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Speculation sprang up across Macintosh enthusiast Web sites late during the week of May 1 that Apple Computer would soon introduce a new computer model, possibly dubbed the MacBook.

This MacBook would replace the consumer laptop iBook G4 model and be the lower-cost sibling of the recently introduced MacBook Pro, based on processors from Intel, rumors said.

There was little direct evidence, however. Anonymous sources told the MacRumors Web site that Apple retail stores have received signage that should not go up before Tuesday, May 9.

Other sites, such as ThinkSecret and AppleInsider also posted stories putting forward May 9 as the MacBook’s announcement date.

Click here to read about Apple’s decision to ship the MacBook Pro with faster Intel processors than originally specified by the company.

Particularly intriguing was that, for a brief time, there was a blank page on the Apple Web site displaying the name “MacBook” in a navigation thread. A screen grab of the short-lived page is available at ThinkSecret.

Many of the rumors said the MacBook will feature a 13.3-inch screen, different from the typical 12- or 14-inch screens on the iBook. Ideas differed as to whether the MacBooks would use Intel’s Core Solo or Core Duo.

The optimal market time for a MacBook introduction is approaching rapidly, some observers said.

“This is not rocket science,” said Charles Wolf, an analyst for Needham & Co., based in New York. The current iBook sells in large numbers to the K-12 educational market, Wolf said. The educational institution buying season runs approximately from June 1 through the end of August.

“Everyone in that market knows Apple has a [Power PC] G4-based iBook,” Wolf said. “If Apple wants to have good sales of the MacBook,” he said, the company needs to introduce a new model, or replacement, soon.

Last June, Apple CEO Steve Jobs made the surprise announcement that the company would migrate its Macintosh line from Power PC processors made by IBM and Freescale to Intel processors. At the time, Jobs said the process would begin in June 2006 and would result in the entire product line being Intel-only by June 2007.

However, Apple delivered earlier than expected, showing in January an Intel-based version of the all-in-one iMac, and a replacement for the PowerBook notebook called the MacBook Pro.

Click here to read more about Apple’s January introduction of Intel-based Macintosh computers.

For a while, the Intel iMac was sold side by side with the Power PC-based model. Similarly, the 15.4-inch MacBook Pro did not completely replace the PowerBook; for months afterward, Power PC-based PowerBooks were still sold, and Apple did not offer 12- or 17-inch versions of the MacBook Pro. However, PowerBooks of those sizes remained available. Apple finally offered an Intel-based 17-inch MacBook Pro in April.

In February, Apple rolled out the Intel-based Mac mini, an entry-level computer occupying the lowest price point for Apple.

Though Intel-based Macs cannot run existing Mac software natively, these Macs come with Apple’s Rosetta emulation environment. Rosetta allows most Power PC-native Mac software to run on the new computers. Many developers have made available versions of their products in UB (Universal Binary) form, which runs on both Power PC- and Intel-based Macs.

Should the rumors prove true, the only remaining Macs requiring an Intel transplant would be the PowerMac desktop line and XServe server systems.

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