I've always liked ultraportables. Back when I was in college I kept buying increasingly more portable notebooks until I eventually ended up with something horribly unusable for actual work. When Apple introduced the first MacBook Air back in 2008 I fell in love. It finally stuck a fast enough CPU in a small enough chassis and gave me a full sized keyboard to type on. I was set.

Last year Apple introduced the first major update to the MacBook Air, bifurcating the lineup with the first ever 11-inch model in addition to the standard 13. With last year's update the MacBook Air did so well that it actually started outselling the base MacBook. Apple isn't a fan of large complicated lineups so it retired the MacBook. If you want a portable Mac you can buy a MacBook Air or a MacBook Pro.

As the mainstream counterpart to the MacBook Pro, Apple had to do something about the performance of the MacBook Air. While last year's updates were great alternatives to cheap, underpowered netbooks, they weren't fast enough to be a mainstream computer in 2011. Last year's Air featured Intel's Core 2 Duo processors, based on an architecture that debuted in 2006. Intel has released two major architectures since then.

Just nine months after the release of the 2010 MacBook Air, Apple fixed the problem. Meet the new Air:

If these systems look identical to the ones they're replacing that's because they are, at least from the outside. With the exception of a backlit keyboard, some differences in the row of function keys and a Thunderbolt logo, these babies look identical to last year's models.

You shouldn't judge a (Mac)book by its cover, because the MacBook Air's internals are much improved.

2011 MacBook Air Lineup
11.6-inch 11.6-inch (high-end) 13.3-inch 13.3-inch (high-end)
Dimensions H: 0.11-0.68" (0.3-1.7cm)
W: 11.8" (30cm)
D: 7.56" (19.2cm)
H: 0.11-0.68" (0.3-1.7cm)
W: 12.8" (32.5cm)
D: 8.94" (22.7cm)
Weight 2.38 lbs (1.08kg) 2.96 lbs (1.35kg)
Base CPU 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5 1.7GHz dual-core Core i5
Graphics Intel HD 3000
RAM 2GB DDR3-1333 4GB DDR3-1333 4GB DDR3-1333 4GB DDR3-1333
SSD 64GB SSD 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 256GB SSD
Display Resolution 1366 x 768 1440 x 900
Ports Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, composite audio in/out jack Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, composite audio in/out jack
Price $999 $1199 $1299 $1599

The CPUs
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  • draoug - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Thanks a lot for this great review. I'm very interested about the new 13' MacBook Air (i5 version) but I have also seen the 13' MacBook Pro (i5 too). In the comparisons, we see that the 13' MBP with the i7 is much more efficient than the MBA, but what about the 13' MBP with the i5 processor ?

    I think there isn't a big difference so I'm more on the MBA.

    What do you think ?

    Again, thanks for this review :)
    Reply
  • LuckyKnight - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Whatever happened to your review of intels 23.97hz fixed driver? Reply
  • ghigh - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I bought a 13"/1.8/256gb last week at an Apple retail store. I unfortunately got the slower Toshiba drive. I can confirm the benchmark numbers of 160mb/s write and 205mb/s read.

    I exchanged the unit but got another Toshiba. :( Store won't allow any more exchanges. Called AppleCare and was unable to get any kind of resolution. I even got a call from Apple Corporate. At this point Apple is saying it is not an issue since these are just OEM parts and no performance numbers are stated.

    So buyer beware--if you are set on getting the Samsung be willing to do a bunch of returns/exchanges and multiple stores until you get what you want.
    Reply
  • tipoo - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Most sites are agreeing that the 13's are getting the slower drives, the 11's the faster. Reply
  • h00ligan76 - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I bought the 1.8/256 13" and have the samsung display and drive. The rub is, I am not sure this is the right machine for me. So expensive to perform at last year's level. OTOH, the 15"s get way too hot for my taste, and obviously are heavier. I guess I shouldn't complain and I should get on with enjoying it. :) I don't however see the need to keep an iPad with a laptop this light, though whatever bug is causing the long wake from sleep is sure annoying. Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    Good to know they do actually come in the 13", maybe they are only in the upgraded 13"? I would hate to spend top dollar for this and get the slower drive. Reply
  • versesuvius - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    I've never had an Apple product, and I don't think I ever will, but I have always thought of Apple as a software company, maybe as a result of its rivalry with Microsoft operating systems. It is always like, Windows is like that, but Apple: Never. Now I see that it is really a hardware company, or rather a company that makes a couple of gadgets that look very nice and are built with quality in mind and are priced accordingly and then some. A hardware company with only three gadgets at a time does not have a strong future, but Apple has always come through. Very good.

    I have one question. Can you install Windows on this?
    Reply
  • bji - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    Yes, and the article even benchmarks Windows 7 on the Macbook Air. You need to read the article before responding. Reply
  • versesuvius - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Thank you bji. The boot camp!

    Actually I was under the impression that boot camp runs Windows inside a virtual machine. Looks like it is not, but it has to have the Apple OS installed before one can install Windows so that it can emulate the BIOS. And you cannot install the Windows XP x64 on an Apple, but you can 7 and Vista. And since I am using Windows XP x64, the answer turns out to be "no". I should have been more clear in my question.

    It would be a nice touch if Apple included dual Bios for its gadgets, so that people could install Windows on its raw hardware without the need for BIOS emulation.
    Reply
  • Jamesbsc - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    This website makes the reviews by engadget and Cnet look like kindergarten stuff. These are some brilliant people behind this website and brilliant reviews Reply

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