, sure, it will blit that picture of a letter A to the screen REALLY fast, but that's about all it can do. Sure, the Mac Mini appears to have a graphics chip, though the blog post gives no real information about it. Does it have 512 processing cores like the latest graphics cards have? Also, where do you see 8gb of ram in the blog? The OP says they both had a max of 4gb.

Randy Hagan
Randy Hagan

it's cheap and easy to do that upgrade yourself. Access to the RAM is as easy as removing a small cover on the bottom of the Mini, and 8GB of RAM is only $76 plus tax and delivery from OWC Computing. That's more than enough to run either OSX or Windows 7 through Boot Camp. As long as you're not running demanding applications on either platform, 8GB of RAM should also be able to run both OSX and Win7 with a virtual machine application like Parallels. But if you need more RAM than 8GB, the costs ramp up in a hurry. For example, 16 GB of RAM costs roughly twice the price of a starter Mac mini -- $1147.99 at OWC Computing on Aug. 11, 2011.