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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  • djpavcy - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    In your "2011 MacBook Air Lineup" table the "Cores/Threads" and "Base Clock Speed" categories are messed up.

    Excellent review btw
    Reply
  • apinkel - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Thanks for the review. I am very interested in the 13" MBA as it's the only ultraportable I can find that has what I consider to be the ideal resolution for a laptop display with good performance and battery life (the thinkpad x301 is a close second but there's too much of a performance sacrifce there although I prefer the ports and features on the x301).

    I need a windows machine... I'm just trying to find out if the MBA is a good windows only machine. I hear conflicting reports on this... I'm sure you guys are busy but if you find the time I'd love to hear your thoughts on using a MBA as windows only.
    Reply
  • setzer - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Hi Anand, you have a small typo on the specifications table:

    Base Clock Speed Intel HD 3000
    Reply
  • check - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    From Page 4:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4528/the-2011-macboo...
    "Apple has sold a USB 10/100 Ethernet dongle in the past for MacBook Air owners, but these days you can get better performance over good WiFi than you can from 100Mbps Ethernet"

    I would like to see some testing that substantiates this claim.

    In my experience traditional 802.11a/b/g/n can't sustain speeds anywhere near what a 100Mbit wired connection can do. Not to mention that if you are running WPA or any other encryption you take a substantial bandwidth hit.
    Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    With a good router and WiFi card, and if you're in relatively close proximity to the router, 802.11n can definitely outperform 100Mbit Ethernet. If you're on the other side of the house, it will be slower, but then you'd have to run a 150 foot Ethernet cable. Now, Gigabit Ethernet is in a league of its own compared to WiFi, but we already knew that. Reply
  • Penti - Wednesday, August 10, 2011 - link

    Just attach a 10GbE adapter to it then :) Thunderbolt does suppport this kind of expansion. Reply
  • Uritziel - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    It's not really necessary to substantiate a claim that an up-to-450Mbps standard "can get better performance" over a 100Mbps standard :\ Reply
  • Silenus - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Did you read the the rest of the review? This WAS tested. See the SSD and WiFi performance section:
    http://www.anandtech.com/show/4528/the-2011-macboo...

    Both the 11 and 13 topped 116Mb transfers. 15 Macbook Pro and recent iMac did even better.
    Reply
  • lyeoh - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    1) That's peak speed.
    2) That's probably for only one WiFi user with a good zero interference connection to the AP. Add another WiFi user (or ten ;) ) and the speed will drop.

    Some (not all) APs also slow down everyone if a WiFi B/G user connects.
    Reply
  • A5 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    You're also not going to hit line speed on 100 Mbps networks without an optimal set of conditions. For everyday use (even with multiple users, etc), 802.11n is good enough and far easier to install a new network than 100 Mbps wired Ethernet.

    If you're doing a lot of the large file transfers or movie streaming, consider installing a Gigabit network though.
    Reply

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