Two Weeks With Apple’s Powerful & Ultra-portable 13-Inch MacBook Air [Review]




The 2011 13-inch MacBook Air has a lot going for it performance wise. It is incredibly fast and the difference is especially noticeable on the 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 based system coupled with the Intel HD 3000 graphics, but I’ve heard that the model sporting an i5 processor is no slouch either. The MacBook Air won’t appeal to hardcore gamers, but for the rest of us it will work out just fine. I put the computer through some heavy workloads which included running Skype, iChat, Safari with over 40 tabs open, Microsoft Word, Xcode, iTunes, Twitter, Adobe Photoshop CS5, and sometimes virtualization. It all ran pretty smoothly and it was clear that the combination of faster 1,333Mhz memory, 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor and 256GB SSD drive made a world of difference. I didn’t really experience any bottlenecks in my day-to-day use of the MacBook Air.

I won’t bore you with a bunch of  benchmark statistics, but I will say that the MacBook Air reviewed here scored 6830 when benchmarked using Geekbench in 64-bit mode. Overall this MacBook Air tends to be twice as fast as the high-end Core 2 Duo model that it replaces. In some cases this MacBook Air left a 15-inch MacBook Pro model in the dust for some but not all benchmarks.

Therefore as far as performance goes you won’t be disappointed and I can attest to that after using my 13-inch MacBook Air for two weeks. Facts and figures behind benchmark results are well and good, but my experience says it all – zippy fast. Perception trumps numbers in this case.

I like the computers performance and when I mentioned something about it running so fast and performing so well that it might catch my desk on fire in the Apple Store the other day a customer overheard me. I had to assure them not to worry. I was only kidding, but pointed out that if they didn’t like their new MacBook Air that they didn’t deserve to have it and that they should give it to me. I haven’t seen it or them so I think that they are enjoying the performance of their new MacBook Air just like I am on mine.


Last year when I reviewed the 2010 13-inch MacBook Air one of the most frequently asked questions about the MacBook Air was about how good or bad it was running other operating systems using  Parallels Desktop 6 for Mac or VMWare Fusion. I’m happy to report to you that I spent some time with both of these applications and I have some good news — they not only work, but in my opinion they work incredibly good. In fact, the virtual machines ran a lot better than they did on last years MacBook Air.

I tested the following operating systems: Mac OS X Snow Leopard Server 10.6.4, Microsoft Windows 7 64-bit, Windows XP, and Mac OS X Lion 10.7. The latter was tested only under VMWare Fusion using a hack that isn’t supported officially by VMWare, but it works and it works well. Apple has relaxed its virtualization rules so we can expect official virtualization support for the client version of Mac OS X Lion as well as Server from both of these companies in the near future. I was a bit disappointed that they weren’t ready to provide that when Lion launched.

It goes without saying that the 1.8GHz Intel Core i7 processor  with 4GB of 1333Mhz RAM and a fairly fast 256GB SSD made a world of difference when compared to running virtualization on last years MacBook Air. I was flat-out impressed and pleasantly surprised by the performance I got from the various operating systems I tested. If you had any worries about virtualization on the MacBook Air last year rest assured that you can toss them out the window this year.

The performance of these virtual machines was so good that I did not clock or use a stop watch while testing them and I’m basing my comments on my perception. I’ve used both of these applications for a long time and I’ve had a lot of experience using VMWare’s products in Windows client and server environments.

Virtualization on the new 2011 high-end 13-inch MacBook Air can be summed up in one word — Wow!

  • ctt1wbw

    Hmmm, I remember initial reports of the first MacBook Air.  It was worthless because it didn’t have an optical drive.  Remember those reports?

  • cliqsquad

    Hold up that was 2008, this is 2011. The world is very different, it is more about the cloud and more about digital content. Those complaints have been proven invalid most likely.

  • Elliot George

    I believe he was basically saying ‘Look how wrong the haters were back then. The MBA is kicking ass and will most likely become Apple’s only laptop in a few years, and the best laptop in the world’. Suck it hater :)

  • cliqsquad

    Opps, sorry about that… It is the best laptop man, my 11″ was backordered with MacMall just came in today… Loving it

  • atticusrex

    Seeing how I am clueless, how does one go about connecting 400 or 800 firewire external HDs?

    Interesting that it also only relies on wi-fi.  At times I like connecting w/ethernet for a FASTER web experience.

    I still use a non-uni-body MBpro.  w/ lion now.  However with only 2 gigs ram.. it does process slow.  But I could keep it as my ‘desktop’ and perhaps the Air as my portable… Oh, so without an ethernet connection how would I connect/sync the two laptops?

    See I told you all I’m clueless.  lol  and thanks in advance for any replies.

  • TechTeich

    As long as you have Wi-Fi in your house and those 2 machines are connected to the same network you can “sync” them through file sharing/air drop. As far as I know, there are no firewire to USB or thunderbolt cables (correct me if I’m wrong). So if your firewire HD doesn’t have any other type of connector, I don’t think that it can be connected.

  • Starman_Andromeda

    Three questions.

    1.  How does the *size* of the 13″ screen compare to that of the 15″ MacBook Pro?
    I have one of the MBPs and am leery about switching to a smaller sized screen.

    At one point when we shopped for iBooks, we definitely felt that the 12″ was too small and so picked the 14″.  I’ve been spoiled by the 15″‘s screen, but really dislike the hard drive noise.

    2.  How hot does the bottom of the MBA get?

    The MBP can get hot–and is certainly not compatible with shorts!  The legs get red.  Has anyone given the MBA a shorts test yet? 

    3.  Is it really quiet?  That is, under most operating conditions– say, just some web surfin’ or word processing?

  • Sam Parmenter

    Well then he is wrong, they were perfectly valid in their criticisms when it was launched. It wasnt powerful enough and most software still came on physical media. Just because times have changed doesn’t magically render a past judgement incorrect.

    Eventually we may not need any local processing power as it is all processed elsewhere and streamed. A device released today would still be crap regardless of the future adoption of that method of computing.

    I would never have bought a macbook air when it was launched but it will probably be my MBP replacement when I need to update.

  • ChristianNewman

  • lsls67
  • lsls67
  • Terrance Joseph

    I just paid $21.87 for an iPaad2-64GB and my girlfriend loves her Panasonic Lumix GF 1 Camera that we got for $38.76 there arriving tomorrow by UPS. I will never pay such expensive retail prices in stores again. Especially when I also sold a 40 inch LED TV to my boss for $657 which only cost me $62.81 to buy. Here is the website we use to get it all from,

  • Apple_News

    Check out this great apple blog!

  • lsls67
  • lsls67
  • otheronetruegod

    I have to disagree. I bought a first-gen Air, and I think I’ve used the remote optical drive function once. If you had a need for an optical drive, it wouldn’t have suited you, but for the (sizable) target market, they never even noticed it was gone.

  • newser-52007115

    Wonderful, real-world, tell-it-like-it-T-I-S review, but I have to correct you on one point: the Air handles virtualizations incredibly WELL not incredibly GOOD.

  • AnupR

    Ans 1: Due to Hi Res, you will not feel it is 13″. It is really good ! 15 ” macbook pro std resolution is worse that hi res 13″ macbook air

    Ans 2: Not much at all. However, I have noticed that while installing (like Lion), it did get warm !

    Ans 3: Yes. Under normal circumstances, you won’t hear a thing. Again heard some fan noise only when doing a huge install like LION.

  • GDal

    How about proof-reading… Grammatical, punctuation and spelling errors should be unacceptable.

    And redundant words are silly…
    “The largest internal space inside …” – Internal IS inside. It’s not outside.

    “It was clear that the MacBook Air filled a niche or it did.” – Huh???

  • GDal

    You have broadband that’s faster than 50Mbs?

  • GDal

    The DVD drive in my MacBook hasn’t been used more than 3 times in the past two years. I could have done with an extra hard drive instead.

  • GDal

    I’ve been without optical disc software for years now. Since at least 2001 (around the time 250GB IDEs became available). I have all my software on hard drives. If it came on disc, it was copied and the discs were lost. Only those stupid Windows discs remained.

  • HerbalEd

    NO … it wasn’t powerful enough for you. Don’t speak for the millions of people who bought and were happy with what you were not.

  • lsla38
  • wakao71
  • SpongebobUK


    A search on Amazon shows a number of adapters for Firewire to USB if you need one. My Lacie D2Quadra was made redundant when I got a Time Capsule last year. I didn’t miss the FW800 – the Time Capsule was so easy to set up for every aspect including Time Machine and everything connects through it. And it’s almost silent.

    I got the USB Ethernet adapter for those times when you feel like you need a direct connection but it’s only a 100 megabits/sec rather than the gigabit on the MBP. Nonetheless, I use the wireless most of the time – I love the no wires operation.

    My disappointment was finding the Airdrop isn’t available for my iMac because it’s too old (pre 2009) but I’m expecting that iCloud will keep everything in sync. Connecting is straightforward using Bonjour especially if the two are on the same network AND if you’ve set up Sharing (through Preferences). I had problems with Migration Assistant (because I messed up – again!) but with Bonjour I dragged over everything I needed.

  • Starman_Andromeda

    Appreciate your taking the time to respond–and on point!  That doesn’t always happen in the Internet world. :-)

    I’ll have to go look at a 13″ in the real world.  My worry sometimes about higher resolution screens is that the text ends up so small.  I have to do all sorts of tweaking in Safari, Word, and other programs to increase font size or zoom factor (in the program itself) to make things readable.  So, I’m hoping it will work.

    Cool and quiet are really appealing!

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  • Jenniffer

    yes i agree

  • ravi@tablet

    It’s really good explanation man. The most people like the long life battery and advance logo design so you detail,13-inch MacBook, 7 hours, really very useful.