According to a report by AppleInsider based on research from Concord Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is getting ready to start mass production of new MacBook Air models featuring updated Intel graphics, Core i5 and Core i7 Intel "Sandy Bridge" processors and Thunderbolt technology. According to Ming-Chi Kuo, production could start as early as next month in "late May", with the new machines set to be released in June. The report seems to corroborate a previous rumor that suggested Apple was considering an "early refresh" of the MacBook Air line (which was unveiled by Steve Jobs in October 2010 at the "Back to the Mac" event) to implement the Sandy Bridge architecture. The current generation of MacBook Airs feature Intel's Core 2 Duo processors -- an outdated technology that can still be found in the original MacBooks, and was replaced in the early-2011 MacBook Pros by Sandy Bridge-based Corei3, Corei5 and Corei7 CPUs. Since the Cnet's report that pointed to new MacBook Airs with Sandy Bridge coming out in June, however, speculation has arisen suggesting Apple also wants to integrate Thunderbolt in the machines' thin design.
Kuo tells AppleInsider that his latest round of checks with suppliers and system builders in the region reveals that MacBook Air shipments are set to rebound during the current calendar quarter, fueled by an upgrade to Intel's latest Sandy Bridge microprocessors, integrated Intel graphics, and the expected adoption of the new Thunderbolt high-speed I/O technology that made its debut on MacBook Pros earlier this year.
Should Apple follow its current trend of using ultra-low-variants for the 11.6-inch MacBook Air and low-voltage ones for the 13.3-inch models, consumers can expect to see new 11.6-inch MacBook Airs sporting 1.4GHz to 1.6GHz Core i5 and Core i7 chips and 13.3-inch MacBook Airs with 2.10 and 2.30GHz Core i7 processors.
With several Thunderbolt-enabled products coming out in the next months and the WWDC scheduled for June, it would make sense for Apple to refresh the popular MacBook Air family to include more powerful CPUs and a Thunderbolt port. The iMac line is also expected to go under a refresh soon -- again, allegedly sporting Sandy Bridge processors and Thunderbolt. The WWDC '11 kicks off in San Francisco on June 6, but it's been rumored to be a software-focused event, rather than the stage for major hardware announcements. A speed-bump update for the MacBook Air, though, could fit well in Apple's WWDC timeframe.