Last month we looked at Apple’s new 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs. I concluded the 11-inch was the pinnacle of portability, delivering the weight and form factor of a netbook but without the drive-you-crazy performance of an Atom. The 13-inch was more of a regular, get-your-work done notebook - just in a very thin and very light chassis. I liked carrying the 11-inch MBA, but I liked working on the 13-inch. My typical workflow was simply too slow on the 1.4GHz 11-inch system.

Apple offers two potentially important upgrades for the 11-inch MacBook Air that could alleviate some of my concerns. For $100 more than its $999 starting price, you can outfit the 11 with 4GB of memory instead of 2GB. Light web browsing and writing don’t need more than 2GB, but start editing videos, photos or open way too many apps at once and you’ll quickly want more memory. If you’re planning on keeping your system for a while, the 4GB upgrade makes a lot of sense. And many Apple stores actually stock the upgraded 4GB model.

The next upgrade is a bit harder to swallow. The base 11-inch MacBook Air can’t be upgraded aside from memory. The $1199 model however, can. You get a 128GB SSD (up from 64GB) as well as the option to pay $100 for a 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo.

Normally 200MHz isn’t much to write home about, especially not for $300 more than the standard 11. However, 200MHz is a 14% increase in clock speed compared to the base model. In applications that are CPU bound, you may see close to that percentage in improved performance. The magic number for feeling a performance increase is 10%. Anything below that is tough to feel in real world use, but anything at or above that 10% mark usually feels quicker.

MacBook Air Spec Comparison
  11-inch Upgraded 11-inch 13-inch
CPU Intel Core 2 Duo 1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 1.6GHz Intel Core 2 Duo 1.86GHz (2.13GHz optional)
Memory 2GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board 4GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board 2GB DDR3-1066 soldered on-board (4GB optional)
GPU NVIDIA GeForce 320M NVIDIA GeForce 320M NVIDIA GeForce 320M
Storage 64GB SSD 128GB SSD 128GB SSD (256GB optional)
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR 802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR 802.11a/b/g/n Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR
Battery Capacity 35 Whr 35 Whr 50 Whr
Dimensions 11.8 " x 7.56 " x 0.11 - 0.68"
(29.95 cm x 19.2 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
11.8 " x 7.56 " x 0.11 - 0.68"
(29.95 cm x 19.2 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
12.8 " x 8.94 " x 0.11 - 0.68"
(32.5 cm x 22.7 cm x 0.3 - 1.7 cm)
Weight 2.3 lbs (1.06 kg) 2.3 lbs (1.06 kg) 2.9 lbs (1.32 kg)
Price $999 $1399 $1299

Combine the two upgrades and you’ve got a fairly expensive MacBook Air ($1399 if you’re keeping score). But if you want the portability of the 11 and are looking to get as much performance as possible, it’s your only option.

Luckily we happened to come across such a system. And we didn’t hesitate to test it.

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  • barnett25 - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link


    So if you were on Apple's design team and they said they wanted to make a laptop that was this thin, and that they would have to solder the memory on you would tell them to scrap the project?

    Cause there is no way they could have put an access door, socket and hold-down clips for memory, and still left room for the thickness of standard dimms.

    I admit that this product isn't for me, but I also understand that there are lots of different people out there with different needs and priorities. Just because their priorities are different than mine doesn't make them LOLFAILROFLCOPTER.
  • Ryan Smith - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    Actually it's more complex than that. We're pretty sure Apple isn't even using standard DDR3, but rather they're using 1.35v DDR3L. This would allow Apple to save on RAM power consumption to further boost battery life, but it also means that RAM upgrades are made unavailable by the fact that you can't get DDR3L SO-DIMMs. Apple saves space by soldering the RAM on, but it also allows them to get away with lower power RAM in the process.

    Of course we can't confirm this - Apple's suppliers don't really talk about their parts. What we do know is that the DDR3 chips on the MBA have a part number that is not standard for 1.5v DDR3 parts.
  • dsumanik - Sunday, November 7, 2010 - link

    Listen im not a fanboy, i own an iPhone, i work on a pc, and my gf has macbook. Im also probably going to pick up a BB playbook and WP& handset for testing for some of my clients to see if its worth it....but who cares... im just saying im not a fanboy, i learn to use and administrate the tech my customers want and need or recommend products that i feel can solve their PROBLEMS.

    The problem I am having here is this:

    Anandtech HIGHLY recommended this laptop.

    $1299, for 2 year old processor tech in a non upgradeable form factor with poor battery life, mediocre performance and known display issues.

    Those are the facts.

    Exactly at what point does AT consider a notebook to be a "bad buy". LOL!!

    Everybody, please get past the nice aluminum cover and pretty OSX wallpaper. Just slow down and think about it?

    If they keep the same architecture in the next it still a good deal?

    Doesnt it suck if you buy a piece of hardware and then like 2 weeks later a company releases the next generation without warning for the same amount of money?

    Do you feel ripped off in this scenario?

    The MBA does this deliberately out of the box. You're buying outdated gear folks and it aint gettin any younger.

    This website used to be one of the most credible on the net, and while AT's reviews are still fairly in depth...over the last 5 years the conclusions leave me scratching my head more and more often.

    Imagine if this notebook was a dell, acer, hp......what are the odds AT would even do a review of a dell notebook based on a 2 year old platform priced for 1299 dollars?

    It would be laughed off the stage instantly.

    I understand the arguments you are trying to make, the engineering focus was obviously in form factor...ok fine. So why did they use old processor technology?

    They could have made it just as slim on the current intel core architecture. Why is 4gb not standard, 4 gigs of ram can be had for PEANUTS nowadays.

    You argue the ram was soldered onto the mobo in order to achieve "superior" battery life....

    .....this implies apple went to engineering extremes in order to achieve low power consumption...If apple is willing to go to the extreme of soldering memory in order to save a few miniscule milliamps of power.....why does the notebook have subpar battery performance if this was such a key design focus???

    They could have SIGNIFICANTLY IMPROVED BATTERY LIFE by SIMPLY basing the notebook on the latest intel would have improved performance and battery life FAR FAR more than soldering ram to the mobo !!!

    Now listen up and listen up good, because you guys already know everything ive stated here...but it has become foggy in your brain because of Apples PR and the media, and websites like AT. ..and don't feel bad Apple has gotten into my mind once or twice too...but for gods sakes guys we have to snap out of it.,


    The ram is soldered into the mobo because Apple doesnt want you to buy a cheap aftermarket upgrade for a 2 gb stick of ram when they can hammer you 300% markup for it, and get that all money themselves.


    Apple didnt want to put in the latest processor tech in the MBA because they saw an opportunity to make more money off of a simple form factor change for a platform they already had kicking around.


    They released this hardware deliberately even though they knew about the display issues


    They are probably making disgusting profits on each and every single sale of the MBA, and making you believe it is a good deal.

    Dont feel bad even managed to fool Anandtech.


    Get your balls back.
    Starting TODAY.
    Make this into the site it once was.
  • solipsism - Sunday, November 7, 2010 - link

    You act like Apple is the only one to solder RAM to the MoBo of ultra-light notebooks.

    You also ignore the space an heat issue with Apple going with Core-iX+dGPU over C2D+Nvidia 320M.

    On top of that, you’ve implied that the C2D+320M is somehow inexpensive compared to Core-iX without your statement about the price point.

    THE TRUTH IS you came in here with a bias and ignored all the facts.

    Just like with other ultra-light notebooks we’ll see competitors to these MBA with soldered LV RAM and other considerations that require the engineers to disregard upgradability in favour of svelte size and low weight for a given performance level. You can think this means it should be cheaper than a full-sized notebook for a given performance level... but you’d be wrong yet again.
  • dsumanik - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link


    All i know is this:

    I am typing on a 2 year old dell m1330 that even in its stock form factor has comparable or superior performance in all departments with the exception of the disk...and well luckily i could upgrade that, oh and the processor, oh and the ram....regardless...

    I picked it up 2 years ago for 899 brand new.


    You like to argue with me, but i HIGHLY doubt you'll be purchasing the MBA.

    Apple could have done better, and for cheaper....they just knew there are fools who would see a thin aluminum case and ignore the realities of the price tag.

    I like OSX in general and some of apples products have been great...but this is a ripoff people

  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    dsumanik foolishly wrote, "2 year old dell m1330 that even in its stock form factor has comparable or superior performance”

    So you’re going on record that:
    1) CCFL backlight is better than LED backlight.
    2) 65nm Merom w/800MHz FSB is more advanced than 45nm Penryn w/ 1066 FSB.
    3) 4.5lbs is lighter than 2.9lbs
    4) 12.5x9.4x0.87-1.3 inches smaller in footprint and volume than 12.8x8.94x0.11-0.68 inches.
    5) 4MB L2 is more than 6MB L2.
    6) 667MHz DDR2 is better than 1066MHz DDR3.
    7) 35W TDP is more power efficient than 17W TDP for ultra-light notebook.

    It’s one thing to think your machine is good enough but to say that it’s superior in every way except the drive speed is beyond asinine. I get it, you don’t like Apple. It’s silly to like or hate a company, but I’ll let you have your silly corporate bigotry. You probably don’t hate the Dell Adamo, but maybe you do because they copied Apple’s lead even thought they did some great things with that machine. I don’t care what you like or dislike but I would appreciate it if you’d at least tell the truth.
  • dsumanik - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    solo, stop making this apple vs PC...Again i dont hate apple i own a 3gs and love it to death (when its jailbroken lol)

    This is about AT recommending this laptop as a good buy even though they blatantly point out serious shortcomings in the article.

    Honestly the only thing i like better on the MBA is the size and the keyboard, m1330 keyboard sux. OSX is fun too but only for email, iphone sync and internet..for work it blows.

    So yes im going on record with this:

    1) CCFL backlight is better than LED backlight.
    -my m1330 has LED backlight too, you fail

    2) 65nm Merom w/800MHz FSB is more advanced than 45nm Penryn w/ 1066 FSB.

    - yes a 2.4 ghz merom eats a 1.6 penryn for lunch in most cases. I could also slap a 2.6 x9000 in there if i really wanted too, its a common mod...also the m1330 has a discrete gpu which i believe is slightly slower at games, but faster at encoding and seeing as how both gpus suck for games, the encoding becomes more relevant lol.

    3) 4.5lbs is lighter than 2.9lbs
    4) 12.5x9.4x0.87-1.3 inches smaller in footprint and volume than 12.8x8.94x0.11-0.68 inches.

    Yep 1330 is not as wide but deeper n thicker, i stated the MBA had superior form factor. But here's what you get in the extra 1.5 lb

    =slot load burner
    =remote control
    =up to 9 cell battery
    =ethernet port!!!! sucks when theres no wireless LOL
    =Expresscard slot (great for esata, more usb ports, second ethernet, usb 3.0 etc)
    =integrated Card reader
    =vga out (more usefull than mini dPort IMO)
    =upgradeable components

    Have fun with your usb burner that ONLY works on the MBA and is retardly overpriced. Please research the silliness of apple's MBA USB burner, they pissed a lot of folks off with that one.

    5) 4MB L2 is more than 6MB L2.
    6) 667MHz DDR2 is better than 1066MHz DDR3.

    lol actually its pretty damn close, the latency is lower and at 667 mhz C2D wasnt bandwidth starved...check the reviews, the fsb boost did basically nothing, it was the cpu architecture that made the diff, and while substantial it will not make up for 800mhz clockspeed.

    7) 35W TDP is more power efficient than 17W TDP for ultra-light notebook.

    Perhaps, but the 1330 comes with 4, 6 and 9 cell interchangeable batteries...i promise you itll be heavier....but guess what it lasts just as long too, a matter of raw amperage here.

    There are also 17-35w TDP processors of various frequency available for the m1330 as well. While dropping down to a 1.6 merom would negate the speed advantage, hey it sure is nice to have the option when there are $20 procs of all shapes and sizes floatin around ebay 8)


    Check out the new lenovo U260, its a slightly better deal IMO modern components and similar form factor....although battery life still gonna be a problem i bet.

    The MBA is a ripoff dude.

    It would be somewhat worth the price if it had modern internals or at the very least upgradeable components (sodimm/1.8"/ 2.5" drive)

    the fact an m1330 can even be mentioned in the same sentence is gonna make a ton of cash off of all the suckers like you solo.

    good for Mr. Jobs, but ill wait till next gen...IF it has modern internals.

  • iwodo - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    One of the thing that i dont like about 11" MBA is the bezel is very thick compare to 13". I would consider even the 13" to be thick.

    Just when i am typing this, are there any measurement can be done on screen compare to actual object, Those image on Apple makes the screen looks larger and bezel looks thinner.
  • Chloiber - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    Your comparison is strange. You say "Given the 15% average improvement in performance, a 6% average reduction in battery life isn’t bad."

    Well of course it's not bad, because you are comparing apples with oranges. You won't get a 15% performance improvement in web surfing - or do you? So either you don't directly compare the improvement vs. the batter life or you measure battery life with the same way you measure performance.
  • jonup - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    I was thinking the same. I most battery test you are not getting the 15% performance increase. I think that even as insignificant it might be the added RAM (doesn't clock down in idle) and larger SSD contribute to the reduce battery life on top of the CPU upgrade.

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