Battle: Is the New Apple MacBook Air Worth the Upgrade?

By Louis Ramirez, dealnews senior feature writer

The MacBook Air, Apple's sexiest system, has figuratively received a fresh new coat of paint. But are the spec bumps and new operating system enough to justify an upgrade? We compare last year's entry-level model with today's to find out.

MacBook Air 11" 2010 vs MacBook Air 11" 2011

MacBook Air 11" 2010
MacBook Air 11" 2011
1.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo
1.6GHz Intel Core i5 Sandy Bridge dual-core
11.6" LED-backlit 1366x768
11.6" LED-backlit 1366x768
SSD Storage
2.3 lbs.
2.38 lbs.
Mac OS X
Snow Leopard (10.6)
Lion (10.7)
Other features
Bluetooth 2.1, Mini DisplayPort, 2 USB ports, Mic-in, FaceTime camera
Bluetooth 4.0, Thunderbolt port, backlit keyboard, Mini DisplayPort, 2 USB ports, Mic-in, FaceTime camera
Rated Battery
up to 5 hours
up to 5 hours
*Manufacturer price

One of the MacBook Air's most noteworthy upgrades is concealed under the laptop's wafer-sized hood; the new model includes Intel's Sandy Bridge-based Core i5 processor, a beefy upgrade over last year's Core 2 Duo–based CPU. The benefits to the upgraded CPU include better multitasking, a better video-streaming experience, and enhanced graphics capabilities. Owners of Apple's previous generation MacBook Air might have noticed slight stuttering when streaming HD videos, but the Sandy Bridge CPU promises to smoothen out that experience.

Another big upgrade is the inclusion of Mac OS X Lion. The new software comes pre-installed in the 2011 MacBook Air and brings some of iOS 4's best features straight to your laptop, including enhanced gesture support, a new full-screen view of your apps, and better integration of the Apple App Store within the OS.

Minor upgrades include a Thunderbolt port (which supports data transfer rates of up to 10Gbps and purports to allow up to eight simultaneous uncompressed 720p streams), Bluetooth 4.0, and the addition of a backlit keyboard, a nice perk for in-the-dark Web surfing.

At $999, the 2011 MacBook Air is a powerful machine sporting a current generation Intel processor, Apple's latest OS, and more than enough horsepower for mainstream computing. If you don't already own a 2010 MacBook Air, the 2011 model is a no-brainer purchase. However, owners of the 2010 MacBook Air should think twice before upgrading. Sure, the new version out-values last year's model, but the price of admission is still steep. At the very least, we'd recommend waiting a few days or selling your current laptop on a site such as Gazelle (which as of this writing is offering $499 for a mint-condition 2010 MacBook Air) before taking the plunge on a new model.

Additionally, keep in mind that Apple has just cut up to $80 off refurbished models of the previous-generation MacBook Air, as reported on dealnews earlier today.

An avid gadget lover, Louis Ramirez has covered technology for Gizmodo, CNET, Laptop, and various other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @LouisRamirez. You can also sign up for an email alert for all dealnews features.
DealNews may be compensated by companies mentioned in this article. Please note that, although prices sometimes fluctuate or expire unexpectedly, all products and deals mentioned in this feature were available at the lowest total price we could find at the time of publication (unless otherwise specified).


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Could not agree more, these standard wars are hurting consumers. Especially when inferior standards are winning. A prime example was the Blu-ray vs. HDDVD war. While the capacity of an HD DVD was less, the speed at which information could be obtained on an HD DVD was much greater. They were also less expensive to produce. Ultimately, Sony signed more deals with the producers and essentially bought their way to victory. Another prime example of the customer being screwed was Betamax vs. VHS.
Thunderbolt is just another closed platform that consumers are going to invest in because they are stupid. I would have liked to see USB 3.0 take ground, as it is an open standard, but instead Apple is spending top-dollar to promote this thunderbolt garbage. I'm frustrated by the stupidity of the consumer. We're in essence abusing ourselves by supporting this crap.
I like the fact that it is a progress. But what I don't like is to be stucked in this war of "connector standard" between companies. The customers are the one ended up suffering by having devices that no longer works with the new connector or incompatible with non apple devices. I wish all devices are using the same connectivity and allows easy interchange rather than having to buy extra converters every year.
The reason i'm crazy about the thunderbolt is the lightning fast transfer speed. In this way, you can save all your data on the external storage but don't feel any slowing down when you access those files.
Dan de Grandpre (DealNews)
Thunderbolt is indeed a minor upgrade, but when you add the 27" Thunderbolt Display, it's a *major* upgrade. Incredibly sweet. Unfortunately, that adds a staggering $999 to the price.