20 Years Ago, The MacBook Air’s Battery Would Have Only Lasted 2.5 Seconds

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Over at the Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal puts the enormous gains in the electric efficiency of computation (or how much power a computer draws) in perspective using the example of Apple’s new MacBook Air.

Imagine you’ve got a shiny computer that is identical to a Macbook Air, except that it has the energy efficiency of a machine from 20 years ago. That computer would use so much power that you’d get a mere 2.5 seconds of battery life out of the Air’s 50 watt-hour battery instead of the seven hours that the Air actually gets. That is to say, you’d need 10,000 Air batteries to run our hypothetical machine for seven hours. There’s no way you’d fit a beast like that into a slim mailing envelope.

When Steve Jobs called the MacBook Air magical, this isn’t what he meant, but after reading this article, it’ll be hard to look at the wafer-thin ultrabook on my desk the same way ever again.