New MacBook Air Models are Faster, Cheaper, and Even Bigger Threat to Ultrabooks

As many suspected, Apple today unveiled refreshed MacBook Air models built around Intel's 3rd Generation Core i5 and i7 dual-core processor options (Ivy Bridge), giving the thin and light platform a serious shot in the arm. Available in 11-inch and 13-inch designs, Apple also updated the flash storage, which the company claims is twice as fast as the previous generation, upgraded the memory, and added USB 3.0 connectivity. And let's not forget that Ivy Bridge ushers in faster graphics performance, too. Should Ultrabook makers be concerned?

"We’ve made the world’s best portable family even better and we think users are going to love the performance advances in both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro," said Philip Schiller, Apple's SVP of Worldwide Marketing.

We didn't ask, but we're sure Schiller would tell us the new MacBook Air models are superior to any Windows-based Ultrabook on the market, if for no other reasons than it's his job to say so. But even so, these are some well-spec'd machines. In addition to faster processor options (Ivy Bridge), faster graphics (Intel HD Graphics 4000), faster storage, robust connectivity (Thunderbolt and USB 3.0), and 4GB or 8GB of faster memory, the new MacBook Air models now feature a new FaceTime HD camera (720p), multi-touch trackpad, backlit keyboard, up to 5 hours (11-inch) or 7 hours (13-inch) of battery life, and Mountain Lion, Apple's latest and greatest version of Mac OS X with over 200 new features.

Ready for the kicker? Apple sliced $100 from the price tag, with the 11-inch MacBook Air starting at $999 with 1.7GHz processor, 4GB of memory,  and 64GB of flash storage; $1,099 for 128GB of flash storage. The 13-inch MacBook Air starts at $1,199 with a 1.8GHz processor, 4GB of memory, and 128GB of flash storage; $1,499 for 256GB of flash storage. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch models can be upgraded with up to 512GB of flash storage, though it comes at a hefty cost (+$800 over the 128GB).