Thin as ever, the latest Apple MacBook Air offers up to twice the storage and snappy performance.
I really like Apple's newly revamped MacBook Air, which got extensive under-the-hood updates last month. And I really, really like the apparent speed boost offered by the larger solid-state drive (SSD) in the Air I've been testing for the past week.
I'll have more to say about that SSD in a bit, but suffice it to say that the drive makes a noticeable difference in how fast the Air boots up, how fast programs launch and how fast this slimmest of Apple laptops feels - especially in comparison to the stock 4,200-rpm hard drive included in my first-generation Air.
New Core 2 Duo processors
For those who may have missed the changes in the Air's specs unveiled by Apple on October 14, here are the basics. The 3lb MacBook Air still comes in two models, both of which now use stock Intel Core 2 Duo processors instead of the custom jobs that powered the first generation announced last January.
The base model has a 1.6GHz processor, the same speed as before. The top model, the one Apple sent over for review, has a 1.86GHz chip - 60MHz faster than the 1.8GHz processor that debuted on the top-end model at the start of the year. Both processors now feature 6MB of Level 2 cache RAM, 50 percent more than the older models.
More important, there's increased room for your files. The base model now comes with a 120GB hard drive, 50 percent more than the first version did; the pricier, 1.86GHz iteration sports a 128GB MLC (multilevel cell) SSD, double the amount of space offered originally.
The 1,280-x-800-pixel LED screen remains unchanged from the earlier Air, according to Apple officials, which is a good thing. It's stunningly bright, even in broad daylight with the sun shining directly on the screen.
The price for the entry model, which has yet to ship, remains unchanged at £1,299. The more expensive model, already on store shelves, goes for £1,799. That's not cheap, but it's a lot cheaper than when the SSD version went on sale in January - the 64GB SSD cost a whopping £829 extra for less storage space than the base model. The growing use of SSDs in laptops has brought prices down from stratospheric to merely expensive.
The changes in processors and drives aren't the only new things in the second-gen Air. Apple has changed the video-out port to the new Mini DisplayPort, meaning you'll need an adaptor if you're planning to use an Air with anything but Apple's new 24-inch LED monitor. Apple no longer includes an adaptor in the box, by the way.
The new model also sports faster DDR3 RAM (still just 2GB), a faster 1,066MHz front-side bus, and a notably faster Nvidia 9400M graphics processor.
Apple execs were quick to tout the quadrupling of graphics performance with the new Nvidia chip - both when the Air and its newest siblings were released and, more recently, in interviews with Computerworld. The 9400M, which offers up to 256MB of shared video RAM, is standard in the new MacBook Air and Mac Book, and it is coupled with the 9600M GT in the MacBook Pro. (In the Pro model, you can switch between the 9400M's shared graphics while on battery and the more powerful 9600M GT when the laptop is plugged in.)
The result is a solid improvement to Apple's popular and stylish Air. Did I say solid? That's because the Air was the first laptop from Apple to premiere what the company is calling its "unibody" design. That means the main chassis for this laptop - and for both MacBook and the 15-inch MacBook Pro models - is carved from a single chunk of aluminum. The result is as solid a laptop as you're likely to find.
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