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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  • bozilla - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Would someone be kind enough (Anand preferably) and tell me why Apple notebooks, considering they are using same chips, processors etc... are not compared performance wise to the comparable ultraportables and notebooks?

    Why this mac-to-mac only comparison? It just seems disingenuous to compare a PC based laptops (which Macs are) to only their previous versions.. It's always going to be faster.. so the comparison is kind of moot.

    What's more relevant to someone who is considering purchasing an ultraportable is comparing to other PCs and comparing performance, outputs and all the things you get, along with the price.

    For example.. Acer TimelineX series is an ultraportable that's not even comparable to Mac Book Air specs wise and it costs around $750 ($899) retail with i7 processor.

    I'm just curious as to why you have not compared performance in same applications on different PC ultraportables as well?

    I just find this separation of Macs vs everyone else a bit troubling.. It keeps people in the Apple bubble never showing them what the reality really is and to be frank, that''s kind of, one your jobs right? I mean you test and compare stuff to help consumers? Am I wrong?
  • rgslater - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Agree 100%.
  • solipsism - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    I agree with this. I look for a category that matches my needs and then choose from within that category.
  • khimera2000 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I agree with him. there is no differance in hardware compatibility any more, there OS is based on a PC operating system, and they moved over to intel. there is no custom hardware other then the chips that they use to restrict softwear. there is no longer a reason to seperate them.

    place them against similarly priced PC systems. it cost 1000 for the base and 1300 after upgrades then there should be other systems that cost that much. Not including them looks... Off, like somthing is being hidden.
  • billy_kane - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Backlit keyboard is indeed very useful, I also strongly agree with the author

    However, a thin and light ultra-portable notebooks are like to MBA11 this realm, how much more Mars techs within can you ask for it? Desire is endless, but it depends on what era, those requirements may lead to a breakthrough on behalf of the future direction but not now, In today's 11-inch netbook market, MBA11 has became the newest pinnacle in this area, prior to this, who had predicted such a unparalleled epoch-making masterpiece was build in such a light and thin case as the MBA11? we should not take too much desire pinned on it, which greatly exceeded it's their own position, the avant-garde is a luxury as expensive as its price , compared to the cost of 399 dollars is not expensive, If the value of spending $ 399 to be measured like this, even totally to measure the pros and cons of MBA11 are stupid, it everyone sure a true that is every 12 to 18 months there will be new listing refresh its performance level, thus providing better value for money, But everyone should realize a fact what you bought bring you the avant-garde enjoyment, in other words what you bought is the future, nothing more fair than this trade. the real imbalance is the consume mentality!
  • khimera2000 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    I agree on the back lit keyboard. but how thin this thing is and how much performance it has... I only see it for buisness users, or people with a Beefcake of a desktop already. truth is that its a really thin notebook that uses last generations hardware. where as other companies are striving for a technical edge, it looks like this time around apple just went for form over function.

    You can keep the MBA11 after seeing how much these pritty apples warp when they drop im really hesitant to nab one of these systems. the one good thing is it does not have an optical drive so we dont have to worry about the slot warping and rendering it uselss like the other macbooks.
  • DrMorbius - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    "As I write this final paragraph in the dark cabin of a plane, I do still miss the back-lit keyboard. Apple really should bring that back."
    It should indeed.
  • lemonadesoda - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Agree. In very low light levels the key need illuminating. But only a little. No need for "light the room" keys... just micro-glow so that you can orient your fingers on the appropriate keys.
  • kenzo - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    what about trim support?
  • khimera2000 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    No osx does not support trim, but the SSD is to slow for you to notice the differance. its based on a samsung desing from 08 at a lower bandwith. its not ment for a significant performance, its more for the power saving then anything.

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