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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  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    35W is maximum draw I think. On average you don't use that much, and on idle you save even less. My Z, as an entire system, draws 22W on average during browsing. Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    If you had actually read the review or knew anything about the Sony Z you would know that this is a different ultra low voltage i5 processor that was just released. You would also know that Sony's are higher priced, poorly made, little service and support, and run Windows. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    I would know that my Z runs fast, plays my games, carries around just as light as an Air, is built to last, never needed support, and cost me less. And people still have their 3 gen old Z's running core duos going strong.

    The Z does not want a ULV processor. ULV is only good if you want to increase your battery life at the cost of performance. The Sony Z does not lose to Air in battery life at all. Just because something just came out doesn't necessarily make it ideal. Would there be a market for the new Z with ULV? Maybe, and it will then kill the Air in battery life and probably cost even less.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    As usual, a nice and thorough review. Thanks for the comparison to the i7, as well.

    Apple did a nice job with this one. They have created a mainstream "ultra book" months before the others come out with their blessed-by-Intel versions. It isn't as powerful as the Vaio X, but is more reasonably priced. It beats the relatively new Samsung Series 9 (which still relies on an i3 and less powerful graphics) while maintaining similar pricing. The i7 available in the 128GB 11" is a good deal at $1349. I opted for the 256GB 11" and got the Samsung (though the Toshiba would have been fine - I had one in my 2010 MacBook Air).
    Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 02, 2011 - link

    I hope you mean the Vaio Z. The X was amazing but it was a paper weight. Reply
  • iwod - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    The next gen of tech, Haswell, PCI-E 4.0, Thunderbolt 2.0, Faster SSD will be perfect fit for Macbook Air. Reply
  • lokiju - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I wonder if Sony's Air challengers external GPU would work with this if you could get the physical ports adapted to fit...

    A external GPU would probably be more than it's worth for me but still a cool concept.
    Reply
  • mschira - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    That last sentence made me think. Why not integrate the external graphic card into the external display?
    That would be neat.
    M.
    Reply
  • wicko - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I think I would still prefer an external GPU kit or something. This way you still have choice in GPU and in monitor, including existing ones. Reply
  • tipoo - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I'd prefer a separate box for the GPU so you don't have to toss the display when its outdated. With thunderbolt you could potentially connect the Air to the display, then daisychain the display to the GPU. Reply

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