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BARE FEATS - real world Mac speed tests

"BARE facts on Mac speed FEATS"
Rob-ART, Main Mad Scientist (aka Dr. Frankenstein)
Bet-TAY, Special Features Edtior (aka Frau Blucher)

ANALYSIS: MacBook Air --
Power User Dream 'Book?
Or First Class Lap Sculpture?

Originally posted January 29th, 2008, by rob-ART morgan, mad scientist
Updated on February 6th, 2008, with "Seduced by the Air Side."

We ordered the MacBook Air with the Solid State Disk. Then after reflection, we cancelled the order. Why? Because I decided it was lacking what power users (like me) crave in a laptop. Let me illustrate by comparing the features of MacBook Air with those of a CTO 15" MacBook Pro.

MacBook Air
MacBook Pro
Core 2 Duo top core frequency
pro 44% faster
Max memory expansion
pro 100% more
Graphics Processor
GMA X3100
GeForce 8600M GT
Video RAM
144MB shared with main DDR2
256MB dedicated GDDR3
pro 78% more
Screen Size
13.3" diagonal
1280x800 pixels
15.4 " diagonal
1440x900 pixels
pro 27% more screen area
Best Hard Drive Option
200GB 7K HDD
pro 313% more storage
Estimated Battery Life
up to 5 hours
up to 6 hours
pro 20% longer
external option
built-in slot load
pro wins
.16 to .76 inch
1.0 inch
air wins
3.7 lb*
5.4 lb
air wins
ExpressCard/34 slot
pro wins
FireWire 800 Port
pro wins
Price with Above Options
$149 cheaper

* includes optional external USB driven SuperDrive
** price includes $99 for 4GB memory upgrade from sources like TransIntl or OWC in place of Apple's $700 four gig kit

I don't quite understand the appeal or the justification of the MacBook Air. I suppose it makes for a nice piece of "lap sculpture" to impress the snob sitting next to me in First Class while jetting to my vacation spot on Maui.

But I need a Mac laptop that can handle my typical mix of concurrently active apps: Photoshop, Excel, Word, Mail, Safari, GoLive, Transfer, Preview -- all of which I'm running as I write this. Activity Monitor shows 3GB of my 4GB actively in use. And the 200GB 7K drive has only 50GB free.

The "world's thinnest laptop" is sexy. It wll probably win a design award. But if I bought one, it would be a downgrade. I suppose I could eliminate some of my Documents, Movies, Photos and Tunes from the hard drive. Maybe 1.8GHz could be considered fast enough for most functions but the 2GB of memory limit (and sparce disk space) makes me feel... claustrophobic.

Isn't the MacBook Air just a slower, thinner MacBook in fancy skin?

"People will buy the MacBook Air for the same reason they buy $10,000 watches. A $10K watch doesn't tell time all that much better than a $100 watch, but it makes a statement that the $100 watch can't." (Lee Stites)

"I am a power user too. I don't need all my power when out and about. Give me just the essentials, the necessities to compute." (Keith Williams)

"I am a professional Network and UNIX Systems Administrator.  For me, any laptop is an auxiliary computer. The applications I most need to use on a laptop are terminal, ssh, about four different web browsers, email, Terracotta GUI, Chicken of the VNC, stickies, OmniGraffle, and presentation software. The Air (or my IBM ThinkPad Z-50 for that matter) are all about weight. Performance-wise, the Air is overkill for my needs." (Scott Nolan)

"As a professional travel photographer all I use my Macbook Pro for in the field (apart from checking email) is to import and move raw files from my memory cards to external FireWire drives. All my editing and raw processing work is performed on my studio Mac Pro after arriving home. Granted the Macbook Air might be a slower at this simple transfer task than my Macbook Pro but it will sure be nice to be rid of a large portion of the weight and bulk in my carry-on when running for the next flight." (Nicholas Pitt of Nicholas Pitt Fotograf, Stockholm, Sweden)

"I think you've missed the purpose of this laptop because you are looking for something it isn't intended to offer. I won't be getting one either, but the business professionals I work with are extremely excited about it." (James Peirce)

"(In the business world,) communication is everything, NOT processing power. I have a MacBook, as do many of my colleagues.... For some of us, cutting the weight and size almost in half, but still having a full-sized backlit keyboard is awesome.... What do I think it lacks? Apple should have soldered in 4GB of RAM instead of 2GB." (Bao-Khang Nguyen)

"Hard to stick to 25 words, but here goes: Excessively portable work device will concurrently handle Word, Excel, Mail, iTunes on road. Not meant for sole computer; will synch to desktop." (Doug)

"Have you tested the speed of the SSD? By using 8GB as virtual memory and carrying around a flash drive it may be usable." (Shane Goodman)

"Weight and style." (Cody Bryan)

It's like the iPhone. It was easy in July 2007 to find fault with the revolutionary iPhone's lack of 3G wireless internet capability or lack of a GPS location or only having 8GB of memory for use with everything including movies, tunes, and photos. But that didn't stop me from buying one, knowing that those issues would be likely be addressed within a year -- and I would have to cough up another chunk of change to get the improved version. The iPhone has been a blast using it these past 6 months. I don't regret getting "version 1.0" for a minute. I'm looking forward to another "coughing spell" in summer of 2008 when the rumored 3G version is released.

The first laptop I bought was a 4.2 pound PowerBook Duo 230 with 9 inch grayscale screen, 33MHz processor, 4MB of RAM, and 80MB disk. It lacked many of power user features of the time but it was very useful when I was on the road. I guess I'm not the only one to see the MacBook Air as "The Return of The Duo."

On Monday, February 4th, the local Apple Store business rep called me to say he had a MacBook Air 1.8GHz with SSD in stock. We jumped in the MINI and drove 70 miles to the store.

I'm having a blast with it.

I ran the QuickBench "small random read/write" test on the SSD. I compared that to the fastest MacBook Pro drive referenced in the table above. The SSD was two times faster in READ speed and equal to it WRITE speed. There's no spin up or latency so when you open the lid, "BAM!" Instant readiness.

The keyboard is better than the MacBooks. The keys are similar the new aluminum keyboards for desktops only black. The backlighting works as well as the MacBook Pro, which has always been one of my favorite features.

It's like the MINI Cooper S of Mac Laptops: small, light, quick, fun. You can't haul as much as a Chevy Suburban, but it's a gas, gas, gas. The "AirBook," as Bettay calls it, is the ultimate accessory for our MINI Cooper S "JCW."

Bare Feats has CPU and GPU benchmarks posted compared to the MacBook Pro 2.6.

Bare Feats compared the HDD to the SDD drive option in the MacBook Air.

Macworld has posted their review of the 1.6GHz MacBook Air with the 80GB drive.

SlashGear's review of the MacBook Air.

Anandtech reveals the mysteries of the MacBook Airs tiny CPU.

ExtremeTech benchmarks a 64GB SSD against the 320GB WD Scorpio.

NewEgg is selling a SATA version of a 64GB Solid State Disk for $1095 that you can pop into your MacBook or MacBook Pro. (The MacBook Air uses an iDE version.) I noticed the rated write speed is much lower than the read speed (58MB/s versus 35MB/s).

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© 2008 Rob Art Morgan
"BARE facts on Macintosh speed FEATS"
Email , the webmaster