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Apple MacBook Air 11 (late 2010) review:

Apple MacBook Air 11 (late 2010)

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There's a legitimate concern for hard-drive hogs that the 64GB or 128GB of flash hard-drive space may not be enough for high-res photos and video. We've rarely filled up too much of a hard drive, but today's laptop users are indeed more used to 500GB of space on even the most basic systems.

The 11-inch Air feels speedy enough, closer to a full-size laptop than most dual-core 11-inch premium netbooks. That makes sense, as the Core 2 Duo/Nvidia 320M combo is similar to what you'd find in the current AU$1199 white MacBook (although this is a ULV version of the Core 2 Duo in this case). It's especially interesting to compare this with the 11-inch Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118, which has a low-voltage Intel Core i7 CPU. The Acer was faster in our Photoshop and iTunes tests, but slower than the Air in our multitasking test. Though it's not as fast as a non-ULV laptop, the MacBook Air is about as good as you're going to find in this 11-inch arena.

There is some confusion over Apple's use of Intel's older Core 2 Duo line in both the MacBook Air and also the 13-inch MacBook and MacBook Pro, but the back-and-forth performance lead compared with the ULV Core i7 Acer Timeline shows that this isn't a deal killer. The real reason for the Core 2 Duo is so Apple can include the pretty decent Nvidia 320M graphics chip. If the MacBook Air used an Intel Core i-series CPU, it would have to use Intel's uninspiring integrated graphics or else a fully discrete Nvidia GPU (which is bigger, requires power and is more expensive).

Macs have never been known as gaming machines, but a few new wrinkles may change that perception. The Steam platform for online game delivery now has a Mac client (although the selection is still pretty thin), and recent OpenGL updates lead us to believe Apple is positioning itself a little more seriously in this regard.

In a cross-platform Call of Duty: Modern Warfare test, on medium settings at 1366x768 pixels, the MacBook Air ran at 40.5 frames per second (thanks to the Nvidia 320M), whereas the Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T-68U118, which has only integrated Intel graphics, ran at 15.1 frames per second.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)

  • Apple MacBook Air 13-inch531Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch719Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T992Alienware M11x (Core i7)1094

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)

  • Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T135Alienware M11x (Core i7)150Apple MacBook Air 13-inch153Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch199

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)

  • Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T167Apple MacBook Air 13-inch178Alienware M11x (Core i7)189Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch266

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)

  • Acer Aspire TimelineX 1830T280Apple MacBook Air 11.6-inch263Apple MacBook Air 13-inch259Alienware M11x (Core i7)189

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

MacBooks have always been known for the long battery life, and the Air continues the trend. The large, sealed battery takes up much of the system's internal space, and it ran for four hours and 23 minutes. That's very close to Apple's five-hour estimates, although the lowest-power netbooks and tablets such as the iPad have us more accustomed to all-day computing than ever before.


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