Asian trade publication DigiTimes reported this morning that Apple is readying a MacBook Air refresh and looking to expand its ultra-thin notebook family with a brand new machine. Sometime during the first quarter of next year, according to sources from the upstream supply chain, the company will update existing 11.6- and 13.3-inch models and put out a new 15-inch model we’ve been hearing about before:

The sources noted that related upstream players have already started pilot production of the MacBook Air models and will add a 15-inch model into the product line to expand its reach in the ultra-thin notebook market.

Another interesting bit of the DigiTimes story is that Apple is expected to lower prices of the current lineup ahead of the refresh. The update should include a new Ivy Bridge processors that consume less power while providing a speed boost in the CPU and GPU department (also expected in the next MacBook Pro refresh).

As 9to5Mac explained, Apple wanted to release a 15-inch MacBook Air model in late 2010, but production and engineering issues with the hinge had forced them to scrap those plans. According to our sources, prototypes of the machine with its weak hinges are still floating around the Cupertino campus, with sources explaining that employees have maintained “an unhealthy amount of affection” for these products. The prospect of a 15-inch Air leaves the future of Apple’s MacBook Pro lineup hanging in the air, according to some. It is widely believed Apple will eventually transition its entire notebook lineup to the MacBook Air’s ultra-thin, all-flash design with no optical media drive. Whether or not the company’s flagship 17-inch notebook makes the transition as well remains to be seen, but there’s no reason why it wouldn’t have.

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