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Beautiful and Fast
on July 26, 2011
I had considered buying the previous generation MacBook Air (pre July 2011) but just couldn't quite force myself to spend the money on machine that still used Intel's Core 2 Duo CPUs (despite the fact that the older Airs were still actually quite speedy). Apple was using the then newer generation Core i5/i7 CPUs on their other computers.
So when Apple updated their Airs with Intel's significantly faster Sandy Bridge i5/i7 CPUs, I became interested again. But, which size would be best for me?
11" VERSUS 13"
I've been struggling over this decision on which size 2011 MBA would be better. It's the usual dilemma with the 13" boasting pretty much better specs and battery life than the 11". Then I thought, well, the 13" is ONLY 2" larger diagonally, and ONLY weighs a "little" more (and ONLY costs a "little" more).
But the reality (for me) is that for a truly mobile device, like an iPad, only the MBA 11" has a shot at being mobile. The MBA 13" is great and certainly more mobile than a conventional MacBook Pro 13", but the MBA 13" is still IMHO more of a portable, than a mobile laptop.
The MBA 11" is actually mobile.
Once I realized this, there really was no longer a comparison to be made. They are two different devices. One being mobile and the other very portable. I have a 2011 MBP 17" which is my ultimate portable, and now my 2011 MBA 11" is my mobile computer.
1. Extremely fast CPU - The MBA 11" comes with a Sandy Bridge 1.6 gHz dual-core Core i5 CPU (or a 1.8 gHz dual-core i7 directly from Apple). Despite rumors to the contrary, the Turbo Boost and hyper threading capabilities were NOT turned off in the Core i5 CPUs. Geekbench benchmarks show extraordinary speed increases. The previous generation MBA 11" 1.4 gHz Core 2 Duo produced 2024 on Geekbench, while the 2011 MBA 11" now produced 5040 for a 149% increase. This speed even rivals the 2010 MacBook Pro 17" which scored 5423! The 2011 MacBook Air 13" uses a slightly faster 1.7 gHz dual core i5 which scored 5860.)
2. Extraordinarily small! The MBA 11" measures 11.8 x 7.56 x 0.68 inches, while the MBA 13" is 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.68 inches. This means that the 11" is "only" 1 inch shorter and "only" 1.3 inches less deep, but in reality, when you hold up both machines, the MBA 11" feels like a completely different machine. My wife uses a 2011 MacBook Pro 13" which has a similar footprint to the MBA 13". The MacBook Air 13" still felt too much like a laptop, albeit an extraordinarily thin and light one.
3. Extraordinarily light! The MBA 11" weighs 2.38 pounds (while the MBA 13" weighs 2.96 pounds and an iPad 2 weighs 1.35 pounds I actually sometimes hold the MBA like an iPad while reading in bed because it's so light. If you are seeking just a light, portable laptop, then the weight of the MBA 11" or 13" would be great, but if you (like me) are seeking a truly mobile device, then even fractions of a pound matter. The MBA 11" weighs less and is consequently the better choice, but as amazingly light as it is, even lighter would be better. Its doubtful that a mobile device will ever exist that would be considered too light.
4. High-speed Thunderbolt (i.e. Lightpeak) port offering bidirectional 10 gigabits/s throughput - Thunderbolt technology is far more revolutionary than USB 3.0 or eSATA. Thunderbolt is NOT limited to the use of a storage device. An external LCD can be attached. Although I use the MBA 11" as my mobile device, it may be acceptable as a primary computer if one attaches an external LCD display and a high-speed Thunderbolt drive. Supposedly an external Thunderbolt hard drive would be nearly as fast as an internal hard drive.
5. Everything is solid state! This MBA feels more like a true "mobile" device since it is fully solid state with its solid state drive. I am far less worried about damaging this versus other laptops I've owned in the past.
6. Extremely fast cold starts and shutdowns thanks to the solid state drive and OS X.
7. Great, full-size keyboard AND keyboard backlighting is back again! While this may seem like a minor point, the previous generation Core 2 Duo Airs did not have the backlighting.
8. The battery life between the 11" and the 13" was only found to be 36 minutes shorter for the 11" (and NOT the 2 hours claimed by Apple) for light usage by Anandtech (...). The battery life is Apple (conservatively) rated at 5 hours (compared to 7 hours for the MBA 13" and also 7 hours for my MBP 17"). Apple's battery life ratings have become much more stringent in the past few years are much closer to real world usage. I am indeed able to use my 11" for about 6 hours with light usage, which is much better than Apple's claimed 5 hours.
9. Tremendous, typical Apple build quality. The MBA feels like a piece of solid precision crafted machinery.
10. Same great glass trackpad with even more gestures in OS X Lion to be used.
11. Comes with the new Mac OS X Lion (which I won't discuss, but it will allow for apps to use a full-screen mode which is of benefit to MBA 11" owners)
12. Extraordinary aesthetics - I can't express adequately in words how beautiful this machine looks.
1. Although I have a Samsung LCD, the vertical and horizontal viewing angles are not nearly as good as on my 2011 MBP 17". It's still more than acceptable, but it's something that MacBook Pro owners will probably notice.
2. Some MBAs come with a Toshiba solid-state drive which is not necessarily a con, but this may bother some users. In real world usage, I have read that one cannot detect any speed differences, but if you like to run benchmarks, then the Toshiba drives in the 128 GB size seem to be slower than the Samsung 128 GB drives in certain benchmarks.
3. MBAs come with either a Samsung or LG LCD panel. It's not clear what the differences are between them. There is pure speculation and mostly fear that one panel is superior to the other, but I have seen comparison photos of both types of displays, and the only difference I can notice is an extremely slightly warmer look to the LG panel. BUT this was on computers that did not have the screens color calibrated. In any case, I can state clearly that my 2011 MacBook Pro 17" display is vastly superior in color and viewing angles, but they are completely different machines.
4. There is no SecureDigital memory card slot on the 11" MBA, although there is one in the larger 13" size. I can't believe I got another Mac laptop WITHOUT a SD slot! My 17" MBP doesn't have one either while the smaller MBPs do! And now, the smaller MBA doesn't have one while the larger one does! I wonder if I'll ever get a Mac with an SD card slot!)
1. Believe it or not (do a Google search) but if you use Adobe's Flash, your laptop battery life will most likely be significantly shorter. Some reports show that having Adobe flash turned off allows for 2 hours of additional battery life.
2. I purchased the MBA 11" with standard 1.6 gHz Core i5 and am happy with this. If you get the built to order ones from Apple, you can upgrade your 11" to include the same 1.8 gHz Core i7 that's also available as an upgrade on the MBA 13". Anandtech has found that the 1.8 gHz Core i7 upgrade produces significantly faster benchmarks >20% speed difference without a shorter battery life. The i7 upgrade did produce significantly more heat, however.
3. If you do not need a truly mobile laptop, then the MBA 13" is probably better for most people's needs as a standard conventional laptop (albeit very light, thin, and also beautiful).
4. If you absolutely must have USB 3.0, and you can wait, then you should know that Intel's next future CPU/chipset for Ivy Bridge will allow for native USB 3.0 support.
There is no such thing as the perfect computer for everybody just as there is no single tool for every task for every person. I needed a truly mobile laptop to fit with my lifestyle and work needs, which for me included a smartphone, tablet, mobile laptop, and a large laptop/desktop replacement. For the right person, this MBA 11" is truly in a class of its own.