Review: Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch
December 17, 2010
On October 20, 2010, Apple announced updates to its MacBook Air notebook. Specific changes include the addition of an 11.6-inch model, flash storage mandatory across the product line, and the first full case redesign since the introduction of the MacBook Air in January 2008.
Notable for what is not included in the new MacBook Air is integrated WWAN capability. Like every MacBook Air before it, the new model does not include an optical drive, an Ethernet port, or FireWire. Also, there is no matte screen option, which matters to some users for both color precision and ergonomic reasons.
This significant update occurs over a year after the previous update to the MacBook Air product line in June 2009.
Design and Changes
The new MacBook Air 11.6-inch resembles a pared-down combination of the previous generation MacBook Air and the current MacBook Pro 13-inch. It weighs 2.3 pounds with a travel weight (which includes power adapter) of 3.0 pounds.
The MacBook Air's aluminum case feels quite sturdy and rigid, unlike those of many lightweight notebooks and netbooks.
The new MacBook Air designs are the first Apple notebooks to ship with a Software Reinstall Drive (USB flash drive) instead of optical system restoration media. They are also the first MacBook Air models to come with two USB ports and these USB ports are usefully separated on the opposite sides of the keyboard, allowing connection of wider USB devices.
Base RAM on all standard MacBook Air models is 2.0 GB, so they need to be reconfigured to meet the RAM specifications for a Lightweight Notebook in the Notebook Purchasing Guide.
The MacBook Air 11.6-inch includes a 1366 x 768 display with a 16:9 aspect ratio - a common netbook resolution and a concession to the realities of lower cost LCD screen production. The 135 pixel per inch display is glossy and the backlight is bright. The display does give up some vertical screen space to other Apple notebooks — this is most noticeable in applications with large toolbars such as Outlook 2011.
All MacBook Air models have received an EPEAT Gold rating and are Energy Star 5.0-certified.
Configuration and Ordering Notes
Several notes when ordering a MacBook Air:
See ISC's Notebook Purchasing Guide for more configuration hints. As of December 2010, configuring a MacBook Air 11.6-inch to the Value Notebook specification can be done for approximately $1,450 while building one to the Lightweight Notebook specification is approximately $1,600.
Both Mac OS and Windows performance was significantly better than expected given that the processor is the now aging Core 2 Duo. Startup times were speedy. Microsoft Office 2011, FileMaker Pro 11, and Adobe Creative Suite 5 all ran well in the Mac OS environment, suggesting that Apple has performed some MacBook Air-specific code and driver optimization. The MacBook Air is certainly not a workstation-class system, though ISC believes its processing power and usability will suit most Mac OS users' needs.
ISC tested a MacBook Air 11.6-inch with a 1.4 GHz Core 2 Duo, 1066 MHz 2.0 GB RAM, integrated NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics, a 64 GB flash drive, and Windows 7 Professional 64-bit, running in Apple's Boot Camp. It received a Windows Experience Index base score of 4.3, with individual scores of:
These scores suggest that Windows 7 performance will be very good for most users on a MacBook Air 11.6-inch configured in this manner.
ISC sees the updated MacBook Air product line as being an interesting and attractive choice among lightweight and value notebooks available in late 2010. They remain Apple's lightest notebooks, but are now far more competitively priced (the original MacBook Air retailed for $1,800 in base configuration).
When correctly configured to the value or lightweight notebook specifications in the Notebook Purchasing Guide, the MacBook Air 11.6-inch is approved for general use at the University.
MacBook Air graphic courtesy of Apple
--John Mulhern III, Lead for Client Technologies, ISC Technology Support Services (December 17, 2010)
Information Systems and Computing
University of Pennsylvania
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