Apple MacBook Air (13-Inch) Review

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Cross-Platform Tests / Benchmarking

Our Test Methodologies: As the MacBook Pro uses the Mac OS, we weren't able to use our normal arsenal of Windows-based comparative benchmarks. So we devised a number of new tests that we could use to compare the MacBook Pro against a number of other Macs and Windows systems. These tests are broken up into three sections: The first set (below and on the next page) are cross-platform tests, where the same workload was run on both the Mac and Windows systems. The second set is Mac-only tests. The third set is Windows-only tests that were run on the Windows comparison systems, and the MacBook Pro using Boot Camp and a native installation of Windows 7 Ultimate (64-bit). All tests were run several times on each system to ensure consistency. The comparison systems are as follows:
  • An older MacBook Pro that dates back to what is referred to as a "Late 2006" model. This older MacBook Pro's config is: a 2.0GHz Intel Core Duo T2500, 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 SDRAM, an ATI Radeon X1600 (128MB), a 120GB 5,400-rpm hard dive, and running Mac OS X 10.6.4. We readily concede that due to the age and low-end components (comparatively speaking) of this model, it is not the best comparison system; however, we chose to include it to exemplify how far the MacBook Pro's performance has come since the model was first introduced.
  • A two-year old, 24-inch iMac. The iMac's config is: 2.8GHz Intel Core 2 Extreme X7900, 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM, ATI Radeon HD 2600 Pro, 750GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, and running Mac OS X 10.6.4. When this iMac was released, it represented close to the top-end of available configs, and it is still considered reasonably powerful--especially when compared against a laptop.
  • One of the two Windows comparison laptops has this config: 2.13GHz Intel Core i3-330M, 4GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, Integrated GMA HD, 320GB 5,400-rpm hard drive, and running Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit).
  • The other Windows comparison laptop has this config: 1.2GHz Intel Core i3-330UM, 3GB 1,066MHz DDR3 SDRAM, Intel GMA HD and ATI Radeon HD 5450 (512MB) switchable graphics, 500GB 7,200-rpm hard drive, and running Windows 7 Home Premium (64-bit).
 Performance with Half-Life 2: Episode 2
Gaming Performance

To touch on gaming performance, we chose a cross-platform title that draws moderately on system resources, Half-Life 2: Episode 2. We then ran a pre-recorded demo on each machine. The resulting performance achieved is indicated in frames per second in the graph below.

As always, comparing an Apple machine to a Windows-based machine isn't a true Apples to oranges comparison. We compared the Half-Life 2: Episode 2 test to a slew of other Windows based machines, all of which hovered relatively close to the $1299 asking price of the 13" MacBook Air. Some of the PCs were able to easily outclass the MBA in gaming thanks to Core 2010 processors and more robust GPUs, but those PCs all had one major advantage: larger form factors.

Also, the EliteBook (as an example) isn't an ultraportable. It may hit 60fps in a game, but it won't last 7 hours on a charge and it definitely won't slip inside of a larger purse without attracting some complaints from the person carrying it. This test isn't meant to pit Apple's slimmest 13" machine against beastly PC counterparts; it's simply meant to give some perspective and show that the MacBook Air is actually capable of running some 3D games. The graphics in this game, even at the native 1440x900 resolution, were smooth and totally playable. Again, we don't suspect anyone is buying a MacBook Air for their gaming abilities, but at least it's possible when you're shelling out so much cash.

CineBench R11.5 (64-bit)
Content Creation Performance

Maxon's Cinebench R11.5 benchmark is based on Maxon's Cinema 4D software used for 3D content creation chores and it tests both the CPU and GPU in separate benchmark runs. On the CPU side, Cinebench renders a photorealistic 3D scene by tapping into up to 64 processing threads to process more than 300,000 total polygons; while the GPU benchmark measures graphics performance by manipulating nearly 1 million polygons and huge amounts of textures.

What's most impressive here is just how close the 13" MacBook Air comes to matching a Core i5 / GT330M-based MacBook Pro on these scores--at least in the GPU test. And beyond that, it actually does manage to outpace a slightly older iMac. That's pretty impressive for an ultraportable, and we'd expect nothing less from a machine that costs $1299. This proves that the MacBook Air is capable of handling some higher-end tasks, but it also shows that it's not an ideal machine for that type of work. If you're doing serious editing tasks, you're better off with a full-sized notebook or desktop, but at least this ultraportable will get you by in a pinch.

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