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2011 Macbook Air 11.6″ Review

The refresh of the new 11.6″ and 13.3″ Macbook Air last July 2011 has introduced more powerful Intel Core i5 and Core i7 processors into the line-up. I got the 4GB RAM, 128GB SSD Core i5 Macbook Air 11.6″ to test out. See full review after the jump.

When I bought the 11″ Macbook Air last year, it was my first dibs at owning a Mac and using OS X. I suggest reading my review of the 2010 Macbook Air 11.6″ here first, before you continue to read this one.

Most of the basics are covered there, especially the aesthetics part, so I won’t repeat them again here. You still get the same solid construction (thin and light aluminum), very sleek form factor, great attention to detail in a simple, yet elegant design.

As a reference, the model that we bought for this review is the 2nd variant of the 11.6 inch:

Macbook Air 11.6″ (MC969ZP/A) specs:
11.6″ display @ 1366×768 pixels
Intel Core i5-2467M 1.6 GHz (2 cores)
Turbo Boost 2.0 up to 2.3GHz
Intel HD Graphics 3000 384MB
2 x USB 2.0 ports
Bluetooth 4.0 HS
WiFi 802.11 b/g/n
Apple OS X 10.7 Lion

The base model only has 2GB of RAM and 64GB of internal storage and retails for Php49,990 while the one we got is Php59,990.

After using the old model from last year, that configuration wasn’t enough, especially on the storage end (I kept on cleaning up my the disk for un-important and un-used files). And because the Macbook Air uses an almost unibody design, there’s no turning around once you grab a variant — no user-replaceable or upgradeable memory or storage (update: but with enough determination and patience, the SSD is still replaceable but the RAM module is soldered into the board). You can have the battery replaced though.

If you want more and have the budget, you can actually get a custom variant with 4GB RAM, 256GB SSD and an Intel Core i7 1.8GHz processor. That is, if you have Php82k to spare.

From the design end, the Macbook Air remained the same except for a few additional features — the mini Display Port has been replaced by a faster, more advanced Thunderbolt port, the keyboard is now backlit (which is a huge plus), and on paper about 40 grams heavier. The iSight camera has just been renamed to Facetime camera, but there’s no megapixel improvement there.

Looking at the hardware inside, Apple finally moved to using Intel’s Sandy Bridge chips (they skipped the first generation Core i-series) with a more powerful Core i5 1.6GHz processor. That’s 2 cores and 4 threads with a base clock speed of 1.6GHz that can Turbo Boost up to 2.0GHz on both cores and can still push it up to 2.3GHz on one core.

The performance of the processor is impressive and miles away from the Core 2 Duo SU9400 Apple used from last year. This is evident when I was doing using PhotoShop and iMovie as the tasks have become more efficient and generally much faster (up to twice as fast on some tasks). Manipulating multiple images at the same time is breeze (used to be slugging in the old MacAir).

Along with the new Sandy Bridge chip is the embedded Intel HD Graphics 3000 that came along with it. Apple ditched the dedicated NVidia GeForce 320M GPU from last year (looks like there’s no room for a discreet graphics inside that thin chassis) and that somehow reduced the performance of the graphics on this one (mostly on the gaming department only).

Still the Intel HD Graphics 3000 is a very capable one running at a base speed of 350Mhz and goes up to 1.15GHz (the NVidia GeForce 320M runs at a base speed of 450MHz).

When you install 64-bit Windows 7 on this hardware, Windows Experience Index will give you a sub-score of 6.4 for the CPU, 5.9 on the RAM, 5.8 on the Graphics, 6.2 on Gaming and 7.1 on the Primary Drive {via} and those are pretty good numbers. The old NVidia GeForce 320M got 5.3 and 6.1 on WEI so the Intel HD Graphics 3000 still has a bit of an edge here, over-all.

Just to be sure, I also ran a couple of benchmarks comparing the old modela and this new one. Here’s what I got from NovaBench:

2010 Macbook Air 11.6″ (1.4GHz Core 2 Duo, NVidia 320M)
RAM score: 98
CPU Tests: 112
Graphics Test: 53
Hardware Tests: 11
3D Frames Per Second: 121
Write Speed: 72 MB/s
RAM Speed: 2013 MB/s
NovaBench Score: 274

Here’s what I got from the review unit:

2011 Macbook Air 11.6″ (1.6GHz Core i5, Intel HD Graphics 3000)
RAM score: 123
CPU Tests: 303
Graphics Test: 22
Hardware Tests: 28
3D Frames Per Second: 54
Write Speed: 227 MB/s
RAM Speed: 5767 MB/s
NovaBench Score: 446

Over-all score is almost twice with significant improvements in CPU, RAM and read+write speed on the SDD.

The GeekBench scores also validated the numbers from above:
2011 Macbook Air 11.6″: 4630
2010 Macbook Air 11.6″: 2202

The Thunderbolt port replaced the mini Display Port and though there’s not much real-world use for it now but once more devices support the technology, you can actually hook this port to up to 7 Thunderbolt devices in a single cable line (imagine what a 10Gbps speed can do over this line?). For now, all I can do with this is plug in a large external display into this port using the same old mini Display Port cable.

Apple has finally brought back the backlit keyboard in the Macbook Air (it’s been a huge drawback for me when I’m typing in the dark with the old model). The brightness controls are found in the F5 and F6 keys while the Facetime camera also serves as ambient light sensor. The brightness of the screen and the backlit keyboard reacts accordingly when light is projected into the camera.

The 2011 line of Macbook Airs also came with the new Mac OS X Lion and along with it, some OS improvements and UI changes. I specifically liked the LaunchPad which looks like how the apps are arranged and scrolls on the iPad. The most useful one is the ability of windows to take up the entire screen (I used to get annoyed with the old Mac OS because it can’t do this).

The trackpad gestures are also pretty cool though I’m finding it a bit awkward to use all four fingers at once. The biggest confusion I guess, and this is probably true with most Mac users who just upgraded to Lion, is that the trackpad scroll is reversed (drag down to scroll up, drag up to scroll down). Of course, you can switch it back the way you liked it in the System Preferences.

I kinda find it more intuitive though, and didn’t took much time to get used to it, since it follows how you scroll on the iPhone and the iPad.

Apple is also the first manufacturer to add Bluetooth 4.0 into laptops. It’s not much of a use right now (since very few other devices have it) but I guess there’s one more bragging rights for you.

Battery life on the Macbook Air has somewhat reduced compared to the old one. One normal use, I could get between 3.5 to 4 hours on a single full charge — and this is heavy browsing with WiFi on, some Adobe Photoshop and some ro two sessions on iMovie (where display is at 50% brightness). I think I could push it to 5 hours with light browsing or mostly reading or typing but I rarely do that.

Things it missed and are still missing:

i) No Ethernet or LAN port – you’d have to buy a LAN to USB port adapter.

ii) No optical disk drive – you can buy the external drive or use the Remote Disc software to use the drive of another PC over WiFi. But we already know that ultra-thin laptops carry this compromise, right?

iii) SD card slot – the 13-inch model has them but the 11-inch ones still don’t (sorry, no more space left) so I bring a card reader with me all the time.

iv) No installation CD, not even the USB flash recovery drive from last year (there’s a rumor you can get that Flash drive for an additional $69). What Apple did with the new Macbook Air is included the Lion restore into the drive (you do this by pressing Option while booting and it will prompt you to the Recovery mode or press Command+R).

The storage could still be an issue to some and although you can bump it to 256GB (SSDs are still very expensive these days — you can get 160GB Intel SSD at Php17k from PCX). However, the benefits of much faster disk read and write speeds could be a justification to some. In any case, you can always get a 500GB portable drive for like Php3.5k.

The battery life is also a bit disappointing but that’s what you get when you get more CPU muscle.

The very slim, 13-inch Samsung Series 9 has a very similar specs compared to our unit and it retails for Php79,990. The variant we reviewed has a Php59,990 price tag (the 13-inch is Php65,990). At least we get to see how this product category fares against other competitors in the market.

With this new upgrade on the Macbook Air series, these sexy little babies have somewhat gone mainstream especially the 13-inch variants thanks to the Core i5 ULV processors (and Core i7 options if you really want it). It could very well replace the original Macbook (notice the Apple Online Store doesn’t sell the Macbook anymore).

The Macbook Air 11.6″ is now being sold in stores with a starting price of Php49,990 (for the 2GB RAM, 64GB SSD). You can also request for custom specs (like 256GB SSD and Core i7) but that will take about 3 weeks to deliver.

Abe is the founder and Editor-in-Chief of YugaTech. You Can follow him on Twitter @abeolandres.

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33 Responses

  1. ernie says:

    I am hoping for your review in mac book pro line up.

  2. Emman says:

    I’ll pass this one. I’ll buy the macbook pro 13″
    although this is an eye candy, it doesn’t meet my ends

    • Anong ibig sabihin ng “doesn’t meet my ends”

    • Paul says:

      baka ibig niyang sabihin was “it doesn’t meet my NEEDS.” or pwede rin “it doesn’t meet my REQUIREMENTS.” hehe. basta yun na yon. :)

    • John says:

      AFAIK, mba is better than mbp sa performance dahil sa SSD.

    • Kevin Paquet says:

      @John, better than the MBP? Not a chance just yet. Maybe it’ll feel snappier for the most basic of tasks, but it doesn’t come with any dedicated GPU. It’ll be crushed in Cinebenchmarks, etc.

    • sylv3rblade says:

      remember to stick an SSD on the MBP.

      MBP users have the option of installing an SSD. Of course it’s on top of the already steep price of the Pro but it’s a great combo.

    • John says:

      @Kevin Paquet

      im talking about the 13″ MBP, there is no reason for the mac lovers to buy the 13″ MBP since 13″ MBA is much better.. who needs a disc drive?

      I know, i know.. pwedeng SSD rin sa MBP.. BUT I AM TALKING THE STOCK ONE, hindi yung mga BTO. =)plus, ssd of air are still faster than on pros (ssd)

  3. Bob says:

    I think Macbook Air can be a “secondary” laptop (if you have a lot of money to spare). By the way, I am planning of buying a Macbook Pro 13″ this October, but there are non-Mac laptops available with almost the same price range but with higher specs. Anyone who can recommend one? I’m eyeing for either ASUS K43SV or HP G4-1009TX.

    • diondy says:

      go for the mbp and you won’t regret it. just got mine recently and loving it, comes with the free lion upgrade.

  4. Franky says:

    Abe, some additional notes:

    1. Yes, the 13″ replaces the standard 13″ MacBook. Only Air or Pro anymore.
    2. The Intel HD graphics come with the processor. They can be found on every single actual model in the MBP range. This is not a matter of no more space for dedicated graphics card, they come together with the chipset and are capable enough for all day use. The aim of the MBA is not to be a video editing machine or gamers machine.
    3. There’s no need for a ethernet LAN anymore, since the new WLAN chips, together with the new Airport Extreme generation, can run up to around 500MB transfer. Moot point, especially since MBAs are ultra portables. Don’t forget Apple’s history in setting new market standards (think: Floppy, then Ethernet, BT, WLAN, etc).
    4. Optical drive: when was the last time you used an optical drive? Wouldn’t one rather expect those few PR agencies who still waste money creating DVDs to use SendIt, or alternative services, and Youtube for their presentations?
    There is no need anymore for DVDs (sorry gamers!) and optical drive sharing works well enough for those few times when an optical drive is needed. ;)

    I agree re-installation disc/USB. Then again it is very easy to create a bootable USB stick with the OS on. Hopefully Apple will allow all new MBA owners to download Lion freely from the Mac App Store.

    The 13″ is super fast and almost makes my new 15″ MBP i7 pale in comparison when it comes to normal day-to-day use. Of course when doing video the horsepower kicks in but in my experience the 13″ is a worthy alternative to the original 13″ MacBook for the average user.

  5. Jesse says:

    I’d like to point out that there are aftermarket storage (flash) replacement for the macbook airs – (http://arstechnica.com/apple/reviews/2011/05/review-supersize-your-macbook-air-ssd-with-owcs-aura-pro-express.ars) . They’re quite expensive though – for the price of better performance (higher Read/Write rates than the stock); larger storage spaces (up to 512gb); and I think that’s about it.

    So there is no reason not to buy a macbook air. They’re just damn worth it. I’m planning to buy one sooon.

  6. yuga says:

    @jesse – updated my post to include this. I had the impression before that it was soldered into the board.

  7. kyle says:

    ganda ng itsura! pero di to bagay sakin

  8. Rich says:

    Sir Abe,

    once you get a hold of the Asus UX31, could you please make a review of it side-by-side with this new MBA?


  9. fr0stbyte says:

    I have no plans to buy a Mac but as a techie I’d have to say that the MBA is mouth-watering to look at. Aggresive din ang pricing. But I’ll just wait for the UX21. Let’s see if it’s any good.

  10. mac says:

    shocks, kita ko UX21, mas manipis pa ata sa mba and it will be cheaper as edgadget says

  11. dave says:

    sana mei pera ako pambili…


  12. jego says:

    Very enticing! This might just make me switch from a Windows user to a Mac user.

  13. Kenneth says:

    I bought one already last August 1, I got the 13″ MC965 – enjoying it. I installed Windows 7 via bootcamp too.

  14. Bryne Asis says:

    I bought mine recently at Apple Store Philippines, it took total of 8 days before it was delivered.

  15. Kim says:

    I got mine las week – small yet so amazing machine!

  16. duÅŸakabin says:

    duşakabin imalatı duşakabin satışı duşakabinde taksit imkanı duşakabin’de %40 indirim bu fırsat kaçmaz duşakabin küvet

  17. tugsngew says:

    i had an mbp 13″, very nice…just 2 weeks ago, my wife smashed it…just because of fb “girl friends”….wtf…i just lost my most precious company whenever i travel, business or pleasure….so i have decided to stop flirting in FB…and plan to have the new mac air 13” next week i guess….and hopefully insure it against smashing..lol

  18. Kinny says:

    I have a desktop replacement notebook at home but my Sony Vaio 16 inch is just too heavy to bring around at 8 lbs.
    My Mac air 11.6 4GB Ram 64 GB HDD is perfect to bring around my bag when i need to type my articles, surf and check email. If you just want one laptop though the 13 inch macbook pro is the most value for money.

  19. tugsngew says:

    i got mine more than a month now, an 11 inch i5 128GB solid state flash storage, very nice…. very handy, and all i can say is its super fast…. i had my pro 13 inch also, which was smashed by my wife due to facebook aliens, lol,,,,but my air’s better.. couldn’t ask for more!

  20. enitsirk88 says:

    I was just wondering if anyone is experiencing any heat issues with the new MBA…?

    • yuga says:

      @enitsirk88 – the heat issues becomes more prominent over long periods of time. It needs to sit in a well ventilated surface so the exhaust fan would not over-spin.

  21. karench says:

    good day to all…
    saan b dito sa pinas makakabili nang ssd 500gb para sa macbook air 11??? wala ksi me credit card…

  22. Jake says:

    I got my new macbook air from my blogging business. thanks to google. :)

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