The Bottom Line
Sep 21 2011 - Apple's MacBook Air 13 redesign offers some significant improvements to the premiere ultrathin platform. The new Core i5 processor and 4GB of memory are a marked improvement in performance over the past model. Add to this the inclusion of the backlit keyboard and Thunderbolt port and it has become even more functional. There is little downside to this upgrade either as battery life remains hardly changed at all. While the $1299 price may be a bit high for some, Apple has kept the lead when it comes to ultrathin laptops with this update.
- Extremely Small And Light
- Improved Performance From New Core i5 Processor And Extra RAM
- Excellent High Resolution 13-inch Display
- SSD Offers Less Storage Than Traditional Hard Drives
- No Aftermarket Upgrades For RAM Or Storage
- Intel Core i5-2557M Dual Core Mobile Processor
- 4GB PC3-10600 DDR3 Memory
- 128GB Solid Stated Drive
- 13.4" WXGA+ (1440x900) LED Display With 1.3 Megapixel Webcam
- Intel HD Graphics 3000 Integrated Graphics
- 802.11a/g/n Wireless, Bluetooth
- Two USB 2.0, Thunderbolt, SDXC
- 12.8" x 8.9" x .7" @ 3 lbs.
- Mac OSX 10.7, iLife
Review - Apple 2011 MacBook Air 13-inch
Sep 21 2011 - Apple's MacBook Air platform has set the standard for ultrathin design but it always was lacking in performance because of its dated Core 2 Duo processor. Thankfully, Apple has solved this problem with the 2011 redesign of the platform. The new 13-inch base model features a new Intel Core i5-2557 dual core processor. This brings a huge improvement in the overall performance of the system. Another great aspect is the increase from the past 2GB of DDR3 memory to the now standard 4GB. This has reduced the reliance on virtual memory in more intensive applications which helps increase the performance as well. It is also nice as the design does not allow for aftermarket RAM upgrades.
Externally, the MacBook Air 13 looks pretty much the same as the original design. There are only two changes and one of them probably wouldn't be noticed by in a side by side comparison. Basically, Apple has taken the previous mini DisplayPort connector and upgraded it to be a Thunderbolt port. It shares the same physical look between the two, but Apple's version of Light Peak allows the port to carry data for high speed peripherals in addition to a video signal for external monitors. It would have been nice to see them also include USB 3.0 but maybe that will be in the next version. The more obvious external change is the inclusion of the backlight to the keyboard. This makes using the laptop in a dark environment or at night much easier.
Storage remains unchanged from the past version. It still uses a 128GB solid state drive which is small compared to laptops using traditional drives but provides sufficient space to be used as a primary computer just as long as large media files are kept on an external storage device. It would have been nice to see the size increased but the overall cost of solid state drives has not come down much in the past year. It still retains the SDXC card slot for use with the flash media format that the 11-inch version lacks.
The display on the MacBook Air 13-inch still remains one of the best available on the market. It offers a slightly larger 1440x900 resolution compared to the average 1366x768 found in most displays. In addition, the color and viewing angles are equally impressive. The downside is that Apple keeps its glass coating for their design aesthetic. This does produce a large amount of glare and reflections when used outdoors or in certain lighting. The only upside is that most consumer laptops are using similar glossy coatings that have the same issue.
The internal battery of the MacBook Air 13 remains unchanged with a 50Whr capacity rating. Apple claims that the laptop can run for up to seven hours while web surfing which is slightly less which remains the same as the past version. In video streaming tests, it was able to run for four and three quarters hours. That is just slightly lower than the previous Core 2 Duo based version but still very close. This is an impressive feat considering that the Core i5 processor offers a huge leap in performance. It also puts it slightly above the average ultraportable laptop on the market.
Pricing for the base MacBook Air 13 remains unchanged at $1299. Overall, this is a very good price and should really be the version of the MacBook Air to consider. At just $300 over the base MacBook Air 11, it offers a faster processor, more memory, double the storage space and larger display with better resolution. Now, the price is going to be higher than the Ultrabook alternatives that will be coming in the next few months but Apple has certainly set the bar high for the competition.