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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  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    There is barely any difference between Elitebook models to talk about. Nor is there anything particularly special about them. Just another Windows clone made and supported a little better than what HP sells at Best Buy. Given that, it was covered quite well. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    This is so last year. This is not even what I got in my Sony Z last year. For $1600. 2.4 ghz i5 (520m), GT 330M in 3 lb chasis with internal dvdrw. And that was bottom of the line. Not to mention I got mine from MSFT with 40% off.

    This year: http://store.sony.com/webapp/wcs/stores/servlet/Ca...

    Of course this one costs way more, but still worth a though.
    Reply
  • beginner99 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    lol yeah. Sony is the only brand that has even more ridiculous pricing than Apple. You say it yourself 40% off. And in this case I say apple's pricing is very competitive and I'm an "apple-hater". Never owned a single device from them, not even an Ipod.
    The new base model Vaio Z will also be about 40% more expensive at half of the SSD capacity.
    Anyway, I would have already bought it, if it was a windows system.
    Reply
  • Johnmcl7 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I wouldn't say Sony's pricing is ridiculous as you're paying for absolutely cutting edge tech whereas with Apple . The previous Z series may have been pricey but it featured a 13.1 1080p screen (genuine 1920x1080), up to an i7 dual core processor, quad SSDs in RAID 0, dual graphics graphics cards (one integrated, one discrete), blu-ray writer which even Apple's 17in machines couldn't match but was smaller and lighter than Apple's 13in machines.

    I have the Vaio from the previous generation (Z5) which has a C2D 3Ghz processor, 13.1 1600x900 screen, dual 128GB mSSDs in RAID 0, blu-ray writer and integrated & discrete graphics cards which again Apple didn't offer anything even remotely comparable. Speccing up a Macbook to the maximum level put it far above the Vaio in cost but far below in spec with just a 2.6Ghz processor, DVD burner, single graphics card and low resolution screen.

    John
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Kids, read the review and learn something before commenting. No Sony has this proc in it yet. Also learn something about cpu speed in different processor models. Finally try to understand that this laptop is meant to be super thin and lightweight which the Sony is not. It is also top quality construction support and uses a modern OS. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    The sony from last year is nearly the same weight at 3.1 lb with an internal optical drive and the new one this year is much lighter at 2.5 lbs with external.

    The Sony Z specifically do not use ULV processors for maximum performance:

    Intel® Core™ i5-2410M processor (2.30GHz) with Turbo Boost up to 2.90GHz
    Intel® Core™ i5-2540M processor (2.60GHz) with Turbo Boost up to 3.30GHz
    Intel® Core™ i7-2620M processor (2.70GHz) with Turbo Boost up to 3.40GHz

    The base processor already matches the top of the line Air processor in turbo and far exceeds it in other conditions.

    So to recap: Sony Z from last year (Z11-Z14) is already super thin and light weight at significantly faster performance for same cost, and sometimes cheaper when Microsoft Store has a crazy sale.

    Sony Z for this year Z21 is even thinner and lighter at even faster performance for a slight premium. Remember the lowest Z performs better than the fastest Air. $1969 vs $1599 gives you an external dvdrw and discrete graphics and usb 3.0. That's not a bad deal at all.

    Keep in mind the fastest Z will kill the Air in performance all in the same chasis. And battery life from reviews indicate the new Z is on-pair with Air (4+ hours with a movie playing continouously).
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    $1600 was not 40% off. I got mine for $1100. $1600 is the retail price at B&M for the entry level model that I outlined (with 64gb x2 SSD). Reply
  • ViRGE - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Looking at the specs, something doesn't make sense. They're using 35W TDP processors and claiming better battery life on a smaller battery than the 13" MBA. The math doesn't add up on that one. Reply
  • KPOM - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Might Sony be including the optional "sheet battery" in that time? Reply
  • ViRGE - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Nope. They break that out separately. Reply

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