Should you buy the 2008 MacBook Air?

A Note About This Hub

If you want to read my latest review on the new MacBook Air 2010 please go here.

Shortly after Apple announced the MacBook Air for 2010 I noticed a dramatic rise in readership for this particular hub.

This hub was written January 2008 and concerns Apple Corporation's release of the MacBook Air 2008. Though this article is now dated, it is still a good "go to" source for the specifics and details on the original MacBook Air. It also contains links to sites where you can buy this as a used machine.

Is this the Road Warrior's Katana?

Appletm has generating a lot of talk with the new MacBook Air and as might be expected there's a lot market buzz as well. But is this the notebook computer you've been waiting for or not quite everything you need for your blitzkrieg business dealings?

As the processors and components get smaller and lighter it's only natural for laptop computers to also become lighter and smaller.

I think the best way to tell is to compare this computer with the other Apple laptop computers of similar size. Since Apple's last offering is the MacBook Pro I'll use this as the comparator.

Because the Air only comes with a 15" display I'll compare it to the MacBook Pro 15.4".

Size and Weight: This is likely one of the most important considerations. You have to haul this thing around with you everywhere you go. A few pounds here or there can add up quickly.

  • The MacBook Pro weighs 5.4 pounds
  • The MacBook Air weighs 3 pounds

Weight Summary: The MacBook Air weighs 2.4 pounds less than the MacBook Pro.

Thickness: The two MacBooks differ in thickness by a quarter inch (1/4) and this could also affect how well it travels.

  • The MacBook Pro is one (1) inch thick
  • The Macbook Air is slightly less than three-quarter (3/4) inch thick

Size Summary: The MacBook Air is one quarter inch thinner than the MacBook Pro.

Processing Power: Both Macbooks use the Intel Core 2 Duo processor, however they differ in processor speed. The MacBook Pro actually has three options when it comes to processor speed to the Air's two. Both machines have an L2 4MegaByte cache.

  • MacBook Pro Intel Core 2 Duo at 2.2, 2.4, and 2.6 GigaHertz


  • MacBook Air Intel Core 2 Duo at 1.6 and 1.8 GigaHertz


Processor Summary: A higher number here is better.


Video Processor(s):The MacBooks differ in this area. This must be one of the areas Apple chose to save size (thickness) and weight (a difference of over two pounds).

  • The MacBook Air uses the embedded Intel GMA X3100 graphics subsystem. Embedded meaning it's part of the motherboard. Connected to an external monitor via the micro-DVi port, the max-res in extended desktop mode is 1,280 by 800 pixels (60Hz). Thie highest resolution available is 1,920 x 1200 through the MicroDVI port to an external monitor.


  • The MacBook Pro uses a separate NVIDIA GeForce 8600M GT graphics processor that's connected to the dual-link DVI connector. In the extended desktop mode, the maximum resolution for the external display is 2,048 by 1,536 pixels (60Hz or 75Hz); mirrored mode, the maximum size is 1,680 x 1,050.

Video Summary: The MacBook Pro has better video both in the machine and connected to an external monitor. So if superior graphics are required the Pro might be the better choice. Since the MicroDVI is also expected to support the external optical device using the two simultaneously may be problematic.

Sound: Sound quality for the two machines is about equal but the actual externalization of the sound e.g. how you the user hear it is something else.

  • MacBook Pro: Has stereo speakers built in to the case. You can also connect external speakers or headphones via the headphone jack or via a bluetooth device.
  • MacBook Air: Has mono output to its speakers. For stereo output you will need to attach speakers or headphones to the headphone jack or a bluetooth device.

Sound Summary: If sound quality to a group of users is important the MacBook Pro might be the better choice.

Storage: This is another area Apple changed to save size and weight. In order to keep the Air under one inch thick Apple resorted to a smaller thinner disk drive.

  • MacBook Air: Uses a 1.8-inch PATA (parallel ATA) drive off of a standard PATA bus. This means the drive, though smaller, is slower.
  • MacBook Pro: Uses the larger, faster SATA (serial ATA) drives off of a 1.5Gbps SATA bus.

Storage Summary: This mean that if writing to and reading from your disk storage is important the MacBook Pro is likely the better choice.

Wireless Connectivity: The MacBook Air uses 802.11n WiFi connectivity with a maximum throughput of 74 Megabits per second and data rate of 248 Megabits per second. This is the fastest of any of the 802.11 standards. Wireless transmission of 70 meters (230 feet) indoors (depending on wall construction) and 250 meters (820 feet) outdoors means this wireless standard also has one of the longest ranges of any of the 802.11 networking methodologies.

Other Features: These may not seem so important, but I was impressed with them just the same. The MacBook air includes a video camera at the top center of the screen. Additionally to the right of this camera is a green LED that lights to tell you the camera is on. Also, there is a light sensor somewhere on the Air (I can't find it though) that detects light levels. Once those levels drop below a certain threshold the keyboard lights up from below.

TrackPad Gestures (Multi-Touch) have also been carried forward from the iPhone to this new offering. Once again Apples' intuitive interface makes one wonder; why didn't anyone else think of this?

Price: At $1,999.00 (retail) for the Pro and $1,799 (retail) for the Air the prices are very close. I would hazard to guess the Pro can be purchased for less than the near 2K price tag.

For a full list of MacBook Air Specifications click this link; for the MacBook Pro Specifications this link.

Where to Buy

November 2012: The MacBook Air can now be purchased on-line, outside of the Apple Store domain, as a used machine. Check eBay listings and Amazon.

I used to recommend checking Criagslist as well, but my confidence in that site has dropped below my "recommendation" level. Far too many scams are perpetrated through Craigslist and I don't want my readers to become victims.

Beefs

Complaints about the MacBook Air

  1. The headphone jack is recessed so not all headphones can be plugged into the Air. Apple suggests buying a jack extender and states that the jack is recessed so that the 'swing down' cover can protect it.
  2. No wired connectivity.

Coda

I've heard it said that the MacBook Air is just a "designer laptop" for trendy types to show off with. I don't think this is quite fair. The specifications above pretty plainly demonstrate that this is a serious laptop. A better description might be that this is a business laptop without the fancy graphics or sound. A machine designed for travel not merely to impress.

I can tell you from personal experience that the lighter that laptop can be, and still be highly functional, the better. With a briefcase (or knapsack), luggage, coat, and who knows what else it doesn't take much else to make the business traveller feel like a pack animal instead of a business professional.

So kudos to Apple for making a lighter and thinner computer for those of us who have to lug them around.

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