The Optional 1.8GHz Core i7

In the usual Apply fashion, in order to get the faster CPU options you have to buy the more expensive default configuration. That means the $999 11-inch MacBook Air can't be upgraded to a faster CPU at order, while the $1199 version can. The same goes for the $1299 13-inch model, you need the $1599 configuration for that.

If you're buying the 11, I'd say it's worth while to get the 1.8GHz option. There's a big enough performance difference between the base 13 and base 11 that the CPU upgrade makes sense.

I didn't have a 1.8GHz system on hand but luckily I knew someone who did. Mark Rein is VP of Epic Games and happens to live a few minutes from my house. Mark also happened to be driving down to the Apple store on Friday to pick up a fully optioned (the only way Mark rolls) 13-inch MacBook Air with a 1.8GHz Core i7. I hitched a ride with him and borrowed his system for a couple of benchmark runs.

Let's look at the clock speed differences between the parts:

2011 Apple MacBook Air CPU Comparison
1.6GHz Core i5 1.7GHz Core i5 1.8GHz Core i7
Base Clock Speed 1.6GHz 1.7GHz 1.8GHz
Max SC Turbo 2.3GHz 2.7GHz 2.9GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.0GHz 2.4GHz 2.6GHz

Compared to the 1.7GHz chip in the 13, you're looking at around an 8% performance increase in applications that scale perfectly with clock speed. The extra MB of L3 cache is good for a little more performance as well. Compared to the 1.6GHz chip in the 11 however, the gains on paper are pretty substantial. What about in the real world?

2011 Apple MacBook Air CPU Comparison
1.6GHz Core i5 1.7GHz Core i5 1.8GHz Core i7
Cinebench R10 - Single Threaded 3154 3770 4083
Percent Increase with 1.8GHz i7 29.5% 8.3% -

With only a single heavy thread active the i7 is nearly 30% faster than the 1.6GHz Core i5 found in the 11-inch MacBook Air. The advantage over the 1.7GHz Core i5 is only 8.3% however.

2011 Apple MacBook Air CPU Comparison
1.6GHz Core i5 1.7GHz Core i5 1.8GHz Core i7
Cinebench R10 - Multithreaded 6496 7609 8234
Percent Increase with 1.8GHz i7 26.8% 8.2% -

Crank up the threads and the performance advantage drops a bit over the 1.6GHz Core i5 but we're still talking about a nearly 27% advantage here. The i7 is still only around 8% faster than the 1.7GHz part.

2011 Apple MacBook Air CPU Comparison
1.6GHz Core i5 1.7GHz Core i5 1.8GHz Core i7
Cinebench 11.5 1.93 2.20 2.46
Percent Increase with 1.8GHz i7 27.5% 11.8% -

Cinebench R11.5 shows the biggest gain over the 1.7GHz Core i5 at 11.8%. Heavier workloads will make better use of the extra cache on the i7.

2011 Apple MacBook Air CPU Comparison
1.6GHz Core i5 1.7GHz Core i5 1.8GHz Core i7
iPhoto Import 38.3 44.4 47.7
Percent Increase with 1.8GHz i7 24.5% 7.4% -

Overall the performance gains aren't super huge over the 13's 1.7GHz Core i5, however if you care about performance the upgrade is worth it for the 11-inch MacBook Air. Unfortunately I didn't have an upgraded 11-inch system on hand to get a good idea of the impact on battery life. In idle workloads I wouldn't expect a huge drop in battery life, but under load we could see the 11 take a hit.

CPU Performance: A Huge Upgrade GPU Performance: A Step Back


View All Comments

  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    There is barely any difference between Elitebook models to talk about. Nor is there anything particularly special about them. Just another Windows clone made and supported a little better than what HP sells at Best Buy. Given that, it was covered quite well. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    This is so last year. This is not even what I got in my Sony Z last year. For $1600. 2.4 ghz i5 (520m), GT 330M in 3 lb chasis with internal dvdrw. And that was bottom of the line. Not to mention I got mine from MSFT with 40% off.

    This year:

    Of course this one costs way more, but still worth a though.
  • beginner99 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    lol yeah. Sony is the only brand that has even more ridiculous pricing than Apple. You say it yourself 40% off. And in this case I say apple's pricing is very competitive and I'm an "apple-hater". Never owned a single device from them, not even an Ipod.
    The new base model Vaio Z will also be about 40% more expensive at half of the SSD capacity.
    Anyway, I would have already bought it, if it was a windows system.
  • Johnmcl7 - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    I wouldn't say Sony's pricing is ridiculous as you're paying for absolutely cutting edge tech whereas with Apple . The previous Z series may have been pricey but it featured a 13.1 1080p screen (genuine 1920x1080), up to an i7 dual core processor, quad SSDs in RAID 0, dual graphics graphics cards (one integrated, one discrete), blu-ray writer which even Apple's 17in machines couldn't match but was smaller and lighter than Apple's 13in machines.

    I have the Vaio from the previous generation (Z5) which has a C2D 3Ghz processor, 13.1 1600x900 screen, dual 128GB mSSDs in RAID 0, blu-ray writer and integrated & discrete graphics cards which again Apple didn't offer anything even remotely comparable. Speccing up a Macbook to the maximum level put it far above the Vaio in cost but far below in spec with just a 2.6Ghz processor, DVD burner, single graphics card and low resolution screen.

  • darwinosx - Saturday, July 30, 2011 - link

    Kids, read the review and learn something before commenting. No Sony has this proc in it yet. Also learn something about cpu speed in different processor models. Finally try to understand that this laptop is meant to be super thin and lightweight which the Sony is not. It is also top quality construction support and uses a modern OS. Reply
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    The sony from last year is nearly the same weight at 3.1 lb with an internal optical drive and the new one this year is much lighter at 2.5 lbs with external.

    The Sony Z specifically do not use ULV processors for maximum performance:

    Intel® Core™ i5-2410M processor (2.30GHz) with Turbo Boost up to 2.90GHz
    Intel® Core™ i5-2540M processor (2.60GHz) with Turbo Boost up to 3.30GHz
    Intel® Core™ i7-2620M processor (2.70GHz) with Turbo Boost up to 3.40GHz

    The base processor already matches the top of the line Air processor in turbo and far exceeds it in other conditions.

    So to recap: Sony Z from last year (Z11-Z14) is already super thin and light weight at significantly faster performance for same cost, and sometimes cheaper when Microsoft Store has a crazy sale.

    Sony Z for this year Z21 is even thinner and lighter at even faster performance for a slight premium. Remember the lowest Z performs better than the fastest Air. $1969 vs $1599 gives you an external dvdrw and discrete graphics and usb 3.0. That's not a bad deal at all.

    Keep in mind the fastest Z will kill the Air in performance all in the same chasis. And battery life from reviews indicate the new Z is on-pair with Air (4+ hours with a movie playing continouously).
  • OCedHrt - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    $1600 was not 40% off. I got mine for $1100. $1600 is the retail price at B&M for the entry level model that I outlined (with 64gb x2 SSD). Reply
  • ViRGE - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Looking at the specs, something doesn't make sense. They're using 35W TDP processors and claiming better battery life on a smaller battery than the 13" MBA. The math doesn't add up on that one. Reply
  • KPOM - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Might Sony be including the optional "sheet battery" in that time? Reply
  • ViRGE - Thursday, July 28, 2011 - link

    Nope. They break that out separately. Reply

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