Last month we looked at Apple’s new 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs. I concluded the 11-inch was the pinnacle of portability, delivering the weight and form factor of a netbook but without the drive-you-crazy performance of an Atom. The 13-inch was more of a regular, get-your-work done notebook - just in a very thin and very light chassis. I liked carrying the 11-inch MBA, but I liked working on the 13-inch. My typical workflow was simply too slow on the 1.4GHz 11-inch system.

Apple offers two potentially important upgrades for the 11-inch MacBook Air that could alleviate some of my concerns. For $100 more than its $999 starting price, you can outfit the 11 with 4GB of memory instead of 2GB. Light web browsing and writing don’t need more than 2GB, but start editing videos, photos or open way too many apps at once and you’ll quickly want more memory. If you’re planning on keeping your system for a while, the 4GB upgrade makes a lot of sense. And many Apple stores actually stock the upgraded 4GB model.

The next upgrade is a bit harder to swallow. The base 11-inch MacBook Air can’t be upgraded aside from memory. The $1199 model however, can. You get a 128GB SSD (up from 64GB) as well as the option to pay $100 for a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo.

Normally 200MHz isn’t much to write home about, especially not for $300 more than the standard 11. However, 200MHz is a 14% increase in clock speed compared to the base model. In applications that are CPU bound, you may see close to that percentage in improved performance. The magic number for feeling a performance increase is 10%. Anything below that is tough to feel in real world use, but anything at or above that 10% mark usually feels quicker.

MacBook Air Spec Comparison
  11-inch Upgraded 11-inch 13-inch
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz (2.13GHz optional)
Memory 2GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board 4GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board 2GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board (4GB optional)
GPU NVIDIA GeForce 320M NVIDIA GeForce 320M NVIDIA GeForce 320M
Storage 64GB SSD 128GB SSD 128GB SSD (256GB optional)
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR 802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR 802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Battery Capacity 35 Whr 35 Whr 50 Whr
Dimensions 11.8 " x 7.56 " x 0.11 - 0.68"
(29.95 cm x 19.2 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
11.8 " x 7.56 " x 0.11 - 0.68"
(29.95 cm x 19.2 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
12.8 " x 8.94 " x 0.11 - 0.68"
(32.5 cm x 22.7 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
Weight 2.3 lbs (1.06 kg) 2.3 lbs (1.06 kg) 2.9 lbs (1.32 kg)
Price $999 $1399 $1299

Combine the two upgrades and you’ve got a fairly expensive MacBook Air ($1399 if you’re keeping score). But if you want the portability of the 11 and are looking to get as much performance as possible, it’s your only option.

Luckily we happened to come across such a system. And we didn’t hesitate to test it.

Performance
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  • khimera2000 - Saturday, November 06, 2010 - link

    the only portable i would try it on is a M11x (core2) it can overclocked out of the box, and was disinged to stan higher thermals then the core2 for future upgrading (hello i7 ).

    Looking at the 11 inch mac book there is not much for heat disipation when you get down that thin. according to intel's web sight the 1.4 and 1.6 variant have the same TDP so overclocking the 1.4 might make more heat then the 1.6.

    then again it might make an intresting test to see if that is in fact true.
    Reply
  • tehjord - Saturday, November 06, 2010 - link

    Has it really? Because I mean, it must be the same piece of silicon by now, perhaps in the past with bad yields, but today, these are very old cpu. Reply
  • khimera2000 - Saturday, November 06, 2010 - link

    this is true that is probably a more refined fab, but the issue i have is that the mac book is uber thin, I have no idea if they took this into account in the desing, and i have no idea how it will effect the heat issues. I overclocked one notebook and found that it got so hot my SD card in the memory slot melted.

    Over clocking a notebook is not worth it to me. it will void a warenty and if something goes horrably wrong you still have to spend the full cost to replace the system, where as a DeskTop you can test components and salvage some of the components.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Saturday, November 06, 2010 - link

    Can you overclock a Macbook air? If so, then that would be the way to go. Googling found this:

    http://www.coolbook.se/CoolBook.html
    Reply
  • StormyParis - Sunday, November 07, 2010 - link

    I don't understand how you can call such a glossy display "good". I would never, ever consider buying laptop with a mirror in place of a screen. Apple should at least offer a mate screen as an option. Reply
  • sa7078 - Sunday, November 07, 2010 - link

    I just upgraded from a late 2008 1.86 Air to a 2010 11" 1.6 ghz/4GB Air. While the new model may not match the old one it terms of raw CPU power, what most reviews, including Anandtech, are leaving out is that the old Airs got very hot, slowed down to cool down and vented constantly out of the bottom of the unit. This made them impossible to use on a bed and they frequently throttled back the CPU to cool down. They also struggled to play video. The 2010 model has no vents, runs very cool, and plays any video I've thrown at it, including Sling HD, which halted on my old Air. So the new Airs may not be the best choice for people who run processor intensive apps like Photoshop, but neither were the old Airs. And the new ones are simply a million times better at common tasks like Web video, word processing, email, etc. Simply put, the new 11" Air is the best laptop I've ever owned -- it just works. The old one was cool and light but it got too hot and couldn't run some of the most simple tasks like video, because of an old video subsystem and a constant need to cool down. Reply
  • johnspierce - Sunday, November 07, 2010 - link

    I would love to see performance comparisons between a Macbook Pro 13" 2.4ghz with an SSD in it.

    - Compare it to the two MBA's
    - Compare it to the MBP 13" stock
    - Compare it to the MBP 15" with i5 and i7

    I'm betting it will perform at least as well as the 15" i5 and more likely will be *almost* as good in overall performance mix as the i7.

    This could be the "sleeper" best deal for your money in a Mac notebook. Considering you can buy 128gb SSD's for under $200 now and Microcenter in Denver sells new MBP 13" for $999.

    You guys at Anandtech should do this!

    thanks for the articles, your stuff is my favorite!

    John
    Reply
  • Jon03021 - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    I second this! Reply
  • rgslater - Sunday, November 07, 2010 - link

    Way overpriced for me. The hardware is on par with the Acer Timeline 1810t (11", C2D, 4GB) that I bought over a year ago....for about $550. Where is the Timeline now?.......
    Core i7 ULV (1.46 GHz, turbo to 2.53 GHz)
    4 GB ram
    500 GB HDD
    more connectors (3 usb, HDMI, VGA, card reader)
    8 hrs battery life (claimed)

    Its a bit pricey at $849 (Newegg) but still far less than even the base model Mac. And the prices only go down from there, because you can choose from i5 and i3 processors as well.

    Sure it has some limitations, like the graphics. It's roughly the same dimensions, but half and inch thicker and about 12 ounces heavier. I guess that's why it isn't "portable perfection".

    As much as I don't get their products...actually I get the products, but not the pricing...I have to admire the company. They somehow make otherwise objective tech writers get misty-eyed over old tech at inflated prices.

    And the transmeta analogy is a non starter. Why does that even matter? Everything in tech has gotten cheaper. The fact that I paid $3000 for my first desktop (486) does not make me think that anything less than that today is a good deal.
    Reply
  • MacTheSpoon - Monday, November 08, 2010 - link

    If it had a matte screen and battery life equal to the Vaio X, I would switch over. As it is, I'll stick with my Vaio X. Though honestly, if you're just writing and browsing the web like me, an Asus netbook these days is a fraction of the cost of either computer, has a matte screen, and its battery life is not quite up to the Vaio X but it's getting up there. The keyboard and screen are a little smaller than the MBA 11" and it's a tiny bit heavier, but really overall it's a great way to go. Reply

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