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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  • Jon03021 - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    It seems Toshiba has released the exact same SSD blades used in the new MBAs.

    Anand, would you be so kind to see if the 11'' is upgradable to the 256gb stick when they become available? I would really appreciate it!

    Thank you,

  • lemonadesoda - Monday, November 8, 2010 - link

    Yes, the 256GB sticks are 8 chip rather than the current 4 chip designs. An 8 memory chip design should be faster... but also fatter. Will it fit?
  • Rasterman - Monday, November 15, 2010 - link

    I would like to replace my 2008 13" MB with an 11" Air, but the features and options are poor.

    What I want in the 11":
    SD card reader
    Ethernet port
    HDMI port
    default 1.86Ghz cpu with 2.4Ghz upgrade

    If this were the case it would be a no-brainer upgrade for me for $1500, but as it stands I'll just keep what I have, maybe the second revision in 12 months will be better... Perhaps after i7 is 2 years old it will be in an Apple machine! lol
  • mevensen - Wednesday, November 17, 2010 - link

    Any chance of getting a similar comparison with the options available for the MBA 13?
    Also, I agree that doing head to head comparisons with other Windows ultra-portables would go a long way to providing some valuable decision points for (us) consumers.
  • roddiekn - Monday, November 22, 2010 - link

    I am glad with Apple’s new 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs. because new generation and new companies are demanding new technology in their filed.So that is one of the good reply on this way. I appreciates it..

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