Rumor: Apple MacBook Pro sans optical drive enters production

apple-macbook-air-sideAs the April introduction of Intel’s spanking-new Ivy Bridge 22nm processor lineup draws near, a new report from venerable rumor-mill Digitimes claims that the slimmer MacBook-Pro-on-Atkins has actually entered production and will be released alongside PC Ultrabooks similarly relying on Intel’s new silicon architecture.

We reported on an Apple peripheral maker earlier this week that claimed the MacBook Air and Pro lines would be merging in an expected April refresh, and it seems the semantics have changed, but the facts have not: According to this report, the 13- and 15-inch MacBook Pros will lose their optical drives, but retain other characteristically “Pro” features, such as larger hard disks and faster processor options.

Intel’s new 22nm manufacturing process for Ivy Bridge, which is expected to produce performance boosts of nearly 70 percent — while substantially reducing power consumption — and which in turn may power the new MacBook Pro, has resulted in myriad delays: Originally planned for an early April release, PC Ultrabook makers had hoped to get the jump on Apple by flooding the market with thin and fast laptops before the expected MacBook Air update. Now, with the release date of Ivy Bridge pegged tentatively at April 29th, it’s looking like Apple’s thinner laptops will hit the market right around the same time, and may even ship with the new tech first.

PC Netbooks, which had relied on underpowered Intel Atom processors, were assailed for their lack of processing power; in developing the Ultrabook spec, Intel hopes to again become competitive in the briskly growing ultra-portable market, which accounted for almost a third of Apple’s laptop sales last quarter.

The Digitimes report also states that monthly shipments of between 100,000 and 150,000 of the new Pro models will commence sometime in March, with shipments eventually climbing as high as 900,000.

Another source in Apple’s “Far East Asian supply chain” corroborated the new, thinner MacBook Pro speculation, telling the website “How To” Arena that the new models would be “thicker than currently available MacBook Airs but thinner than MacBook Pros.” No one, however, has mentioned the fate of the 17-inch MacBook Pro.

Ditching optical media completely but retaining more “pro” oriented features, such as numerous ports and larger storage capacities in new models, would be a keen way for Apple to differentiate its notebook product lines while simultaneously moving toward a more mobile computing paradigm. Although rumors indeed mention larger hard disks for Pro models, it is unclear if those disks will as standard be traditional mechanical drives, or the SSDs found in current MacBook Airs — an unlikely proposition that would increase the price of the new models dramatically. It should be noted that it is not quite easy for the typical user to replace or upgrade the internal proprietary SSD of the current Air line, so it may indeed mean a lot to potential buyers which way Apple decides to go with this one.