Review of my new MacBook Air

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by johnhackworth, Aug 17, 2011.

  1. johnhackworth macrumors member

    Aug 5, 2011
    With my 2008 MacBook Pro creaking I decided to replace it with a 13" MacBook Air. The MBP was the last of the non-unibody models and hence in Apple design terms is almost prehistoric (the enclosure design is now 8 years old). I also have a Mac Pro for heavy liftingg - running VMs, Lightroom, Visual Studio, Java IDEs etc. I do a fair amount of travelling around Europe on business and the Air is intended to provide me with a lightweight travel machine with good battery life. I seriously considered the 11" Air but ultimately its poorer battery life and smaller text meant I was unable to justify buying one - which is a shame since they are wonderfully portable.

    If the MBP appears prehistoric then the Air is like an artefact from the future. The kind of object which is so perfectly engineered as to seem not manufactured at all but instead brought into existence fully formed.

    After much deliberation I had ordered the 256Gb i7 version. I had been worried about heat - based on reports of the i7 running hot. However although it is warm to the touch it is much much cooler than the MBP which, if performing light duties for an hour or so, would become uncomfortably warm (i.e. hot) to type on. The underside temperature of the Air in general use on my lap seems to stabilise at around 32C whereas the Pro would generally run at an uncomfortable 39C.

    I set up the Air by performing a migration from the MBP's last Time Machine backup. This was relatively quick (around 1.5 hours for 150Gb over USB). It all went well except some App Store purchased programs needed to be deleted and reinstalled before they'd run.

    Compared to the 5400 RPM disk in the Pro the Air's SSD makes everything I/O-related blisteringly quick. The keyboard is lovely. The screen is nice and sharp although its brightness does seem to need to be turned up relatively high in order to be usable - probably a reflection of my tired old eyes.

    The SSD really shows its mettle when using big bloated Java IDEs like Netbeans which loads very quickly and even though the screen is small it is still very usable. It's also transformed my use of virtual machines. Starting or resuming the Windows 7 Fusion VM on my Pro would essentially hang the machine for five to ten minutes. On the Air the VM starts, runs, suspends and resumes very quickly and without unduly impacting the performance of other processes on the machine. It's a shame that the memory is fixed at 4Gb but it's enough for me at the moment.

    I have a real dislike for glossy screens. They look particularly bad in brightly-lit environments such as, ironically enough, Apple stores. However, the Air's screen is much less glossy than that of the iMac or MacBook Pro. So much so, in fact, that I can't say I've yet noticed a reflection at all. Good stuff. The text is a little small and would probably rule out its use as a primary machine for me.

    Although pre-Lion versions of Mac OS X supported encryption of a user's home directory this ability came at the price of limited Time Machine functionality. However, Lion's full disk encryption together with the Air's SSD and the i7's AES-NI hardware accelerated encryption delivers security which is seamless, Time Machine compliant and performant. Benchmarks show that it has minimal impact on system performance and battery life. Full disk encryption is clearly especially useful on a machine which is as eminently nickable as the Air.

    The much touted instant is not noticeably quicker than my old Pro - or indeed any of my previous Mac laptops.

    I haven't done any formal battery life tests but it lasts much much longer than my MacBook Pro which itself has a relatively new battery.

    It's shame that the Air doesn't include a 3G wireless chipset but I'm guessing that Apple left it out as it would crush battery life.

    It's also a shame that Apple/Intel haven't adopted USB3 because, as things stand, there is no fast storage option for the Air - I don't count the Thunderbolt display because a) it's not actually available yet and b) explain why I need to spend 800 quid to get a Thunderbolt-to-FW800 convertor?

    I ran a quick performance test by encoding a 720p movie using Handbrake. My Mac Pro (2.26Ghz Octo, 16Gb RAM) averaged around 60fps whilst the Air averaged around 20fps. A pretty creditable performance.


    Good battery life
    Super quick
    Quiet (mostly)


    Fixed 4Gb RAM
    No USB3
    No 3G

    Verdict: Lovely jubbly.
  2. Raptura macrumors 6502


    Sep 6, 2008
    Toronto, Canada / London, UK
    Thanks for this. I'm gonna be replacing my early 2008 MBP next month with the same i7 13" MBA with 256 GB. The MBP I have is identical to the one you have and it gets so hot that placing your hand just above the keyboard or under the laptop hurts.

    Yesterday I had the chance to mess around with and try the 13 inch MBA. It was so nice to use a machine so much better than my own that I was actually kind of upset to leave the Apple Store. I can't wait to get my hands on the MBA finally. This MBP needs to retire.
  3. alecgold macrumors 65816


    Oct 11, 2007
    I went with the 11" i7 as a primary machine. I'm a lot on the road, often only typing reports and minutes, so it makes sense for me. I plan to buy the 27" thunderbolt screen when it comes available.

    I also had the 2010 13" ultimate but the 11" runs way cooler and it takes a lot more to make the fans run at their maximum. And even when the 11" is trying to mimic the big bad wolf, it is much quieter. And it is even faster when you work with it.
  4. Nioxic macrumors regular

    Aug 13, 2011
    I have the exact same cpu and ssd..

    however i dont have any issues with my screens "gloss" or brightness levels.

    in fact i really love it even the viewing angles are amazing! (from all angles!!!!) which is something i've read that some people had trouble with (apart from the white colors are getting a slight yellow tint, but we are talking sitting 80 degree angles and who does that anyways ? :p

    I really love it.

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