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11-inch MacBook Air 2011 review

Can this 1.8GHz Core i7 marvel justify its asking price?

Our Verdict

Product features

  • Screen Resolution : 1366 x 768
  • Processor Core : Dual-core (2 Core)

View full specification

For

  • Brilliant new processors
  • Backlit keyboard returns
  • Beautiful screen
  • Thunderbolt port
  • Very portable

Against

  • Mediocre sound
  • Expensive
  • No optical drive
  • Few Thunderbolt peripherals available
  • Might be more powerful than you need

The 2011 MacBook Air is an awesome machine, a fact borne out by our test results. The new Sandy Bridge 1.8GHz Core i7 processor soon showed its worth. In our Cinebench test, which measures the MacBook Air's 3D rendering capabilities, the new chip's Hyper Threading feature gave it a great advantage over the previous models.

Its multicore score was almost 159% higher than the 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo 11-inch MacBook Air from 2010, and over 90% up on the 1.86GHz 13-inch model.

Our Xbench test, which looks at the CPU and storage drive, also showed a massive improvement for the 2011 MacBook Air, almost doubling last year's 1.86GHz 13-inch model's score. In fact, the only test in which the new Air didn't trounce the 2010 notebooks was our Doom 3 frame rate test.

The Sandy Bridge's integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 chipset is on a par with the previous generation's Nvidia GeForce 320M (which couldn't be integrated into Core i-series processors due to a legal dispute), but it isn't quite as good at rendering 3D games. Its score of 62.7 frames per second (fps) beat the 2010 1.4GHz 11-inch MacBook Air's 51.7fps, but was a little behind the 1.86GHz 13-inch model's 69 fps.

11-inch 1.8ghz macbook air review: side by side with 13-inch model

The SSD means boot-up time is extremely low. What's more, you can make use of Standby mode by closing the lid without switching the power off, which means your MacBook will be instantly on when you open the lid again. This is ideal for times when you're likely to use your computer frequently but in short bursts, such as blogging at a show or event.

Like all new Mac notebooks, battery life is excellent too, with a full charge giving up to five hours of web surfing and up to 30 days in Standby Mode. We also tested it by running the BBC iPlayer's live feed at full screen and it lasted an impressive two hours and 34 minutes.

The screen is amazing, with excellent viewing angles; crisp, consistent colours; and a pixel resolution that's on a par with many 13-inch laptops. Its small size and widescreen aspect ratio are ideal for watching a movie or TV show on an aeroplane or train, and the backlit keyboard makes it easy to type in low-light conditions.

We won't see the benefit of the move to Thunderbolt until more compatible peripherals (or at least adapters) are released. Third-party manufacturers seem very slow on the uptake with this one. But since it offers all the functions of the Mini DisplayPort it replaces, it's not to our disadvantage in the short term.

We've no hesitation in recommending the new 2011 11-inch MacBook Air. Before investing £1,399 in the customised, 256GB Core i7 version reviewed here, though, ask yourself what you're going to use it for and whether you need to spend that much. Are you going to use it as a convenient carry-around computer, something you can drop in your bag and use on the move, before syncing with your main Mac at home again? If so, the £849 entry-level 2011 MacBook Air might well prove powerful enough.

Tech Specs

Product TypeNotebook
Green CompliantYes
Processor ManufacturerIntel
Graphics Controller ManufacturerIntel
Graphics Controller ModelHD 3000
BluetoothYes
Wireless LANYes
Graphics Memory AccessibilityShared
Maximum Battery Run Time5 Hour
WebcamYes
Backlight TechnologyLED
DisplayPortYes
Product FamilyMacBook Air
Keyboard BacklightYes
ThunderboltYes
Operating SystemMac OS X 10.7 Lion
Brand NameApple
Processor Speed1.60 GHz
Processor TypeCore i5
Screen Size29.5 cm (11.6")
Screen Resolution1366 x 768
Standard Memory4 GB
Weight (Approximate)1.08 kg
Cache3 MB
Processor CoreDual-core (2 Core)
Green Compliance Certificate/AuthorityENERGY STAR, EPEAT Gold
Display Screen TypeActive Matrix TFT Colour LCD
Wireless LAN StandardIEEE 802.11n
Bluetooth StandardBluetooth 4.0
Total Number of USB Ports2
Memory StandardDDR3-1333/PC3-10600
Height17.3 mm
Width299.7 mm
Depth192 mm
Screen ModeWXGA
Memory TechnologyDDR3 SDRAM
ManufacturerApple, Inc
Product ModelMC968B/A
Product NameMacBook Air MC968B/A Notebook
Pointing Device TypeTrack Pad
Product LineMacBook Air
Aspect Ratio16:9
Manufacturer Part NumberMC969B/A
Manufacturer Website Addresshttp://www.apple.com/uk
Marketing Information

Thin, light, durable. Thank you, flash storage

Even at less than an inch thin, MacBook Air sets a pretty high standard - by making flash storage standard. Flash chips are very small, allowing MacBook Air to be incredibly thin and light. Flash is also solid state, meaning there are no moving parts. Which makes it reliable, durable, and quiet. And because we place the flash chips directly on the logic board, they take up much less space - about 90 percent less, in fact. That creates room for other important things, like a bigger battery. So you have a notebook that weighs almost nothing and runs for hours on a single charge. That's mobility mastered.

Maximum Memory4 GB
Battery ChemistryLithium Polymer (Li-Polymer)
Package Contents
  • MacBook Air MC968B/A Notebook
  • Lithium Polymer Battery
  • AC Adapter
  • Power Cord
  • Printed and Electronic Documentation
Limited Warranty1 Year