MacBook Air


MacBook Air stock configurations


Apple describes the new MacBook Air as the next generation of MacBooks. Perhaps, we think the Air is Apple’s netbook computer, similar to the extremely light weight, small-screened portable computers from Asus, Dell, and HP. It’s an iPad with a slightly larger screen, a keyboard, and a USB port.

To extend battery life and improve reliability, and make the MacBook Air as light weight and slim as possible, Apple eliminated a CD/DVD drive and chose to use flash storage (the kind of file storage used in thumb drives, digital cameras, the iPod Touch, and mobile phones) rather than a more typical mechanical hard drive. We think that eventually flash storage will completely replace mechanical hard drives. With no mechanical parts, flash storage is shock resistant and can’t experience the mechanical failures hard drives do, making it more durable and reliable. Flash storage uses far less power than mechanical drives, which improves battery life in laptops. For now, though, flash storage is far more expensive per gigabyte than a mechanical hard drive.

All MacBook Airs provide:

  • Airport Extreme Wi-Fi that supports 802.11n, g, and b
  • BlueTooth 2.1 + EDR (Enhanced Data Rate) for connecting to wireless keyboards and mice, syncing mobile phones
  • Two USB 2.0 ports (up to 480 Mbps)
  • SD card slot for copying data to and from the SD cards commonly used in digital cameras and mobile phones
  • Stereo speakers
  • Omnidirectional microphone
  • Headphone mini-jack
  • Support for Apple Earphones with Remote and Mic
  • FaceTime camera
  • Mini DisplayPort for connecting an additional screed (for a dual-screen setup)
  • NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics
  • Full-size keyboard with 78 (U.S.) or 79 (ISO) keys, including 12 function keys and 4 arrow keys (inverted “T” arrangement)
  • Multi-Touch trackpad for precise cursor control; supports inertial scrolling, pinch, rotate, swipe, three-finger swipe, four-finger swipe, tap, double-tap, and drag capabilities
  • 2GB or 4GB of RAM. You must choose between 2 and 4GB at the time of purchase because the RAM is permanently soldered to the logic board and not upgradable after market.
  • Built-in 50-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
  • 45W MagSafe power adapter with cable management system
  • MagSafe power port

All Macs are built around Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, Core i5, or Core i7 microprocessors. All of these Intel microprocessor designs have multiple processors built into a single chip. We refer to each processor on a multi-processor chip as a core. Intel Core 2 Duo, Core i3, and some Core i5 and Core i7 microprocessors contain two processors each. Some Core i5 and Core i7 microprocessors contain four. That makes every Mac at least a dual-processor (dual-core) computer.

The quoted speed for any computer model is the speed of one core. So, for example, the base model 11″ MacBook Air, with a quoted speed of 1.4GHz, actually contains two 1.4GHz cores each for a total actual speed of 2.8GHz. The 13″ model has an actual speed of 3.72GHz.

Our observations

11″

Purchasing a laptop computer is an exercise in compromises, even when the price of two different models is identical…as it is for the base model 11″ MacBook Air and the 13″ MacBook. Both are priced at $999.00. Let’s compare them side-by-side to see what you get for the money:

 

MacBook Air 11″ 

11.6″ LED Backlit Screen

1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, for an actual speed of 2.8GHz

64GB flash storage (equivalent to hard drive)

2.3 lbs.

MacBook 13″ 

13.3″ LED Backlit Screen

2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, for an actual speed of 4.8GHz

250GB hard drive

8x double-layer SuperDrive, whcih reads and writes CDs, DVDs, including double-layer DVDs that can hold up to 8GB each

10/100/1000BASE-T gigabit ethernet

4.7 lbs.


Clearly, the MacBook, with its much faster processor, 4 times the storage, SuperDrive, and built-in ethernet, is the bang for the buck winner by far. Despite it’s slower processor, extremely limited storage space, smaller screen, and lack of an optical drive, the MacBook Air delivers something the MacBook doesn’t: extreme portability that’s might be the ideal choice as an “on the road or in the field” computer for someone who already has a full-featured primary computer.

Pay $200 more than the base model 11″ MacBook Air ($1199.00), you get double the flash storage (128GB instead of 64GB). If you’re buying an 11″MacBook Air, we think this is an essential upgrade. 64GB of storage is not enough.

13″

For $1299.00, the base model 13″ MacBook Air delivers the overall best bang for the buck in this MacBook Air line. It has a 1.86GHZ Intel Core 2 Duo processor (actual speed 3.72GHz) it’s noticeably faster than the 11″ model, its 128GB flash storage is sufficient, and the additional 2″ of screen space makes this model much more comfortable to use than the 11″ model. The compromise is that it weighs roughly half a pound more.

Pay $300 ($1599.00) than the base model 13″ MacBook Air and you get double the flash storage space (256GB instead of 128GB). We think that’s too much to pay for additional internal storage. Instead, choose the $1299.00 model, and if you need more storage space buy an external USB hard drive at your local office supply or computer store. Looking at the web site for a major national office supply company, we see 500GB external drives for about $80.00 and 2TB drives for about $160.00.

The bottom line

The MacBook Air is a niche computer aimed at those who already have a full-featured computer, but need something extremely portable (even if not full featured) to use when on the road. If you like watching DVDs while in flight, forget the MacBook Air…it has no DVD drive. We think the MacBook Air is an ideal laptop for reporters, invesigators, doctors (many of whom now carry their laptops around the office to enter their notes), and anyone else who needs network and internet access, and the use of standard Mac applications when away from their desk.

All stock MacBook Airs come with 2GB of RAM. Apple offers a 4GB upgrade, at the time of purchase only, for $100. iFixit.com recently disassembled an 11″ MacBook and found that the RAM was soldered directly to the logic board. There’s no easy way to upgrade RAM after market as there is in other Mac Models. For that reason, we recommend that you pay the extra $100 to get 4GB of RAM at the time of purchase.

Darryl Lewis