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d358b 2010 11-inch Macbook Air Thoughts II

Last summer I roadtested the first-gen 11-inch MacBook Air, and even though I was ultimately pretty happy with the thing even though I ultimately sold it as well. I did want to keep it but there just wasn’t room for a fourth machine in my lineup at the time (especially considering I had just gotten rid of the fourth). Fast forward a year and I finally picked it up again when changes to the fleet opened up a slot. So now it’s time to do a “proper” writeup.

This is the actually the first-gen 11-inch MBA from 2010, which still costs all of $550. It’s pretty dated spec-wise, but it’s been a long time since that has mattered. The SU9400 with 2GB is more than enough for anything that I’m going to do with the machine, and the stock SSD makes things plenty fast as well. You can even do some basic gaming on the 320M and by that I mean fluid low-res, low-quality SC2 or TF2.

The only thing that I’d really like from the newer models is the backlit keyboard and an active warranty.

I actually looked again for comparable conventional alternatives (conventional meaning Windows), but this space really hasn’t changed much since I last ranted about it. If you are looking for the lightest/thinnest/smallest full-featured (by that I really mean “non-netbook”) ultraportable, the 11-inch MBA is basically still it. There was the comparable SB-based 11-inch Samsung Series 9, which seems to have been close to vaporware and now seems to be official EoL, and there is the comparable Asus UX21A/E, which seems to be very difficult to buy, and ever the more so if you want one with the 1080p screen. And that 1080p screen is the only reason I’d buy it over the MBA. These latter machines (used and if you can find them, of course) are also more expensive than the first-gen 11-inch MBA, and I don’t know anything about the fan profiles, which is important to me.

I also looked at the space between netbooks and conventional ultraportables, and there’s basically nothing there that even compares. For example the entire Lenovo x100/e series is a little cheaper, and has the same nominal screen size, but they’re twice as thick and heavier.

Even with the 3-cell battery, the x220t weighs a hefty 3.8lbs. With the 6-Cell battery, the vanilla x220 is lighter, at 3.3lbs. The 11-inch MBA, as weighed on my own scale hits the exact advertised weight of 2.3lbs. It’s much harder to measure thickness accurately, but I’m pretty sure the MBA is very close to be half as thick as the two ThinkPads. The decrease in footprint size is probably proportional to the decrease in nominal screen size. The following picture shows the MBA on top of the x220 on top of a T430 (which I will talk about later).

Steering away from size, Apple build quality is impeccable as usual (though this has not always been the case; I’m looking at you plastic, non-unibody Core Duo MacBook) and everything fits together nicely without complaint. The metal body also wears really well; even on this relatively old machine you don’t see any shine or residue accumulating on the palmrest. The keys wear a bit worse, but because they don’t have much texture in the first place, I think said wear is less noticeable. I’m a little upset that they don’t have an SD card reader (why would I want that? I’ll get to it later too), but I guess it’s just one of the sacrifices you have to make going to this form factor.

I didn’t kick off this writeup with my usual ranting about power and noise because it’s basically a given that Apple does both very well, and I really appreciate that. Idle power is something in the realm of four watts (in comparison you can get about 5.5 for a typical SB ThinkPad) for a three generation old platform with what is effectively a discrete GPU, and I can get the advertised 4 to 5 hours of practical runtime without even trying. I actually think the fan is running close to all the time, but I have to hold my ear against the underside to hear anything at all at idle, which is really quite acceptable. Under load the fan does get pretty loud, but it’s still not loud enough for me top hear over my YouTube video, and Apple throttles it back very aggressively when the CPU is unloaded.

That’s probably it for now.

Published by D, on September 27th, 2012 at 12:00 am. Filled under: d_others Tags: , No Comments

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