An iPod Hard Drive in a Mac?

One of many sacrifices made in the quest for the thinnest notebook in the world in the hard drive department. The MacBook Air ships with an 80GB 1.8”, 5mm thick, 4200RPM PATA hard drive while most regular notebooks feature much faster 2.5” drives with larger platters that spin at 5400 or even 7200RPM. Apple does offer a supposedly faster 1.8” solid state drive (SSD) as a $999 option, but given the price most will opt for the standard HDD.


From left to right: 1.8" Air HDD, 2.5" standard notebook HDD, 3.5" standard desktop HDD

The 1.8" HDD’s performance limitations are visible from the start. Spotlight searches aren't always instantaneous but on a brand new machine they tend to be faster than they were on the Air. OS X does a great job of hiding slow disk performance (subjectively much better than Vista, but I don't have scientific test results to back that up), but even then the drive is a clear limitation of the system.

For basic typing, email and web surfing it's fine. If you throw in some multitasking, spotlight searches and start launching some more complex applications, then you really see the drive choke. We wanted to see if the SSD would fix these issues, so we set out on upgrading the drive in our MacBook Air.

Little or No Upgrade Path Hard Drive Swap: DIY SSD Install
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  • aliasfox - Thursday, February 14, 2008 - link

    It may be 50% faster than the 1.2 GHz ULV processors in most other ultraportables, but that also means it's also about 50% slower than most mainstream high end CPUs (2.2 GHz and up).

    Slow hard drive doesn't help either.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - link

    I don't get it. I can use my Pioneer laptop slot loading burner on an external enclosure and it be powered solely via the one usb port and works just fine, even while writing to dvds.

    For that matter, I can do the same with notebook laptop drives. Rarely do I need both usb ports connected in order for it to work.
    Reply
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - link

    Only about 16mbits per second on the xfer rate on wireless? Wow. Were you using n? Reply
  • JarredWalton - Thursday, February 14, 2008 - link

    I don't know what Anand used, but I've seen everything from 3MBps to 12MBps on an 802.11n network... all with laptops in the same room, and many using the same chipset (Intel 4965AGN). Overall, N tends to feel about half as fast as 100Mbit Ethernet - or about twice as fast as 802.11G. Router choice unfortunately still has a major influence on 802.11N performance. Reply
  • Imaginer - Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - link

    It is what the overall feel and message of the article indicates to me. It is a bit expensive, non-expansive, lacks most utility to be used in most mobile situations, and it is purely for computing on the bare minimum.

    Kind of like that so called weekend car. I don't think I myself will have ANY need for such a device. Give me a powerful desktop and a versitle yet remaining non cumbersome notebook anyday.

    Most people in the market for a laptop usually would use it like their normal away from home computer and because of this, the air really disappoints. (not that I would invest in a new computer anytime soon).
    Reply
  • jedmitchell - Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - link

    hey, so good review overall -- kept it very even handed considering the difficulty of reviewing a niche product like this. one hardware point I'd like to mention though is the info you give on the X3100. certainly the idea behind it is that as an integrated controller it won't provide very fast graphics, but there's a trick here: most of the things it's not rated to run... run. at least on the older macBook (santa rosa). final cut pro, maya, and photoshop actually all run pretty seamlessly on the X3100, both in OSX and windows (fcp is more memory/drive limited there than GPU). the only small problems are in windows where the X3100 drivers by intel are actually lacking several openGL 2.0 features present in apple's version.

    the X3100 even plays older games on windows without much trouble -- I can run the Orange Box games at 1024x768 with high quality settings and see a fairly regular 30fps, less a few texture memory glitches. anyway, it would be interesting to see how that performance in the same chipset scales from the macBook to the air.
    Reply
  • jdwango - Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - link

    However I wish you had also tried to install Windows XP/Vista via boot camp and reported your thoughts. Reply
  • joey2264 - Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - link

    This would be a fairly good review if you would just mention the fact that most of the sacrifices Apple made to create the Macbook Air simply weren't necessary. If you look like at a notebook like the Fujitsu Lifebook S6510 of the Lenovo X300 this becomes clear. Looking at these two notebooks, it is obvious that each of the manufacturers could have come up with a 13.3 in, 1 spindle notebook that didn't make hardly any other compromises (decent keyboard, decent port selection, replaceable battery, upgradeable memory, standard 2.5" hard drives (Lenovo could have probably fit a 2.5" hard drive in there if they had used a 13.3" screen, with the requisite larger footprint, although it would have been a little heavier), etc). Reply
  • michael2k - Wednesday, February 13, 2008 - link

    The S6510 you mention is heavier (by a pound) and nearly twice as thick! It is much more comparable to a MacBook (5 pounds and an inch thick vs 4 pounds and 1.42 inches thick).

    The X300 is also not available yet, so a comparison will have to wait until we find out about price and build quality.
    Reply
  • mlambert890 - Thursday, February 14, 2008 - link

    OK, so then the Sony TX, the Fujitsu P7k, the Toshiba Portege, the Dialogue Flybook, the Panasonic Toughbook, the Dell XPS1210, the Sony SZ, The LG XNote....

    There's a pretty long list of notes that are smaller and ligher or as light or slightly heavier with a lot more features than the MBA.

    The MBA is THINNER. Last I checked thinner is a BS feature. When someone can explain to me WHY thinner means ANYTHING beyond looking cool at Starbucks, maybe Ill be interested.

    The Sony X505 was pretty much the same situation as the MBA except it had a removable battery and more ports and that was 3 years ago. I think the MBA was like .2" thinner than the Sony *at its thinnest point* and about the same at the thickest.

    The MBA is big news for the cult of Mac which lately is including PC sites like this.
    Reply

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