Apple’s New MacBook Air Underpowered

We waited 16 months for a new MacBook Air. While it’s notable for some significant new technology, such as integrated Flash storage and higher resolution display, the rest of the specs reveal an underpowered notebook by today’s standards. i was disappointed.

Apple knows that its notebook customers value light weight and work day long battery life. That’s especially true of a MacBook Air (MBA) that appeals to business travelers. For example, there’s precious little room these days on an airliner’s tray table for a 15-inch MacBook Pro that can’t get through a 2h40m flight from Denver to D.C. on a single charge.

Regrettably, those design considerations place severe constraints on the speed and heat output of such a small notebook. Looking at the specs, we see that the new 13-inch MBA is limited by: a (max) 2.13* GHz Core 2 Duo (so yesteryear**) processor and 256 MB of shared video memory (VRAM). Shared VRAM is a serious performance killer. Other specs leave one less than drooling. The maximum RAM possible is 4 GB. The 11.6-inch model’s Front Side Bus (FSB) is only 800 MHz. Is this a Mac poised for Lion?

MacBook Air late 2010

MacBook Air Duo, Late 2010

Also, external storage is going to happen at a leisurely pace with just USB 2. I had been hoping for USB 3, but it looks like the standard may not be fully baked in Apple’s eyes. Even so, older USB 2 devices are electrically and plug compatible with USB 3. More disappointment.

This Mac looks to be exactly what Mr. Jobs said, “What happens when a MacBook meets an iPad?” It’s a Mac for those who need a Mac and Mac OS X specific capabilities for travel and low intensity work: Keynote, writing, Twitter, e-mail and Internet browsing.

For those who push their Macs to the limit, I think the new MBA will be a disappointment, even when connected to a larger Cinema display. Don’t even think about Parallels Desktop with shared memory. There’s just no way to cram the horsepower some users need need into a MacBook that small. Some serious study and testing will be required to see if this MacBook Air is up to the tasks users may have in mind.

However, and here’s the important part, for those who can’t do (the lightweight work) that they need to do on travel with an iPad, I’ll relent that this new MBA will be a nifty supplement to, say, an iMac at home or in the office. 


*Jumping to the 2.13 GHz C2D (13-inch only) will set you back an additional US$100, raising the base price to almost US$1700.00. As a result “aggressive pricing” also means settling for less.

** The selection of the C2D is likely related to the current lawsuit between NVIDIA and Intel. The short version of that is that if Apple wanted integrated NVIDIA graphics, the only legal option was to stay with the Core 2 Duo. Don’t you hate it when the kids quarrel?