Latest Macbook Air 2011 review and benchmark against older models

I was a proud owner of a first generation Macbook Air just because I initially found it visually appealing to carry such a lightweight fully functional laptop that looked so thin! However, performance fell short somehow due to the overall architecture of the processor, ram, motherboard, video card.  It just did not function in symphony and the result was a sluggish crawling, overheating razor thin machine.

Reviews for the December 2010 Macbook Air changed all that, especially with the SSD Solid State Drives reading and writing data faster and taking off some load from overall resources, but fell a little short as that generation’s model was still released with a  Core 2 Duo processor even as its peers were already on mainstream i5s.

As if to just give you a taste last December, Apple just this soon released another update to its Air line of laptops, this time incorporating i5 and i7 processors.  The latter being for high end units.  This 2011 version also came with backlit keyboards, a function which should not have been lacking in the previous generation.

Here are their specs, not much changed on the outside, though.

2011 MacBook Air Lineup
11.6-inch 11.6-inch (high-end) 13.3-inch 13.3-inch (high-end)
Dimensions H: 0.11-0.68″ (0.3-1.7cm) 

W: 11.8″ (30cm)

D: 7.56″ (19.2cm)

H: 0.11-0.68″ (0.3-1.7cm) 

W: 12.8″ (32.5cm)

D: 8.94″ (22.7cm)

Weight 2.38 lbs (1.08kg) 2.96 lbs (1.35kg)
Cores/Threads 1.6GHz dual-core Core i5 1.7GHz dual-core Core i5
Base Clock Speed Intel HD 3000
RAM 2GB DDR3-1333 4GB DDR3-1333 4GB DDR3-1333 4GB DDR3-1333
SSD 64GB SSD 128GB SSD 128GB SSD 256GB SSD
Display Resolution 1366 x 768 1440 x 900
Ports Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, composite audio in/out jack Thunderbolt, 2x USB 2.0, SDHC slot, composite audio in/out jack
Price $999 $1199 $1299 $1599

Price still seems a little bit hefty compared to its non apple counterparts.

This picture is from Anandtech‘s macbook air review.

Anandtech writes that the GPU Graphics fall short of his expectations, “While gaming is possible on both Air models, it’s far from ideal. Apple definitely fixed the CPU performance with the new Air, but through no fault of its own failed to address GPU performance. Intel seems committed to taking GPU performance seriously, let’s hope we actually see that in the coming years.”

BENCHMARKS:

Anandtech Benchmark:

PCMark 7 - PCMarks

Anandtech writes that except for a slight fail on the graphics gaming end, the latest generation Mac air running on i7 and i5 virtually blows its fellow i5 i7 competition away, specifically because of the air’s SSD utilizing less power demand from the CPU.

Boot Performance

Even booting time is greatly reduced by those SSDs.

Anandtech conclusion: Both the 11 and 13-inch MacBook Air are fast enough to replace your 3 year old MacBook Pro and still deliver better performance. You can even move from a 2010 MacBook Pro to an upgraded MacBook Air and not notice any drop in performance. All of this is thanks to Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPU.   He still doesn’t recommend a switch from a 13-inch 2011 MacBook Pro, and instead calls it a downgrade. The new 13-inch MBP is still considerably faster than the MacBook Air, while the more portable form factor is tempting you’re better off waiting to see what Apple does with the next update to the MacBook Pro.

ENGADGET’S BENCHMARKS

OS X Benchmarks Geekbench Xbench OpenGL
Battery Life
MacBook Air (mid 2011) (1.7GHz Core i5-2557M, Intel HD Graphics 3000) 5373 unavailable 5:32
MacBook Pro (early 2011) (2.2GHz Core i7-2720QM, Radeon HD 6750M / Intel Graphics 3000) 9647 340.1 (Radeon) / 157.78 (Intel) 7:27
MacBook Pro (early 2010) (2.66GHz Core i7-620M, GeForce GT 330M) 5395 228.22 5:18
iMac (mid 2010) (3.06GHz Core i3-540, Radeon HD 4670) 5789 unavailable n/a
iMac (late 2009) (2.8GHz Core i7-860, Radeon HD 4850)
8312 191.08 n/a
MacBook Air (late 2010) (1.83GHz Core 2 Duo, GeForce 320M) 2717 117.38 4:34

Engadget basically agreed that the unit can’t be treated as a gaming unit.  Notable for me is that the 2011 Mac Airs are in fact at par, if not better than 2010 Macbook Pros which already ran on i7s. The internal cooling fan kicks in double time whenever utilization rates start climbing.

Windows Benchmarks PCMarkVantage 3DMark06
Battery Life
MacBook Air (mid 2011) (1.7GHz Core i5-2557M, Intel HD Graphics 3000, Under Windows 7) 9484 4223 4:12
MacBook Pro (early 2011) (2.2GHz Core i7-2720QM, Radeon HD 6750M, under Windows 7) 8041 10,262 unknown
HP Envy 14 (Core i5-450M, Radeon HD 5650) 6038 1928 / 6899 3:51
Toshiba Portege R705 (Core i3-350M) 5024 1739 / 3686 4:25
Sony VAIO Z (Core i5-450M, NVIDIA 330M) 9949 6,193 unknown
Samsung Series 9 (Core i5-2537M) 7582 2240 4:20
Dell XPS 14 (Core i5-460M, NVIDIA 420M) 5796 1955 / 6827 2:58
Notes: For 3DMark06, the first number reflects score with the discrete GPU off (if possible), the second with it on.

Despite that, Engadget was satisfied with battery life.

Engadget’s conclusion: The 2011 MacBook Air addresses nearly every concern anyone could lob at its predecessor. It’s still light on ports, the missing SD slot on the 11-inch model is a drag, and no, it isn’t cheap, but this machine is fast, efficient, and not to be underestimated. It’s a supermodel with a law degree from Columbia, a hunky motorcycle racer who looks good in leathers yet is also a concert pianist — whatever your passion it won’t disappoint, all while making a lot more room in your bag. More room for what? Well, your life, for starters.

With that, we end the benchmark comparison, and proceed with other website’s conclusion of their review. . .

SLASHGEAR’S conclusion:

PROS: Liking the 2011 MacBook Air due to backlit keyboard, faster processors without detracting from battery life, portability or style. The addition of the Thunderbolt port and the upcoming Apple Thunderbolt Display should turn the ultraportable into a legitimate desktop alternative, too.  Build-quality is reassuringly strong, speed and performance are sufficient for most users, and the ability to drop the Air into a bag and hardly notice it’s in there is a huge advantage.

CONS: no 3G/4G WWAN option

The MacBook Air remains the ultraportable of choice for Slashgear.

Samsung 900x3 review

TECHRADAR’S CONCLUSION: they bring out potential rivals to the Macbook Air 2011,  the Samsung 9 Series as a genuine alternative to the MacBook Air while there’s also the powerful Sony VAIO Z Series and the cheaper but older Dell Adamo XPS. But even the 9 Series doesn’t have as speedy an i5 as the MacBook (1.4GHz) while the Z Series is crazily powerful but simply too expensive.

Techradar pretty much agrees with the other sites:  if it’s high-end task-orientated or gaming performance you want, you need a MacBook Pro. If you don’t need that extra oomph, a MacBook Air is one of the very finest laptops on the market. Sleek. Powerful. Already pretty handy at every common task.

My own conclusion:

Personally, I agree with all of them as they basically said the same thing, i5 plus SSD equals one hell of a machine.  I’d go for the 13″ though, as I’ve already tried 10″ netbooks and they’re not for me.  I think the market for netbooks are for petite girls with small hands.  Any big person like me using a small netbook with 10″ screen and cramped keyboard will certainly get Repetitive Strain Injury in the wrists, slump and crouch over to see the screen and overall productivity is reduced.  Leave the 11″ for the girls!

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