Apple boosts speed and lowers prices on its new laptops

— -- Apple aaplrefreshed its laptop line Tuesday, redesigning its top of the line models and dropping the price of its entry-level Macbook to $999.

Graphics cards have come of age. In the past weeks, two of the most leading-edge companies — when it comes to working with photos and video — have endorsed the idea of making better use of graphics cards.

Tuesday, Apple refreshed its MacBook and MacBook Pro notebook line, mostly with new graphics cards from Nvidia that Apple says will dramatically increase performance.

In September, Adobe Systems introduced a new version of its popular Photoshop photo-editing software, saying it was tapping into faster, more efficient and affordable graphics cards to dramatically increase the power of the program.

Graphics cards turn the data in a computer into visuals; cards that once cost $300 and up to improve speed and faster loading of visuals now are under $100.

The new MacBooks — except for the entry-level model, which dropped in price from $1,099 to $999 — have the Nvidia GeForce 9400 M chip and have been redesigned with sleek aluminum and back-lit LED displays.

"We're just smiling from ear to ear here," says Drew Henry, general manager of Nvidia's graphics card division.

"Having companies like Adobe and Apple build applications around our products is an absolute endorsement that the GPU (graphics processing unit) is becoming the center of the visual computing era."

Apple had offered Mac notebooks in two flavors, low-power MacBooks and faster operating and more expensive MacBook Pros, which were recommended for those looking to work with photos and video.

But with the new graphics chip, Apple has essentially brought the faster power to the MacBook line for every model but the $999 MacBook. The Pro line is now even faster, Apple says.

Besides dropping the price on the entry-level MacBook, Apple also lowered prices on more expensive models. Both the MacBooks and Pro (with the exception of the $999 MacBook) have a new "smooth glass" trackpad, offering the ability to click anywhere on the pad for navigation.

The new MacBooks are expected in stores Wednesday.

Many analysts, including Piper Jaffray's Gene Munster, had expected bigger price drops from Apple, possibly as low as $800 for the entry-level MacBook, but that didn't happen.

Munster says he was initially "disappointed" by the announcement. "But when you see the computers back to back with the old ones, you realize it's a really significant form factor change. I expect Apple to sell a lot of MacBooks."

Marty Singer, director of Web operations for New York computer retailer J&R Music World, called the lower price on the entry-level MacBook, "a real shot in the arm."

"With this economy, it's going to be a tough holiday season for laptops. By bringing the price down under $1,000, it doesn't quite put Apple into the PC arena, but it gets them closer," he says.

The sub-$1,000 price point is a "sweet spot" for customers, Singer adds. "Apple has never been there before."

Additionally, Apple introduced a refreshed version of its MacBook Air notebook, which first went on sale in the spring marketed as the "world's thinnest notebook."

The new model retains that claim and touts a "4X performance boost" from the new graphics chip, and increased hard drive storage. Apple didn't lower the price: The MacBook Air still starts at $1,799.