Apple’s “Other” Releases

Today Apple released the newest version of their operating system for person computers: Mac OS X Lion. That’s not really news because that has been anticipated for a while.

However, that was not all that they released. Along with Lion Apple announced new MacBook Airs, Mac minis, and Thunderbolt Displays. I’ll just briefly touch on each.

MacBook Air

What was great is now even better. The revision brings Intel Core processors to the entire line, a Thunderbolt port, a bump in RAM for some configurations, a backlit keyboard and forces in Intel HD graphics. The design stays the same and really nothing else has changed, but the performance increase is both welcome and wonderful.

Sandy Bridge (Intel chipset) has been a great asset for all manufacturers. Now the MacBook Air gets to take it for a spin as well.

The update to the MacBook Air also ushers in the end of the MacBook line, for now. No longer can you get a white polycarbonate MacBook from Apple and the 11″ MacBook Air has taken its place at the $999 price point. For the moment if you want a 13″ Mac portable with an optical drive you are looking at the 13″ MacBook Pro or an external drive for the 13″ MacBook Air.

Who knows it that’s a great idea or not, but it is a simplifying of the whole lineup back to only two lines of portables.

Mac mini

Yes, that is how they spell it, with the lower-case “m” currently. The Mac mini receives many of the updates that the MacBook Air did and also loses its optical drive.

One cool thing is the possibility of upgrading the Mac mini to a dual-core Core i7 processor and AMD Radeon HD graphics. That’s the first time the Mac mini has had discreet graphics since the PowerPC days. Sadly, the quad-core Core i7 is only available on the Mac mini with Lion Server, but with no option for the AMD Radeon HD graphics. It makes sense in a way, but still disappointing because it would be nice to get the quad-core processor with the AMD Radeon HD graphics chip.

However, the dual-core Core i7 is clocked higher, so in games the performance might actually be better. Benchmarks will bear that out in some way.

Not much else new. I still really like the Mac mini and would consider getting one as a dedicated machine for at home. More interesting is its use as a Mac server. Maybe one day.

Thunderbolt Displays

I didn’t pay attention to any rumors about new displays because I wasn’t sure what they could do with it. However, what Apple did was kind of cool.

Now you hook up your Apple Thunderbolt Display to a Thunderbolt port on a Mac and it not only handles video but also USB, Firewire, and Ethernet. It also acts as a Thunderbolt host so that you can daisy-chain more Thunderbolt devices. So you hook up one cable and get all of that. The new Thunderbolt Display is nothing less than a Mac docking station! Awesome.

I am guessing you will see a lot of these on desks around the world soon. The newest MacBook Pros (15″ and 17″ models) can also chain together two of these displays and display across both of them. That’s pretty cool.

Finally we see why Apple pushed Thunderbolt so hard. It probably isn’t going to supplant USB 3.0 in the next round, but that 10Gbps pipe allows this sort of one-cable-to-many solutions that otherwise I don’t think would exist. That’s pretty cool and pretty powerful.

The idea of getting rid of a USB hub and power brick and having a Thunderbolt Display on my desk that I hook up to when I get there is pretty compelling. Now if they created a 24″ version for around $500, that I might be able to swing.


Overall, some fairly basic updates (and expected) and (finally) a good use for Thunderbolt. Couple that with Mac OS X Lion and Xcode 4.1 and you have a pretty good release day for the company in Cupertino.

2 replies on “Apple’s “Other” Releases”

I miss it too Phil. Even if they brought back only a 1080p option at 24″, I’d still pick it up. The Thunderbolt Display is the MacBook Air/Pro docking station we’ve never had!

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