updated 07:55 pm EDT, Sat July 23, 2011
MacBook Air 2011 gets our first look
We're just receiving our 2011, 13-inch MacBook Air systems and giving them our first dry run ahead of a review expected within the next few days. If you've seen our 2010 Air review, you'll know something of what to expect from the initial unpacking: it's the same extra-slim design, only with a Thunderbolt logo and a much, much appreciated backlit keyboard. Lion on a brand new Mac is as simple as ever to set up; if you're starting from scratch, you can be online in a few minutes.
We did encounter a possible glitch when trying Migration Assistant after the fact, though: whether we were on Ethernet (through an adapter) or wireless, the Air couldn't maintain a steady connection to the older Mac even though both are running Lion. The two would see each other, but the Air would repeatedly claim it had dropped the connection and wouldn't let a network-based migration go forward. We used Time Machine as a workaround, but let us (and Apple) know through our contact e-mail if you encountered the same problem.
It's clear early on that Lion was designed with the Air in mind. We're not referring to just iCloud and AirDrop; Resume thrives on the SSD, and of course the large trackpad is very useful for the new gestures. Full-screen apps make more sense.
Once up, the Air is a definite pleasure to use, and perhaps the biggest surprise if you're coming from a full-size MacBook or MacBook Pro. The solid-state drive (SSD) of course makes apps extremely responsive -- virtually everything on the Dock launches a second after you open it -- but the 1.7GHz Core i5 and 1.8GHz Core i7 processors in our units kick up the overall speed. Where the Core 2 Duo models and even some full MacBooks we've tried have struggled in Exposť (now Mission Control) or with anything visually intensive, the new Air is still smooth.
While more tests are coming, we've run an early comparison on Geekbench, and the suspicions are true. At least in tests of pure processor, memory, and system performance, the 1.7GHz Core i5 Air is fast enough to outrun a 2.4GHz Core i5 in a MacBook Pro from just a year ago. Our base 13-inch model score 5,446 points versus the older system's 4,794; that's a 14 percent increase at a lower clock speed. Some of that can be chalked up to the faster 1.33GHz DDR3 memory (up from 1.07GHz) giving a big boost to memory-bound tests, but it's really a testament to Intel's Sandy Bridge architecture leading to more efficient work per clock and, along with the faster memory, communicating quickly with that SSD.
We've tried the 11-inch Air briefly as well, and its shock is more of how much performance it keeps in the smaller size. Unlike last year, it's virtually identical in speed and could be killer for those who want the full Mac experience but in as small a system as possible.
We'll have more tests and a full review soon, but if you're interested enough and would like to help us out, please consider helping us out with a trip to the Apple Store.