First look: Apple's new 11 and 13 inch Thunderbolt MacBook Air

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited January 2014
Apple's new Thunderbolt-enhanced, fourth generation MacBook Air models upgrade the company's light and thin notebook category with new high-speed connectivity; faster, more powerful Core i5 and i7 processors; faster RAM; larger SSD options, support for Bluetooth 4.0 and a new backlit keyboard.



In with the new



The new Thunderbolt MacBook Air models now join Apple's MacBook Pro line in adopting Intel Core i5 and i7 processors rather than previous generations which used Core 2 Duo chips connected to a Nvidia-designed controller with integrated graphics. This shift, along with the faster 133MHz DDR3 RAM bus (up from 1066MHz DDR3 RAM in use on the Airs since late 2008) enables the new machines to hit benchmarks more than twice as fast as the previous generation.







The use of Intel's Core i5/i7 architecture also puts memory management and other features formerly handled by a separate Nvidia controller chip on the CPU itself, and necessitates that Apple use Intel's own integrated graphics. The new MacBook Airs both use Intel's HD Graphics 3000 chip using shared system RAM rather than the former Nvidia GeForce 320M with its 256 MB of dedicated DDR3 SDRAM on previous Core 2 Duo machines. AppleInsider will publish full graphics benchmarks in our complete review to determine how this architecture change affects performance.



Two other new embellishments to the MacBook Air line include its standard new backlit keyboard, which first appeared on the original MacBook Air but was dropped last year when the line plummeted from a ritzy priced ultralight notebook to being Apple's entry level notebook starting at just $999. The latest models retain the same lower pricing but add back the backlit keyboard feature.



The other feature is new to the MacBook Air and Apple's Mac product line in general: Bluetooth 4.0, which debuted on the Air and the simultaneously released Mac mini. Bluetooth 4.0 replaces "Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR," adding support for new very low energy devices that are designed to run from a small battery.







On page 2 of 3: Expanded options.



Expanded options



In other respects, the 11 and 13 inch MacBook Air models haven't changed a lot, with the lighter, smaller model offering a few weaker aspects than its larger 13 inch sibling: a slightly slower CPU, smaller SSD options, and a lower resolution screen. However, the 11 inch model packs a resolution that is roughly the same as the existing 13 inch MacBook and MacBook Pro: 1366x768 vs their conventional "13 inch resolution" of 1280x800. Additionally, Apple now lets users who opt for the smaller form factor to select custom options that provide the same high end Core i7 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 256GB SSD options available for the larger 13 inch model. Last year, the 11 inch Air was limited to a lower speed CPU and maxed out at a 128 GB SSD, forcing buyers to choose between performance and size.



The 13 inch model still exclusively offers a larger screen of course, boasting a "15 inch resolution" of 1440x900, the same as the 15 inch MacBook Pro, packed into its 13.3 inch display (although the latest 15 inch MacBook Pro now offers a higher resolution, 1680x1050 option).



This makes the 13 inch MacBook Air very competitive with the entry level MacBook and 13" MacBook Pro and a good general purpose notebook machine, although it lacks fast Ethernet (it's intended primarily for use on wireless networks, and uses the same, separately sold 10/100 Ethernet dongle as the previous MacBook Air).



Both Airs also have no FireWire, no optical drive, supply less disk storage (due to exclusively using a fast SSD) and RAM (many Air models ship with a paltry 2GB, and they can only be upgraded as a build to order option for a max of 4GB; you can't add RAM after your initial purchase, as the memory chips are soldered into the logic board. Most other MacBook models can now accommodate a max of 8GB.)



However, with Apple's new adoption of Intel's Thunderbolt technology, which essentially makes a processor-direct PCI Express interface available externally, MacBook Air users can now plug their light, highly mobile notebooks into a device like the company's new Thunderbolt Display, which provides additional USB, Firewire, Thunderbolt and Gigabit Ethernet ports via a single Thunderbolt connection to the notebook. This opens up the thin and light Air category to a wider class of users who would otherwise need to buy a MacBook Pro just for connectivity.



The only obvious physical difference presented by the Thunderbolt port is that the MiniDisplay Port jack now has a Thunderbolt icon next to it. Other interfaces are identical to the previous model year's MacBook Airs.









This added connectivity for the MacBook Air also helps further differentiate it from the iPad, which sports a screen similar to the 11 inch Air while lacking its keyboard. With Thunderbolt, the Air is firmly positioned in a more powerful, flexible tier of computing than the handheld iPad (shown below next to the 11 inch Air and also between the 13 and 11 inch Air.









On page 3 of 3: Unboxing the Thunderbolt Air.



Unboxing the Thunderbolt Air



Both MacBook Air models are feather light, but slightly heavier than last year. The 11 inch model is now 2.38 lb (1.08 kg) rather than 2.3 lb (1.04 kg), while the 13 inch Air is now 2.96 lb (1.34 kg) versus 2.9 lb (1.32 kg).



The Air models continue to keep the weight down by not including an optical drive, which Apple is working to make increasingly less important both by pushing movies toward digital downloads and rentals and the new effort to push digital downloads of software through the Mac App Store.







The first generation of MacBook Airs offered an external optical drive but recommended use of then-new Disc Sharing feature for network-based installations of software from DVD. Last year, Apple began providing recovery software on a solid state flash RAM dongle (see below).



This year, even that is gone, thanks to the standard new recovery partition created by Mac OS X Lion, which reserves a small portion of the internal drive for recovery uses.









All that's left inside the box is a Apple MagSafe power supply (your existing ones will work as well), and the usual regulatory notifications, Apple stickers, and mini-manual booklet.







Save when buying



The new MacBook Airs began making their way to Apple stores and authorized over the last 24 hours. Readers in the market for one of the notebooks can check out AppleInsider's Mac Pricing Guide (also below), where MacMall is already offering readers an additional 3% discount off its already reduced MacBook Air (and MacBook Pro) prices. The discount is instant when using the links below but available only when placing orders on line -- you do not need to call MacMall to place a pre-order. Orders placed online will ship as soon as the reseller receives stock from Apple. Currently, the low-end 11.6" and high-end 13.3" models are in stock with the other models arriving to ship Monday.



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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 79
    mikepromikepro Posts: 21member
    As first looked by Apple Insider on July 23rd!
  • Reply 2 of 79
    a_greera_greer Posts: 4,594member
    I dont like the no recovery media part... that should be included even if it isnt "cool" or whatever and it couldnt cost more than $2-3$ -- what if the internal drive fails? what if the user wants to wipe and reload before sale (and when I say wipe and reload, i dont mean just blast an image on from a recovery partition. What I mean is use a program like DBAN to wipe the entire disk to DoD spec as I do when selling old gear or even giving it to family)





    I expect no media or some crappy DIY solution when I am buying a $300 netbook, I do not expect this from Apples pricey ultra portable line.
  • Reply 3 of 79
    That USB drive looks like it says '10.6' on it. Isn't Lion 10.7?
  • Reply 4 of 79
    spinnerlysspinnerlys Posts: 218member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by rosstheboss View Post


    That USB drive looks like it says '10.6' on it. Isn't Lion 10.7?



    Because that is a photograph for the 2010 MBA and its Restore USB drive, as it is gone from the 2011 MBA.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post






    The first generation of MacBook Airs offered an external optical drive but recommended use of then-new Disc Sharing feature for network-based installations of software from DVD. Last year, Apple began providing recovery software on a solid state flash RAM dongle (see below).



    This year, even that is gone, thanks to the standard new recovery partition created by Mac OS X Lion, which reserves a small portion of the internal drive for recovery uses.









    All that's left inside the box is a Apple MagSafe power supply (your existing ones will work as well), and the usual regulatory notifications, Apple stickers, and mini-manual booklet.



  • Reply 5 of 79
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,399member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by rosstheboss View Post


    That USB drive looks like it says '10.6' on it.



    It does. The copyright information also says 2010; it's just a rehash of an image they already had from the last set of MacBook Airs.



    Quote:

    Isn't Lion 10.7?



    Yes.
  • Reply 6 of 79
    prof. peabodyprof. peabody Posts: 2,860member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by a_greer View Post


    I dont like the no recovery media part... that should be included even if it isnt "cool" or whatever and it couldnt cost more than $2-3$ -- what if the internal drive fails? what if the user wants to wipe and reload before sale (and when I say wipe and reload, i dont mean just blast an image on from a recovery partition. What I mean is use a program like DBAN to wipe the entire disk to DoD spec as I do when selling old gear or even giving it to family) ....



    I think you are forgetting that computers are multi-function devices that aim to please a lot of folks.



    Deriding it for not fitting into a workflow as arcane and obscure as yours is not really fair. Do most people worry about CIA level security on their computers? No. Are most people paranoid enough to do what you do with the wiping etc.? No.



    Almost no one else would have a problem with the way in which the OS goes on the disc or the wiping and re-install options. Your an extreme "edge-case" at best and there are easy ways to do what you want anyway.
  • Reply 7 of 79
    seanie248seanie248 Posts: 178member
    " This shift, along with the faster 133MHz DDR3 RAM bus (up from 1066MHz DDR3 RAM in use on the Airs since late 2008)"



    That should read 1333Mhz DDR3 RAM



    As first Reported (TM) by me on AppleInsider on July 23rd 2011
  • Reply 8 of 79
    a_greera_greer Posts: 4,594member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    I think you are forgetting that computers are multi-function devices that aim to please a lot of folks.



    Deriding it for not fitting into a workflow as arcane and obscure as yours is not really fair. Do most people worry about CIA level security on their computers? No. Are most people paranoid enough to do what you do with the wiping etc.? No.



    Almost no one else would have a problem with the way in which the OS goes on the disc or the wiping and re-install options. Your an extreme "edge-case" at best and there are easy ways to do what you want anyway.



    OK, my workflow may be out of date or not the same thing that the kids are doing, but the fact is, a certain percentage of hard disks (solid or spinning) will fail at some point...if my relative/friend/coworker/client needs a disk replaced, how do I do that on a Mac now? On Windows PCs even without included restore media, its rather easy for the proverbial "neighborhood techie" to fix, just slap in any Windows media that matches the license tag on the device, install and use the key found on the label to activate...



    Also, even non archane workflows may get worms viruses spyware or whatever and generally when cleaning up from that, the last thing you should use is a restore partition -- the bad ware could have jumped to that, just like it can jump accross to infect boot sectors or EFI if it were sophisticated enough. Just because Macs have been safe now doesnt mean anything for the future -- just look at the last few months, Apple for the first time I can remember faced crapware head on, didnt deny it or blame the dumbass users who ran the executibles from unknown sites, they just fixed it for them...some of these will not be fixable without reinstall at some point and this move away from media makes that hard to do. Furthermore, once a computer is compromised with unknown software, it really cant ever be assumed secure again untill; the entire drive, all partitions, are wiped and completely reloaded from nothing.



    Apple not including media is like Lexus or BMW not including a spare tire...
  • Reply 9 of 79
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 5,854member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by a_greer View Post


    I dont like the no recovery media part... that should be included even if it isnt "cool" or whatever and it couldnt cost more than $2-3$ -- what if the internal drive fails? what if the user wants to wipe and reload before sale (and when I say wipe and reload, i dont mean just blast an image on from a recovery partition. What I mean is use a program like DBAN to wipe the entire disk to DoD spec as I do when selling old gear or even giving it to family)





    I expect no media or some crappy DIY solution when I am buying a $300 netbook, I do not expect this from Apples pricey ultra portable line.



    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    I think you are forgetting that computers are multi-function devices that aim to please a lot of folks.



    Deriding it for not fitting into a workflow as arcane and obscure as yours is not really fair. Do most people worry about CIA level security on their computers? No. Are most people paranoid enough to do what you do with the wiping etc.? No.



    Almost no one else would have a problem with the way in which the OS goes on the disc or the wiping and re-install options. Your an extreme "edge-case" at best and there are easy ways to do what you want anyway.



    I tend to agree with the former. I suppose anything on physical media is becoming irrelevant nowadays, but I would have appreciated (at least on build-to-order) an option to include it. Usually the first thing I do on a new Mac is wipe it out a couple times to test the re-install process. Since I'm purchasing Lion for my 2009 i7 iMac, I'll just make a boot disk when I download it. I'll wait and see as to how much actual space the recovery partition is. 256GB is not much in the big picture.



    I just placed my order for the new i7 MBA and a couple things about the new model raises my eyebrow. The lack of physical recovery media, and the integrated graphics using a portion of the valuable 4GB system ram. I use my current 2010 MBA religiously at the office to run both OSX and Windows 7 (via VMWare) and using system ram is not cool. I'll save my judgement until I have a chance to test my current MBA alongside my new MBA with the same configuration.



    So far, the reviews look great. I hope my concerns are unwarranted. It should arrive by the end of the week so hopefully, graphics reviews will be positive. I do love the NVidia performance of my current MBA and hope the new one is just as good.
  • Reply 10 of 79
    prwprw Posts: 31member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by a_greer View Post


    OK, my workflow may be out of date or not the same thing that the kids are doing, but the fact is, a certain percentage of hard disks (solid or spinning) will fail at some point...if my relative/friend/coworker/client needs a disk replaced, how do I do that on a Mac now? On Windows PCs even without included restore media, its rather easy for the proverbial "neighborhood techie" to fix, just slap in any Windows media that matches the license tag on the device, install and use the key found on the label to activate...



    Apple not including media is like Lexus or BMW not including a spare tire...



    Well, I suppose you could buy an external USB hard drive, you know, like you'd use for backup, and clone the internal drive to it. Then start the MacBook Air from it, run Disk Utility and use that to ZERO the internal SSD drive. Shutdown, disconnect external drive, restart, and restore the base condition from the recovery partition and an ethernet connection.



    Is that too complicated ?
  • Reply 11 of 79
    tipootipoo Posts: 1,119member
    Some SSD/storage specific benchmarks and Turbo Boost/hyperthreading tests for the full review would be nice.
  • Reply 12 of 79
    tipootipoo Posts: 1,119member
    " use Intel's HD Graphics 3000 chip using shared system RAM rather than the former Nvidia GeForce 320M with its 256 MB of dedicated DDR3 SDRAM "



    Incorrect, the 320M also used shared system RAM.
  • Reply 13 of 79
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 13,377member
    Very bad in fact.



    First; hidden part ions can be exploited by virus writers. Second; drives fail. Third; it wastes space p, especially on AIRs where space is extremely limited.



    Supposedly this gives the machine the ability to restore right over the Internet. OK; so what do you do if the partition on the drive isn't restorable? Yeah I know sometimes it is but a un repairable drive is not uncommon.



    From Apples standpoint I can see some positives. For one it allows a restore even if the user doesn't have his dongle with him. Let's have a show of hands - how many know where their USB key is right now?



    Apple could easily address this by simply offering a utility to build a recovery drive on a USB dongle or an SD card.
  • Reply 14 of 79
    bigdaddypbigdaddyp Posts: 811member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by a_greer View Post


    I dont like the no recovery media part... that should be included even if it isnt "cool" or whatever and it couldnt cost more than $2-3$ -- what if the internal drive fails? what if the user wants to wipe and reload before sale (and when I say wipe and reload, i dont mean just blast an image on from a recovery partition. What I mean is use a program like DBAN to wipe the entire disk to DoD spec as I do when selling old gear or even giving it to family)





    I expect no media or some crappy DIY solution when I am buying a $300 netbook, I do not expect this from Apples pricey ultra portable line.



    While I understand your complaint, it is not hard to "fix".



    After downloading Lion I copied a bootable version to a external hard drive. It's bootable and faster then a cd-rom. Also I created a bootable Cd as well. Considering the download took two hours what was another 10 minutes to burn a disk? Putting a copy on a usb stick is not hard either.



    Another option is to run Carbon Copy Cloner first thing and keep that image as a restore image.
  • Reply 15 of 79
    wolfmanwolfman Posts: 79member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by a_greer View Post


    Also, even non archane workflows may get worms viruses spyware or whatever and generally when cleaning up from that, the last thing you should use is a restore partition -- the bad ware could have jumped to that, just like it can jump accross to infect boot sectors or EFI if it were sophisticated enough. Just because Macs have been safe now doesnt mean anything for the future -- just look at the last few months, Apple for the first time I can remember faced crapware head on, didnt deny it or blame the dumbass users who ran the executibles from unknown sites, they just fixed it for them...some of these will not be fixable without reinstall at some point and this move away from media makes that hard to do. Furthermore, once a computer is compromised with unknown software, it really cant ever be assumed secure again untill; the entire drive, all partitions, are wiped and completely reloaded from nothing.



    From what I understand, there is an additional Internet recovery option built into the firmware to support recovery in case of a complete disk disk crash, however I fail to see how that would work with a wifi-only Mac (assuming the owner doesn't have a dongle).



    I am also not happy about the lack of a physical backup/restore media for a couple of reasons.

    1. The recovery partition doesn't have the reset password app anymore (for obvious reasons). It was a helpful utility.



    2. There is no way to clone the Mac OS X Lion HD to another one without loosing the Restore Partition altogether (using apps like Carbon Copy Cloner).



    I know that there will be a USB Flash drive with Lion on it for $60 in August, but that's still $90 to get as much as a $30 Install DVD
  • Reply 16 of 79
    nagrommenagromme Posts: 2,834member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by a_greer View Post


    OK, my workflow may be out of date or not the same thing that the kids are doing, but the fact is, a certain percentage of hard disks (solid or spinning) will fail at some point...if my relative/friend/coworker/client needs a disk replaced, how do I do that on a Mac now? On Windows PCs even without included restore media, its rather easy for the proverbial "neighborhood techie" to fix, just slap in any Windows media that matches the license tag on the device, install and use the key found on the label to activate...



    Here’s how you do that on the new Air:



    1. You can get replacement Air drives from OWC, or just have Apple do the repair under warranty. The drive is not soldered.



    2. Now hold down a certain key during startup (works even with a dead or brand-new drive!) and you’ll get similar options to the ones you used to get from DVD. You can reformat/secure-erase your drive for sale, or install the new one. All wirelessly, with no media.



    The download won’t be quick, but the process IS easy—easier than Windows.



    (But there are other options too! You can also burn your own bootable Lion DVD pretty easily, or—in August—buy Lion on thumbdrive. But be warned: you won’t get the same steeply-slashed price you get from the App Store. Apple really wants to encourage the more more modern method: online installation. So while Lion on Thumbdrive is still insanely cheap for a major OS release, it’s more than the download.)
  • Reply 17 of 79
    huntsonhuntson Posts: 90member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by nagromme View Post


    Here?s how you do that on the new Air:



    1. You can get replacement Air drives from OWC, or just have Apple do the repair under warranty. The drive is not soldered.



    2. Now hold down a certain key during startup (works even with a dead or brand-new drive!) and you?ll get similar options to the ones you used to get from DVD. You can reformat/secure-erase your drive for sale, or install the new one. All wirelessly, with no media.



    The download won?t be quick, but the process IS easy?easier than Windows.



    (But there are other options too! You can also burn your own bootable Lion DVD pretty easily, or?in August?buy Lion on thumbdrive. But be warned: you won?t get the same steeply-slashed price you get from the App Store. Apple really wants to encourage the more more modern method: online installation. So while Lion on Thumbdrive is still insanely cheap for a major OS release, it?s more than the download.)



    Why would it be slow.
  • Reply 18 of 79
    elrothelroth Posts: 1,201member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Prof. Peabody View Post


    I think you are forgetting that computers are multi-function devices that aim to please a lot of folks.



    Deriding it for not fitting into a workflow as arcane and obscure as yours is not really fair. Do most people worry about CIA level security on their computers? No. Are most people paranoid enough to do what you do with the wiping etc.? No.



    Almost no one else would have a problem with the way in which the OS goes on the disc or the wiping and re-install options. Your an extreme "edge-case" at best and there are easy ways to do what you want anyway.



    If you're going to sell your computer, you should be worried about wiping it clean. If not, you deserve what you get.
  • Reply 19 of 79
    elrothelroth Posts: 1,201member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by huntson View Post


    Why would it be slow.



    Because it's 4 GB to download Lion - that's many hours on a 1.5 Mbps connection. If you have a 50Mbps connection, it wouldn't be slow.
  • Reply 20 of 79
    elrothelroth Posts: 1,201member
    Quote:
    Originally Posted by Wolfman View Post


    From what I understand, there is an additional Internet recovery option built into the firmware to support recovery in case of a complete disk disk crash, however I fail to see how that would work with a wifi-only Mac (assuming the owner doesn't have a dongle).



    I am also not happy about the lack of a physical backup/restore media for a couple of reasons.

    1. The recovery partition doesn't have the reset password app anymore (for obvious reasons). It was a helpful utility.



    2. There is no way to clone the Mac OS X Lion HD to another one without loosing the Restore Partition altogether (using apps like Carbon Copy Cloner).



    I know that there will be a USB Flash drive with Lion on it for $60 in August, but that's still $90 to get as much as a $30 Install DVD



    It's actually going to be $69.99, but that's not in addition to the Lion download - it's instead of the Lion download (it includes the purchase price for Lion).
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