Apple MacBook Air 13 (Ivy Bridge) vs Ultrabooks

Max OS X Performance Testing

Our Test Methodologies: As a Windows-heavy test site, we generally leave the Mac stuff to the Apple gurus, but every once in awhile, we start to feel frisky and wonder what's shaking on the other side of the fence. This is obviously one of those times. In doing so, we're challenged with devising a new benchmark scheme, since we're not able to use our normal arsenal of Windows-based comparative benchmarks. But don't worry, being the undeterred folks that we are, we assembled a collection of benchmarks that run natively on the Mac OS X platform and compared them with other Mac-based systems we've worked with in the past. That's what you'll find on this page.

On the next page, you'll find benchmark results of the MacBook Air running Windows 7 64-bit using Boot Camp. This allows us to see how the MacBook Air compares to several Windows-based Ultrabooks, and while it's not a total apples-to-apples (or Apples-to-Ultrabook) face-off, it's pretty darn close.

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.

Our 2012 model MacBook Air, represented on the top of the graph, managed to distance itself from previous Mac models in the always-brutal Cinebench run, but because it's a cross-platform benchmark, it also allows us to compare the system with Windows-based Ultrabooks. To our surprise, the MacBook Air was able to race ahead of Ultrabooks built on the same Intel CPU and GPU foundation. Notice how the MacBook Air score nearly 4 points higher in the OpenGL testing compared to the fastest Ultrabook of the bunch, which is a significant margin in this test. Since the hardware is identical, we can only attribute this to software, and Apple's driver team has done a great job taking advantage of Intel's integrated Ivy Bridge graphics.

Performance benchmarking: Geekbench

To touch on overall system performance, we chose Geekbench, by Primate Labs. This is a widely used, highly respected Mac benchmarking suite that "provides a comprehensive set of benchmarks engineered to quickly and accurately measure processor and memory performance."

Ah, the march of technology -- ain't it grand? The MacBook Air is about portability first and foremost, and then performance, as opposed to the MacBook Pro, which prioritizes performance slightly above portability. What a difference a generation makes. Today's MacBook Air models are not only lighter and thinner than previous and current generation MacBook Pro laptops, they're considerably more powerful than previous generation MacBook Pros. That's impressive. Apple claimed that the new MacBook Air SSDs are twice as fast as before, and the benchmarks help back that claim. Again, Intel deserves a bit of credit here as well, but no matter how you distribute the kudos, the MacBook Air is a powerful piece of machinery.

Performance benchmarking: XBench
XBench, created by Spiny Software, is another widely used, highly respected Mac benchmarking suite that touches on nearly every aspect of performance.

Here we have the greatest evidence yet that the SSD in the 13-inch MacBook Air is much improved over previous generation storage subsystems. The Disk portion of XBench was almost off the charts (compared to some older Mac models), and when paired with a strong processor, the MacBook Air packs a pretty mean punch. At the same time, the results appear slightly skewed, as the benchmark seems to heavily favor storage performance, which can mask the GPU. Still, it's impressive and underscores how advantageous flash-based storage can be.

At the risk of beating a dead horse, we concluded our Mac OS X testing by loading up BlackMagicDesign's Disk Speed Test and, well, the storage system is really flippin' fast. We let the test run for an extended period of time, and on average, it showed the internal SSD performing writes at 243MB/s and read requests at 447.3MB/s.

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