The CPUs

Like the iMac and MacBook Pro before it, Apple has blessed the MacBook Air with Intel's 32nm Sandy Bridge family of CPUs. Despite being named similarly to the Core i5/i7 in the MacBook Pro, only dual-core Sandy Bridge is offered in the MacBook Air. The cases are simply too small to accommodate any 32nm quad-core parts.

Also NVIDIA is completely out of the picture here. While the previous generation MacBook Air used an NVIDIA chipset with integrated GeForce 320M GPU, Apple is relying entirely on Sandy Bridge's processor graphics this round.

Apple opted for ultra low voltage Sandy Bridge CPUs all with a 17W TDP. The previous generation used a 10W part for the 11 and a 17W part for the 13, but remember those figures didn't include NVIDIA's GeForce 320M which is good for at least another 14W under load, and probably a watt or two with the GPU idle. The 17W SNB parts include memory controller and GPU, leaving only the chipset at 3.4W. Max power consumption is likely lower on the new MBAs, although typical power consumption could be higher as Sandy Bridge cores are significantly faster than the Core 2s used before.

There are three different CPUs Apple offers in the new MacBook Air lineup:

2011 Apple MacBook Air CPU Comparison
1.6GHz Core i5 1.7GHz Core i5 1.8GHz Core i7
Available in 11-inch (default) 13-inch (default) high-end 11-inch (option)
high-end 13-inch (option)
Intel Model Core i5-2467M Core i5-2557M Core i7-2677M
Cores/Threads 2/4 2/4 2/4
Base Clock Speed 1.6GHz 1.7GHz 1.8GHz
Max SC Turbo 2.3GHz 2.7GHz 2.9GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.0GHz 2.4GHz 2.6GHz
L3 Cache 3MB 3MB 4MB
GPU Clock 350MHz / 1.15GHz 350MHz / 1.2GHz 350MHz / 1.2GHz
Quick Sync Yes Yes Yes
AES-NI Yes Yes Yes
VT-x Yes Yes Yes
VT-d No Yes Yes
TDP 17W 17W 17W

All three parts support Hyper Threading and Quick Sync, although the latter remains mostly unused in OS X. The 11 comes with a 1.6GHz part by default while the 13 ships with a 1.7GHz chip. Both can be upgraded to the same 1.8GHz Core i7, a big change from last year's lineup where even the upgraded 11-inch model was slower than the base 13.

Turbo is fully supported at the default Intel ratios (more on confirming this later). This is actually a pretty big deal because it means that for single threaded applications you actually get similar performance to a MacBook Pro. It's only in the thread heavy stuff that the Pro machines will pull away.

The default chips for both systems comes with 3MB of L3 cache. The majority of quad-core parts only have 6MB of L3 and seem to do just fine, so I don't expect that this is too big of a deal. The upgraded 1.8GHz CPU comes with an extra MB of cache.

You'll see this in the performance section but there's just no comparison between the CPUs in the 2011 MacBook Air and what Apple shipped last year. If the MacBook Air wasn't fast enough for your last year, the 2011 models should change that.

Introduction Testing Turbo
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  • dertechie - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Actually, I can see a $500 19x12 14" Thunderbolt Panel doing pretty well for them. It certainly won't move numbers but it is a more practically priced Thunderbolt display. I'd buy one, but admittedly I already want a 24" IPS panel with DisplayPort for an Eyefinity setup, using it as a docking station for my laptop is gravy.

    To be bluntly honest, if Intel wants to see Thunderbolt take off, the Thunderbolt-fed multipurpose displays are where it will happen, and it needs to encourage that. Storage won't sell it outside the Mac niche, USB3's backwards compatibility with * will destroy it there. But a display with the connectivity that desktops take for granted is an easier sell (and likely easier to tunnel that it would be over USB3). I can see other OEMs selling 22" 1080p ones with good connectivity at ~$250-300 (the TB chip itself is something like $40)

    I think given a few years we'll have seen manufacturers test out displays and docking stations with everything from backup HDDs (complements an SSD laptop well) to external GPUs integrated into them. With a low enough latency connection, you can do all sorts of cool things.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    You could show them a TN panel next to an IPS display. The differences are obvious. Reply
  • Wally Simmonds - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    If I were looking at buying a netbook today, I'd probably go out right now and grab this, however I already have a HP DM1Z. Okay, CPU performance isn't nearly as good, its body isn't as good looking or solid, and doesn't have a SSD, but looking at the battery life and graphics performance the E-350 based netbooks seem to fare better.

    It'd be nice to see some other pc manufacturers do something similar in looks/specs to the air but get some halfway decent graphics performance in there - Llano anyone?

    Might see some price drops on the Samsung Series 9 too, here in NZ they're selling for *more* than the new MBA's....
    Reply
  • quiksilvr - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Just get an SSD for your DM1Z now and save the money wasted- er I mean spent on this.

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...

    There really is no real need for crazy pixel pushing CPU performance in this day and age for an ultraportable since almost everything is hardware accelerated (GPU pushing). Having said that, the E-350 you have runs faster than the fastest DESKTOP Atom processor.

    Plus you can also upgrade to 8GB of RAM too for pretty cheap, giving your laptop a real great edge:

    http://www.newegg.com/Product/Product.aspx?Item=N8...
    Reply
  • Broheim - Monday, August 08, 2011 - link

    I'm curious, why would a CPU push pixels... seeing as that's the job of the (i)GPU. Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    If you read the review you would know this is not a Netbook.
    Netbooks are cheap miniature laptops with poor quality screens, slow, clunky, and poorly made.
    Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    DM1Z? lol you must be joking, you are comparing apples to xylophones. Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    It's a shame that the Elitebook review didn't get this much attention and time spent on the review :(

    Either way I appreciate the information
    Reply
  • damianrobertjones - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    P.s. How has the thermal paste been applied on these models as there have been reports stating that it's literally slapped all over the place which will lead to issues down the line Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Those '"reports" are BS and they were't about this model anyway. Reply

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