25 Years of Mac

Macintosh History

2008: Mac Pro with 4-core Xeon, MacBook Air, Unibody MacBook and MacBook Pro

Dan Knight - updated 2008.02.13 - Tip Jar

Apple surprised everyone by releasing an updated version of the Mac Pro one week before the MacWorld Expo. The new model used Intel's 4-core 'Harpertown' CPU, and 8 cores (two quad-core CPUs) is the default except on the entry-level configuration.

MacBook Air

MacBook Air
The slim, light MacBook Air.

MacBook Air, side viewGetting the Mac Pro out of the way allowed Apple to focus on its first Intel-based subportable at the Expo - and the first completely new model of the Intel Era. The MacBook Air is barely 3/4" thick and weighs just 3 lb. - that's with a full-sized keyboard and a 13.3" 1280 x 800 display. For the first time since the G3, there's no built-in optical drive; users can buy an external SuperDrive for $99 or use special software to "borrow" the hard drive of a nearby Mac or PC with WiFi.

The MacBook Air has an aluminum unibody enclosure and a black, backlit keyboard. It has only one I/O port, a USB 2.0 connector hidden behind a door. It was the first Mac without FireWire since 2001 (the 350 MHz iMac G3).

Other Expo News

Time Capsule was also introduced at the Expo, a WiFi hub and 500 GB or 1 TB backup drive designed to work in conjunction with the Time Machine feature in Leopard. Apple also unveiled a completely overhauled Apple TV - the hardware remained the same, but the software was all new.

Apple announced five new apps for the iPod touch, which would be standard on newly built units but cost $20 for those who already owned this iPod.

More Hardware Updates

In February, Apple updated the MacBook and MacBook Pro lines using Intel's new Penryn CPU. The new 13.3" MacBook model came in 2.1 GHz and 2.4 GHz versions. Although the 3 MB L2 cache was smaller than the one in the previous MacBook, Macworld benchmarks found that the new models were more powerful than their predecessors.

The 15" MacBook Pro saw a modest jump in CPU speed from 2.2 and 2.4 GHz to 2.4 and 2.5 GHz. Again, the new Penryn CPU made the new models more powerful than clock speed alone would indicate, and the 2.5 GHz model had a 6 MB L2 cache (as did the 2.6 GHz build-to-order option). The updated 17" MacBook Pro ran at 2.5 GHz, and had a hi-res screen option in addition to a 2.6 GHz option.

Apple introduced a pink iPod in February, just in time for St. Valentine's Day, and later added a 2 GB iPod shuffle, trimming the price of the 1 GB model from US$79 to US$49.

Apple moved the iMac to the Penryn CPU in April, offering a 3.06 GHz build-to-order option for the 24" model, which also had the option of Nvidia GeForce 8800 graphics, the first time an iMac had a video upgrade option.

iPhone and iPods

On July 11, Apple released the second version of the iPhone, known as the iPhone 3G (because of its 3G network capabilities). Apple released version 2.0 of the iPhone/iPod touch version of OS X at the same time.

The entire iPod line was revised on Sept. 9. The iPod shuffle was given a new range of colors, and the iPod touch now included version 2.0 firmware and was thinner, topping out at 32 GB. The only change to the iPod classic was replacing the 80 GB and 160 GB models with a new 120 GB one.

4G iPod nanoThe iPod nano was completely redesigned as a thin, slim media player in 8 GB and 16 GB capacities (with a 4 GB version in a few markets). It was available in 9 different colors.

One of the hot new features was "shake to shuffle", facilitated by motion sensors. For the first time, new iPods could no longer be charged with docks that used FireWire. This also impacted some older third-party devices.

New 'Books

On October 14, after one of the longest periods ever without a new Mac model, Apple revised its entire notebook line. The top-end 17" MacBook Pro was bumped to 4 GB of RAM with a 320 GB hard drive. The MacBook Air received its first update - it gained Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics and a mini DisplayPort connector for an external display. The entry level MacBook was named the "MacBook White" and reduced in price to $999, and for the first time Apple put a SuperDrive in its entry-level MacBook.

Unibody MacBookThe big changes were new "unibody" designs for the MacBook and 15" MacBook Pro. The new models were carved from a block of aluminum and used a glass trackpad, based on the same technology as the iPhone and iPod touch screens. nVidea GeForce 9400M graphics was standard on both, and the MacBook Pro also had nVideo GeForce 9600 graphics with dedicated video RAM, the first time Apple had put two graphics processors in a notebook computer. (Users could choose the superior performance of the 9600 or the superior battery life of the 9400M.)

Along with the MacBook Air, the unibody models all used Apple's new Mini DisplayPort.

Visually, the new MacBook and MacBook Pro stand out for a black surround for their glossy displays. Also, there is no longer a separate mouse button - the entire trackpad surface functions as a button.

Beginning of the End for FireWire?

There was a great uproar on the Mac Web over the loss of FireWire on the aluminum MacBook, Apple's first notebook (other than the MacBook Air) without FireWire since the late clamshell iBook era. This meant there was no way to connect the Unibody MacBook to FireWire-only devices such as hard drives and older camcorders, and it eliminated Target Disk Mode, a great tool for moving files between Macs and running diagnostics.

The new MacBook Pro has a FireWire 800 port, but it no longer has FireWire 400. Fortunately a simple adapter allows use of FireWire 400 devices with a FireWire 800 port. Just as the iPod had eliminated FireWire support over the years, it looked like FireWire could be on the way out on the Macintosh as well.


To the surprise of many, the Mac mini - last updated in August 2007 - remained unchanged. Many hoped to see an upated Mac mini at the January 2009 Macworld Expo, but it was not to be.

Next: 2009 - in progress

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