VoIP Business and Virtual PBX
Ethernet Communications

Mid-2012 MacBook Airs offer improved performance and connectivity

Macworld - Believe it or not, it's been near four and a half years since Apple released the original --MacBook Air. Then, it was revolutionary in terms of its size and weight, nevertheless it as well was slow, had little storage, had only a single USB port for expansion, and was very expensive--it started at $1799, and if you wanted solid-state storage, the price increased dramatically. As Jason Snell wrote at that time, "laptop design has always been about compromise," and the original Air required some painful compromises.l--

Glimpse at the future of Mac laptops

But that Air as well gave us a glimpse at the future of Mac laptops: incredibly thin, blissfully light, and surprisingly sturdy, with reliable, fast, flash storage--attributes that have made their way into Apple's Pro laptop line with the new MacBook Pro with Retina display. It's safe to say that previously long, all of Apple's laptops will be direct descendants of the Air.

The Air itself has as well evolved: The second iteration gained some speed, better video capabilities, and more storage. The third generation got faster and cheaper. In 2010, Apple gave the Air its biggest update by adding a second USB port, improving performance, standardizing on flash storage, lowering prices, and--in the biggest move of all--releasing a road-warrior-dream 11-inch model priced at just $999. The company turbocharged the Air last year by upgrading to Intel Core i5 and i7 processors and adding a Thunderbolt port.

Few short years

In a few short years, the Air has gone from an expensive research demonstration to a successful product firmly established as the heart of Apple's laptop line. This year's models improve the appeal of the Air by increasing performance, enhancing expansion capabilities, and lowering prices. Actually, the new models might just be making the MacBook Pro line a little nervous.

Flip open the screen, and you reveal a full-size, backlit keyboard--even on the 11-inch model--that uses the same low-profile, flat keys as Apple's current desktop keyboards. There's as well the large, Multi-Touch trackpad that's ideal for using gestures in OS--it remains the best trackpad I've used on any laptop--and an LED-backlit, widescreen, glossy display surrounded by an aluminum bezel.

The Air however includes tiny stereo speakers just in front of the hinge, positioned so their sound is reflected off the screen bezel and towards you. Apple hasn't advertised any speaker changes, however compared to my 2010 MacBook Air, audio produced by the 2012 Air's speakers is much clearer with much better detail--it sounds less like an old transistor radio.

The Air's enclosure

There is one change to the Air's enclosure, even though: The built-in camera is now, in Apple's parlance, a 720p FaceTime HD camera. That is, the camera can record video at 1280 by 720 resolution. In my testing, the new camera for all that produces grainy images and video with less-than-optimal color accuracy, however it's noticeably better than the camera on my 2010 MacBook Air.

The big changes this year are on the sides and the inside. Like the 2011 Air, the new model sports a Thunderbolt port for both high-speed peripherals and connecting external displays. Nevertheless the Air's two USB ports, one on each side, are now USB 3 versions, making the Air line the first--along with the Retina MacBook Pro--to support the new USB standard. Each USB 3 port gets its own bus, is capable of up to 5 Gbps of throughput, and is backward-compatible with USB 2.0 peripherals. We're currently testing USB 3 performance and hope to have benchmark results in the near future, yet USB 3 opens up the Air to a big market of inexpensive, decent-performance storage devices.

You'll as well find, on the left-hand edge, Apple's MagSafe 2 power connector. The new connector is to all appearances electrically identical to the original MagSafe, nevertheless flatter and wider. This means the new Airs, along with the Retina MacBook Pro, ship with a new MagSafe 2 AC-power adapter. Apple sells the $10 MagSafe to MagSafe 2 Converter, a tiny adapter that lets you use older MagSafe power bricks with the new Airs and Retina MacBook Pro, yet you can't use the new MagSafe 2 power bricks with your older MagSafe-equipped laptops.

Oddly, the design of the new MagSafe 2 plug forces the cable to protrude directly out--at a 90-degree angle--from the plug. The original MagSafe plug had a similar design, nevertheless after many people had problems with the cable fraying where it entered the plug, in 2010 Apple switched to a lower-profile, L-shaped plug that didn't fray as easily and was more difficult to accidentally knock loose. We'll see how this new design holds up over time.

The right side of the 13-inch Air continues to host an SD card reader. On both sizes, the left side sports a tiny microphone along with a 1/8-inch headphone jack that as well supports headphones with an Apple-style inline remote/microphone module.

Still missing, clearly--nevertheless missed less and less every day--is an optical drive. And the Air after all omits an ethernet port, though those who need that capability--for faster networking or for security requirements--will appreciate the new $29 Thunderbolt to Gigabit Ethernet Adapter. Unfortunately, unless you've got an Apple Thunderbolt Display, you can't use the adapter and an external display together.

Some of the new Air models' biggest changes are found on the inside. For starters, the 2012 Airs use Intel's third-generation Core processors for better performance, making Apple one of the first vendors to adopt these chips in their non-workhorse lines. Exactly, the 11-inch Air uses a 1.7GHz dual-core Core i5 processor with 3MB of shared level--3 cache, during the 13-inch Air uses a 1.8GHz version; a 2.0GHz i7 processor with 4MB level--3 cache is available as a built-to-order option. Like the previous Core i5 and i7 processors, Ivy Bridge CPUs include hyper-threading and Turbo Boost. Hyper-threading lets the CPU's two cores be utilized by the OS as four. When only one core is needed for a task, Turbo Boost lets the chip shut down one of the two cores and bump up the clock speed of the other. Turbo Boost can reach 2.6GHz on the 1.7GHz i5 and 2.8GHz on the 1.8GHz i5. Turbo Boost on the 2.0GHz i7 CPU can reach 3.2GHz.

For 2012, the Air line has been upgraded to an Intel HD Graphics 4000 GPU. While on the whole an integrated GPU, Apple claims the 4000 is up to 60 percent faster on graphics-intensive tasks than last year's 3000. In our testing the 2012 Airs were as a matter of fact around 60 percent faster in our Cinebench OpenGL test, even though only 20 to 25 percent faster in our Portal test. So during Apple's claims may not hold up across the board, it's clear that the 2012 Airs gain significant graphics improvements and comfortably best all previous generations in this area.

There's one additional graphics-related feature that Apple isn't advertising: Once you update your 2012 MacBook Air with the MacBook Air Software Update 1.0, you can connect two external Thunderbolt displays for a total of three displays. This is similar to the four-display capability of the Retina MacBook Pro.

Finally, Apple has as well upgraded the Air's flash storage with faster versions, claiming that the drives used in the 2012 Air line are twice as fast as the ones used in 2011. Exactly, Apple says the 2012 Air's flash storage devices are capable of transferring data at up to 500 MB per second. In our testing, the 128GB-flash storage 11-inch Air was 35 percent faster than its predecessor at file duplication, and the 13-inch Air was 42 percent faster than its 2011 counterpart.

But faster flash storage offers more than just quicker copying of files. Drive operations are one of computing's biggest bottlenecks, because nearly everything you do--opening files and applications, saving files, paging memory, and much more--involves reading or writing data. It's why people who've used a solid-state drive or flash storage never want to go back to a traditional hard drive, and it's why my 2010 MacBook Air often feels faster than my 2010 iMac, although the latter is if not enormously more powerful. The new Air's faster flash storage means that the computer boots faster, applications launch faster, files open and save faster...everything's just a little bit--although noticeably--faster.

The other hand

On the other hand, the $999 model all in all ships with a paltry 64GB of storage. Yes, Apple's vision of computing seems to be that you'll take advantage of "the cloud" to store your media and documents, nevertheless until the MacBook Air ships with some flavor of always-on mobile network innovation, 64GB is embarrassingly little storage for a $1000 laptop. It seems especially stingy now that the entry-level Air ships with 4GB of RAM.

How do these improvements translate to real-world use? I timed how long it took to perform a number of day in day out tasks on the 2012 11-inch MacBook Air and a 2010 11-inch Air, each with 128GB of flash storage. On the 2010 Air, iMovie loaded to a new project in 5.5 seconds, iPhoto launched into an empty library in 2.8 seconds, and Safari launched and loaded Apple's home page in 2.7 seconds. On the 2012 model, iMovie took just in accordance with 3 seconds, iPhoto was ready in 1.2 seconds, and Safari finished launching and loading the Apple home page in 1.8 seconds. The 2012 Air as well cold-booted into the Finder, with auto-login enabled, in just over 15 seconds; the 2010 Air took over 30 seconds. And our lab found that the 2012 model was a whopping 67 percent faster than the 2010 model in our HandBrake test, which involves converting a DVD chapter to an MP4 file.

Additional $100

All four Air models can be upgraded to 8GB of RAM for an additional $100. That a reasonable price, nevertheless it's as well a easy recommendation if your computing needs go at all beyond the basics or if you plan to keep your Air for a during--as mentioned above, you can't upgrade later.

The MacBook Air line has always been about compromise--as I wrote back in 2008, the Air was at first appealing mainly to people for whom small size and light weight were more important than the features the Air was missing. However two things have happened since at that time. First, some of those missing features--an optical drive, for instance--have become less important. Second, the Air's features and performance have been improved, little by little, to the point that an Air no longer feels like a compromise. As a result, the Air is now Apple's core notebook and, by some accounts, the company's most popular laptop.

The 2012 MacBook Air models should furthermore cement that position, as they're easily the best Airs but. Thanks to upgraded processors and graphics capabilities, along with both Thunderbolt and USB 3--features however missing from Apple's Mac Pro line--for expansion, it's getting tougher and tougher to say the Air isn't a "full-featured" laptop. And you no longer have to give up a good chunk of performance if you want to go light: Thanks to flash storage, both 2012 Air models are competitive with Apple's current hard-drive equipped 13-inch MacBook Pro models. To tell the truth, if you don't need a 15-inch screen and lots of storage space, it's now tough for many people to justify a MacBook Pro over a lighter and more-portable Air.

More information: Computerworld
  • ·

    Voip Adapters

  • ·

    Macbook Air Mid 2012 Dual Thunderbolt Displays

  • ·

    New Macbook Pro Hinge 2012