MacBook Air 11-inch Not So Much A Netbook As It May Seem

Submitted by lalit on October 30, 2010 - 4:37pm.

Many bloggers and even some reviewers are calling the new 11-inch MacBook Air Apple’s premium netbook rather than a laptop or notebook. Their conclusions are based on screen size and smaller storage and not on actual performance of the new laptop. If you look at performance figures of the 11-inch MacBook Air a totally different picture emerges. To find out where MacBook Air stands, lets compare performance of the new laptop with some popular netbooks.

As you can see in the image on top 1.6GHz MacBook Air scored 2280 and the 1.4GHz MacBook Air scored 2026 on Geekbench 2. The benchmarking tool measures processor and memory performance of the laptop. In comparison HP Mini 210 and Dell Inspiron Mini 1011 netbooks scored 930 and 853 respectively on Geekbench. So, MacBook Air is about 2.4x faster than HP Mini 210 and 2.6x faster than Dell Mini 1011.

The fact is, Intel Atom and Intel Core 2 Duo are two totally different processor architectures and even though the processor frequency (1.6GHz) matches, the performance offered by Atom can’t compare with performance offered by Core 2 Duo lineup. Even the next generation Atom processor will offer just 20% performance boost over existing lineup, which won’t come anywhere near Core 2 Duo.

From Geekbench 2 scores, the difference between MacBook Air and netbooks is quite apparent, and yet we haven’t looked at two main features, which make the new laptop super fast – NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics and Flash storage sub-system.

Graphics performance of a system can be tested by using benchmarking tool 3DMark06.  In PC Magazine’s test, MacBook Air scored 4,569 on 3DMark06, whereas Dell Mini 1011 scored 132 and HP Mini 210 scored 146. So when it comes to graphics the new MacBook Air is 32x faster than both the netbooks.

The NVIDIA GeForce 320M on MacBook Air offers 5x performance even when compared to Intel’s latest HD graphics chipset used in many laptops today. And Intel HD graphics isn’t coming to netbooks anytime soon.

Now the most important feature Flash storage sub-system, which makes the new MacBook Air more responsive and faster than most laptops available today let alone the netbooks. As you can see in the graph above in our test 11-inch MacBook Air boots in just 16 seconds, whereas HP Mini 210 took 84 seconds to boot and Dell Mini 1011 took 90 seconds. In the test all three machines were cold booted with no application launching at startup. Also iTunes library with 10GB of songs took just 3 seconds to launch on MacBook Air compared to over 20 seconds on both netbooks, again showing speed advantage and responsiveness offered by Flash storage sub system.

With performance like this how can someone compare a MacBook Air to a netbook? MacBook Air is a sleek, sexy and powerful laptop, which is both thinner and lighter than any 10-inch netbook available today, but with 5x the performance.