Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

Summary: Rumors surfaced over the weekend that Apple might announce a new MacBook Air at this week's special event on Wednesday -- but if it still has a Core 2 Duo, I'm not buying.


Rumors surfaced over the weekend that Apple might announce a new MacBook Air at this week's special event on Wednesday. Although the photo above dates back to April, Engadget was still able to learn quite a bit about the new MBA:

  • 13.3-inch display (despite rumors of an 11.6-inch model)
  • The SATA hard drive has been replace with a non-upgradeable, on-board SSD
  • The new battery consists of four clusters of cells that occupy almost 60% of the interior
  • Dual USB ports, one on each side
  • Other ports: MagSafe power adapter, mini DisplayPort, and SD card reader
  • Same 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo processor found in the current MacBook Air (in the April prototype)
  • 2GB of RAM standard
  • 1.07GHz bus speed
  • The unit identifies itself as MacBook Air 3,1 in System Profiler

If the photo is indeed from April, that makes it over six months old -- a long time in the hardware lifecycle continuum. Apple frequently tests new hardware designs with chips that are currently available, so it's reasonable that a test mule from April would contain a Core 2 Duo rather than the latest-and-greatest Core i3 chip.

Shipping the MacBook Air with a Core 2 Duo processor, when a faster and more battery-efficient Core i3 processor is shipping, would be a mistake. The same mistake Apple made with the unibody Mac mini announced in June. Apple would be foolish to ship an "updated" MacBook Air with an Intel SL9400 processor (circa Q3 2008) that is bigger, slower and hotter than the current generation i3-530.

The things that caused me to abandon the original MacBook Air were its lack of horsepower and ports. While I don't know if the new MBA (even with an i3) will address my need for speed, it apparently does a better job with ports. From the looks of the photo the new MBA's ports are no longer tucked inside a tiny drawer and are now flush with the side of the notebook. It also has two USB ports, a 100% increase over the solo USB port on the original model. While an SD reader is a nice addition, I'd prefer a third USB port.

The timing of a new MacBook Air announcement makes sense. Originally introduced at Macworld Expo San Francisco in 2008, the MacBook Air got a speed bump and a price drop in June 2009, but nothing since then. It's been almost 500 days since its the MBA was revved -- an eternity for an Apple hardware update -- while previous models were updated on average, every 255 days.

The rest of Apple's MacBook line of notebooks was refreshed in April 2010 with the 13, 15 and 17-inch models all getting a bump to the new Intel Core i5 and i7 processors. Then in May 2010 Apple revved its consumer-oriented white MacBook to 2.4GHz and NVIDIA GeForce 320M.

I guess we'll find out on Wednesday what Apple has up its sleeve for the MacBook Air.

What would make you buy a new MacBook Air?

Photo: Engadget

Topics: Apple, Hardware, Laptops, Mobility

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  • Not sure why they can't make an x86 tablet

    Seriously... without the keyboard hardware, such a device would the slightly thicker than the iPad.

    By all accounts, OSX retains advanced handwriting recognition... if it would get 4-6 hours battery life (ASUS netbooks commonly get more) it would surely find a market.

    Call me crazy, but I feel manipulated by the iPad.
  • RE: Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

    The new 13" MBP still has a Core 2 Duo.
  • Underpowered?

    People buy computer in order to accomplish certain tasks. The question is not whether the processor is 1.0GHz instead of 1.8Ghz, the question is: "Will it do what I want?"

    I have an original MacBook Air, and it's not slow by any means. Certainly it's slower than the newer models, which are in turn slower than MacBook Pro models (Which are of course slower than high-end desktops).

    Still, it works fine for:
    1. Web Browsing
    2. MS Office/Open Office/iWork
    3. iTunes/iLife
    4. Watching Movies
    5. Doing my MBA homework
    6. Skype, etc.

    So who really cares what the processor speed is? If anything, the main limitation on the machine is memory. Opening a lot of applications at once will fill up the memory, and cause it to page to hard disk, which will slow it down. (And VMWare is nearly useless in 2GB of RAM).

    Saying that the MacBook Air is underpowered because it's not using the latest generation of processors available are missing the point. It's a trade-off between speed/size/power and price. If you need a super fast laptop to do video compression or a machine with fast IO to run a database server on, the MacBook Air isn't what you want from the start. A core 2 Duo is perfectly fine for most consumer usage. (And in fact, a 1GHz Celeron would be fine).

    What would make it too slow would be if tasks that require significantly higher speed became common, and it couldn't keep up anymore. This happened with my old Sharp MM20. It was fast enough for a long time, but SKype killed it, and I wanted to use Skype quite often,so it had to go. Machines need to be evaluated on use cases ("What can I do with it?"), rather than their tech specs.
    • Actually, I think that Apple will be the first to user Arm for a normal

      laptop computer. That will make it lighter and have a much longer battery life, AND performance that is MORE than good enough. Not sure if they will do it this time around . . .
      • They would make Arm look cool

        Wouldn't they have to remake OSX, though?
        Michael Alan Goff
  • Powerful Enough

    I am predicting the new Macbook Air to be powerful enough. The original Macbook Air's brief probably has the words "powerful enough" written on it. As far as benchmarks go, the Macbook Air was the slowest Mac in Apple's computing line-up. But it was fast enough for what it is meant for... business travellers, students who do word processing, emails and web browsing with the occasional photo editing thrown in.

    I have the 1.86GHz Macbook Air and it's zippy for what I need it for. And I buy it knowing it's not meant to play Starcraft 2 or 3D games. So the term underpowered, is subjective.

    And one more thing...

    The writer said:

    "The rest of Apple?s MacBook line of notebooks was refreshed in April 2010 with the 13, 15 and 17-inch models all getting a bump to the new Intel Core i5 and i7 processors."

    Correction: The 13 incher did not get Core processors. They stayed with Core 2 Duo, albeit faster ones. While the 15 and 16 inch models got a bump to the Core i5 and i7 processors.
    kenny teoh
  • RE: Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

    My wants and "needs" for the Macbook Air have less to do with power than they do with size and resolution. I mean what EXACTLY are you planning to do with a device of this category that 2.13 GHz/1.86GHz on a C2D is NOT enough? I just bought one of those 2010 Mac Minis you called a "mistake" and find it more than meets my needs, even with photo editing and full screen video. The GPU upgrade, HDMI output and RAM accessibility on the Mini was of far more significance to me than moving to an i3 processor, as my 2008 Unibody Al Macbook struggles with some full screen video on the old 9400 GPU in conjunction with my 24 inch LED display.<br><br>Thus, while I was only marginally excited about processor changes, I REALLY took notice when I heard mention of the 11.6 inch version (though it certainly seems like Deja vu). I DON'T want an iPad and I'm still hoping for a netbook sized MacOS "thing" I can open on airplane tray tables and carry in tight spaces. Regardless of how thin the Air is currently, the footprint isn't much different from a standard machine.<br><br>It's also kind of silly that in an era when the fantastic Sony Vaio Z Series can squeeze 1600x900 resolution into an absolutely brilliant 13 inch display, the Air and Macbook Pro still make due with a very un-Apple like 1280x800. For reasons above and beyond practicality alone, a better resolution display just makes using any device more enjoyable. I hope the Retina Display on the iPhone and the new 27 inch LED Cinema are an indication of things to come for regular Macs on the display front.
  • If the rumors are anywhere near the mark ..

    This new MBA model will eliminate all the negative reasons voiced against an Apple iPad purchase vs a netbook .. save one.

    I suspect that the smaller MBA model will have near "instant on" capability.
    It will be lightweight.
    It will run just as long as an iPad on battery power.
    It will have USB ports and a physical keyboard.
    It will have a superior display.
    It might even has optional 3G wireless capability.

    All in all .. perhaps the ideal OSX netbook. And a great substitute for a tablet computer if a person felt they needed a "stand alone" highly mobile computing device. (Personally, I enjoy the multitouch environment of the iPad and a physical keyboard would just get in the way of that experience. But there is no denying the fact that for content creation activities, a traditional laptop design makes for a better experience.)

    The one disadvantage the new MBA will have versus an iPad will be price. I doubt that it can be sold for $500.00 for the base unit. But if the price was near the five hundred mark .. oh boy .. watch out for massive Holiday shopping crowds at Apple stores because Apple would have created an almost perfect product lineup.
    • RE: Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

      That IMHO has always been the drawback - price.
      When you can buy a ASUS UL that will outperform and outdo an Air for half the price....
      Let's see and hope the price is more down to earth...
  • RE: Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

    Price! MacBook Air needs to come down in price. I have a Dell 10.5 that has 4gb of ram that I paid $500.00 for, it has 250gb hard drive, 4 USB ports, etc...

    I would love to buy a MacBook Air, but the price keeps me from doing it.
  • RE: Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

    What would make me buy a MacBook Air? In a Word: Nothing!
  • RE: Will the new MacBook Air be underpowered?

    As already stated, what are you going to use it for. I currently have a Macbook Air and my only complaint is battery power. The single USB port is workable but two is better. It's the weight that matters, my briefcase carries both working material and my Air instead of lugging a second heavier Macbook. It has plenty of horsepower for my needs and if I need more I have an iMac for that.

    Ditto on the Mac Mini, have two in the office and both don't seem underpowered. When necessary fire up Parallels and run XP without any hiccups. Like I said, it's what your uses are.

    I have had several Fujitsu tablets which are a great computers but their biggest drawback is they don't run OS X natively. If they ran OS X I would ditch my Air and probably the Macbook. I'm not into running a Hackintosh. The iPad looks good but doesn't quite meet my needs for a full OS X in the field and so when it's time to replace my current Air I'll probably get a new one.