Been holding off on an ultraportable purchase? Wise move. Today's new MacBook Air trumps its predecessor in lots of ways. We explain why.
It happened before with the MacBook Pro and the iMac, and now it’s happening again even more dramatically with the MacBook Air. Apple has updated its entire MacBook Air range
with the latest Intel Core i5 and i7 processors as well as lowering prices across the board, meaning that the impossibly slim notebooks are now much more powerful (and cheaper) than ever. The time where you had to decide between portability and computing power is now pretty much over. We’ll outline the key changes so you can see exactly what’s different and why you should be as excited as we are.
Previously the Air models used low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duos, and now they use vastly more powerful low-voltage Intel Core i5s (and i7s if you so choose to configure). Low-voltage Intel Core 2 Duos were always very slow compared to their full-voltage cousins, but the latest low-voltage Intel Core processors are actually similar to full-voltage versions, even if they are still somewhat slower. Long story short: you’re getting the kind of performance you’d expect of a full-sized modern MacBook Pro in a package lighter than many netbooks. The 11in Air used to have the Intel Core 2 Duo SU9400 (1.4GHz) but now has the Intel Core i5-2467M (1.6GHz), while the 13in Air used to have the Intel Core 2 Duo SL9400 (1.86GHz) but now has the Intel Core i5-2557M (1.7GHz).
The graphics have become more efficient if not more powerful. The venerable NVIDIA GeForce 320M integrated graphics cards have been sacrificed for integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000. Without having directly tested the graphics performance of the new MacBook Air against that of the old, we're confident it will be similar. The point also needs to be made here that the increase in processor power is so vast that system performance will improve in just about every area of the new Airs.
Solid state drives still feature across all MacBook Air models and haven’t changed in size. While RAM used to be 2GB standard, now every model (except the least expensive 11in Air) has a much more generous 4GB. Battery life is still great despite the much stronger computing power on offer; Apple claims five hours for the 11in Air and seven hours for the 13in Air, both of which are remarkably good.
CONNECTIONS AND USABILITY
Gone are the Mini DisplayPorts, but their replacement is the ludicrously fast Thunderbolt
port. This Intel-designed technology is much faster than the already fast USB 3.0 ports which are being introduced in Wintel notebooks. There aren’t too many peripherals that will use the ports right now, but expect that to change quickly. Another great addition that’s sure to please many is the backlit keyboard. When the lights go down on your long haul flight, or in your bedroom late at night, a backlit keyboard makes all the difference, so it’s brilliant that Apple finally provides it with its lightest notebooks.
Prices have been reduced for all MacBook Air models despite the vast improvement to the specs. In Australian dollars, all have dropped by at least $100, but the top-of-the-line 13in Air is fully $149 less than its predecessor.
Those unsatisfied with the base specs of any of the Air models do have options open to them. Of special interest is that the processor in the more expensive 11in Air and 13in Air can be upgraded to a much more powerful 2nd Generation Intel Core i7-2677M (1.8GHz), which will set you back $160 for the 11in Air and $100 for the 13in Air. Apart from that major improvement, the only other upgrades are 4GB of RAM for the less expensive 11in Air and, more interestingly, a 256GB solid state drive for the more expensive 11in Air.
There was an expectation that Apple would seriously improve the MacBook Air models, and Apple isn't going to disappoint too many people with this new range. Ultraportables have been getting lighter and slimmer over time, but once again Apple has shown the other manufacturers it’s a force to be reckoned with. The Air update has even killed off the iconic white MacBook (as predicted
by APC a few weeks back); Apple hasn't announced or confirmed anything to this effect, but just take a look at the Apple web site -- as of today the white MacBook no longer appears for sale. What does this say about the market? Well, as far as Apple is concerned, the ultraportable is no longer the unaffordable. The entry-level Mac notebook is now the MacBook Air -- and clearly that doesn't mean you have to skimp on performance.