Benchmarking under OS X isn’t difficult, you just need to get creative. Luckily I’m in dire need of creative outlets so creating OS X benchmarks works for me. I’m using the same tests I introduced in my Holiday 2009 Macbook Pro roundup and running on the launch hardware for each notebook listed in the charts.

We’ll start with general application performance.

General OS usage is a difficult thing to quantify, but one measure of performance has always been the number of bounces an icon in the dock makes before an application loads. I decided to take it to the next level and write a quick script to launch 15 applications in a row, timing how long the entire process takes.

I launched, in order: Mail, Safari, Activity Monitor, iTunes, iCal, DVD Player, iPhoto, Photo Booth, Quicktime Player, Disk Utility, Preview, iMovie, Front Row, Garage Band and Aperture.

The entire process stresses both the disk and CPU, which is why we see a huge improvement when going to an SSD as well as differences between CPU speeds.

General OS Performance

What a difference an SSD can make. The 13-inch MacBook Air is the fastest standard shipping configuration Apple offers in this benchmark. The fact that there's a measurable difference between the 13-inch and 11-inch models shows you just how slow that 1.4GHz Core 2 really is.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Performance

The Retouch Artists Speed Test we use for our CPU testing under Windows also works under OS X. We're running the exact same benchmark here, basically performing a bunch of image manipulations and filters and timing the entire process.

Adobe Photoshop CS4 Performance

The 13-inch MacBook Air performs as well as last year's 13-inch MacBook Pro. But if you plan on doing real work, you'll be hampered by the performance of these systems. Apple really needs to find a way to get an Arrandale or Sandy Bridge into this chassis

Aperture 2 RAW Import

For my Aperture test I simply timed how long it took to import 203 12MP RAW images into the library.

Aperture 2 RAW Import Performance

The SSD makes the 13-inch MacBook Air far more competitive than it should be here. It's even faster than a two year old 15-inch MacBook Pro. The 11-inch MBA is faster than the old 13-inch MBA due to its better thermal characteristics as we pointed out earlier.

Cinebench R10

I’m a fan of the Cinebench test because it lets me show off both single and multithreaded performance in the same workload. First, the single threaded performance:

3D Rendering Performance - Cinebench R10

3D Rendering Performance - Cinebench R10

The performance in both of these tests in line with the rest of the results. These notebooks aren't very good at intensive workloads. It is worth pointing out that the 13-inch MacBook Air posts better numbers here than the old dual processor 2.5GHz PowerMac G5 :)

Quicktime H.264 Video Encoding

Our final benchmark is more consumer focused. Here I'm taking an XviD and converting it to an iPhone-supported H.264 format.

Video Encoding Performance - Quicktime X

The 11-inch MacBook Air: Faster than the old 13-inch MacBook Air Can You Be Productive With the 11-inch?
Comments Locked


View All Comments

  • deslock - Thursday, October 28, 2010 - link

    Thanks Anand & Vivek for the detailed and interesting review. I hope you post a followup with more info on how Apple was able to get this level of performance out of the hardware (vs other similar SSD-equipped machines). Also I'd like to see a long term test of performance (because of the lack of TRIM), or perhaps additional testing showing just how effective the new MBAs are with GC.
  • Oscarcharliezulu - Thursday, October 28, 2010 - link

    Thanks for a great, detailed review that doesn't gloss over any point. I've read as many reviews as I can find and many gloss over or just take things as a given - not much more useful than the Apple web site. Your review was detailed in all the right areas. I know where I will be disappointed and where I will be happy. No surprises thanks to your review.

    I think for a business user (web + mail + Word processing + presentations + lightweight spreadsheet) the Air's may be pretty good - finally great battery life (with wifi active) so I can go out to a customer and work off battery all day without carrying an extra battery or carrying the AC adapter.

    Pity about the price - once you tick the options the price becomes ridiculous when you compare to mainstream laptops. I will have to stick to a base model + 4GB ram, and wait to upgrade the SSD later (someone is sure to come up with an upgrade).

    And graphics - for ultraportables its good, but the higher end pro's etc really need a lot more grunt - we should be able to play games at High at native resolution.
  • pmeinl - Friday, October 29, 2010 - link

    Just stumbled across an SSD 256GB upgrade kit for the 11.6":

    It includes an USB adapter for using the orginal SSD as portable storage.
  • mutatio - Friday, October 29, 2010 - link

    Anyone else hear this thing screaming for Fusion in it? If AMD can finally get their power specs in line to be competitive with intel the 11" would be one smoking little monster if Apple bites at it. :-)
  • 63jax - Friday, October 29, 2010 - link

    don't hurry to change your mac's, just wait for AMD to release their Fuzion chips and then we will have the perfect Mac's. i know i will...
  • Norrah - Saturday, October 30, 2010 - link

    I would really like to see how an older Macbook Air (rev c) with an aftermarket SSD would hold up against the new.. performance wise!

    I need the last kick, if i am to go for the new.
  • jorjitop - Saturday, October 30, 2010 - link

    I think that there is another factor you missed which makes a difference to the relative performances. That is, the 11 inch has a 800 Mhz front bus, while the 13 inch has a 1066 Mhz front bus. In my experience, this makes a noticeable difference to performance.
  • Brooklynzoned - Saturday, October 30, 2010 - link

    Both models are 2010, Both machines are running Window's 7. Both Machines Score a 5.3 out of 7

    Apple Macbook Pro with a 2.4 8G Ram with a Seagate XT Hybrid....Scored 5.3
    Apple Macbook Air with a 2.13 4G Ram with the 256 SSD Flash......Scored 5.3
    Dell Adamo Onyx With a 1.4 4G Ram with a 128SSD .....................Scored 3.2

    Funny thing is the Macbook Pro has a video card with 256 dedicated memory
    the macbook air has shared video memory.... and scored higher in the 3D
  • Brooklynzoned - Saturday, October 30, 2010 - link

    Battery Life Amazing,
    Speed,, Oh Yeah this baby moves.... N quick.. Faster then my Macbook Pro
    its crazy how fast it starts up... not from sleep but from a full shutdown and startup. Fast...

    The Macbook Air is The future of what a Notebook Should be.
  • ioannis - Sunday, October 31, 2010 - link


    on page "The 13", the captions at the top seem to suggest that you are comparing the 13" MBA with 15" MBP, while the text suggests otherwise (13" MBA vs 13" MBP, which makes more sense).


Log in

Don't have an account? Sign up now