Reflections on the New MacBook Air

Having spent the bulk of the weekend working with the new MacBook Air, it is perhaps time for a follow-up review of the latest and greatest(!) Apple laptop computer. Click here for more information about Techwitty Ventures What is clear, is that this new model defines Apple’s move into a new class of computer and that one simple modification can change the entire character of a device. Mysterious? Well, perhaps.

The MacBook Air used was an 11 inch model (1.6GHz processor, 4GB memory and 128GB SSD). The design of the Air is meticulous with close attention spent to every conceivable detail. The screen is rich and crisp and the keyboard is a pleasure to use. But given that it is an Apple product, you knew that already. What was an unexpected surprise, is how heavy and chunky it makes the MacBook Pro look in comparison. Even thought the Pro is an amazingly thin and compact laptop in it’s own right, the design of the new Air manages to put it to shame.

We hooked the new Air into a 27 inch external display, initially worried that the mobile graphics card in the Air wouldn’t be terribly happy with it. Not a chance. The Air laughed in the face of the 27 inch, offering a crisp, responsive image with no delays or resolution issues. The 1.6GHz processor handled everything we threw at it with only one beach ball (for 2 seconds) the entire time the Air was in use (even when running Parallels 6 with Windows in the background).

But here was the biggest surprise. With the inclusion of solid state storage, the Air simply flew. When you launched an application, it didn’t even bounce while it was loading. It just appeared on the screen instantly. Compare that to bouncing six times when launching the same application on the MacBook Pro and you see the dramatic effect that such a small change can make. It is clear that the storage format has the greatest effect on the responsiveness of a system for the general user.

Obviously, power users would laugh at a 1.6GHz processor. But for the typical user who isn’t going to be running genetics algorithms most of the time, it is incredible how much we have been limited in the past by using hard drives instead of SSD. The retrieval of data is the defining factor for how responsive a system is, not the processor speed. Consumers have been hoodwinked for years with promises of lighting fast system responses because of processor speed doubling and even tripling. But SSD is the thing that makes the difference, not processing power.

People may disagree with this and say that processor speed is the kicker, but try the Air and you’ll see. The sooner we get this technology into all systems the better. Currently, replacing the HD in an iMac with a 256 GB SSD at point of ordering will cost over $500. More if you want a combination of HD and SSD. This is, quite frankly, excessive and the sooner the cost of SSD storage comes down, the better for everybody.

We are teetering on the edge of a new era of computing and the Air is the first mainstream example of this. Seriously, try one and you ain’t going back.