The 11

The 11-inch MacBook Air comes with a 1366 x 768 display (16:9) measuring 11.6-inches along the diagonal. Ports and features are near identical to last year's model. Up top there's a 640 x 480 camera. Along each side is a USB 2.0 port. Mag Safe and headphone jack are on the left, while Thunderbolt is on the right. There's a single fan inside the chassis that vents between the keyboard and the display hinge.

The 11 is still an amazing form factor. It's painless to carry around and you end up with a tablet sized device that makes no functional sacrifices. To make things even better, now you get a full blown Sandy Bridge CPU inside the ultra slim chassis.

There are really only two things that the 11-inch MacBook Air lacks. For starters, the lack of an integrated SD card reader means anyone looking to do photo work on the go will either need an Eye-Fi or an external USB card reader. Neither is too much of a pain however an integrated reader would be much appreciated.

The second issue with the 11 is its screen size/resolution. At 1366 x 768 you get great pixel pitch on the 11-inch 16:9 screen but there's just not a lot of vertical resolution on the display. The 13-inch model gives you only 5% more horizontal resolution but 17% more vertical, and that's noticeable.

Lion does alleviate some of this problem thanks to its full screen mode. Viewing Mail or Safari in full screen is almost necessary on the 11. Thanks to the 16:9 ratio of the panel, watching movies on the 11 is nearly equivalent to watching them on the 13-inch Air.

The base $999 configuration only comes with 2GB of DDR3 and a 64GB SSD. The latter is excusable if you just don't do much with your system (and technically it's something you can upgrade down the line if you'd like) but the former is a major problem. Memory on the MacBook Air is soldered directly onto the motherboard. Not having to build in a socket helps keep the z-height of the system down to a minimum, but it also severely limits flexibility. For most users interested in a dual-core machine under OS X I'd say that 4GB is probably good enough. While I'd prefer the option of upgrading to 8GB, I think 4GB is livable; 2GB is not. If you're considering the entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air I'd strongly recommend at least upgrading the memory to 4GB. The only exception is if you're just going to spend your time doing very basic tasks on the machine and plan on upgrading again in a year or two. If that's the case save your money and enjoy a 4GB version with Ivy Bridge next year. For everyone else, make sure you get the memory upgrade.

The 13

While the 11 is almost tablet-like, the 13-inch MacBook Air still looks and feels like a normal notebook. A really thin, really light notebook. You get a 1440 x 900 (16:10) display that measures 13.3-inches along the diagonal. The port layout is identical to the 11 although you get an integrated SD card reader along the right of the machine.


From top to bottom: 11-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Air, 15-inch MacBook Pro

The 13 is really a pleasure to use, despite feeling a lot like a traditional notebook. The biggest difference for me between it and the 11 is the height of the display. Seated on a couch with the notebook in my lap the 13 doesn't force me to look down as much to see the screen. I still have to tilt my head down a bit, just not as much as with the 11.

The 13-inch screen maintains a relatively high pixel density, just shy of the 128 pixels per inch you get from the 15-inch MacBook Pro with the upgraded 1680 x 1050 display. I find the 13 is a bit easier to look at than the 11 with its 135 PPI display, but that's a personal preference. Apple really needs to increase the resolution of its 13-inch MacBook Pro which is a paltry 1280 x 800.


13-inch MacBook Air (left) vs. 11-inch MacBook Air (right)

The 13's base configuration is actually really good. You get 4GB of memory (neither Air supports more than 4GB of RAM) and a 1.7GHz Core i5. The 1.7GHz part here is a bit more interesting than the 1.6GHz chip in the 11 because it supports much higher max turbo frequencies (2.4/2.7GHz vs. 2.0/2.4GHz). If you don't need more than 128GB of internal storage, my recommendation would be to go for the base 13 at $1299.

A New Thunderbolt Implementation It's Back: The Backlit Keyboard
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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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