Apple unleashes Lion, new MacBook Air, and more

Fresh from telling the world just how much money it makes, Apple has invited everyone to give it some more. Mac OS X 10.7 Lion has become available on the Mac App Store, and with it, Apple has introduced updated MacBook Air laptops, a new Mac mini, and the "world's first Thunderbolt display."

The new-and-improved MacBook Air tag-team now features Sandy Bridge processors, purportedly making them twice as fast as the previous, Core 2-powered generation. Apple has ditched Nvidia integrated graphics in favor of Intel's HD Graphics 3000, and Thunderbolt connectivity is now in the mix. Prices still start at $999 for the 11" system and $1,299 for the 13" one, although now, all but the cheapest offering come with 4GB of RAM as standard. (Considering how cheap memory is, one wonders why the $999 machine does not.)

Apple's Mac mini has gotten a similar upgrade. Here again, the entry-level model is saddled with 2GB of RAM. Apple does offer a $799 variant with a 2.5GHz dual-core CPU, 4GB of RAM, and Radeon HD 6630M discrete graphics, however. Oh, and despite these upgrades, the Mac mini still fits inside a diminutive aluminum enclosure measuring 7.7" on each side and 1.4" in thickness.

As for the Thunderbolt Display, that monitor looks very much like Apple's 27", $999 LED Cinema Display. However, Apple says the new monitor features a "FaceTime® camera, high quality audio, and Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire® 800, USB 2.0 and Thunderbolt ports," which one can tap into from one's Mac via a single Thunderbolt cable. Users can daisy-chain "up to five" additional devices with extra Thunderbolt connections, too.

Interestingly, Apple looks to have retired the vanilla MacBook altogether. That means the 11" MacBook Air is now Apple's cheapest laptop, and users pining for a 13" display and a full-sized touchpad will have to spring for either the $1,299 Air or the $1,199 MacBook Pro. Knowing Apple, that move will do little to curb the vertiginous ascent of Mac shipment figures.

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