MacBook Air 13" 4GB review... a la bilbaína A la bilbaína means The Bilbao way. As you can guess by my nickname, I'm from Bilbao, a great not-so-big-in-size-but-so-great-city in the Basque Country. You can check the Wikipedia entry for more info at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bilbao I've been using Macs since the very first 128K model in 1984, but I moved from Mac OS to Windows after my last Mac, a Performa 5400 model. Since then I've been more in touch with the Apple world rather than de Mac world, using the iPhone, the iPad, the Apple TVs and so on... but not a real Mac. Two months ago I bought a second hand 13 inch MacBook Pro Unibody. It was a mid-2009 model with a 2.26 GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2 GB of RAM and a 160 GB hard drive. A nice machine, but missing some components to be defined as a powerful machine. I decided to upgrade the hard drive to a 128 GB Kingston SSD Now V+ and the RAM to 8GB. A really worthy upgrade that made me wow. I use the laptop many times over my lap, and doing so showed up two major inconveniences: weight and temperature. The MacBook Pro wheighs around 2 Kg (4 pounds) and its temperature goes rather high no matter what you do with it, and I started to use it over a table or over a cushion. After looking at the new ultraportables presented by Apple, the 13" MacBook Air came as a candidate to replace the MacBook Pro, quite similar in term of performance and dimensions but much lighter, so I decided to sell my "vitaminized" MacBook Pro in the second hand market. Fortunately and though the crisis has really affected this kind of sells, the Macs are much appreciated and if you offer it with a good discount it's not hard to sell. A similar setup of an actual MacBook Pro is around 1800 , and I also sold a 8th Gen 160GB iPod Classic that wasn't used. Selling both I made true my premise "to get a new one at home, you must sell an old one". The chosen model has been a 13" MacBook Air with a 1.86 GHz processor, 128 GB SSD drive and 4GB of RAM. This setup is not available in stores, where you can only find 2GB models and I wanted to continue using VMWare Fusion 3 virtualizing a PC to run Windows 7 Ultimate 64 bits so I decided to go for a custom order through the Apple Store. Side by Side: 13" MacBook vs 13" MacBook Pro Unibody I didn't want to change the key characteristics of the computer and this is my final analysis. As every analysis I make, it has a subjective component that reflects it's adapted to my own circumstances and that means that what is good for me, maybe it's not good for you. Anyway, I would like to share my thoughts BEFORE receiving the computer. Later on I will write about my thoughts AFTER the initial hands on and a one week use. Weight: First things first. I'm going from 2.03 Kg (4.5 pounds) to 2.9 pounds (1.32 kg). My main motivation for the change was to reduce the total weight and 680 grams is really a lot lighter, in fact a 35% lighter. Temperature: Using it in the sofa is not only the weight, but also how warm it gets the Pro over my lap. It's not only warm... it gets really hot even if you're just browsing the web. I expect the Air to be much cooler. Processor: I'm loosing some raw power the Air clock speed of the Air is 1,86 GHz and 2,26 GHz in the MacBook Pro. Both are Intel Core 2 Duo manufactured with similar 45nm technology, both have 2 cores and 2 threads by core. The one in the Air is a SL9400 with 6 MB cache and the one in the Pro is a P7550 with 3 MB cache. Air's processor is cooler with a maximum TDP of 17W vs 25W in the Pro and both admit Intel VT-x virtualization technology and 64 bits instruction sets. Who will win? Main Memory: A half. Going from 8GB to 4GB, although 4GB is a respectable figure that will let me virtualize a computer to run Windows or work comfortably with simultaneous RAW files without problems. The main memory is soldered to the mainboard so it's now or never. Some reports say that it will run faster but I'm quite sure I won't notice it. It's just SDRAM running at 1066 MHz. Screen: The size is going to be the same 13,3" and resolution is going to be a bit higher from 1280x800 to 1440x900 resulting in smaller dot size. It's still a bright glossy screen with LED backlit with the same 16:10 aspect ratio. Graphic card: From nVidia GeForce 9400M to a nVidia GeForce 320M. Both graphic cards take 256 MB from the main system memory, thus making your total RAM even lower. It's not a much better graphic card, but slightly more powerful, GT216 core based supporting PureVideo HD to decode high def video, CUDA, OpenCL, and DirectCompute to use the graphic chip directly with programs supporting it as Photoshop CS5. You can take a look at benchmarks of 320M here and 9400M here. 13845 points 3DMark2001 for the 9400M in a MacBook (not a Pro) and 18744 in the new 13" MacBook Air. Storage: Moving from a 128 GB SSD hard drive to a 128 GB SSD hard drive so in terms of capacity there is no improvement, but the technology used by each drive is quite different and I expect some speed improvement and on-drive garbage collector will be taking care of the once-occupied-now-free space, not a decisive factor this one, but welcome. Optical drive: I'm losing the Superdrive unit, but to be honest I wasn't using it. I manage ISO images stored in a USB drive, much faster and convenient and for anything related with CD or DVD burning I go to my main PC. Backlit keyboard: I don't understand why Apple has removed this feature. It was really helpful sometimes and made the computer look even Pro. If they put it back on in the future I will be really disgusted. I can live without it and it's not a reason to forget about the change. Remote control: The same story here. I'm going to loose the ability to remotely control the MacBook Air. I can use the iPhone but both devices need to be connected to the same Wi-Fi network. Network Connectivity: Both units offer an Airport wireless device supporting 802.11n and Bluetooth 2.1 EDR, but the Air has lost the Ethernet port. Sometimes I use this kind of connection (mainly at the office) and I'll need to buy a separate USB dongle, and Apple should include this with the MacBook Air. It should also include a WWAN port to insert a MicroSIM "ala iPhone" to get 3G connectivity and will make the laptop much more useful on the road. Right now I have to deal with the jailbreak on my iPhone 4 to run MyWi to get a mobile hotspot. Connections: 2 USB ports on both, loosing Firewire. It's not really a concern to me because I don0t have devices with this interface. Mini DisplayPort: I hope that this MacBook Air could send the audio stream through the Mini DisplayPort to HDMI cable. The 2010 MacBook Pro can and this is really an advantage if you want to hook it to your A/V receiver, simplifying the setup with only one cable instead of two, and mor importantly letting me a direct connection to my plasma screen, passing the audio directly to the TV set. SD card reader: Included in both. It's quite funny that this has to be remarked, because we all consider Apple able to remove it, right? Battery: Both announce 7 hours of battery life (2010 Mac Pros go up to 10 but mine is mid-2009), 58 wat/hour in the MacBook Pro vs 50 wats/hour in the Air. If Apple announces the same battery life it's clear they have come with a lower consumption but I'll be reporting the real thing in everyday use. I bet for a slight reduction in battery life. Considering that when you buy a portable computer compromises are inevitable, even more inevitable when trying to build a lighter one with a really small footprint like this. So for me it's OK. They don't seem too different in performance but completely different in portability and that's what I was searching for. Order, manufacture and shipment of the 13" MacBook Air Being a considerable amount of money that was going to be invested, before placing the order I visited a local store to better evaluate my decision. I handled both the 11" and 13" units and although the smaller one is really ultralight and ultraportable, the bigger one better match my requeriments. It's also a problem for me the size of the 11" screen and it's resolution of 1366x768 pixels, makes everything excessively small, with symptoms eyestrain after just a few minutes. I need a larger screen, for sure. Add up that the added battery life of the 13" model and my decision was clear, so I ordered it through the Apple Store last Sunday, January 16th. Apple announced that the Mac would ship in 3 days and that I could expect it at home by the 27th. Let's see how it went. On Tuesday Apple put the MacBook Air at the UPS facilities in Shanghai and after crossing half of the planet, it finally arrived home by the 26th, one day before the scheduled date. This is the complete tracking of the shipment. UPS Customs are located in Koeln - Germany - and every line showing Koeln means an administrative step, not really a package move. It went from Shanghai to Incheon near Seoul in Sith Korea, to Almaty in Kazakhastan, one more bounce to Varsaw in Poland and finally arriving in Spain, Prat Airport at Barcelona, Zaragoza y and Valle de Trápaga... and home. The computer came perfectly protected in a cardboard hard case, with special attention at the corners. And this is the package as you open it: Apple style. This was the theory, but... do you think my expectations where met? Lets see 13" MacBook Air first impressions The first sensation that you have when you hold this computer is that you have bought an authentic product of design. If you have the opportunity to go to store and hold it... you will know what I mean. When my wife first saw it said "They've done it again, aren't they?" The computer is remarkable for its design. The 11" share the same design concept but looking at those thin lines is even more impressive, up to the point of transmitting fragility, given not only the thinness but also the really light weight. But after a few minutes you can see that it also shares the construction of the MacBook Pro, aluminium Unibody. Rock Solid. As ususal the computer came with Mac OS X 10.6.5 preinstalled and to start using it you only need to plug the cord and follow the on-screen assistant. You can start with a new setup, but you're also given the opportunity to restore the system from your previous Time Machine backup, and that's what I did. With the absence of a Superdrive unit, Apple has decided to ship the computer with a USB key that can be used to reinstall the software. This USB Key can only be used for reading and includes both Snow Leopard 10.6.5 and iLife 11. If you want to reinstall the software you must maintain pressed the "C" key while rebooting and it will start from the USB key or the "Option" Key and you can choose the source volume or even a network boot. This method is very practical and useful and I prefer it over the typical hidden partitions that eats up a lot of our precious hard drive space. In the case of an SSD drive with it's high cost per GB it's even more interesting. I have installed the previous mechanical 160 GB 5400 rpm hard drive into an external case and I'm using it for my Time Machine backups. Before sending my old MacBook Pro to its new owner, I made a full Time Machine backup of its contents. So before turning the MacBook Air on, I plugged the external hard drive and when the assistant asked, I selected the Time Machine restore option. After 30 minutes, my new Air was almost a clone of the Pro. Almost. And I say almost because the process doesn't apply the operating system software updates and you have to apply them again. A few minutes more and we're ready with 10.6.6 and the Apple Store app. I consider this backup and restore system a reference in terms of ease of use. I will be very glad to have something similar in the Windows platform but i haven't found it. I'm using Acronis True Image Home to make periodically full backups if the system, and it works fine but it's not the same. It can't be run as you work and this is really a key difference. And the backups are hooked to a specific hardware configuration, another key difference. Now that the system is up and running, it's time for Onyx. I applied all the Automated tasks to repair permissions and the rest of the typical maintenance tasks. For me is an obliged visit every time I update the operating system. How it performs? My first hands-on reveals that it deals really well with everything, but let's go for a few benchmarks. First a hard drive performance test. I usually use Aja System Test, you can download it at http://www.aja.com/products/software/ and if you run it and want to compare precisely, you must configure the same way, with a 1920x1080 and 10 bit video frame for a file size of 4GB. If you configure it this way, you can compare the results with mine. I have had run the same test in my MacBook Pro with the 128 GB Kingston SSDNow V+. The results confirms my initial impression, this hard drive is devilishly fast going as high as 210 MB/s writing and up to an incredible 260 MB/s reading. This is a 25% increase in hard drive performance both reading and writing. But not everything is hard drive and not all are good news. The processor benchmarks of the old MacBook Pro (Intel Core 2 Duo P7550 @ 2,26 GHz) went up to 3545 in a 64 bits Geekbench. Same test with the MacBook Air de 13" and the Intel Core 2 Duo L9400 @ 1,86 GHz show the expected 20% less raw power, going as low as 3000 points. But you get the overall performance with the combination of the components, not everything is raw power and this fast hard drive contributes to a really fluid experience, no matter what you try to do. XBench confirms the same results with a total global score of 160.84 points for the MacBook Air. The old MacBook Pro were 189.12. This is an overall 15% speed reduction, that I assume with gladly as I hold the computer, feeling it so light on my lap.