MacBook Air 13″ Core i5 Impressions

In November 2009 I blogged about my new Core i7 27″ iMac, which I was an early adopter for (I ordered one almost as soon as they were announced). This year, I have done the same with the 2011 refresh of the MacBook Airs. I bought the 13″ Core i5 with a 256GB SSD which is one option (Core i7 CPU upgrade) below the top spec. Based on topics on the MacRumors forum it looks like the Core i5 is the better choice as it is cooler and thus not as noisy and hardly any slower.

My previous laptop was a late 2007 MacBook which had problems with the plastic shell cracking but otherwise was a nice machine, but with the advent of Lion it was time for an upgrade (I didn’t think it would even run Lion as it reports it is a Core Duo but this Wikipedia article thinks it can). At first I was considering MacBook Pros but I realised portability was more important than “moar power! and I really wanted an SSD, which makes the price of the MacBook Pros hit nearly two thousand pounds.

Design

I really love the design of the MacBook Air. They’re super-thin but still feel super-sturdy, much sturdier than my old MacBook. There’s the usual full-size keyboard and it has the same 13″ display as the MacBook Pros. Incidentally if, like me, you are coming from an old MacBook or even an old MacBook Pro it’s worth noting that these current devices have a higher resolution of 1440×900 which makes quite a bit of difference. It may be obvious to most but I didn’t realise until now.

Specification

Thanks to the low power consumption of the new Sandy Bridge CPUs, Apple could put a beefier CPU in these new models (though still relatively low clock cycles) and still keep the battery life at an astounding 7 hours. This means that the MacBook Air is no longer the weedy machine it used to be; you are no longer forced to sacrifice performance for portability and aesthetics. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised if Apple drop the ‘Air’ from MacBook Air and make this form-factor replace the MacBook. The only reason I can see for them holding off on that transition is the smaller-than-average storage space, which is fine when you have an ‘Air’ but not fine for a standard laptop people might want to store all their music, photos and other digital cruft on. When larger (512GB) SSDs drop in price I think it’s inevitable that Apple will make this their standard model, as that will be the main weakness removed.

Day-to-day use

I’ve been using my MacBook Air for nearly a week now, including spending a few days working on it writing code and it feels like the fastest machine I own, faster than my Core i7 iMac. This is thanks to that SSD which may be old news for some, but it’s a new experience for me and I can see why people rave about them. I haven’t had a problem with the lack of Ethernet port or optical drive yet, which just shows how often we (don’t) use them or really need them. I’ll still probably buy a Thunderbolt Ethernet adaptor when one is inevitably released (currently Apple only sell one that comes with a 27″ display) for times when I need to transfer large amounts of data and don’t want to wait around.

Overall, I’m really pleased with my purchase and if you’re looking out for a new Mac laptop and have always gone for a Pro model, take another look at the MacBook Air.

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