Christmas comes early? 2nd Gen Intel Core MacBook Air released from $1,099

After months of rumours and speculation (and not a little amount of heated fanboy anticipation) Apple today announced its new revamped MacBook Air range with second-gen Intel Core CPUs on order from today and available in store tomorrow.

Arguably the single-most eagerly anticipated Mac launch item this year (alongside the company’s other big hardware releases notably iPad 2 and iPhone 5) the new MacBook Air features Intel’s second-generation Core “Sandy Bridge” CPUs plus Thunderbolt connectivity a backlit keyboard and the just-released-today Mac OS X 10.7 Lion.

The bump up in processor is a significant boost for the Air for while the 2010 redesign (which featured SSD-only storage and introduced a new entry-level 11.6-inch form factor alongside the established 13.3-inch model) was well received for its speedy performance and chic design a broadly perceived detraction was the inclusion of the relatively ancient Core 2 Duo CPUs — given nearly all other Macs last year offered a zippier first-gen Intel Core option.

As such the processor upgrade will be welcomed and Apple is claiming an up-to-2.5X performance boost now rendering the Air more suitable for more high-end tasks like photo and video editing. The lack of a discrete graphics card (despite Intel’s integrated HD Graphics 3000) means however this still isn’t really a great pick for the serious gamer (although it’ll handle casual gaming or low-level settings more than comfortably).     

In addition to the new CPU and the inclusion of Lion the other notable upgrades are Thunderbolt I/O connectivity (which will pair nicely with Apple’s also-announced-today Thunderbolt-equipped display to be available in two months) and a backlit keyboard.

Prices for the new MacBook Air range start at $1099 ($100 cheaper than the previous entry-level model) with an 11.6-inch display 1.6GHz CPU 2GB RAM and 64GB SSD and top out at $1799 for a 13.3-inch display 4GB RAM and 256GB SSD. Further customisations are also available.

We’ll have more on the new Air — including its relative value compared to other next-gen ultraportables — for you as soon as we can.