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MacBook Air with nVidia 9400M and 128GB SSD review



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For some reason we were never able to get hold of a first generation MacBook Air. That's hardly surprising; I'm entirely sure Apple knew full well it was over-priced, under-featured and would nonetheless sell simply on the basis of it being, first, a new Apple product and, second, an awesome thing to behold.

Apple didn't need to explain to those who could afford one why they should buy a MacBook Air. As a money-no-object design statement to show off in Starbucks, the Air still has few rivals.

Still, the first generation Air took a lot of flack. It's use of PATA drives made the SSD version no faster, despite the extra cost, battery life was pretty poor and a number of users reported problems with the hinges breaking on their systems.

The answer from Apple is the second revision of the MacBook Air, using nVidia's 9400M chipset, as now sported by the entire MacBook range, giving a much needed update to the Air's internals along with an even more needed price drop.

That's not to say that the MacBook Air isn't still very expensive. Two configurations are available, one with a 1.83Ghz CPU and a 120GB hard drive costs £1,149 with an upgrade to a 2.13GHz CPU and a 128GB SSD pushing the price to £1,349. By anyone's standards that's expensive, and it keeps the Air out of the reach of the average consumer.

As such, common convention would have you believe that those considering the MacBook Air are either more concerned with having an enviable laptop with which to impress (or make jealous) friends and colleagues, or simply have more money than sense.

The thing is, I'm not sure that's true.

The MacBook Air is decidedly not without precedent or rival. Sony beat Apple to the punch by leagues, with the X505VP - launched in 2004 - as well as its (at least spiritual, if not literal) successors, the T2XP, TX1XP, TX2XP, TX3XP, Vaio TZ, and the Vaio TT. Not only are Sony's ultra-portables more portable - thank's to their smaller chassis - than the Air, but ever since the T2XP they've also come with built-in disc drives; not to mention that they provide many hours more battery life than any other laptop, even besting most netbooks. And while I think the TT is the least desirable ultra-portable Sony has made to date, I still can't think of any other laptop I'd trade my TZ for; save perhaps a MacBook Air.

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September 5, 2009, 4:26 am

After all the flak the Air's taken from TR and the "Style over, well, everything!" editorial from Riyad it still gets an 8. I could never understand why someone would chose this over a 13" Pro.


September 5, 2009, 5:19 am

I don't like the colour...


September 5, 2009, 5:58 am

@ravmania: Well I don't think Hugo could've explained his reasons any more clearly. He even explicitly says the MacBook Pro is the better bet. However, if you're after a machine that has that wow factor, and you have the money then there's no significant reason not to buy this Air, thus the scoring. The same couldn't be said of the first Air.


September 5, 2009, 8:35 am


At the time of writing, it's the wee small hours in the morning after a long hard Friday, but I simply cannot NOT reply to this pusillanimous review for the Hollyoaks cast member of the MacBook family.

I'll concede it's a better deal now than at launch, with the marginally lower price point, the bigger (but still not big) SATA (once PATA) drive, the nVidia graphics and the DDR3 RAM, but it wasn't worth 8/10 then, and it isn't worth it now. Not by any stretch of the imagination. There's a reason it's thin : THERE'S DAMN ALL IN IT. And if there's damn all in it, it should be a netbook with a smaller footprint and a competitive price to match. I was lambasted for despising Apple's rebranding of the unibody MacBook, but that doesn't even begin to compare to the Campbellesque strategy Apple have pulled off here. They've actually convinced people to -

PAY MORE money for

LESS STUFF and then

SPIN it as portability -

when it's barely more portable! If we adjust for the justifiable - the AppleTax - that should still bring this in for 800 quid max. But the bottom line is, this should not cost more money than a better machine with practically the same design, a MacBook {grinds teeth} Pro.

And come on, if we're talking about looks, exactly how fat and heavy and ugly is a MacBook (Pro)? If you want a MacBook (Pro), then buy a MacBook (Pro). You get your Superdrive back, the combined joy of ethernet AND USB back ("Monsieur, you are really spoiling us."), an arguably better trackpad, and now about over an hour's worth more battery life, plus an SD slot to boot, all for 250 quid less. Even if you want the SSD, it's still minus £130, which call me a hobo, but I don't think is trivial money to most.

Hell, even before the mid-2008 refresh, the polycarbonate MacBook was, and still is IM-not-so-HO, a far better deal. And what's really offensive is in that review, the official position was "Don't buy it, it's a rip off, it's an uggo, get a Pro instead because it does everything better and looks great - 6/10." Now it's, "Screw the Pro, sod it's specs, money is no object, nothing quite like an Air - 8/10."

I hated this product right from the off in MacWorld 2008, when the novelty of the envelope trick quickly wore off, as Jobs started trying to pass off renting movies from creaky old iTunes, and that Remote Disk palaver as a viable current alternative to physical media. It's not. And despite the queer hatred for discs it still won't be for some time because -

Streaming HD is a bag of hurt.

DRM is still a bag of hurt.

Having to rely on secondary machines to make your own computer work the way it already should and much cheaper alternatives already do is a bag of hurt.

Telling people they don't need discs, only to supply them with a DISC to install on a second computer, whilst selling an external SuperDRIVE that everyone in their right mind has to buy to use all their other DISCS... IS A BAG OF HURT.

So to sum up, I don't really like it. In fact, I'll go so far as to say that the MacBook Air is everything that is wrong about society : looks and weight should not matter to people this much. Apple's great achievement has been in surpassing the watermark for both aesthetic AND utilitarian standards. None of that didactic purpose is in evidence here. Please tell me Riyad hasn't lost his marbles too, as he put it best with his brilliant but brief preview entitled 'Style Over, Well, Everything!', an article that remains the best review of the MBA in the mainstream I've found. If he has not lost them, then for the love of journalistic integrity let him review this infernal machine. In the meantime, can't we just chalk this golddigging strumpet up once and for all as Unibody Beta, backslap Ive and the rest for their groundbreaking design in that sycophantic manner all us Mac users always do, and just move the hell along?

5/10 because they made the aforementioned improvements and I'm in a good mood.

(As a reward for the patience of the TR staff and fellow posters, I'll minimise my posts for a good couple of weeks now.)


September 5, 2009, 11:03 am

Its stylish yet Limited....

Its Sexual Chocolate mmmmmm

Lee Marshall

September 5, 2009, 11:04 am

I think your got your car analogy wrong. The Noble is an ugly but great performing car, the Air is totally the other way around. Under-promise and over-perform is always the way forward.


September 5, 2009, 2:01 pm

Why would someone choose this over a 13" MBP? Simple, because they want to. We've reached the point where to most people computer specs are almost irrelevant. Anything with a multicore processor over about 1.5 Ghz and a couple of gigs of memory will be more than enough for the vast majority of users. As a result people can choose their machine on other factors, in this case looks. And to be honest I think that's a very good thing indeed, about time manufacturers started to look at ways to make their machines unique through design rather than specs.

May I suggest though that the supercar analogy is the wrong one? The Air is more a coupe versus a hatchback - same experience when using it, same quality standards, same dealer but you sacrifice some practicality for the better looking coupe.


September 5, 2009, 3:21 pm

So let's get this review straight, it's rubbish and underfeatured but it's Apple and looks nice so 8/10. Nice.

Seriously the Air is about as poor as it gets for usability, one USB port says it all, I mean what if you wanted to use a CD drive and the ethernet adapter at the same time... ;)

I suppose all of the iTards will go and buy them though so I can't blame Apple for making it...


September 5, 2009, 3:45 pm

The new Vaio X series looks to be a great alternative to the Air. Plus it will be running the vastly superior Windows 7. I can't wait for Sony to release more details!


September 5, 2009, 3:56 pm

Page 4, 3rd paragraph - should be the brilliance of OS X?

The instant advantage from OS X diminishes somewhat if you get Linux on the Z-series...

Geoff Richards

September 5, 2009, 4:35 pm

I'm not here to defend any one position, but I would like to challenge the assumption that "only" one USB port is a fatal flaw.

Right now I'm sitting on my sofa, typing this on my Dell D430 just as a might if I were a MB Air owner. It has three USB ports on the back, and no optical drive. Personally, I've never missed the latter, and can't remember a single day that I've ever used more than one of the former.

Some days it's a USB key, others it's my 3G modem. If there were ever a day when I needed to use more than one, I have a pocket-sized 4-port USB hub. I've never used it :)


September 5, 2009, 6:04 pm

Ed: It seemed to me that several significant reasons not to buy the Air were provided. What actually were the reasons to buy it again? Mac OS - but you could get that on a proper Macbook. So it's basically just "wow factor" then? In other words, if you can afford it then you should bypass the logical decision-making process and buy an Air in order to show that you can. Fair enough I suppose, but how it got as high as 7 for value is beyond me.

BOFH: It's true that specs are not so important, but features are. The derision directed at the Air is partly because it is lacking in features, not because of how many GHz or how much memory it has. And personally I don't think it's a very good thing that a manufacturer chooses to focus on looks above all else, not only specs but also praticality and value.

Geoff: I disagree, and suspect that I am not alone in using more than one USB port regularly on my laptop. If I never moved any files and only ever wanted to use the internet then it would be a different matter. Then I would use a netbook - which would cost about 1/4 of the cost of the Air.

I'll stick with the car analogies... The Air has the insides of a Smart car, transplanted into the body of a Lotus Exige, with the engine hatch soldered shut so you can't perform basic maintenance without sending it back - and somehow it has the price tag of a supercar.


September 5, 2009, 6:10 pm


What if you wanted to use a 3G modem, USB headset (since there's no line in), portable HD and a mouse in one sitting while travelling. A pocket USB hub isn't going to power all those devices from a single port, the Dell would be able to handle all four without any trouble, the Air would do the portable HD and give up after that.

So for your personal use maybe one USB port cuts it, but for real road warriors one USB port is scandalous. For Apple to charge a ridiculous premium for this machine which places style over substance to the max and for people to still buy it shows the sad state of computing.

I find it strange that a professional review site centred around technology would have so many defenders of this device, it is clearly substandard (from the outdated resolution and screen aspect ratio to the poor connectivity) yet two staff members have come and defended it while the original score was a pretty solid 8/10. Compared to the recent review of the Vaio NW11S it's very difficult to see how both products scored the same overall grade unless TR puts style over substance as well as Apple. That's a pretty suspect view for a technology review site to take. I know you can say it's apples to oranges as they are marketed to different sectors of computing, but with a 4hr battery life the Vaio and only 1kg heavier it makes a decent case for being considered a portable rather than a mainstream desktop replacement.

Still, I suppose the iTards in Starbucks need to brag about something...


September 5, 2009, 6:48 pm

I have to agree with everyone here complaining about the score, I'm just in shock it's so high. I'd change the design to 10 and the value and overall to 6.

I've tried one of these in the Apple store, and yes it's very nice and it definitely has that "wow" factor. But it's so impractical, and crippled; it's just an expensive toy to me.

Oh well, to each his own.

Digital Fury

September 5, 2009, 8:06 pm

Until a few weeks ago I was still using this very Mac. However I sold it because while it's lighter and thinner, it's also much slower (2 Gb only, slow SSD, slow CPU) and expensive than a MacBook Pro compared to my Mac Pro, and the screen resolution is just too low. a 15" MBP with two fast SSDs (you can swap out the optical drive) with 4 Gb, faster CPU and higher res screen is a much better deal, and barely thicker/more heavy.

If I want to instant surf/email/Internet "everywhere", my iPhone 3GS is just as good as the MBA.


September 5, 2009, 8:14 pm

I think the biggest problem is that you can get very similar functionality from a netbook thats far more portable, whilst recent ones are going to offer over 8/9 hours battery.

The problem for me is that this is essentially marketed as a way to edit word documents/ surf the web and maybe a bit of multimedia playback (primarily music and pictures due to the lack of DVD drive) whilst at Starbucks. Basically not as a primary computer but as a secondary one. Which brings me back to netbooks which were conceived for this very market as over £1000 is a lot for a primary, let alone secondary computer outside the business world - which this product firmly is.

Now a decent netbook eee 1008ha (seashell) for instance will set you back about £350 whilst providing the same experience (thinness, style {this really only applies to the seashell range} and all) along with greatly increased portability to the point where a dedicated laptop bag is not required. I can afford a few macbook airs to say the least, however I cannot justify this price against what I believe a far better product at about a quarter of the price.

The people who buy this however will probably find that within a few years they're bankrupt. There is a time and place for slightly increased style value for a premium THIS IS NOT IT!


September 5, 2009, 8:32 pm

"BOFH: It's true that specs are not so important, but features are. The derision directed at the Air is partly because it is lacking in features, not because of how many GHz or how much memory it has. And personally I don't think it's a very good thing that a manufacturer chooses to focus on looks above all else, not only specs but also praticality and value."

Okay, but that's only YOUR opinion that it's lacking features that you feel are cruicial. I'm an IT professional, I'm writing this on a 17"MBP and have a wide range of suitable geek toys but I could quite happily live with an Air. I don't carry a spare battery as I'm never away from a power socket long enough to need one. I only ever use one USB device at a time, I don't use mobile broadband although I do make use of Wi-Fi. While I'd LIKE an extra USB port on the air it's certainly not a requirement. Oh, and the last time I used an optical drive was to install Leopard over a year ago. Would I buy an Air? No, but that's because I prefer a 15" screen or larger not because of any inherent missing functionality from the Air and I could quite happily use it as my main (and only) machine. It might be stripped to the bone in terms of features but what MUST be there is there. For non-geeks who want a good looking machine it's a valid option and judged on those criteria the overall 8/10 rating is just about spot on IMO.


September 6, 2009, 12:59 am

lol violently at the guy who said Vastly Superior Windows 7

You wish, You really Do


September 6, 2009, 3:14 am

Beautiful machine. Much more balanced than the first one. Fast, quiet, cool, and significantly cheaper for a better spec than its predecessor. Yes it's still expensive, but if you know what you're buying and why then you wont be disappointed. Niche product, but so wonderful - thank goodness Apple don't *just* play it safe.


September 6, 2009, 3:15 am

I find it quite amusing how much of a hard time Techies have with Apple products.

My wife has one pair of 30£ sneakers she wears whenever practical and comfy is needed. She also has about two dozen pairs of fashion "shoes" in varying colors and heel sizes, all of which are reportedly brutal to wear, all of which cost so much more than 30£. She wears them whenever style is in order.

Compared to the compromises these Manolos (et al) demand of my wife, the MacBook Air is a marvel of usability and reasonable pricing. And all MBA users can be assumed to have a practical computer somewhere at home.

We have to understand that the target demographic of computers has changed in the last 10 years. They're not used solely by people who need them for work or by people who are geeked out by the technology anymore, they have become a lifestyle item. Very few people actually HAVE to check their mails every hour and "work" while sipping a coffee at Starbucks.

And lifestyle items are usually purchased on what the marketing folks call add-on value. Just about any Laptop on the face of the earth will beat the MBA in either price and/or functionality (core value). None beats it in terms of style and flaunting appeal (added value).

Nothing objectively justifies buying a Jaguar, BMW or Lexus over a Daihatsu or KIA. The core values - transportation, mileage, practicability - will be matched or exceeded by the cheaper cars, but the add-on values of style and flauntability sported by premium cars will justify the higher price tag for a lot of people.

With all that said, I have to agree that 7/10 for value and 8/10 overall don't feel right.


September 6, 2009, 4:58 am

@Ironduke: I think he means vastly superior to Vista. If he meant superior to OSX, well that's a whole other discussion... :)


September 6, 2009, 5:36 am


Indeed he did, I just don't agree with him in this case. I'd compare the Air to a BMW Z3. It's a hairdresser's laptop.


September 6, 2009, 10:28 am

pure form over function

@BOFH_UK and Geoff Richards thanks for keeping the mac clown quotient up

Geoff Richards

September 6, 2009, 12:06 pm

@Max / Godfrey / frank - that's fine guys. Don't buy one if it doesn't suit your needs. I was just pointing out that the single USB isn't automatically a deal-breaker for everyone.

As it happens, the £1,300 pricepoint is the deal-breaker for me. £300 netbook ain't as sexy, but gets the job done.


September 6, 2009, 2:20 pm

No, no, I really did mean Win7 is superior to everything else. It's bloody brilliant!

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