Apple introduced their long-rumored subnotebook called the MacBook Air on January 15, 2008. The Air is the world's thinnest notebook, ranging from 0.16" to 0.76" thick. For $1799, it comes standard with a 13.3" widescreen display, 2GB RAM, 80GB HD (64GB SSD optional), iSight, and a 1.6GHz or 1.8GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPU. Other features include a multi-touch gesture trackpad, 45W MagSafe AC adapter, 1 USB 2.0 port, Micro-DVI out, audio out, full size keyboard, and LED backlit display. No optical drive is included, although Apple will sell you a $99 external SuperDrive - alternatively, you can use a new software feature called 'Remote Disc' which allows you to borrow any Mac or PC optical drive.
Update October 2008: The MacBook Air has received an expected, and some would contend overdue, refreshment - updated Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs with 6MB shared L2 cache, a 1066 MHz front-side bus, the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M integrated graphics; the hard drive model is bumped from a marginally-adequate 80 GB to 120 GB and the solid state drive model’s capacity is doubled from 64 GB to 128 GB. Prices remain the same.
13" MacBook Air Model Chart:
Well, the speculation and rumors made a pretty accurate call this time. There is no longer a void in Apple’s portable lineup where a subnotebook belonged. The new MacBook Air is the most “sub” of all notebooks Apple has ever offered, weighing in as a mere three pounds and only three quarters of an inch thick.
It also has no internal optical drive, comes with LED display backlighting, and is available with a solid state flash drive, all of which was widely predicted.
The MacBook Air is radically cool-looking, should be a joy to take on the road, can safely be called a laptop again, and there is no way I would consider buying one. It remains to be seen whether enough folks will to prevent the MacBook Air from becoming another interesting design exercise that failed in the marketplace like the late, lamented G4 Cube.
The MacBook Air’s problem is not with it’s undeniably sleek and attractive design, but rather with what went missing in order to pare that weight and thickness down, and there’s a lot, plus the fact that it’s an essentially non-upgradable semi-sealed unit like an iPod with even battery replacement requiring the case to be opened by professional techs - at least if you don’t want to void the warranty.
The MacBook Air comes with a respectable 2 GB of RAM soldered to the motherboard, but unfortunately that’s also its maximum RAM capacity. There is no RAM expansion slot.
The standard hard drive in the base model is a non-standard 1.8” unit of a modest 80 GB capacity and 4200 RPM rotation speed, with the only upgrade offered being an even smaller 64 GB flash drive for a suck-in-your-breath thousand bucks extra. There is no provision for hard drive upgrades, so if 80 gigs isn’t enough, you’re up the creek.
Speaking of price, the base unit starts at $1,799.00 (ominously the same price as the Cube when it was unveiled in 2000), but that includes no (external) optical drive ($99 extra), or Ethernet connector ($29.00), or if you’re on dial-up like me - modem ($49.00), The upmarket, flash drive model is the most expensive machine in Apple’s portable line at $3098.00 and your can dude it up to $5536.90 by checking every box on the option list, which is nosebleed territory we haven’t seen in an Apple notebook since the high-end WallStreets back in the late ‘90s.
But back to what you don’t get with the MacBook Air even at that stratospheric level. No FireWire - not even an option. Not much else in the way of I/O ports either - just once lonely USB 2.0 port flanked by a headphone jack and a Micro-DVI video port. That’s all folks, and that USB port has to handle pretty well all peripherals you might need to use - the external SuperDrive, the Ethernet connector, a Microphone if you need one, and external keyboard and mouse, printers and scanners, a modem, and so on. There are no expansion slots of any sort. Apple has an unfortunate history of from time to time building I/O port impoverished notebooks - the PowerBook 150 and the original clamshell iBook come to mind. But even the iBook had a built-in Ethernet port. The MacBook Air’s ports are located behind a flip-up door, which is also a bit of a throwback. Built-in sound output is only a mono speaker.
And since the external SuperDrive is a USB and not a FireWire unit, its bootability is an unanswered question mark at this writing. With no FireWire, there is no FireWire Target Disk Mode, although expanded wireless features are intended to take up some of that slack.
As for performance, there’s good news and bad news. The MacBook Air is powered by a special, smaller-dimensioned (60% smaller than the standard Intel Core 2 Duo) 1.6 GHz or optional ($300.00) 1.8 GHz processor with 4MB L2 cache and an 800 MHz frontside bus, which should offer a respectable level of performance, but less than you get in even the low-end 2.0 GHz MacBook. The good news? It should run cooler than its bigger, more powerful stablemates, and unaccompanied by intermittent fan serenades, since there is reportedly no internal cooling fan.
Apple is claiming up to five hours runtime on a battery charge, but if that’s not enough for your occasional needs, you’re out of luck. The battery is not user-switchable, so you’ll have to wait until you fins an AC outlet and through the recharge interval. MacBook Air battery replacement requires sending the machine to Apple, costs $130, and takes 5 business days.
In the aesthetics department, the thinness of the MacBook Air’s aluminum case is its most spectacular form factor feature. However, in my estimation, the black keycaps are plug-ugly. At least the keyboard is full-sized and backlit to boot. There is also a a large multitouch trackpad, which supports some of the same kind of functions and gestures iPhone and iPod touch touchpads do, including Pinch (moving finger and thumb together or apart) zooming in some applications including Safari and iPhoto, swipe three-finger drag substitute for forward and back commands, and rotate (rotating finger and thumb) which rotates images in iPhoto.
The only display available is a 1280x800 13’3” glossy unit a la the standard MacBook. Some folks like glossy screens, other despise them, but it’s the same non-choice you get with the MacBook. Another similarity shared with the MacBook is the Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100 integrated graphics support that annexes 144 MB of your 2 GB of system RAM.
The MacBook Air is touted as the “greenest” Apple notebook ever, with its mercury-free LED backlighting, display screen made of arsenic-free glass, “most of” its internal circuit boards free of brominated flame retardants, and internal cabling that emits PVC vapors. The aluminum case is also recycling-friendly.
The optional external SuperDrive (reminiscent of the external floppy drives that shipped with the great-grandaddy PowerBook 100 and subnotebook predecessor PowerBook 2400c) is USB bus-powered an requires no dedicated power supply.
In summary, I’m disappointed with the MacBook Air. I was hoping for a worthy successor to the sublime and much loved 12” PowerBook, which notwithstanding its svelte dimensions could serve as a no-apologies production machine. The MacBook Air cannot. It’s too compromised in too many ways - the paucity of ports, especially lack of FireWire, the small, slow hard drive (heck, I have a 100 GB drive in my old Pismo PowerBook), the limited RAM capacity, the non user-replaceable battery, and so on and so forth, not to mention the high price.
My impression is that Apple has sacrificed way too much in its basically gratuitous quest for extreme thinness. I’m in the market for an Intel ‘Book this year, but I’m not tempted in the slightest by this rig. Maybe the cool factor will make it a market success anyway, but I’m skeptical.
* 13.3-inch LED-backlit glossy widescreen display with 1280x800 resolution;
* 1.6 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor with 4MB L2 cache;
* 800 MHz front-side bus;
* 2GB of 667 MHz DDR2 SDRAM;
* 80GB hard disk drive with Sudden Motion Sensor;
* Intel Graphics Media Accelerator X3100;
* Micro-DVI port (includes Micro-DVI to VGA and Micro-DVI to DVI Adapters);
* built-in iSight video camera;
* built-in AirPort Extreme 802.11n wireless networking and Bluetooth 2.1+EDR;
* one USB 2.0 port;
* one headphone port;
* multi-touch TrackPad with support for advanced multi-touch gestures including tap, scroll, pinch, rotate and swipe; and
* 45 Watt MagSafe Power Adapter.
Build-to-order options and accessories include the ability to upgrade to a 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor; 64GB solid state drive, MacBook Air SuperDrive, Apple USB Ethernet Adapter, Apple USB Modem, Apple MagSafe Airline Adapter, Apple Remote and the AppleCare Protection Plan. Additional build-to-order options also include pre-installed copies of iWork ‘08, Logic Express 8, Final Cut Express 4 and Aperture 1.5.
*Battery life depends on configuration and use. See www.apple.com/batteries for more information. AirPort Extreme is based on an IEEE 802.11n draft specification. Actual performance will vary based on range, connection rate, site conditions, size of network and other factors.
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