Apple ships Sandy Bridge MacBook Air, Mac mini, more

By Jonny Evans

We're still waiting for Lion [UPDATEGo grab it, it's here (and tweet me your experiences)], but Apple [AAPL] this morning introduced new Sandy Bridge Mac minis, new model MacBook Air (including a backlit keyboard) and a Thunderbolt-equipped display. And Apple has taken yet another big step toward  killing the optical drive.

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[ABOVE: Apple's new Mac mini sits beneath the new Thunderbolt display.]

iCloud killed the optical drive

Mac mini fans may be a little disappointed, as Apple has resisted industry and consumer pressure to introduce a sub-$500 PC to make the new-breed Sandy Bridge mini available from $599. The new design is unibody aluminum with a removable panel and a built-in power supply -- there's no power brick.

What are you getting? Twice the performance, apparently. You get a choice of the latest dual-core Intel Core i5 or Intel Core i7 processors, AMD Radeon HD 6630M discrete graphics. A quad-core Intel Core i7 powered server configuration is also available (though Xserve fans may want to keep their cash back on strength of the rumored server-style Mac Pro).

What you don't get in this configuration -- or in the MacBook Air -- is an optical drive, as Apple puts it: "Designed without an optical disc drive, Mac mini can access the optical drives on other PCs and Macs, and works with the MacBook Air SuperDrive."

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Apple has also taken another move toward an all solid state future: You can purchase the Mac mini with a 256GB solid state drive.

Faster interconnects, too: Thunderbolt hits the cheap(er) Mac seats. Firewire, ethernet, HDMI, four USB, an SDXC slot and Thunderbolt also feature. And, of course, the Mac mini ships with Lion pre-installed.

The mobile devices company

The MacBook Air delivers on all the rumors: you get next-gen Sandy Bridge processors (i5 or i7 dual-core processors); you get Thunderbolt (once known as Lightpeak) I/O; you get a backlit keyboard; you get twice the performance, and, in keeping with Apple's seeming strategic direction, you don't get an optical drive (you never have on this device) and the disc is (as ever) solid state.

Available from $999 it has the most up-to-date MultiTouch trackpad, and is available in 11-inch and 13-inch models. There has however been one big casualty to the new configuration: there is no white plastic MacBook now available at the Apple Store.

Apple has clearly learned a lot about portability. The larger model weighs just 2.96 pounds, while the smaller weights 2.38 pounds. Battery life is 7 hours and 5 hours respectively. There's two USB ports and Bluetooth. And has Lion inside. Which we're all still waiting for. At time of writing.

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[ABOVE: Some more Apple PR shots, this time featuring twin displays and that there Macbook Air.]

Display with an Apple touch

Apple has introduced one of the world's first available Thunderbolt devices, a 27-inch display for $999. This offers a built-in FaceTime HD video camera for crisp video conferencing, a 2.1 speaker system for high quality audio, an integrated MagSafe charger to keep Mac notebooks charged, three USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 800 port, one Gigabit Ethernet port and a Thunderbolt port for daisy chaining up to five additional Thunderbolt devices.

I think the coolest-sounding thing about the new display is the ambient light sensor. This: "Automatically adjusts the display brightness based on external lighting conditions and uses only as much energy as necessary to provide an optimum viewing experience."

You may want some more ideas as to Apple's financial results, you can get these here. Or what would Steve do, that's here.

What do you think of the new Macs and the display? Would you get one, or are you more than happy with what you already have? When will the promised legion of promised third-party Thunderbolt devices appear? Let me know in comments below.

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