Goodbye white MacBook, Apple takes the MacBook Air into education with new five-pack, mobile lab programs

Early last week, Apple discontinued the white plastic MacBook, which had been an education-only item since mid-2011, but is continuing to sell the product to education institutions while supplies last. The remaining supplies are being sold for $899, and sources say that Apple’s white MacBook inventory for educational institutions is still rather high. While white MacBooks for education are a thing of the past, Apple is not giving up on education: they are launching two new MacBook Airs for schools programs today.

The first new program is called MacBook Air 5-Pack Bundles and allows schools to purchase the MacBook Air in bundles of five at a discount. There are six bundle options, and each bundle saves schools $20 per MacBook Air:

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The MacBook Air Samsung SSD is about to get twice as fast

I had a chance to meet with Samsung Storage solutions at CES 2012 this week and got the low down on its new OEM SSDs that Apple tends to buy in large numbers.  Samsung and Toshiba are the OEMs that provide the SSDs in MacBook Airs.  Samsung’s 470 OEM SSD product is noticeably faster than the Toshiba model that Apple also puts in otherwise identical MacBook Airs.  We have talked about the speed difference before and how Air-buyers often will pay a premium for the faster Samsung drives.

Well, the speed difference is about to get even more noticeable. Samsung told me that it sold out of the 470 series OEM SSDs late last year and the company only makes a much faster variety: the 830 series.

How fast is the 830 Series controller/chips?  I had a chance to speed test the popular 2.5-inch 830 model late last year when it debuted.  Typical speeds were over 400MB/s write and 500MB/s reads (below, left).  That is almost twice as fast as the current MacBook Air SSD from Samsung (below, right), which itself is significantly faster than Toshiba’s SSD.

Samsung stopped short of announcing it is shipping the 830s to Apple, but the company confirmed it ran out of 470s a while ago and all of its SSD customers were receiving the updated 830 series. Samsung also confirmed that Apple is still a customer.

Today I ventured to the Las Vegas Apple Store to check the speeds of the MacBook Airs.  I checked a new 128GB MacBook Air right out of the box which had the same “APPLE SSD SM128C” listed in System Profiler as my year-old Air.  I checked the speed and it is indeed the old disk (same as above, right), which means the new Samsung SSDs haven not hit stores —at least here anyway.

Theoretically, a few things could happen at this point…

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More ThunderBolt at CES 2012: Western Digital shows impressive speeds, Hitachi shows pro setups and Seagate shows off sleds

I had some time to demonstrate some of the upcoming Thunderbolt accessories from external drive makers at CES earlier today. We briefly discussed a few others from OCZ, LaCie, Belkin and Elgato earlier in the week. First up is the Western Digital MyBook Thunderbolt Duo:

These are going to compare nicely to the Promise RAID setup that has similar speeds, but it does not have a price or release date yet.  The vibe seemed to be like Q2 with perhaps an announcement at Macworld.

Next up is the Hitachi G-Drive series of Thunderbolt Drives, and these drives are 8TBs…

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Last Gen MacBook Airs now start at $699 at Apple Store

From 9to5Toys.com:

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The Apple Store offers discounts on previous-generation, factory-refurbished 3-lb. MacBook Air notebooks, as listed below. Plus, each system, released less than a year ago, qualifies for free shipping and Lion up to Date. At up to $300 off, each model is at the lowest total price we’ve seen. Sales tax is added where applicable. Each item carries a 1-year Apple warranty, the same as new units. Items are removed from The Apple Store when sold out. The laptops (each model listed below features 2GB RAM):

MacBook Air still starts at $849

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For those who missed out on the Black Friday specials, Amazon still offers the entry level Core i5 MacBook Air for $849.99 plus free shipping.  That’s a significant $150 off of retail and the lowest price available.  This latest MacBook Air includes an Intel Core i5 1.6GHz “Sandy Bridge” dual-core processor, 11.6″ 1366×768 LED-backlit display, 2GB RAM, 64GB SSD, AirPort Extreme (802.11n wireless), Bluetooth 4.0, Facetime camera, Thunderbolt port, and Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

Amazon also still has the lowest prices on the entry level MacBook Pro ($1049).  Other price lows (mostly from MacMall) can be found here.
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Sources: Apple scrapped troubled 15-inch MacBook Air for 2010, rebuilding for 2012

The 13-inch MacBook Air of today

Had Apple’s “next-generation of notebooks” announcement in October 2010 played out as planned, the MacBook family of today would look very different. In October 2010, Apple co-founder Steve Jobs took the stage at the Apple Cupertino campus to unveil a preview of OS X Lion, FaceTime for Mac, iLife ’11 and the latest MacBook Air design as the closing “one more thing” announcement. That MacBook Air brought with it an all-new and thinner form-factor, a higher-resolution display, an incredibly light body, a large Multi-Touch single-button trackpad, flash SSD storage, and battery life improvements. 

Those aforementioned features, according to Apple, are what constitute the future of notebooks. This notebook announcement not only brought the successor to the previously available 13-inch MacBook Air, but brought along with it an 11-inch MacBook Air for the first time.

But these new notebooks weren’t the only planned pieces of the late 2010 MacBook Air story, though. Reliable sources have told us that not only were 13 and 11-inch models planned, but a groudbreaking new 15 inch MacBook Air was scheduled for a late 2010 release. Read on to learn about what could have been: 

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New MacBook Air for $899 bundled with discounted $199 AppleCare

From 9to5toys.com:

Getting the holiday shopping season started a little early this year, MacConnection is offering 9to5Mac readers the base model MacBook Air for the lowest price we’ve ever seen it: $899 (10% off) when bundled with a significantly discounted AppleCare which is just $199 (20% off).  The total $1099 price is $150 below the $1250 you’d pay at the Apple Store and over $60 less than we could find it anywhere else.

This latest MacBook Air includes an Intel Core i5 1.6GHz Sandy Bridge dual-core processor, 11.6″ 1366×768 LED-backlit display, 2GB RAM, 64GB SSD, AirPort Extreme (802.11n wireless), Bluetooth 4.0, Facetime camera, Thunderbolt port, and Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.  AppleCare provides Apple’s three year warranty.

Use code 9-5AIRCARE at checkout to get the deal.   Limit 2 per customer, and this will run out soon.

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Juice your MacBook Air SSD to Other World speeds with Aura Pro

MacBook Airs ship with one of two models of SSD.  You either get a moderately fast Toshiba SSD or a significantly faster samsung drive with an updated controller. But for some, that’s not enough.

We’ve pointed out in the past that OWC provides a new SSD called the OWC Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSD, and it’s definitely something speed freaks will want to look into. AnandTech has reviewed the Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSD, confirming the benchmarks and blowing away just about any laptop or desktop SSD on the market.

AnandTech breaks it down:

Performance is just staggering. The comparison is borderline unfair because both the Samsung and Toshiba controllers Apple uses in its MacBook Air are really a generation old at this point, while the Mercury Aura Pro Express is the absolute latest and greatest 6Gbps solution SandForce offers. 

As you can see in the chart above, the 6G SSD offers a 4KB  88.4 MB/s write and 30.4 MB/s read speed, and 128KB sequential write speed of 495.1 MB/s and read speed of 451.4 MB/s. Sadly, the SSD packs a SandForce controller which requires more power, so using this SSD adds up to 5% to battery drain on the notebook, but with these speeds we think you’ll get over it.

OWC makes 6G SSD available in both a 120GB and 240GB version, costing $280 and $550 respectively. If you’re big into speed this might be for you.  For all the details check out AnandTech’s review.

So is the speed advantage noticeable day to day?  Want a bigger product? Read on:

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LaCie’s anticipated Thunderbolt-equipped Little Big Disk arrives at the Apple Store, along with Thunderbolt updates

Since Apple and Intel’s joint announcement of the Thunderbolt high-speed I/O technology, one of the most anticipated products to make use of the technology has been the Thunderbolt-compatible Little Big Disk from LaCie. The drive – which comes in both HDD and SSD flavors – was announced all the way back in February for a “summer” launch, and is now finally arriving at Apple Stores in both the United States and internationally. LaCie’s description of Thunderbolt and why it is important for a product like the Little Big Disk:

This new high-speed cable technology connects computers and electronic devices together like never before. Thunderbolt technology supports two 10Gb/s bi-directional channels from a single port, the fastest data connection available on a personal computer. At 10Gb/s, a full-length HD movie can be transferred in less than 30 seconds.

Since the drive carries two ports, it can be daisy chained. The drives have already arrived at Apple Stores, which suggest immediate availability, and we are expecting an official announcement from LaCie in the coming days. The hard disk drive variant with 1TB of storage will reportedly cost $399.

Update: here they are.

Apple also announced Thunderbolt updates, another firmware update and a software update for Snow Leopard…

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Mercury Aura Pro Express 6G SSD upgrade boosts MacBook Air speed more than 3X

If you really want to turn your new MacBook Air out, OWC is offering up a new SSD upgrade option that promise up to 4X read/write performance (>500MB/s) over Apple’s factory installed SSDs. The SSDs, priced at $350 for 120GB and $600 for 240GB use a Sandforce 2200 controller.

• Tier 1/Grade A Toggle Synchronous NAND
• SandForce 2200 Series Processor
• Offers nearly 4x factory SSD capacity.**
• Compatible with 2011 MacBook Air
• Utilizes 6G SATA bus in 2011 MacBook Air to deliver over 500MB/s data rate performance

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In other OWC news, they mention that yesterday’s MacBook Pro update fixed lingering issues with the 6GB SATA port on the MacBook Pros (not to be confused with the 3GB Optical port.)

See performance benefits, below:
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MacConnection coupon: 3% off already low-priced Apple desktops and laptops

From 9to5Toys:

MacConnection offers readers an additional 3% off Mac desktops and laptops via coupon code “3%MacDeal”. The coupon applies to MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Pro, Mac Mini, and iMac computers. It’s the best percent-off coupon we’ve seen from MacConnection in recent months. Even better, free shipping applies to most deals, yielding a trove of lowest-we-could-find prices.

Best Bets: New Core i5 MacBook Airs now start $921 (Amazon is $949).  Mac Minis start at $551.88  (Amazon is$569)

MacConnection also has the lowest price we could find on the new Thunderbolt display at $979 and a 128GB Crucial 6Gb/s SSD for $189.99.  AppleTVs are $94.99 as are Airport Express base stations..  Wireless Magic Mouse – $64.99. Read more

Macworld: for simple tasks, a decked out Mini beats a base iMac handily (or SSDs rule)

Macworld decided to put a decked out Mac Mini Mid-2011 against a current baseline iMac 2.5GHz to see what kind of performance could be gotten from Apple’s diminutive little machine when an SSD is added.

When we say “decked out”, we’re referring to the $100 2.5->2.7GHz CPU improvement + $600 SSD upgrade which almost doubles the price of the $799 ($769) high end Mini and pushes it above the price of the base model iMac. Minis start out at around $568.

The results are pretty apparent: when running simple tests, especially ones that rely only on CPU and disk access, the Mini beat the iMac handily (above). That’s almost entirely due to the added speed of the SSD compared with the iMac’s 3.5-inch HDD. When doing more graphics intensive tests (below), the iMac and its more powerful GPU took over.

The takeaway on this however is that a HDD to SSD upgrade can make a heck of a lot of difference in performance. For those handy out there, adding an SSD to a Mac Mini doesn’t have to be a $600 proposition either. Reasonable SSDs can start out at $100 and can be added to the new Minis’ hard drive configuration (not swapped) with a simple kit.

Another important tweak not detailled in these tests is adding 8GB of RAM to the Mini which will run you somewhere south of $40. Added RAM really improves performance when lots of windows or applications are open at the same time.

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