Apple News & Analysis : Three Guys And A Podcast

MacBook Air Performance Face Off

by: Karl Johnson | Aug 12, 2011
Categories: MacBook, Review

The New Macbook Airs have been out for a couple of weeks, so it is time to check their performance scores and see how they compare with previous models and other MacBooks.

These new models include Intel's Sandy Bridge processor architecture, which has been greatly improving performance across the board on today's Macs. Will it do the same for the MacBook Air?

As with previous articles, we use Geekbench scores to compare performance between MacBooks. Geekbench tests the processor performance, but not the graphics chip or the solid state drive. The chart below compares new MacBook Airs with last year's MacBook Airs, the fastest MacBook Pro from early 2010, current MacBook Pro 13-inch, the fastest current MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air from 2008 and an iPad. The charts show the 32-bit benchmarks and the extra performance gained from the 64-bit benchmarks.

The next chart shows the performance in percentages, when comparing different MacBook Air models. The first two show the percent increase from the current i5 to the i7 processor, in both the 11-inch and 13-inch models. The second set of four shows the percentage increase in performance between current MacBook Airs and last year's MacBook Airs.

As the chart illustrates, the new MacBook Airs are fast machines. They equal the performance of high end MacBook Pros from early 2010. They are also twice as fast as last year's MacBooks Airs. While previous MacBook Pros have much better discreet graphic chips, the MacBook Air comes standard with a Solid State Drive (SSD).

These SSDs should not be overlooked when it comes to performance. SSDs greatly increase day-to-day activities from folder navigation, to opening and saving documents. One almost needs a SSD to take full advantage of Apple's new operating system Lion. Applications take almost no time to load with a SSD, so Lion's new feature "Saved State" allows MacBook Air users to quickly quit applications and reopen them in the same place. These MacBook Airs will feel much faster than MacBooks with the same Geekbench score, but have regular hard drive instead.

Which MacBook Air does one choose? If you are looking at the MacBook Air 11-inch, the i7 upgrade has a big 30% increase for only $150. I would recommend this upgrade for most, unless you really don't care about performance. On the 13-inch, the i7 upgrade only has a 8.5% improvement, so I would not recommend it on this version unless you need that extra performance. The 128GB SSD should be fine for most people, as external hard drives can be used to store large libraries of media files.

The MacBooks Airs are not the second classes citizens of the Mac family anymore. They boost impressive performance for such a small and light machine. One should not look at who the MacBook Air is right for, but who needs something more than a MacBook Air. That list is very small as most people would be very happy with the MacBook Air. Those that need something more include 3D artist, Final Cut Pro users, hard-core gamers, and users who crunch a lot of data. If you don't fit in one of those categories, the MacBook Air should be at the top of your list.

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