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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  • mschira - Friday, July 29, 2011 - link

    well you are not thinking apple enough for this. saving 100$ is no reason accepting a mess on your table...
    besides who sais you need to toss the display when the gfx is outdated? what's keeping you from connecting the display via A dedicated GPU box once the internal GPU becomes to slow?
    M.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    In the display? So when the card is obsolete you get a new display? How about outside the laptop and the display but in between both. Reply
  • AJ Driver - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Thanks Anand :)

    The irony for me reading your review and others around the internet is the comparison in performance between these MBAs and other models (both new and old).

    My personal laptop is a 5, going on 6, year old Macbook and for what I use it for it's more than good enough. It's pretty incredible the way technology is advancing, and if the current pc stays the course I wait as long as I can before taking the leap.

    It's hard to deny the urge to upgrade though!
    Reply
  • Marand - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Well I thought I was finally clear that I was going to buy a MacBook Pro 13 but now I am not so sure.

    I mainly use my laptop for software development. My previous one was MacBook pro 2007 model which served me well.

    My issue with the pro line is that because of their weight, it just ends up becoming a desktop that I don't take with with me and always plugged into a large screen.

    But having the ability to put 8 gigs of ram and update the hard drive on the new MBPro is a nice option to have.

    I really hoped that apple was going to release MBAs with 8 gigs of ram at least and even if you can't upgrade the hard drive (although I heard you can with prev gen from OWC) you could always plug in bigger drives through thunderbolt if and when drives comes out.

    The big selling factor for the MBA for me was the weight. I figured it would be super easy to take with me where and when I want without treating it like a desktop.

    I know the MBAs are not targeted to developers. Ut I know plenty who were hoping for "more" from MBA

    So now I have a tough choice because the MBpro 15 with quad core and the hi res anti glare screen is packed with power even if it's heavier and likely has more long term capability.

    Oh well, can't have it all I guess...
    Reply
  • A5 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    If the 15" MBP is too heavy for you, you may want to get a more supportive bag or something. I would've killed for a 5.6lb 15" laptop 8 years ago :P Reply
  • Uritziel - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Remember, you're not supposed to carry it around attached to your ear lobe :)

    I carried a 17-inch DTR laptop that weighed about 10 lbs. around campus for a year, so 5.6 lbs. sounds light to me too. I consider battery life as the main metric of portability after weight hits that 5 lbs. mark.
    Reply
  • crimson117 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    >The only exception is if you're just going to spend your time doing very basic tasks on the machine and plan on upgrading again in a year or two. If that's the case save your money and enjoy a 4GB version with Ivy Bridge next year.

    People who can afford a new MacBook Air every time a new one comes out aren't going to be worried about saving their money on a ram upgrade :)
    Reply
  • steven75 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Apple hardware has incredible resale value, so it's actually easier to do than you think. Reply
  • Uritziel - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Don't forget that if you buy a laptop for $2000 today and sell it at that great Apple resale value of say $1000 (numbers are random) in a few years when you're ready to upgrade, the laptop did NOT cost $1000 in the end.

    Adding on the effort required to resell it, that rationale makes a lot less sense than some people claim.
    Reply
  • Rasterman - Wednesday, August 03, 2011 - link

    I'm looking at upgrading right now so I looked up the resale value of mine. I bought a new MB for $1150 in 2008, used prices are $500-$800 right now, I expect to sell mine north of $700 since it is in brand new condition as I only used it as a dev machine when porting and it has seen very little use. So my expected resale value is 61% after 3 years which is pretty damn good IMO. Reply

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