January 4, 2011

One month with the Macbook Air 11″

Filed under: Hardware — Tags: , , , , , — martin @ 1:37 pm

Or: “Whatever you do: Do not mention the adapter!”

When Apple introduced the Macbook Air 11″ in late 2010, I was excited. For years, I had been craving a successor to the wonderful Powerbook 12″, but none ever showed up. Finally, the MBA11 came remarkably close.

On the first of december 2010, I ordered the biggest MBA11 configuration: 128GB SSD, 4 GB RAM, 1.6 GHz CPU, along with the USB ethernet adapter and a DVI adapter.

I used Apple’s migration assistant to bring the data (mostly iTunes) from my 2006 Macbook 13″, after which there still were 35GB available on the MBA11’s SSD. Unfortunately, this is not enough to activate Filevault, which is somewhat annoying. I have all secret data in an encrypted DMG now, which really is a foul compromise, but at least, other than Filevault, it doesn’t make the system unstable.

The 1.6 GHz CPU is slower than the majority of random notebooks from electronics stores, yes. No surprise here. Nevertheless, for my uses of the Macbook, the decreased performance only shows when converting raw photos. This is still doable if you are willing to wait a few seconds longer, but it’s not where the MBA11 really excels. Still, I have not a single complaint about CPU speed. 1.6 GHz may sound like 2003, but remember that there’s two cores and battery lifetime is likely much better than what you got from your 2003 Centrino conglomerate. On the other hand, the MBA11 is no toy from the Atom class, but capable of getting real work done.

HD video playback on my DVI monitor is fine.

The battery realistically lasts around 5-6 hours when not doing too much CPU intensive stuff. You won’t usually need the charger during the day, unless you really use the MBA11 as your principal workstation all the time. (Granted: Viewing lots of streamed video at the 27th Chaos Communication Congress didn’t help battery lifetime too much, so at one time, I had to charge during the day.) Anyway: When the battery status is at the last red pixel-wide bar, this means that there are about 45 minutes left. Which I find rather impressive. 🙂

As could be expected, the size of the keyboard is great. The thin ESC key can be irritating for UNIX types like me and needs some getting used to. Some adaptation is also required for the glass trackpad. Usability of that thing is somewhat counterintuitive.

The only real shortcoming of the MBA11, which really, really annoys me (and I did not expect it to annoy me that badly), is that it does not have Gigabit ethernet. I have measured the USB ethernet adapter to be capable of actual >95Mbps, but seriously, this is simply too slow and really far behind. I have Cat-6 and Cat-7 cabling everywhere in my house and don’t feel like using WiFi exclusively anytime in the near future. A proprietary Gigabit connector instead of the USB adapter would have been the proper thing to deploy here. (FYI: The magsafe power adapter in the photo is from my wife’s Macbook 13″.)

With the exception of the Ethernet adapter, I’m very happy with the MBA11. It’s so light and so small that it makes my 3 year old Asus U6, which was once considered compact, appear like a damn concrete slab. My old white Macbook 13″ looks downright archaic next to the Macbook Air. The small SSD is somewhat limiting, but as long as you are not going to carry around your movie collection, things will be fine.

If you don’t need extreme performance numbers to feel great, and if you can live with 100Mbps ethernet in the year 2011, the Macbook Air really is the perfect notebook that you can carry with you everywhere you go. I’m glad to have skipped the “netbook” craze altogether and to have ended up with this great little machine.


  1. I am seriously jealous that you have Cat-6 and 7 in your house. The one we are renting has network outlets everywhere but for some random reason they put Cat-5 (not even 5e) in everywhere. Sure enough, I can’t get a stable gigabit connection through these wires. Siiiiigh.

    Comment by Fred — January 9, 2011 @ 6:17 am

  2. A computer without built in Ethernet capability in 2011 is like a car without windshield wipers.

    Comment by Anonymous — July 23, 2011 @ 7:27 pm

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