2010 MacBook Air 11.6 inch Buyer’s Guide

The MacBook Air is an innovative product from Apple that fits a specific niche. I first purchased a MacBook Air when the second generation NVIDIA-based MacBook Air debuted. It was an impressive machine and I used it constantly but kept running into some issues. I had the higher end 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo with 128GB SSD model. The SSD performed perfectly but the 2GB of memory caused some problems. Additionally, it was difficult to get used to the 1280×800 screen resolution since I have often used 1920×1200 or higher resolutions.

Screen Resolution

One of the most impressive features of the new MacBook Air models is their screen resolution. While I am not going to discuss the 13.3 inch model in this post, its resolution is an impressive 1440×900. The 11.6 inch model has the generous resolution of 1366×768. A number of years back we all used monitors with the resolution of 1024×768. This was often a great size and very useful. To this day, many presentation projectors still use this resolution which is often referred to as XGA resolution.

The MacBook Air 11.6 inch model takes the 1024×768 display size with a ratio of 4 by 3 and expands it horizontally to provide a 16 by 9 widescreen resolution of 1366×768. Having used 1024×600 netbook displays, I can attest to how much of an improvement the MacBook Air’s resolution is. In addition, the 1366 pixel horizontal resolution is actually wider than the MacBook’s and MacBook Pro 13 inch model’s 1280 pixel horizontal resolution. The vertical resolution is slightly lower on the MacBook Air 11.6 at 768 pixels compared to the 800 pixels of the MacBook and MacBook Pro 13 inch. Apple seemed to make just the right choices on display resolution and I hope this trend of higher resolution displays spreads to other models in the future.

Memory

I have a tendency to have multiple browser tabs open. The number of open tabs can sometimes reach eighty. I also frequently have multiple browsers open. Safari, Chrome, OmniWeb, and Firefox are often all open at once. In addition, I often leave Apple’s Mail running along with Apple’s Pages and Numbers and Terminal. Screen Sharing and Remote Desktop Connection often round out the applications.

With that many applications open at once, 2GB of RAM is completely inadequate. For several years now I have strongly recommended that you at least have 4GB of RAM in any Mac. Due to the memory limitations, I stopped using the MacBook Air for a year or more but was hopeful that Apple would upgrade the memory.

With the most recent release of the MacBook Air, Apple has done just that. The new 11.6 inch and 13.3 inch MacBook Air models have the ability to be upgraded at the factory to 4GB of RAM for a $100 premium. Personally I think that is by far the best upgrade you can do for a computer. Processor speed is always helpful but memory makes a huge impact on day-to-day tasks.

Storage

The SSD upgrade from 64GB to 128GB will cost you an extra $200. While it is possible to run a reasonable system on a 64GB SSD, it is not easy. I would prefer the option for a 256GB SSD in the MacBook Air 11.6 models since 128GB can be limiting but that option is not available. If you are willing to purchase an external USB drive to store your larger media such as iTunes video and audio files, large iPhoto or Aperture libraries, etc. then a 64GB SSD should be workable. My day-to-day desktop Mac mini runs from a 40GB SSD but always has a 1TB external drive connected for my iTunes library, larger downloads, ISO images, etc. Keeping an external drive connected to a laptop is often not practical.

However, if you are using the MacBook Air only as a secondary computer to do a few tasks on the go, the smaller SSD would allow you to save some money and may be a wise choice. In my case, my laptop is almost always my primary computer since I am on the road frequently. In that case, the 128GB SSD is essential. In the end, the best computer is the one you are able to afford but I would strongly recommend either of the 4GB/128GB models for the best long term computer purchase.

Recommendation

The bottom line is that if your budget can afford it, buy the top of the line MacBook Air model. In terms of the 11.6 inch MacBook Air, the difference between the entry level model and top of the line is only $400. However, since the entry level model does not have 4GB of RAM, I would recommend only three models which range from $1094 to $1394. The top of the line 11.6 inch model has the upgraded 1.6GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 128GB SSD.

The top of the line MacBook Air 11.6 1.6GHz/4GB/128GB can be purchased for $1394.00 and is my top recommendation. The 128GB SSD will be a better fit for most users. The 1.6GHz processor upgrade will cost you $100 and will provide for a longer usable machine life. The memory upgrade to 4GB is absolutely essential.

The middle MacBook Air 11.6 1.4GHz/4GB/128GB is available for $1294.00 and only differs from the top of the line model in its processor speed. It has a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor which will meet the demands of most users.

The entry level MacBook Air 11.6 1.4GHz/4GB/64GB is a bargain at $1094.00. This model has the 1.4GHz processor, 4GB of memory, and 64GB SSD. I do not recommend this configuration unless you are a casual user who rarely downloads large files or deals with multimedia except on the web. This configuration may also be a good fit for a second computer to take on the road.