The 11-inch as a Windows Notebook

As a follow-up to our Nvidia 320M/MacBook Pro 13 article last week, I’ve been running our Windows test suite on the MacBook Air 11”. I, like Anand, have the lowest end 11”er, with 2GB memory and the 64GB SSD. This makes installing Windows an interesting proposition since after the two OS installs, you’ve got right around 30GB of free disk space to work with. My suggestion - if you plan on installing Windows and dual booting often, save yourself the headache and get the 128GB model.

The other quirk with putting Windows on the Air is that it must be done with a USB optical drive - no hard drive/thumb drive installs. Interestingly, my external optical drive wasn’t recognized as a bootable drive, so I had to run out and grab an Apple SuperDrive. Apple says that you just need an external DVD drive, without specifying the MacBook Air SuperDrive, but your mileage may vary.


Boot Camp Drivers are now downloaded from Apple's servers prior to the Windows installation

With the Windows install out of the way, we were free to test the living daylights out of it, and that we most certainly did. The 11” Air has the same 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo SU9400 as the similarly thin Dell Adamo 13. Months after we move to Arrandale ULV, leave it to Apple to bring the good old CULV platform back to relevance. As expected, Cinebench and the x264 encoding test gave us results around the same level as the Adamo and the rest of the old CULV gang. Versus the 13” MacBook Pro, you’re looking at roughly a 40% decrease in the CPU compute-heavy benchmarks, roughly equivalent to the reduction in clock speed from the 2.4GHz Pro to the 1.4GHz Air. Arrandale ULV notebooks, such as the Alienware M11x and its Core i7-620UM, are another matter entirely, with the newer architecture posting numbers nearly doubling the Air’s Core 2 processor.

3D Rendering - CINEBENCH R10

3D Rendering - CINEBENCH R10

Video Encoding - x264

Video Encoding - x264

The gaming benchmarks get a bit more interesting. We’re looking at the same GT 216-derived GeForce 320M that was in the MacBook Pro 13, with the same 450MHz core and 950MHz shader clocks. Based on the performance we saw out of the Pro 13, we know that the Air, even in 11” form, can still hold its own in games.

DiRT 2

Left 4 Dead 2

Mass Effect 2

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

At low detail settings, the Air is pretty consistently 20% slower than the Pro 13, except in SC2, where they were roughly equal. Given that the GPU is identical and that both are using 256MB of the system’s DDR3 1066 memory, it is likely that the 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo is slow enough to put a bottleneck on gaming performance. It’s still a ways ahead of the ASUS Core i3/G 310M combo, and all of our games are playable at native resolution.

DiRT 2

Left 4 Dead 2

Mass Effect 2

Stalker: Call of Pripyat

StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty

At medium settings though, the Air starts to fall off a bit. Where the MBP13 was borderline-playable, always between the 25-35 fps range, the Air is about 10% behind and makes it to the magical 30fps mark in STALKER, but nothing else. DiRT 2, Left 4Dead 2, Mass Effect 2, and StarCraft II all ended up between 22 and 26 fps, still faster than the G 310M, but not quite playable. Another interesting concern during gaming is heat. The Air isn’t the coolest notebook in the world, with idle temps hovering around 50C, but while running the gaming tests, I saw GPU temps rise up into the 70s. Nothing too alarming, but still pretty toasty and more than enough to get the fans spinning to the max.

But let’s put this all in perspective. This isn’t about just an 11.6” notebook that can game - the 11.6” M11x is the fastest gaming notebook under 5lbs, but even then it’s still a full two times heavier than the MB Air 11. The Air 11 shoehorns quite a bit of power into one of the smallest form factors on the market. Having a GT 216 core in an enclosure this small and being able to run these games at 40 fps at native resolution is definitely very impressive.

The Battery Life Final Words
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  • cabjf - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - link

    The fact that the iPad will easily sync with your main computer does give it one advantage over the Air. If Apple produced some type of easy to use syncing software so that you could use the Air as a portable version of your main computer's contents, it would be the perfect road companion to an iMac, Mac Pro, or even a 17-inch Macbook Pro. Perhaps that is the way they are moving in bringing an App Store and other iOS features to Mac OS X. Maybe that's part of the intended use for that huge data center they are building (and already considering expanding). Reply
  • wintermute000 - Wednesday, October 27, 2010 - link

    " If Apple produced some type of easy to use syncing software so that you could use the Air as a portable version of your main computer's contents, it would be the perfect road companion to an iMac, Mac Pro, or even a 17-inch Macbook Pro."

    Easily done with a bit of work
    - know where the files are and don't do things like let itunes sort folders
    - rsync or any decent gui backup/sync software

    storage is an issue but for work purposes 64Gb is enough to handle it
    for streaming media use streaming media solutions.
    Reply
  • psonice - Wednesday, October 27, 2010 - link

    Apple sell 'mobile me' which pretty much does this. It gives you an 'iDisk' in the cloud, accessible from any of your machines (think it supports windows too?), plus there's an iphone app to access it. It also syncs your bookmarks, preferences, dock icons (don't think it syncs the actual apps though) and keychain (for passwords). There's push email + web hosting (main thing I use it for) and other bits too.

    It's $60/year, and it's possible to get pretty much everything for free elsewhere. But like a log of apple stuff, it works well, it's nicely integrated, and if you have the money it's not worth arsing around with the others.
    Reply
  • Tmoz - Wednesday, October 27, 2010 - link

    You could use Dropbox to do this: http://db.tt/eiXQTsi (Disclosure: Referral link)

    It syncs your files to Amazon S3 and then to any computers you have the software installed on (Mac/Windows/Linux are supported)
    Reply
  • dendysutrisna - Friday, August 12, 2011 - link

    Yes I understand, since this article was made when Apple's MacBook Air which has been reinforced Intel Core i5 has not come out. MacBook Air the latest generation, which has been paired with Mac OS X Lion, there is a AirDrop feature, where you can share with computer around you which in one network, even with the computer windows though. Try to look http://www.bestdealscomputers.net/netbooks/apple-m... I've made ​​a little review about the newest MacBook Air, you might want to find out more. Reply
  • quiksilvr - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - link

    Seriously, their pricing scheme makes absolutely no sense. I have attempted to see what COULD be the decent price point, but a few points have to be made:

    1) The Macbook 13 (the white one) simply needs to die.

    2) They are now hitting 4 different screen sizes, and IMO they should stick to three and make things easier (as should other PC makers)
    1) 12" screen (not 11.6", 12") for the netbook market
    2) 14" screen for the general market
    3) 16" screen for the heavy multimedia and desktop replacement market

    3) Get rid of the "Pro" terminology. Simply have it Macbook 12, 14, 16 and Air versions of these models (Macbook Air 12, etc.)

    4) STOP forcing customers to get the "upgraded" version just so that we can upgrade the CPU. This is annoying and very Dell like and customers don't like it.
    Reply
  • martyrant - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - link

    Apple has needed a price overhaul since the company's inception.

    Glad you are only now realizing.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Tuesday, November 02, 2010 - link

    You are just too dumb to understand that similar quality, service, and a modern OS from other companies is as much or more than Apple products. Except they don't have a modern OS. Reply
  • quiksilvr - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - link

    Okay, here is my attempt (and I know this will never happen because it makes too much sense)

    Macbook Air 12: $799
    Macbook 12: $599

    Macbook Air 14: $999
    Macbook 14: $799

    Macbook Air 16: $1199
    Macbook 16: $999

    And as shocking as this may seem to Mac users, this is still a major premium over PCs.

    Macbook Air Baseline:
    -Core i3 LV (or ULV) with Core i5/i7 LV/ULV option (add thickness if necessary)
    -Integrated Intel HD chip and dedicated nVidia card with Optimus
    -SSD (I would say start it at 90GB and work your way up)
    -USB 3.0 all the way
    -mini Displayport with choice of adaptor included (DVI, VGA, HDMI, Displayport, etc.)
    -Wireless, Bluetooth, yada yada
    -4 GB RAM
    -No Optical
    -And one thing I just noticed, put an actual microphone PORT and put a stereo microphone next to the webcam
    -Expresscard Slot option

    Macbook Baseline:
    -Core i3 with Core i5/i7 option (add thickness if necessary)
    -Integrated Intel HD chip and dedicated nVidia card with Optimus
    -HDD with SSD option (start HDD with 250GB)
    -USB 3.0
    -mini Displayport with choice of adaptor included (DVI, VGA, HDMI, Displayport, etc.)
    -Wireless, Bluetooth, yada yada
    -4 GB RAM
    -DVD Burner with Blu Ray Player/Blu Ray Burner option
    -Expresscard Slot option

    5) And for the love of god, stop making these screens epic glossy. This is a message to ALL PC makers! Make it half and half or give a realistically priced matte option (FREE)
    Reply
  • solipsism - Tuesday, October 26, 2010 - link

    Nothing you wrote makes sense.

    How much is the ULV CPU from Intel?
    How much is the LV CPu from Intel?
    How much is that Nvidia 320M?
    How much does it cost to mill an aluminum case?
    How much are 9.5mm ultra-slim slot-loading BRDs?
    Can you find any for sale?
    Which Core-i3 LV and ULV chips will they use?
    Which USB3.0 controller will they use, how much will cost, where will go in the Airs?
    Where will this ExpressCard slot go?
    Why scrape the 11, 13 and 15” Mac notebooks for 12, 14 and 16” displays?
    Why didn’t you fail to address the size, weight, or quality of anything? You just took a price that you compared to other vendors, bumped it slightly and then added a whole mess of features without considering engineering, costs, or anything else. You might as well add include TARDIS technology to fit all that in there and/or use a TARDIS to go into the future to a time when all that is actually possible, but instead you just sound like a TARD in your self proclaimed “makes too much sense” post.
    Reply

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