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Old Aug 8, 2011, 11:48 PM   #1
Lonectzn
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2010 vs 2011 13" Unscientific Comparison

I have a 2010 model MBA 13" base model CTO with 4GB ram, which cost me just over $1600 (after corporate discount) in March this year. When the 2011 model was announced I almost immediately wanted to upgrade, figuring the improved performance and keyboard backlight was exactly what I needed. Recently a friend at work purchased the base 13" model, so I had the opportunity to compare the two versions directly.

We set them up identically and used them side by side for about a week in our shop to book and process jobs. The 2011 model had a noticeably (but not significantly) dimmer screen and required a slightly higher setting for optimal use. I understand there are different screens shipping with the Airs, but it was noticeable.

Additionally, the 2010 model lasted consistently between 1 to 2 hours longer. This was a little surprising, based on the anandtech reviews I expected the 2010 to have an advantage but not at this level, especially considering mine has had significant use since March. It was even more surprising to find that over the week, the 2010 had been used roughly 10% more (in terms of jobs booked / time used). As a final kicker, and possibly something that was purely subjective, when connected to an external display with the lid closed the 2010 model recognised it quicker and was smoother in use.

To be fair, this test probably didn't take much advantage of the 2011's strength, namely the faster processor. Only Chrome was running on each system, with between 6-10 windows open mainly with large complicated google docs spreadsheets. While the 2011 was appreciably faster, it really didn't have much practical advantage. Even in Eclipse, a rather heavy java based IDE, while it was faster it didn't feel upgrade-worthy.

In the end, I managed only to make myself fall even further in love with my existing Air, and saved myself spending hundreds of dollars in the process. At least in the areas I care about (battery life) the 2011 seems to be a downgrade. If I was in the market for a new Macbook Air, I'd highly recommend a refurbished or second hand 2010 model with the 4GB upgrade, especially at the prices they're going for on eBay.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 12:01 AM   #2
noi747
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Thank you very much, At first i planned to upgrade my MBA late'10 to '11. after searching through several topics.

I decided to save my pocket money for other expenses and stay with MBA'10.

but still MBA'11 backlit keyboard tempted me so much. I usually use it chat in low light cond. But now just turn on a light dimly, I can see all keyboard layout.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 12:10 AM   #3
calvol
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Good post, thanks for the comparison on a subjective level. I also have the 2010 13-UMBA and am leaning toward keeping it for the reasons you cited-- longer battery life in casual use and snappy graphics performance with an external display. I also like the cooler running temps, as the max temps I've seen have been 80C with Skype (73C with CoolBook). I have the i5 SB processor on another laptop, and it has a "peaky" heat profile as TurboBoost kicks in and out, and the fans roar. Plus, I seem to have a good build, bought as a refurb in Feb, and haven't had any issues, and I'm wary of getting a lemon after reading about the numerous issues and returns of the 2011 model. I went so far as getting the Amazon coupon code, but I will probably stick with the 2010, and buy the 2012 MBP next year for heavy lifting.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 01:09 AM   #4
jackyyeow
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Here's my take of the unscientific comparison, comparing my 2010 13" Ultimate MBA running 10.6.5 with my friend's 2011 13" Ultimate MBA on 10.7:

Screen:
LG on 2010 and Samsung on 2011. Samsung is a tad brighter, so can be operated 1 notch lower. LG on my 2010 seems to hurt the eye a little more with its somehow more illuminated (or more shining) backlight,

Battery life:
With coolbook installed on my 2010, and nothing extra done on his 2011, with Safari, few tabs opened, similar display brightness (5~6 notches from left), blocked flash contents, the 2011's i7 lasted just as long as my 2010 coolbook'ed, maybe 10~20mins less. I consider that amazing given that I already have coolbook installed on my 2010.

Other tasks shown or more less the same battery life. Some tasks like video playback or some tasks that's light~med CPU usage favor the 2011 simply because the CPU usage on the 2011 is lower, hence lower power draw and slightly longer battery life. Like about 30mins longer or so depends on the task.

The only thing that the 2011 shows inferior battery life is when it comes to tasks taxing the GPU. The 2011 shows about 30mins less than the 2010 but then, we're talking about 2:30 versus 2 hours, so both are still considered short battery life on that kind of task. Maybe due to the turbo boost on the GPU.

Keyboard:
2011 simply better - more solid feel under the fingers, while the 2010 is clacky and softer. A slightly more effort to type of the 2011 of course, but I consider that as normal and the 2010 is a little overly soft. The backlight is a big plus, but I consider that as eye candy, I don't need the backlight as I'm a touch typist, but the backlight certainly make it looks like a premium product that without.

Speakers:
No noticeable differences, me and my friend weren't to concerned about the speakers anyway since both are more or less in the same ballpark anyway, and we seldom use the speakers.

Heat:
2011 i7 definitely run hotter, not just the readings but also to the touch. Somewhere around 5~10deg more than my 2010. Again, that's with coolbook installed on my 2010 running at the lowest voltage even on the highest clock speed. I consider that as normal, or even amazing. If there isn't coolbook installed, my 2010 would have run hotter than without, and the temperature will get closer to the temp of the 2011 i7. Not much differences when doing light browsing though, just when the CPU is taxed, the 2011 is warmer. Both are equally find for laptop use and won't have that burning your skin feel albeit still consider quite warm. Much like having a cup of hot (but not boiling) coffee sitting on your lap - not enough to make you feel like taking it away, but warm enough to maybe give a bit of sweats.

Audio output:
Funny enough, the audio output quality using same pair of headphone seems to give better output on the 2011 model - more mids and bass. I can't figure out why, but it does seems to be better. Maybe it's a Lion thing.

VMWare Fusion:
2011 seems to run better and smoother, some of the application will appear a little stutter on the display refresh rate (skipping a frame or 2 every now and then) resulting less smooth experiences.


IMHO, the 2011 is definitely an upgrade. Tried some same task that'll constantly tax the CPU in realtime, the i7 shows like 40%+ of CPU usage on the activity monitor, while the 2010 showing around 70%. Note that the 40% is on 1 core out of 4 virtual cores, while the 70% is on 1 core out of 2 cores. The i7 is just amazing. I'm going to sell mine off after a while, maybe will pass it down to my family when I have enough money to upgrade again.


PS: The battery life on my friend's 2011 wasn't as good as it is now, but after few days of usage the battery life seems to get better. Maybe there're initial indexing or other system processes going on but now it's pretty stable.

Last edited by jackyyeow; Aug 9, 2011 at 10:15 AM.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 03:35 AM   #5
Lonectzn
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The only thing our different individual experiences prove is that relying on subjective reports or artificial benchmarks rarely give the whole story.

Ultimately, we should just not think about it too much and focus instead on the next big thing, whatever that is.


p.s the next big thing is Amiga.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 03:38 AM   #6
Blue Sun
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lonectzn View Post
I have a 2010 model MBA 13" base model CTO with 4GB ram, which cost me just over $1600 (after corporate discount) in March this year. When the 2011 model was announced I almost immediately wanted to upgrade, figuring the improved performance and keyboard backlight was exactly what I needed. Recently a friend at work purchased the base 13" model, so I had the opportunity to compare the two versions directly.

We set them up identically and used them side by side for about a week in our shop to book and process jobs. The 2011 model had a noticeably (but not significantly) dimmer screen and required a slightly higher setting for optimal use. I understand there are different screens shipping with the Airs, but it was noticeable.

Additionally, the 2010 model lasted consistently between 1 to 2 hours longer. This was a little surprising, based on the anandtech reviews I expected the 2010 to have an advantage but not at this level, especially considering mine has had significant use since March. It was even more surprising to find that over the week, the 2010 had been used roughly 10% more (in terms of jobs booked / time used). As a final kicker, and possibly something that was purely subjective, when connected to an external display with the lid closed the 2010 model recognised it quicker and was smoother in use.

To be fair, this test probably didn't take much advantage of the 2011's strength, namely the faster processor. Only Chrome was running on each system, with between 6-10 windows open mainly with large complicated google docs spreadsheets. While the 2011 was appreciably faster, it really didn't have much practical advantage. Even in Eclipse, a rather heavy java based IDE, while it was faster it didn't feel upgrade-worthy.

In the end, I managed only to make myself fall even further in love with my existing Air, and saved myself spending hundreds of dollars in the process. At least in the areas I care about (battery life) the 2011 seems to be a downgrade. If I was in the market for a new Macbook Air, I'd highly recommend a refurbished or second hand 2010 model with the 4GB upgrade, especially at the prices they're going for on eBay.
Are they both running 10.7?

If not, then I'd say that would explain the battery life discrepancy.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 03:41 AM   #7
Lonectzn
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Both were Lion and fully updated.

I had been getting Wifi dropouts - that stupidly common problem I'm also getting with my iMac - so took the opportunity for a fresh install and upgrade to Lion in the hope it might make a difference (it didn't).

Of course, we can't discount the possibility that my friend bought a lemon.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 06:57 AM   #8
superstarmc
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It is true the testimonials I've read about lion causing the 2010 MBA to be significantly slower? People have said boot up time went from 14 to 25 seconds and so on. Reason I ask is because I may have to buy a refursbihec just because of financial reasons. By the way I do zero gaming but have a 43 gig iTunes library.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 08:42 AM   #9
Oppressed
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Quote:
Originally Posted by superstarmc View Post
It is true the testimonials I've read about lion causing the 2010 MBA to be significantly slower? People have said boot up time went from 14 to 25 seconds and so on. Reason I ask is because I may have to buy a refursbihec just because of financial reasons. By the way I do zero gaming but have a 43 gig iTunes library.
My boot times on my 11 2010 MBA are still sub 14 seconds. Take what you read with a grain of salt as user experiences differ based on how people use their machines.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 09:21 AM   #10
Roman2K~
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@jackyyeow
Thanks for sharing your views on the differences between 2010 and 2011 models.

Quote:
Originally Posted by jackyyeow View Post
PS: The battery life on my friend's 2011 wasn't as good as it is now, but after few days of usage the battery life seems to get better. Maybe there're initial indexing or other system processes going on but now it's pretty stable.
I noticed this too, Spotlight indexing / kernel_task aside. After 3 or 4 cycles, the battery of my 2011 seems to have reached its full potential. After a full charge, playing a Flash video (same site, same resolution) used to show 3h30 remaining. Now, it's showing over 4 hours.
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Old Aug 9, 2011, 09:45 AM   #11
mac jones
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Here's my 'scientific' comparison.


No comparison
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