2010 MacBook Air 13.3 inch Buyer’s Guide

For some more general thoughts about the MacBook Air, see my MacBook Air 11.6 inch Buyer’s Guide. This guide specifically targets the 13.3 inch model.

Screen Resolution

One of the most limiting features of the older MacBook Air models was the screen resolution of 1280×800. For many years now I have used displays ranging from 1680×1050 to 1920×1200 and higher. Suddenly being confined to 1280×800 was difficult. Both of the new MacBook Air models have excellent display resolution. The 11.6 inch model has the very generous 1366×768 resolution while the 13.3 inch model has the superb 1440×900 resolution.

Bear in mind that all of Apple’s recent MacBook Air, MacBook, and MacBook Pro 13 inch product lines have had the same 1280×800 resolution. Apple has always wanted to have a consistent relative size of display across different product lines. In other words, an icon on a 13 inch display, 15 inch display, and 17 inch display look about the same actual size. Apple broke with this philosophy several years back when they added the option of a 1920×1200 display in the 17 inch MacBook Pro instead of the usual 1680×1050. That was the catalyst that caused me to upgrade to the 17 inch MacBook Pro while I had been using a 15 inch prior to that.

A higher display resolution directly equates to greater productivity in my work as long as the resolution is comfortably readable. Apple has surprised everyone by offering the standard 15 inch MacBook Pro resolution of 1440×900 in the new 13.3 inch MacBook Air. This feature along makes the 13.3 inch MacBook Air the most compelling 13 inch model in Apple’s lineup.

Memory

I am most definitely a power user in my computer usage patterns and need all the memory I can get. For me, 2GB of memory is woefully inadequate. The effect of having 4GB of memory has such a dramatic effect on system performance that I would never recommend any less even for casual users. Never buy a Mac and leave it with less than 4GB of memory. In the case of the MacBook Air, the 4GB memory upgrade must be chosen at the time of purchase because the upgrade can only be done from the factory.

Storage

The 13.3 inch MacBook Air comes in two standard models. The only difference between the two in their standard configurations is the size of the SSD. The 128GB SSD is very adequate for most users but heavy multimedia users will appreciate the increased size of a 256GB SSD although this comes at a $300 premium. If you can afford it, I would certainly recommend the larger SSD although it is not essential and 128GB works just fine for many people.

In the case of any MacBook Air model, you may need and want to carry additional external storage in the form of an external USB hard drive. In a future article I will make recommendations as to some of the best options available for external USB storage.

Recommendation

What would I recommend? For the 13.3 inch MacBook Air, there are only two configurations that I recommend. As I mentioned earlier, 4GB of memory is essential. The differentiating factor becomes SSD size and an optional processor upgrade from 1.86GHz to 2.13GHz for $100 on the 256GB SSD model.

The top of the line MacBook Air 13.3 has the essential 4GB memory upgrade, the 256GB SSD, and the 2.13GHz processor upgrade. If you are willing to spend the $300 extra for the 256GB SSD then the $100 2.13GHz processor upgrade is a small additional cost that I would strongly recommend. This top of the line configuration is available for $1794.00.

The basic MacBook Air 13.3 is still an excellent choice which includes the essential 4GB memory upgrade, the 128GB SSD, and the standard 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo processor. This configuration will save you $400 over the top of the line model and comes in at $1394.00. This will be an excellent fit for most users.