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MacBook Air 2010 Overview

Last updated 2011-01-09 - Send Feedback
Related: laptop, MacBook, MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, Macs, memory

The new MacBook Air is yet another elegant Apple design— it’s small and it’s light and it’s beautiful, with clean lines and just the right curves. Stunning really.

But is it a serious tool or a svelte gadget (or both)? The answer depends on your uses for it.

For web browsing, email, word-processing, spreadsheets, and general entertainment, it’s wonderul, but for photographic work with programs like Lightroom and Photoshop, it has serious limitations. It could be an expensive dead-end for some users, yet some users will find it entirely sufficient for their needs.

Wither 3G support?

When the MacBook Air was announced, I immediately thought what a great travel machine it would make for internet use, so long as I had any kind of AT&T cell signal. Except that Apple did not build in any cellular network support as with the iPad.

The omission of wireless cell phone network support has to be the most abject failure of vision in a long time at Apple, given the mission of the MacBook Air to function as a lightweight full-featured travel computer. In fact, all Mac laptops ought to have built-in support for internet via cellular networks. But that’s OK I suppose, just save up another $2000 for the next revision, in fealty to Apple’s bottom line.

Workaround: see my Novatel MiFi review. One more thing to charge and carry.

Small and lightweight isn’t free

After using the Air, my view is that size and weight are the only reasons to buy the ’Air. For that, you pay a price premium and lose both performance and upgrade possibilities. That’s a fair exchange for the right usage scenario, but a costly mistake should your needs grow.

Missing memory

Graphics memory is shared main memory, which means that 256MB of main memory is set aside for graphics, which is not available for programs to use. It also means impaired CPU performance for any program that is memory intensive (think Photoshop or Lightroom).

On an 8GB machine, losing 256MB memory is not so bad (3% loss), but on a 2GB machine, it’s a 12.5% loss, and a still substantial 6.2% loss on a 4GB machine.

Since the ’Air maxes-out at 4GB, and the MacBook Pro maxes-out at 8GB, this is a very real downside if your usage gets into more memory intensive work.

Drive performance

While drive performance is a huge step forward, it’s slower than an OWC SSD in a 13" MacBook pro. All users will be very pleased with the SSD.

Battery life

Battery life is lower on both MacBook Air models than the 13" MacBook Pro.

For the 11" MacBook Air, Apple claims 5 hours, and 7 hours for the 13" model. But the 13" MacBook Pro is rated for 10 hours (all figures from Apple). That restricted battery life could be troublesome if the goal is portability in the field, especially since the lower performance means that it takes longer to get things done— a double whammy.

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