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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  • solipsism - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    "Vaio X is an extreme design, it is a purely show of engineering power of Sony, just like the Z series which packs a power-hungry-griller i7 and GT330M into a 1.3kg ultra-thin form factor.”

    Are you having a laugh? It’s not like the “Z series” and doesn’t pack a "power-hungry-griller i7”. As previously stated, it’s an Atom CPU with Intel GM500 IGP.

    On top of that, it was $500 more than the 11” MBA when it launched just a couple weeks ago, and now still $200 more than the 11” MBA’s starting price despite the much cheaper and weaker processing. On the one hand I can see that Sony isn’t trying to compete by selling a netbook is a fancy package for considerable slower than yet more costly than the MBA with the “Apple Tax”, but since they have placed a $400(?) “Sony Tax” on those ‘up-scale’ Atom netbooks.
  • san1s - Sunday, November 7, 2010 - link

    You either have poor reading comprehension or are not a native English speaker.
  • bloodterfly - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    Ok, so I didn't know you cared that much about 11" vs 13.3". Fair enough. Ultraportables are fairly niche and don't really have too much competition. Windows ones tend to be 13" for some reason. w.e.

    There's also size vs weight. Adamos are pretty heavy for such a small package. While the Vaio Z isn't ultraportable thin, but it is pretty dam light (lighter than an Adamo iirc)

    I like Adamo's styling- two toned brushed metal. Hotness. Different taste though. I find Macbooks bland. Monocolored aluminum with generic curves. Meh.

    If you want 11" you'll probably have to go netbook+. Dual core atoms aren't THAT bad. It's like a 10-20% clock for clock reduction from C2D? (iirc)

    about the m11x- it's just a 13" computer with a huge bezel so Dell can call it the most powerful 11" notebook.
  • darkchii - Sunday, November 7, 2010 - link

    I owned an 11.6inch 3lb culv... and now I own one of these 1.6ghz upgraded MBA... and I'm coming from a Dell inspiron 11z, which you can still get it from the dell outlet. They just stopped selling them. 11.6inch 3lbs, CULV same resolution 4gb of ram etc. Granted the processor was slower 1.3ghz dual core, and I had to pay 200$ to add my own 80gb intel SSD, but my total cost was about 600$, as I paid ~400 for the machine. I'm now selling it as I have the MBA 11.6 ultimate config which adds discrete video, but heck it did cost 1400+ with tax... which was 800$ more.

    I also agree with anand... I have a Vaio TR2... which was 10.6 3lbs with DVD-R lol and 2000$.... As for 11.6inch culv there's a whole range... and the MBA 11.6 1.6ghz 4gb is basically on top in terms of price.... except for the industrial toughbooks.
  • jonup - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    While I agree that $1400 might not seems like a lot of money for a portable notebook compared to historical pricing, I think the market has change and manufacturers are not charging same margins any more. And this brings me to my point. The MBA Ubgrade is $400 or 40% more than the base model. 15% increase in the performance do not justify 40% increase in cost. Further, the performance is only achieved in tasks that should not be performed (read not commonly) on an notebook (ultra portable). Before you start disagreeing with me think about how much faster is video/photo editing on DTR or on a desctop. MBA is simply not targeted at such task. Therefore, I completely disagree with Anand that this is a worthy upgrade and I still think 13" MBA is the better buy.
    Anand, any work on a 15" MBA? I look at a lot of spreadsheets all day long but I really like the slim design and light weight.
  • pyrthas - Tuesday, November 9, 2010 - link

    I think your best comparisons are the Panasonic J and R series. Both have to be imported from Japan, and both are way more expensive. Both are thicker but smaller in every other dimension (including weight). The R (which I love for its tiny bezel) gives you an i7-640UM with 4GB for $2k through Dynamism right now. The J (which is widescreen) gives you an i3-370M with 2GB for $1900, and goes up from there. Resolution's bad, unfortunately, but they're 10" screens.

    I'm still using an R3 for work basic office tasks, and it's several years old now. For me, nothing beats the form factor, and I really wish someone else would come out with a laptop this size for a lower price, because $2k just feels like too much to pay for an i7-640UM on principle.
  • jasperjones - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    sorry to be so blunt but, to me, this article is boring. it's similar to the article where you retested the ASUS U30JC after outfitting it with an SSD. from ANT's perspective, there might be some benefit to getting two articles out of one product. but, as a reader, i'm yawning.
  • 8steve8 - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    actually i agree, its not new information to see what a ~20% increase in clock frequency, and doubling the ram does to performance. But if he wants to write it....

    On the whole I'm excited to buy this formfactor when it gets ULV/LV sandy bridge.

    the tradeoff between cpu and gpu performance apple is making on their smaller laptops is silly... who's gamming on an 11" laptop with a 4 yr old cpu and 2GB ram (stock). no one.
  • iwodo - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    Anand, if you have chance could you do a review of PhotoFast MBA SSD using Sandforce SSD controller and see if there is an performance difference.
  • dsumanik - Saturday, November 6, 2010 - link

    "The 11-inch MacBook Air may be portable perfection, but by default it’s not the perfect notebook. It’s slow, the battery doesn’t last all that long....1399 is a lot for a lightweight notebook..... I do still miss the backlit keyboard. Apple really should bring that back"

    Also...wheres the mention of all the quality control / display issues these notebooks been experiencing...

    Ill sum this article up in one sentence:

    "The 11 inch MBA is an overpriced shiny POS in a high quality brushed alum clamshell with poor battery life."



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