MacBook Air i5 vs i7 – Is the upgrade worth it?

Both the MacBook Air 11 inch and 13 inch models come standard with an Intel Core i5 processor. For $100 (13″ model) or $150 (11″ model), there’s an option to upgrade to a faster Intel Core i7 processor.

People are asking “Is the upgrade to a MacBook Air i7 worth it? What’s the i5 vs i7 performance difference?”. This MacBook Air i5 i7 comparison reviews the information needed to decide whether to buy the i5 or i7 MacBook Air.

MacBook Air i5 vs i7 – The Short Answer

The short answer on MacBook Air i7 vs i5 is:

  • The Core i5 processor is already plenty fast enough for most people.
  • i7 upgrade for MacBook Air 13″: The performance gains from upgrading the 13 inch MacBook Air to an i7 be hard to notice – around a 10% speedup. Probably not worth it.
  • i7 upgrade for MacBook Air 11″: The i7 upgrade will make a bigger difference for the 11 inch MacBook Air – around 25% faster than the i5. Worth it for some.
  • People who would find the upgrade to the i7 worthwhile would be those doing heavy media work, particularly video encoding, or people who are very speed-sensitive.

Read on for if you want to know more. You’ll also find out where you may find a new MacBook Air more cheaply.

If this already answers the i5 vs i7 question for you, please click the Tweet or Google +1 buttons at the top of the article to share it – it just takes a moment. Thanks!

All the Latest MacBook Air Models are Fast

MacBook Air i5 13 inch mid-2011 photo taken from high/front

MacBook Air i7 or i5 – that is the question

By way of comparison, I want to explain that all the latest MacBook Air models are fast and responsive. I have a late-2010 MacBook Air 11″ which uses a Core 2 Duo processor. This CPU is old technology – it’s at least two generations behind current CPUs. Despite the slow processor and my “performance sensitivity”, my late-2010 Air is still a pleasure to use. The fast response of the solid state disk (SSD) and the basic hardware graphics acceleration make the older Air quite responsive.

The place where I most notice the slower processor in my late-2010 MacBook Air is web browsing. Complex web pages would pop straight up on my 2010 MacBook Pro i7 (also with an SSD). The same web pages could take perhaps two seconds longer on my late-2010 MacBook Air and I can watch the page assemble in the browser.

So the late-2010 MacBook Air model, even though it uses slow two year old processor technology is already very enjoyable to use, even for a performance nut like me. Now consider that the 2011/2012 MacBook Airs can be twice as fast.

The New MacBook Airs are Twice as Fast as the Last Model

The 2011/2012 MacBook Air laptops use cutting edge CPUs, using Intel’s Sandy Bridge design. While these are low power CPUs running at 1.6 to 1.8 GHz speeds, they can burst up to 2.9 GHz, depending on the model.

MacBook Air i5 11 Inch 2011 / 2012 About This Mac Overview window, showing the i5 with a speed of 1.6GHz

The MacBook Air i5 11-inch model works at 1.6 to 2.3 GHz

Apple’s marketing, which we could expect is best case, puts the 2011 / 2012 MacBook Air at up to 2.5 times faster than the late-2010 model. Benchmarks performed by CNET put the new MacBook Air at 1.9 to 3 times faster. Wow!

The other surprising result from CNET’s benchmark numbers is that the new MacBook Air 13″ i5 seems to be the equal of the current MacBook Pro 13″ in terms of media processing. This is very impressive, given the Pro’s CPU runs at a base speed of 2.3 GHz, while the Air’s CPU runs at a base speed of 1.7 GHz. Note that the MacBook Pro (MBP) in this comparison was using a hard disk, not a solid state disk like the Air.

The MacBook Air also beats some old MacBook Pros. Here’s a video showing a MacBook Air i5 beating a 2010 MacBook Pro 15″ Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz:

(Source: BlackPrince310 on YouTube. Thanks BlackPrince!)

The excellent results of the MacBook Air against MacBook Pros led me to look up the GeekBench numbers for my MacBook Pro 15″ i7 2.66GHz dual core, purchased August 2010. It’s the last model MacBook Pro, before the quad core models were released.

Horror. The these tiny little MacBook Air i7 models are benchmarking on par with my top of the line last-model MacBook Pro i7. These new Sandy Bridge ultra low voltage chips have incredible performance. The MacBook Air i7 completely obsoletes my ten month old MacBook Pro – it’s lighter, smaller, cheaper and – 3D graphics aside – just as fast.

What does this all mean? It means all the current MacBook Air models are fast and responsive, including the base models with the i5 processor. Most people will be very pleased with the performance of any of the new MacBook Air models.

The Difference Between the i5 vs i7

The i5 & i7 CPUs in the 2011/2012 MacBook Airs are dual core processors. They can literally perform two separate tasks at the same time, independently and at full speed. It’s like having two people working on two jobs at once – twice as much work can get done.

The i7 processor used to have a unique advantage over the i5 in that it had hyperthreading. Hyperthreading lets a CPU core do some work in parallel. It’s kind of like getting one person to do two jobs at one. Like using one hand to agitate a stir fry, while using the other hand to stir a stew – it’s a limited kind of doing two things at once. When one task gets complex, the parallelism breaks down. Hyperthreading can increase performance up to 30%, but typically the gain is less.

The MacBook Air i5 13 inch mid-2011's About This Mac Overview window, showing a base speed of 1.7 GHz

The MacBook Air i5 13-inch model works at 1.7 to 2.5 GHz

Intel has bequeathed the hyperthreading technology to the i5 processor in the new MacBook Air. With the inclusion of hyperthreading in the i5 CPU, the i7’s historical speed advantage is substantially reduced.

One place where the i7 still trumps the i5 is that the i7 has a larger on-chip cache than the i5 – 4 MB instead of 3 MB. A larger cache can speed up intensive operations like video encoding.

The i7 is also said to have better power management than the i5, but I don’t have this information from a confirmed source. I’d be pleasantly surprised if uses less power than an i5 running at a lower clock speed.

Both the i5 and i7 Include a Graphics Processor on Chip

Did you know that both the i5 and i7 processors have a graphics processor built onto the chip? It’s called Intel HD Graphics 3000. It’s fine for 2D graphics, and basic 3D graphics. It will happily drive a very high resolution external display (greater than full HD).

The 3D graphics are only good enough for basic games. If you want fast 3D graphics, for example to play modern games, get a MacBook Pro.

i5 vs i7 Speed in the MacBook Air

The table below details the base and maximum speeds of the i5 & i7 CPUs used in each of the 2011/2012 MacBook Air models. Cache size is also included.

Model CPU Base GHz Max GHz Cache
MacBook Air 11″ (Stock) i5‑2467M 1.6 GHz 2.3 GHz 3 MB
MacBook Air 13″ (Stock) i5‑2557M 1.7 GHz 2.7 GHz 3 MB
MacBook Air 11″ or 13″ with i7 CPU upgrade i7‑2677M 1.8 GHz 2.9 GHz 4 MB

(Source: CNET)

Notice that the same i7 processor is used for the CPU upgrade in both the 11 and 13 inch models.

As mentioned earlier, the table clearly shows the i5’s have 3MB cache in the processor, while the i7 has 4MB. The larger cache in the i7 can confer a processing speed advantage for certain types of work, e.g. music production, video post-production and large image editing.

Comparing i7 vs i5 Performance

If we compare the maximum GHz, in the MacBook Air 11 inch there’s a big gap between the i5 and i7 processors. The gap is 2.3 GHz to 2.9 GHz; the i7 is 26% faster just in terms of raw clock cycles. That’s before we factor in the advantage of a bigger cache and any superiority in the i7’s processing architecture.

Benchmarks comparing the 11″ MacBook Air i7 vs i5 in the wild confirm the difference. Matt Pakes writes:

We have both models of the 2011 11″ MBA here at the office, and early benchmarks (XBench, Geekbench) show that the 1.8 GHz i7 is roughly 25% faster than the 1.6 GHz i5. I haven’t tested the 1.7 GHz i5 from the 13″ MBA.

I can’t speak to the battery life yet, but the increased performance looks like a good value if you’re using it for CPU-intensive tasks.

(Source: quora.com)

The gap between the i5 in the 13 inch Air and the i7 upgrade is less pronounced. From the 13 inch i5’s 2.7 GHz max clock speed to the i7’s 2.9 GHz is just a 7.4% difference in raw clock cycles. The i7 architecture and cache would have to deliver big gains to expand this difference enough to make it noticeable. I’m still looking for a benchmark to confirm this in the wild. If you see one, please leave a comment below.

It’s possible that the i7, given its larger cache and potential internal architectural advantages over the i5, could perform significantly better than the i5 for media processing tasks. I haven’t seen any media benchmarks yet showing the i7 streaking ahead of the i5 with the comparable max clock speed.

Note that if you look on i5 or i7 benchmark results on the web to help make your decision, make sure the benchmark specifically compares the Sandy Bridge Ultra Low Voltage (ULV) Intel Core i5 and i7 processors used in the MacBook Airs. Other i5 & i7 models, especially older generations, have different characteristics, so benchmarks comparing them probably won’t tell you much.

Performance Difference between 11 inch and 13 inch MacBook Air i7

Is there any difference in performance between the 13″ MacBook Air i7 and the 11″ MacBook Air i7? Yes, but hard to notice. AnandTech found the 13 inch i7 Mac Air to be about 5% faster than the 11 inch i7 Mac Air for Cinebench.

Cinebench is written to take advantage of multiple processor cores through multithreading of its code. There’s very almost no difference in performance between the 11 or 13 inch Mac Air i7 for single threaded apps. Very few people would notice this small performance difference, which shows only under heavy processing in multithreaded apps.

The 13″ Air is a little faster under heavy multicore load probably because with its larger size it can disperse more heat. The i7 would need to slow down less often to stop from overheating. The difference could be more pronounced between the 11 and 13 inch MacBook Air if you use your Air in warm climates without airconditioning.

Given the performance for the i7 processor is indistinguishable between the 13 inch and 11 inch MacBook Air, people can choose between the two MacBook Air sizes for reasons other than performance. (By the way, there’s some differences between the MacBook Air 11 inch and 13 inch models that aren’t obvious. If you’re interested, see my comparison guide to choose between a MacBook Air 13 or 11 inch.)

i5 vs i7 Battery Life

Battery tests show similar battery life for the MacBook Air between the Core i5 and i7 processors. In a battery benchmark at AnandTech, looping playing a video in fullscreen, the:

  • 11 inch i5 MacBook Air got 1% more battery time (3 minutes)
    than the 11 inch i7 MacBook Air, and the
  • 13 inch i5 MacBook Air got 9% more battery time (27 minutes)
    than the 13 inch i7 MacBook Air.

Jason Snell at Macworld has similar findings on MacBook Air i5 vs i7 battery life as AnandTech. Jason writes:

The increased speed of the build-to-order Core i7 processor option didn’t have a major impact on battery life, either.

There’s at least one case where that the battery life may not be so close. If you’re burning one or two of the CPU cores at 100%, you could use battery more quickly on the i7. This could happen with a badly written Flash banner on a website, for example. It would also happen while encoding video, but your video encode would complete more quickly.

For more info on the Air’s battery life, tips how to double your battery, and keep your MacBook Air cool and quiet,  see my article on MacBook Air Battery Life.

Should I Upgrade to the i7?

If you’re just doing normal tasks like web browsing & word processing, and are not hyper-sensitive to speed I would not buy the i7 upgrade. Stick with the i5.

If you’re buying an 11 inch MacBook Air and you’re doing regular processor intensive work, such as video editing, editing large images with Photoshop or complex music production or you notice & appreciate subtle improvements in speed, pay the $150 to upgrade to the i7. You’ll get a 25%+ speed boost for processor-intensive work.

If you’re buying a 13 inch MacBook Air you’ll probably only see around a 10% speed improvement for processor-intensive work from buying the $100 i7 upgrade. Most people will never notice the difference from the i7, so the upgrade for the 13″ model is probably not worth it. This small performance gain might still be worth it people doing lots of work with media or people who are hypersensitive to speed.

Save Money on a New MacBook Air

If you’d like to save a bit off your new MacBook Air, but you still want to buy from a trustworthy source, it’s worth checking Amazon’s current prices. Amazon have a lot of buying power, so they can often afford to give a discount. Here are direct links to MacBook Air models & prices at Amazon:

Why are no i7 MacBook Air links included above? This is because Amazon sell the i5 models above themselves, and I trust Amazon. There are i7 models listed on Amazon, but these are offered by third party sellers.

Note that if you click a link above and choose to buy your MacBook Air from Amazon: (a) you may save money off your new MacBook Air, and (b) Amazon will pay me a commission. This enables me write more good Mac articles. I hope this is a win for both of us.

Thank You!

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125 Responses to MacBook Air i5 vs i7 – Is the upgrade worth it?

  1. Jonatan says:

    What to buy the 13 inch or 11 inch?

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Jonatan,

      That’s a great question. In the past I’ve bought the wrong size laptop and regretted my purchase.

      There’s also some differences between the 11″ and 13″ MacBook Air models that are not obvious.

      I’ve just written an article to answer your question: Should I get the 11 inch or 13 inch MacBook Air?

      There’s a comment below from Karl that only you can make the right decision. I agree. The article I wrote will just gives some facts and experience that may help you choose.

      Hope it helps Jonatan! :-)

      -Taz.

  2. Karl says:

    What to buy? Crazy Question.. Would you like a BMW3 oder BMW5…. No one can give you the right answer.. the only person who know, what you are want – is you!

    😉

  3. David says:

    I have read so many entries and first user reports, I’ve watched so many first user comparisons on youtube. I think the i5 in the MBA 13″ is the right one, at least for me.

    For me it’s like a comparison between Mercedes-Benz E 500 (i5) and a Mercedes-Benz E 63 AMG (i7) with speed limit because I use my Macbook mostly for: Mail, Safari, Office Suits, iTunes (Movies, Music), a little Photoshop, Aperture, Social Networks… And so I think I don’t need a faster processor.

    I’ve ordered a 13″ Macbook Air with i5. This video has influenced my decision:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0iS7pBOFz8A

  4. Charles says:

    Thanks for the article. This is currently the best article on Macbook air’s 2011 i5vsi7. Here is a link with many of the benchmarks needed for the 13″ comparisons.
    http://www.appleinsider.com/articles/11/07/23/first_look_apples_new_11_and_13_inch_thunderbolt_macbook_air.html

    Keep the good articles coming.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Charles,

      Thanks so much for the correction and the valuable benchmarks.
      I’ll update the article with the new info shortly.

      Thanks so much – you rock!

      -Taz.

  5. James says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the great articles on macbook air 2011 (i5/i7).

    Since the first day of release, I have been trying to figure out which macbook to buy.. I finally decided to go all out and get the i7 13″… I figure I do a LOT of video encoding through handbrake and so I thought I might as well just get the maxed out version. the battery might be affected a bit by the i7 but oh well.. I guess we shall see in a few days time. I will try to post about battery usage if anyone else hasnt posted yet.

    Cheers,
    James

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      James,

      Thanks for the appreciation! :-)

      It would be great to hear your experience of the i7 battery.

      Unless Apple has preconditioned the battery, it will take a few full discharge / recharge cycles for the battery to reach it’s maximum charge.

      I’m sure you will be really happy with the 13″ i7!

      -Taz.

  6. Steve says:

    Great comparison, Thanks !
    For some time I have been considering a MacBook Air, having recently sold my MBP 15 and bought an iMac. As my job involves traveling and I am always on the move, as well as the fact that I find myself using CDs and DVDs less and less away from home, the Air is becoming a good idea especially where weight savings are considered.
    So this article is perfect especially for someone wondering about the sense of upgrading on the 13″ model’s processor. If I was still in graphics, and as it always feels cool to have the top line, then maybe, but these days, what you actually need works where spending is concerned. Your article made it easier to use common sense :)

    Steve

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Thanks Steve for your story and the appreciation! :-)

      I’ve had a similar experience:

      I was lugging my MacBook Pro to and from work every day. It’s not that heavy, but I noticed the weight. And I don’t need the super graphics acceleration in the Pro for web development work.

      I’m so glad I switched to the Air. It’s so light, I sometimes have to open up backpack to check its actually in there. It’s never any trouble to carry around.

      My favorite trick is the portable dual screen system that weighs 4 pounds (2kg). I sometimes bring my iPad and link it as a second screen. As a screen, the iPad responds a little slowly (due to WiFi), but it’s fine for keeping a web page, email or instant messaging session in sight while I work on the other screen. I still haven’t tried this with the Personal Hotspot feature on my iPhone – with the 3G wireless internet, it would be a completely portable & light two screen Mac setup.

      I have dreams of sitting by the ocean at a table under a tree doing web development… 😀

      You’re ahead of me on selling the MBP 15″. I’ve kept it until now because it’s so much faster than my late 2010 MacBook Air 11″. The thought just occurred to me yesterday: With the faster processors in the new MacBook Air, and my gaming days pretty much over, I don’t need my Pro anymore.

      Perhaps the funds from the sale can go towards a Thunderbolt display. :-)

      Thanks again Steve!

      • Freddie says:

        Thank you guys for these very helpful article and tips – I am in the same situation i.e. dragging a heavy Mac Book on the road all the time is dreadful. Can’t wait to get a new MBA; though in case case my current MacBook is a 2006 2GHz Core Duo, so I am going to be FLYING on the new MBA!!!!

      • Jeff Bridges says:

        Thanks for this helpful comparison, Tasman. I really like the idea of a portable two-screen solution–what app/software do you use to make that happen?

  7. Marco says:

    Hi,

    Thanks for the article.

    In your opinion is Macbook Pro (13 inch) still significantly faster than this new MBA?

    Or with this new upgrade are they similar in terms of performance?

    Thank You again and sorry for my bad English.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Marco, that’s a great question – thank you.

      Based on the benchmark numbers I’ve seen, the new mid-2011 MacBook Air 13″ is as fast as the current model MacBook Pro 13″ (released early 2011).

      The exception to this is if you’re doing activities that use the faster graphics processor in the MBA Pro 13″, such as 3D modelling or playing games. For 3D graphics, the MacBook Pro 13 inch will be faster than the MacBook Air 13 inch. (If you need fast 3D graphics, you really want the MacBook Pro 15 inch or 17 inch models.)

      I wouldn’t get the Pro unless I wanted the MacBook Pro’s:

      1. extra built-in ports (e.g. Ethernet, Firewire),
      2. fast 3D graphics,
      3. built in DVD drive,
      4. the ability to run the OS X kernel in 64-bit mode, or
      5. support for two external Thunderbolt displays (instead of just one).

      I’ve had two friends buy the MBP 13″ recently instead of the MBA 13″ just because they like to watch DVDs on their laptop in bed!

      Hope this helps your decision Marco. :-)

  8. Kirill says:

    Thank you for the interesting article about 11”. If I decided to upgrade i5 to i7 do you have an idea how the battery life will be changed in 11”?
    Thanks in advance

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      I’ve been thinking about this question too Kirill.

      What we really need is some tested real world numbers comparing the battery life for MacBook Air 11″ i5 vs i7.
      I don’t presently have any. Does anybody have a link?

      Until the real numbers come in, I want to give you something, so here is a very unreliable estimate of the MacBook Air 11″ i7’s battery life.

      Apple says the battery life for the MacBook Air i5 11 inch for web browsing is five hours.

      From this we can make an estimate for the battery life of a MacBook Air i7 11 inch based on the following facts and assumptions:

      1. Assumption: For a web browsing type workload, the CPUs will be mostly idle, and so at their base clock rate most of the time.
      2. Fact: The i5 processor in the MBA 11 runs at a base clock rate of 1.6GHz
      3. Fact: The i7 processor in the MBA 11 runs at a base clock rate of 1.8GHz
      4. Big assumption: The superior power management I’ve seen mentioned of the i7 over the i5 makes a negligible difference in real terms.
      5. Assumption: The power use of the i5 and i7 processors in the MacBook Air are roughly the same at the same clock speed.
      6. Assumption: The processors’ power use will be roughly proportional to its clock speed.

      There’s a lot of unreliable assumptions in there that a microprocessor engineer, should they ever visit this page, will have a field day with me… 😀

      From this, we get a completely untrustworthy estimate of 5 hours x 1.6 ÷ 1.8, which gives four and a half hours battery life for web browsing on the mid-2011 MacBook 11 inch i7. In other words, if you’re not slamming your Air with a heavy workload, you’ll probably get roughly 10% less battery life with the i7 over the i5.

      The i7 probably has more capacity to drink your batteries life, as it can fly up to much higher clock rates (up to 2.9 GHz) than the i5 in the MBA 11 (up to 2.3 GHz). Balancing this, the i7 will complete the work 25% more quickly. By Bjorn’s reasoning below, the i7 probably uses less battery power to complete processor intensive tasks. It’s hard to say without some benchmarks.

      This is mostly conjecture and could be embarrassingly wrong. Real numbers welcome!

      • Björn says:

        Assumptions :)

        Task A takes 10 minutes for the i5 processor.
        With the i7’s 25% boost, task A should take 7.5 minutes.
        i5: 10 minutes of workload reduce the battery with X %.
        i7: 7.5 minutes of workload reduce the battery with Y %.
        Most likely, Y < X.

        We can use the car comparison again. A BMW M5 is a thirsty piece of machinery, but compared to a Skoda Fabia with a 80 hp engine, it needs less fuel to climb a hill.

  9. Ted Ennvi says:

    Very helpful articles (I include Taz’s in this). I did go to my local Apple store with no idea as to which MBA I was likely to choose & it was love at first sight for the 11″. Having said this, I still didn’t bring the beast home with me because I am getting some last minute doubts about battery life. Will definitely go for the full upgrade though whichever model, as I hate slow(er) computers. Overall, as an almost constant traveller, I think the 11″ will be the right choice considered aeroplane tray space, available hand luggage volume and simple usability when on the move (often in very restricted environments with no ‘elbow room’).

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Thanks for your comment Ted. :-)

      I agree. The 11 inch Air is just great to travel with. It’s never awkward.

      I’m still surprised I can happily work for hours on such a small screen.

  10. azmacair says:

    Thanks for an excellent article, but I’m sorry to report that someone is ripping off your work already:

    (url deleted)

  11. Mr Happy says:

    Great analysis. Hadn’t heard of maccrazy until now. Bookmarked. Keep up the great work.

  12. John says:

    Hello Tasman, thanks for the great review.

    Just wondering, will i5 vs i7 have a significant impact on gaming (with the 13′)? I understand the MBA is not the way to go for gaming (i.e. might as well go with a MBP), but should someone choose to use it would there be significant differences?

    • azmacair says:

      Gaming is more dependent on the GPU, and given that the i7 and i5 both include the same Intel HD 3000 graphics chip, you’re not going to see much difference. Look here:

      http://www.barefeats.com/mbpp21.html

      The performance difference between the i7 and i5 utilizing the same G330M graphics card is negligible (the i7 with the R4850 video card screams in comparison however, but that’s more due to the video card).

      Hope that helps.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Thanks for the quality answer Azmacair – much appreciated! 😀

  13. Alvin says:

    Great article. I was just wondering if there is any significant differences in performance between MBA 11″ i7 and 13″ i7.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Alvin,

      Thanks for your question! :-)

      The i7 is the same processor in both models (I7-2667M). The graphics processor is the same – it’s built into the i7 chip. The RAM is the same size and same speed – 4GB DDR3 at 1333MHz.

      So in theory the performance should be near identical. Still, there could be differences. For example, Apple could have setup the power management on the 11″ Air to be more aggressive to cater for its smaller batteries. (Total conjecture!)

      I decided to check this against some benchmarks. The Geekbench 64-bit benchmark comes in with these numbers:
      11 inch mid-2011 MacBook Air – 6243
      13 inch mid-2011 MacBook Air – 6504

      This puts the MacBook Air 13″ i7 at 4% faster than the MacBook Air 11″ i7. In practice this difference would be very hard to notice.

      To answer your question Alvin, there’s not a significant difference between the 11 inch Air i7 and 13 inch Air i7.

  14. Huey Cheng says:

    Great article. I have a 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 13-inch, Mid 2009 Macbook Pro. I have a 160 gb hard-drive. 100 is filled mainly with music mp3 files. I like to play iTunes while surfing the net, occasionally using microsoft powerpoint or word, with mail, chat in the background. my computer becomes pretty laggy and I have to wait anywhere from 10 seconds to 1 minute waiting for things to fully load. I want a 11″ Macbook Air that will not lag despite the number of song files I have. I want it to be fast. Should I upgrade to the i7 or will the i5 do just fine?

    • azmacair says:

      In my unscientific opinion, your memory (I’m guessing you only have 2GB of ram) and (non-solid state) hard drive are probably more to blame for the lag than the CPU. If you get 4GB of ram with a Mac Air, in conjunction with the standard SSD disk, you should experience no lag with just casual usage regardless of what CPU you choose.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Huey,

      Awesome question! Thanks for making it so clear and specific. You paint a really clear picture. :-)

      Thanks Azmacair for your answer – I agree!

      So you like to keep a lot of apps open at the same time? Me too!

      Delays of a minute are likely to be waits for disk access. The flash storage (SSD) used by the Air will help this greatly.

      The flash storage is so quick that you’d probably get away with 2GB of RAM for all those apps, but to be safe, I’d get 4GB of RAM – especially as the RAM for the MacBook Air is only meant to be upgraded at purchase time. This larger RAM size will likely also increase the useful life of your MacBook Air.

      Hope this helps Huey!

      -Taz.

  15. Fernando says:

    Wonderful article and very easy to understand!
    Do you think is worth the upgrade from the previous Macbook air to the new one?

    Thank you.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Fernando!

      Is it worth upgrading from a late-2010 MacBook Air to a new mid-2011 MacBook Air?

      Are you happy with your current MacBook Air’s performance? If you’re happy with the performance your current MacBook Air, then it’s probably not worth upgrading.

      A new MacBook Air will about twice as fast for processor (CPU) intensive tasks. Despite this, the majority of people will probably not notice any difference between the late-2010 and a mid-2011 MacBook Air.

      To illustrate this, a story:

      I was visiting my sister’s house. Her Internet was so slow I was getting really frustrated. I investigated and found a cabling problem. After fixing it, I tested her Internet connection. Her internet connection now had 43 times the bandwidth and was several times faster for loading web pages. Neither my sister, nor her husband, noticed any difference after several days of use.

      Chances are if you’re reading an article on i5 vs i7 for MacBook air, you might be the type of person who may notice the performance difference. Do you notice short lags on your current MacBook Air, like with loading complex web pages? Do you regularly do processor intensive work, like video editing & encoding or making music?

      To decide, I’d recommend going into an Apple Store and trying a new MacBook Air, doing the sorts of activities you normally do. Do you notice a difference with the new MacBook Air? Is the difference big enough to buy a new MacBook Air?

      If you perceive and appreciate the speed & responsiveness of the new MacBook Air, then it may be worth upgrading.
      Consider: Is the performance improvement worth the cost for you?

      The other reason you might want to upgrade to the new MacBook Air is if you really want a Thunderbolt port. Through a Thunderbolt port, you can connect high speed external storage, like RAID disk arrays. (They’re already available now from Apple.) You can also connect the 27″ Apple Thunderbolt display, which would give you enormous display with higher than HD 1080p resolution, as well as a Facetime HD camera, and FireWire 800, Gigabit Ethernet and 3 USB ports. It’s like the old school laptop docking stations, except it all comes through one tiny port.

      So if you want to use Thunderbolt displays or peripherals, you might want to upgrade to a new MacBook Air.

      Hope this helps!

      Let me know what you decide Fernando. :-)

      -Taz.

  16. Rich says:

    Does the i7 run hotter and does the fan run more often? I have read in various articles that Apple disabled Turbo boost.

    Finally, I also understand they are using both Toshiba and Samsung flash drives. The Samsung have faster specs. I think it is Toshiba in the base models and Samsung in the upgrades. Can you post which one is in the different models you have? The Toshiba has a T and Samsung an S. Thanks.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Rich,

      From what I’ve seen, the fan in the i7 doesn’t run much at all unless you’re doing video work (e.g. an encode) or you’re in a very hot environment. This makes sense – the low power use (17 watts) would really help keep the i7 cool.

      I’ll ask Apple if I can have some MacBook Air’s to open up for you. In the meantime, if it helps, the disk throughput numbers I’ve seen are excellent. I saw a MBA i5 benchmarked at 241 MB/s write
      and 264 MB/s read. I can’t tell you whether that was the Toshiba or Samsung unit.

      Hope this helps,
      Taz

  17. Davran says:

    An excellent article. Though I am not going to use MBA for graphics-intensive applications (maybe from time to time) nevertheless I have ordered MacBook Air ’13 with i7 – just in any case :)

  18. Cameron Sullivan says:

    Amazing article! I love having a speedy laptop but only do mild video encoding on rare occasions for work. I’ve been planning on buying the 13″ MBA but couldn’t decide which. Before reading, I was planning to upgrade to the top of the line 13″ MBA which is actually a $400 upgrade because the processor isn’t available on the entry level 13″. I was more interested in the processor but double the space on the SSD was nice too.

    After this, I’ve realized I don’t need the i7 upgrade because the speed boost is negligible and I’ll have an external hard drive for my media. Keep up the great work!

  19. Chris Erskine says:

    Just bought the 13″ i7 256gb it’s my first Mac getting anxious for it’s arrival
    My Dell m1330 is going to get dusty it’s trembling like a dog at the pound

    Thought the upgrade was worth it since I was already spending 1599 plus that apple care @ 279…
    I’m planning on keeping it indefinitely!
    Should be here Wed or Thursdeee
    Also went for there airport extreme 5 gen to replace a modern linksys…

  20. Emeryshores says:

    Excellent article! Thanks for breaking it down for those of us who aren’t as well versed in hardware differences.

    So can I actually go into an Apple Store and buy a MBA 11 incher upgraded with the i7 processor? Do they customize those on site or just keep a few with different specs on hand in the store? Or do I have to order the upgraded MBA online? Just wondering because tax free weekend is coming up in TN and I’d love to save 9.25% off of a $1350 laptop! :)

  21. Dale Fawcett says:

    Great article!
    I am a macbook virgin and have been looking at buying a MacBook air for the past few weeks now and have been browsing the web trying out different configurations to see which suited me best and I have narrowed it down to two selections:
    11″ i7
    13″ i5

    I travel all round the world so I would need it to be portable but also have a long battery life. I would love the 11″ but the only thing putting me off is the battery life, will the battery life slowly deteriorate over time on Macbooks? my current laptop only lasts 5 minutes before it needs plugging in rendering it useless on journeys.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Dale,

      Thanks for your question.

      The life of any laptop battery will degrade over time. Any laptop battery will eventually require replacement.

      You will probably get a couple of years from the battery, then want to replace it to get longer life again. Apple offers a fixed price MacBook Air battery replacement service, $129 in the U.S.

      Things you can do to prolong your battery life:

      1. Don’t let your MacBook battery sit drained.
      2. Drain the battery all the way and charge it back up once a month.

      Hope that helps Dale! :-)

      -Taz.

  22. Brucey K says:

    LOVE the article and all the discussion very informative and helpful. There’s a dirth of info on the i7 and the 11″air in general. Seems like evey reviewer got the stock 13 and that’s the main story. For myself I’ve ordered the i7 11. I’ll admit I was beginning to wonder if this was wrong decision. Feel very contented and reassured by everything I’ve read here. I travel 2 hours a day and do a lot of mid-high level photoshop, plus some video work. I have mates who are prepared to lug around huge mega powerfull alienware laptops insane performance but weigh a ton. Since using an ipad, I’ve developed a serious phobia to exess weight! I think this will be perfect for me in the space between my work rig and my home rig. Also stoked when I realised I can use my old imac27 as a second monitor (just for the fun of it).
    It should be arriving in the next few days – whoohoo I’m pumped!!

  23. Jack says:

    Thanks for the great article. I’m currently debating between buying myself a 13″ i5 and i7.

    My question is: Is there an increased (or worry) about overheating with the i7? I don’t think this has been brought up but I’m curious.

    My airbook will be used mostly for university work, though I would like to be able to run WoW on it. Would you recommend the upgrade to the i7 for that? At the cost of potential battery life?

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Jack!

      I assume by overheating, you don’t mean that the laptop stops working because it got too hot, or that it melts into a twisted mass of metal and plastic. :-)

      I’ll assume overheating means the normal behaviour that, when the CPU or graphics processor (GPU) are under medium to heavy load, the case gets hot and the fans run.

      That the case gets hot and the fans run when the laptop is under load is by design. The processor is radiating 17 watts of heat, and it has to go somewhere. The advantage of the aluminium case is that it conducts heat. The fans also help to move heat away.

      The i7 can run up to higher speeds, so in theory it could get hotter. I do have a report of an i5 hot with fans running with just streaming online video. The room temperature will affect this a lot.

      I suspect WoW’s frame rate will be capped by the graphics processor. You will probably not notice any difference for WoW between an i5 and i7. Can anyone confirm this?

      I’ve recall seeing battery life measurements showing the i7 having less battery life (MacWorld) I think. When I find the reference, I’ll let you know.

      Hope this helps,
      -Taz.

      p.s. My late 2010 MacBook Air 11 inch 1.6GHz fan almost never runs. I don’t think I even know how it sounds. If you want an always-quiet-and-cool laptop – with half the CPU speed, and slightly better graphics – consider buying the last MacBook Air model. They’re probably available at quite attractive discounts right now.

  24. Eric Howlett says:

    Great article. Thanks for breaking it down so informatively. However, I’m still left with decisions to make, as I’m not certain which model to go for.

    I’m buying a new laptop which I will use for both work and play, however I have a budget of only $1456. I have decided on the 11″ MBA because of its portability. With this, I can either buy:

    1) 11″ i5 with a 256GB drive $1414
    2) 11″ i7 with a 128GB drive $1284 + external hard drive, and other goodies like adapters

    I’m having a hard time deciding which one I’m going to get the most bang for my buck with. I do have a HUGE media library (500GB and growing), which I would like to access on here, and for the most part I will just be doing word processing, web surfing, light gaming, etc. which makes me lean towards a larger drive, with the i5 processor. However, there are occasions when I manipulate large images for work, with some editing in illustrator/photoshop/imageJ (I’m a scientist) and I also occasionally do file type conversions and video editing, but these occasions are relatively infrequent, and I already have an older, 2.3Ghz core2 duo PC laptop that does these tasks just fine.

    With the option of external hard drives, as well as cloud storage, I wonder if I will get a longer life before obsolescence with the i7, as opposed to worrying over 128GB extra storage that I don’t exclusively NEED anyway. Besides, what good ol’ American male doesn’t want the faster, cooler processor, anyway?

    Anyone have any thoughts?

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Eric!

      I have thoughts! I’ll weigh in with a strong opinion. I trust it will help you decide either way.

      A 25% faster CPU will not give you that much more time until obsolescence. Consider that CPU throughput doubles roughly every two and half years. (Moore’s Law) The performance of the two chips is close enough that you probably won’t notice the difference – most of the time.

      128G of storage is not a lot. Audio, photo, videos, applications, scientific data can fill that up very fast. I have 128G, and I just have room for apps, programming tools and music production software and libraries. No iTunes music. No photos. (They’re all on my MacBook Pro with a big SSD.) A little space left over to shuffle in a video.

      And yet, because I nearly always have the MacBook Air with me, and because it is oh-so-portable, I really wish I had everything on it.

      Yes, I could carry an external drive. I don’t want to. That’s the point – one tiny, little elegant computer. Simple. No cases, cords, things to frig with. Pop it in the sleeve, slip it in the backpack and go! (Okay, I keep an extra power adaptor at work.)

      Cloud storage is great – if you’ve got a reliable, low latency, high throughput network connection everywhere you need the files. What if you want to work at bench under a tree? (Yes, you can use a wireless modem, but it’s plugging stuff in, clicking – it’s time sapped by stuffing around with technology. It’s not transparent yet.)

      I’d go the extra storage – 256G. It will give your MacBook Air a longer useful life than the CPU upgrade. Larger storage will give you the room to put the things you love on your MacBook Air – like your favourite music. You won’t need to drag around an external disk, plug it in, etc.

      Hope this helps – all the best Eric!

      -Taz.

  25. Jonny ungurean says:

    Hey,
    Awesome article! Quick question. The 13″ MBA has 2 more hours battery correct, than the 11″ MBA? Also, I contacted apple and they said only way to get i7 processor on MacBook air is to get the most expensive model,(13″,256 flash memory). Can you get the 11″ any model to go i7? Or is it just the most expensive 13″ you can?
    Thanks. I’m new to this stuff and contacted apple,but this article says 11″ can. Where can you order the customized i7 MacBook from? Link?
    Jonny

  26. Jonny ungurean says:

    Hey one more thing. I wanted to get the MacBook air 11″, but I either wanted i7 processor or the 256GB of flash storage. I can’t do both as it is too expensive. All I really want it for, is mobility, YouTube, Facebook, web, movies, edit YouTube videos and work on school projects like with iMovie and iWork and photoshop stuff. What is better for all of that? i7 processor or 256GB of flash? What would make it go faster? Thanks!!!!!

    • Eric Howlett says:

      That was literally the same question I asked right above yours :)

      I’m still somewhat torn, and have floundered on the issue, but I have decided to go with the 11″ i7 with 128GB SSD. I figure that with cloud storage, and/or external hard drives, 128GB isn’t going to be as much of a limitation for the future as a slower processor will. The i7 will bring the system on par with the high end 13″, and will mean that it will be a slightly longer useable lifetime before it becomes obsolete. Also, the SSD can be upgraded after the fact (if you are a little bit handy, and don’t mind being a warranty-voider).

      Plus, with that extra money, you can buy a nice external hard drive a quality laptop sleeve, and probably a six-pack of beer.

      • Jonny Ungurean says:

        Thanks for the info,
        Im actually going to go with the same as yours, better processor is much better than more memory especially with icloud being released very soon. I didnt know you could upgrade the flash yourself? No im not like that warranty voider lol. Im actually a part time jailbreak developer, haha. Great info, thank you!

  27. Joe Boeing says:

    I have a macbook pro Intel Core2Duo 2.5 GHZ with 512 VRAM and am wondering if a macbook air with i7 with 2 cores will edit better on rendering times with final cut studio 3.

    thanks for answering.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Joe,

      The only way to know is to test it.

      Older versions of Final Cut (circa 2005) only use the CPU for rendering, except for Motion, which uses the GPU.

      Final Cut X, the newest version, uses OpenCL, which can spread work over both the CPU & GPU. The MacBook Air mid-2011 on-CPU-die graphics chip HD 3000, does not do OpenCL. (Apparently the GPU in the Ivy Bridge processor will.) OpenCL can still run on the CPU.

      I can’t determine whether Final Cut Studio 3 uses the GPU at all for non-motion rendering.

      Imagine Final Cut Studio 3 doesn’t use the GPU for rendering. The relative CPU & memory performance, measured via Geekbench, from a MacBook Pro (Early 2008) Intel Core 2 Duo T9300 2.5 GHz, to a MacBook Air 13 inch i7 Mid 2011 is 3290 to 5831.

      That makes the MacBook Air i7 13″ about 75% faster CPU-wise than the MacBook Pro model above.

      Consider:

      • I have read that the ratios of improvement in Geekbench scores are not translating to video encodes. Video encode improvement is less.
      • I don’t know if Final Cut Studio is using the GPU at all for render. If the GPU is used, the graphics card on your MacBook Pro is probably several times faster than the one in the MacBook Air.

      Given this, you could experience some video encode improvement, but it probably won’t be that major. You may also, if encoding uses the GPU, experience a large drop.

      I would definitely test that rendering faster on MacBook Air before purchase!

      A much safer bet for video encoding would be a 15 or 17 inch quad core MacBook Pro.

      Hope this helps Joe. Let me know if you get a chance to test video rendering speed on the MacBook Air.

      -Taz.

  28. moe says:

    i have a late 2009 imac with core 2 duo @ 3.06 ghz wich is my main machine its basicaly up and running 24/7. i also have a early 2011 13″ mac book pro for light video editing web surfing and using garage band. since im on the go for about 16 hours a day i would like to consider buying the 11″ 2011 mac book air with an i7 and 256 gig ssd. to keep in my car.
    any opions?
    oh and if any one can tell me if the stock mac book pro with i5 has turbo boost or not.
    thanx
    oh and i was wondering

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Moe,

      The MacBook Air i7 13″ would be duplicating your MacBook Pro 13″.

      You may find the MacBook Air so light and convenient to use – as well as fast with the SSD – that you’ll probably barely use the MacBook Pro 13″.

      That’s what’s happened to me. I barely use my 15″ MBP anymore.

      Enjoy!
      -Taz.

  29. Dear Apple says:

    What about heat and noise i5 vs i7? Some people says i7 is getting really hot and noisy.

  30. Filly says:

    thx for the nice write-up.
    there’s one thing you (or I missed it while browsing through your article) are not mentioning in the i5-vs-i7:
    i7 supports VT-d, whereas i5 not.
    Next to the described user profiles (for whom an i5/i7 rather might be appropriate),
    there should be one profile added: people who run VMs.
    So VT-d – as I understood – is extremely beneficial for virtual machines in terms of direct I/O. The thing I haven’t found yet is a clear statement if Parallels, VirtualBox, VMware do support it or not yet. But if, how much of a speed bump would it be?

    Privately I use Mac, business-wise I (have to) use “PC notebooks”. So what I faced recently was the problem on a Lenovo, that I got an error message (in this case VMware-based VM), which told me I can’t start up as the VT-capability is disabled. So I enabled the VT-d switch in BIOS (as the Lenovo had an i7 CPU, don’t ask me why this seem to b disabled by default) and got the VM finally running.
    Back to Mac: if I would try the same VM on a Macbook Air i5 instead of i7, my conclusion would be: no, I can’t run that particular VM. Which makes me thinking, if you get VMs requiring this, and you end up buying an i5-based Air, you are stuck. Independently of what you are intending to do inside the VM (can even be non-heavy-based scenarios, like for example playing around with a Linux-setup, etc, etc) , IF you have a VM requiring VT-d, you just can’t use it on i5.
    So this would – for users of VMs – clearly a no-go for i5, and a must-go for i7.

    cheers

    • Thanks Filly. Actually, thanks to your answer, I have finally decided to add i7, despite the heating and noising fears, since I’m going to use Air 13″ for VMs intensively (in addition to simple occasional gaming and usual office-web-etc).

      • Filly says:

        hi sergey, apart from all other points, the most questionmarks people have about seem to be going for 11″ or 13″ and for i5 or i7. While personally I’m clearly in for an 11″, the CPU question is the one most difficult. As mentioned I haven’t found yet clear statements about VMs on Macs in conjunction with VT-d, and I maybe wouldn’t be sensitive on that topic if not I had this issue on a PC notebook just recently. But, this must have something to do with the way how a VM is created in first place and/or which OS has been chosen, I am not sure about that (to make it clear: i haven’t set it up, but just use a VM. The VM’s in question here is running: Red Hat Enterprise Linux 5 64-bit). So I think most VMs should (hopefully) run on i5 as well – else we would most likely have heard in the past a lot of complaints I guess. Therefore I wanted to point out that under certain circumstances (the VT-d requiring VMs) there might be an issue. But I can’t prove it and would be happy if somebody more knowledgeable about this particular feature could comment on this in conjunction with Mac usage. Apart from this: have fun with your new MBA, in either configuration it’ll be a great machine, and going for i7 should definitely not be a drawback in general.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Filly,

      Thanks for your questions and answers.

      It’s not true to say the i5 is a no-go for VMs.
      The i5 is fine.

      The VT-d feature enables better access for VMs to the host machines ports and peripherals. There’s even a possibility of almost directly sharing them.

      VMware Fusion doesn’t support VT-d right now, so VT-d support in the chips is probably not much use. (I haven’t checked Parallels.)

      If you want VT-d support for the future, the i5 in the 13 inch MBA does have VT-d support. The i5 in the 11 inch MBA does not.

      Hope this helps,
      -Taz.

      • Filly says:

        hi taz,
        thanks for your reply. as mentioned, i’m not familiar enough with that to give a 100% confirmation, but just drawing conclusion from what i experienced recently with a VMware image (Red Hat Linux 64bit) running on VMware Player on Win7 64bit. Upon trying to startup the VM it displayed the following message: “You have configured this virtual machine to use a 64-bit guest operating system. However, 64-bit operation is not possible. This host is VT-capable, but VT is disabled. This is usually because VT has been disabled in the BIOS/firmware settings or the host has not been power-cycled since changing this setting. Please…. For more detailed information, see http://vmware.com/info?id=152. Continue without 64-bit support?” I have looked up what I enabled in BIOS: it has been actually 2 switches: “Intel Virtualization Technology” and “Intel VT-d feature”. Looking at the CPU overview table on Anandtech’s review on MBA11″, it lists VT-d (i7 only) and VT-x (both). Actually I am confused now. For sure VM software runs on i5 generally, but I am just not sure if there might be specific VM setups, which do require VT-d (but in case of the Red Hat Linux 64bit VM it might have been the case with the other switch and not with VT-d as such?!)). Although the (VT-d) limitation might be less impacting than maybe thought, the choice for i7 will be not less beneficial, and maybe in some cases really the better choice (especially on 11″ compared to 13″ i5). Regarding heat and noise issues, these are reported very differently (incl. that it is not an issue at all).

        cheers

        • Filly says:

          btw: i was running another VM based on “Red Hat Enterprise Linux 4” on the same machine for months and without the described problem at starting up. The VM settings do not give a quick info if this is 64bit as well, but probably not and probably that’s the main difference to the other VM. So from a VM setup perspective the 64-bit-‘ness’ of the guest OS might be the cause for the VT-stuff? Would be great if someone with an i5 MBA could try running a 64-bit guest VM (preferably Red Hat Enterprise Linux 64-bit) and post his/her experience.

  31. tinie says:

    Thank you for the helpful post.
    I want to get a MBA 13′ but I have to do lots of 2D autocad works and photoshop editing, since i’m an interior designer. But I will not have to handle 3D modeling at work, so do you think the MBA is the one? Cause I really love the light weight since I have to carry it to work everyday.
    Thank you

  32. Robert says:

    Great help, thank you! One question remains open: I was warned by my retailer that the i7 in the 11 inch 2011 MBA could cause heat problems and he recommended to buy the i5, is that true, any experiences? I preferably would go with the i7, but overheating is the reason for me to dump my actual MBA 2009, so I am hesitant

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Robert,

      Thanks for your question.

      I have a report of an i5 getting hot, fans running while streaming online video. The i5 & i7 aren’t all that different in maximum clock speed in the 13 inch model, so it will be interesting if the i7 was that much hotter.

      I’m not sure how much cooler is the i5 MacBook Air 11″. It has slower base and maximum speeds, so it may be the cool & calm choice. I don’t know yet.

      I’m still investigating this issue. I’ll let you know when I’ve got some facts.

      In the meantime, I’m using a late 2010 MacBook Air 11″ 1.6GHz. I don’t know that I’ve ever heard the fans go yet. Its graphics card, the nVidia 320M is a little faster that the mid 2011 MBA too. The price for all that coolness & fanless-ness is pokey CPU performance. I bet they’re on special now. :-)

      -Taz.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Robert,

      You should be fine with an MBA i7 or i5.

      The 2011 MacBook Air can get hot if a whole CPU core (or two) is used continuously.

      The usual culprit here is Flash in webpages. To avoid overheating or fan noise, most people just need to install a bit of software to keep Flash from burning CPU.

      See my article on MacBook Air overheating for more info.

      -Taz.

  33. Andrea says:

    Thanks for the helpful article and your helpful comments. Like others, while I’ve decided on the 11″, I’m still debating the i7 vs i5. Rationally, I’d probably be just fine with the i5; but the difference in performance is enough to make me want to be irrational. That said, I’m little worried about the heat and fan noise – if even on ordinary day to day use (web, word processing, light photo editing) the fans were really much more noticeable on the i7 than the i5, that would probably tip me to the i5.

    So all of that is to say, I’m looking forward to the results of the further investigation you’ve mentioned in couple other posts. Thanks.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Andrea,

      MBA will be great – either i5 or i7.

      The MacBook Air gets hot and the fans become noisy usually only if you burn CPU continuously.

      Cases are gaming, video encodes, badly written Flash banners and some Flash video.

      To get the best battery life for your MacBook Air and keep it cool, deinstall Flash, disable Flash, or install some click-to-run Flash software.

      See my artile MacBook Air fan noise and overheating.

      Hope this helps!

      :-)

      -Taz.

  34. Sean says:

    I too am set on getting the 11″ model. I am EAGERLY awaiting to hear more on if the 11″ i7 does have heat / fan issues. I do realize that all laptops may get hot and sometimes that is a good thing as it is dissipating the heat away from the CPU, yet I don’t think I want a laptop that gets hot and needs a fan from watching a couple short HD videos on YouTube. I guess that is where I am stuck, otherwise, I would buy one tomorrow.

    Oh and by the way:
    I would be using this laptop for word processing, surfing the web(HDvideos), using apps, and watching LARGE video files through VLC media player.

    cant wait to hear more info, Thanks.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hey Sean!

      When I play a full HD movie in iTunes, the MacBook Air uses less than 10% of one CPU. It’s stays lovely and cool. Very impressive.

      HD web video, which typically uses the Adobe Flash to play video, consumes varying amounts of CPU. It definitely uses more CPU than the highly optimized H.264 Quicktime movie playback in iTunes!

      Most web HD videos on YouTube use a reasonable amount of CPU (read are likely to cause a bit of fan noise and maybe low speed fan), but I’d did hit one that just slammed the CPU. This causes heat and fan noise. Perhaps it was a FLV instead of H.264. I don’t know. If your favorite video site was composed mainly of these CPU eating videos you would not be a happy camper.

      As for large videos files in VLC, 720p I don’t think you’d have much heat or fan noise.

      For heat and fan noise watching full HD movies – 1080i or 1080p – in VLC, it will depend on the encoded bitrate of the movie and the technical sophistication of the encoding (e.g. high profile will probably burn more CPU to decode). The low bit rates of YouTube 1080p would be fine, but if you’re doing two megabytes a second… The sorts of bitrates you have on Blu-ray discs in VLC can eat a whole CPU core. This will get the Air quite hot (bottom around 105F / 41C) and the fan will go.

      VLCs x264 playback is single threaded, so it hammers one CPU core. You can configure VLC to do a rougher job of decoding, using less CPU and dropping quality a bit.

      I’ve switched to XBMC for 1080p playback – works well out of the box with very high quality video. If you don’t like a Media Center take-over-your-MacBook style player, I think XBMC uses MPlayer’s playback tech.

      Quicktime’s H.264 playback is much lighter, due to heavy optimization, use of multiple cores and deeper hardware acceleration. If you can get your 1080p as a ‘.MOV’ rather than, say, a MKV, use Quicktime for playback.

      Even if you get a MacBook Pro, full HD video in VLC will still hammer it and you will get heat and perhaps slow fan. This I know from experience – I use a 2010 MBP 15″ i7. Larger models have larger cases, so they dissipate heat better.

      Sean, I’d advise you to test a 2011 MacBook Air. You could go into a third party Mac reseller who has Flash on their MacBook Air (or will let you install Flash), and try your typical videos.

      Hope you found this helpful!

      -Taz.

  35. Terry says:

    Thanks so much for this very helpful article! The comments have been very helpful as well. I was going to get the 13″ i7 because the extra $100 seemed worth it to me, but I found a great 20% off deal on amazon through the Kindle that saves me about $500 including the tax that I don’t have to pay since amazon doesn’t charge me sales tax. The i7 is definitely not worth that much of a premium (at least, to me).

    • Sean says:

      lucky dog! I really wanted that deal, but we already have 2 kindles. I believe that 20% off deal is no longer available now?

      • Terry says:

        Unfortunately, the deal ended last Monday. If you had the code, you have until 9/8 to place your order “while supplies last”. From what I’ve read, some people are selling their offer codes on eBay, but that seems risky to me. I feel your pain: I would have been upset if I’d missed it.

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      If anyone sees a MacBook Air deal like this again, please leave a comment like Terry’s so others can benefit from a discount. :-)

  36. Jarvild says:

    this is probable the best article and coments out there!
    or at least that is what I think :)
    Great info on every thing about the MBA

    I’m gona go for the maxed out 13″ MBA but waiting for answer on the heat/noise thingy on the i5 and i7

    Thanks alot
    Jarvild

    • Jarvild says:

      also I’m a first time mac buyer.
      I have alwasy had 17″ pc’s and now I think i’s about time to get a smaler laptop becaus I travle alot betwen countrys and I hate to go through the securety checks on airports becaus my laptop is so big and heavy ways about 4-5 kg and is almost 4 years old.. ti overheats and some times I can actual burn my hand while tutching there where the CPU is and when it realy is on it’s badest behavior is just shuts down!! (always while I watch a movie or play a game) trust me now I have had enough with this one some times I’m almost smashing it in to the flor… but when I finaly will get my hand on the new MBA this pc will sleep with the fishes here in Svaldbard!!!

      ps. my English is not the best so bear with me :)

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Jarvild,

      A new MacBook Air should be a great upgrade for you!

      In typical use the new 2011 MacBook Air will be cool and quiet.

      If you use websites with Flash, such as animated advertising banners or video, that can burn lots of CPU and heat up your Mac. Eventually the fans kick in to stop overheating. The maximum temperature I’ve seen for the bottom of the MacBook Air is 41C (104F). Given you’re from a colder climate, this might be quite hot for you.

      There’s software to stop Flash from burning up your MacBook Air. See my article on MacBook Air overheating and battery life.

      Let me know how you go Jarvild, and if your 17″ PC sleeps with fishes.

      😀

      -Taz.

  37. Missedcall says:

    Hey there, I’m in a super dilemma right now and I was hoping you could help.
    I got the base model for the macbook air 13″ with the 1.7ghz i5. And I know it’s an intel video card, but I was wondering, in your opinion, is it worth it to wait for the new “rumored” macbook 15″ air/pro coming out around the end of this year?
    I care about the graphics card only because I want to run web design programs such as adobe dreamweaver, and for gaming I have a ps3 for. But in your opinion, do you think the i5 is good enough for such programs, or should I wait for the upcoming 15″ to get the extra graphics card that will come with it?

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Missedcall,

      I’m a professional web developer by trade. (You wouldn’t know it from Mac Crazy’s site design, but I’ve focussed on writing good articles first before making the Mac Crazy pretty. :-) )

      If the new super-slim 15″ and 17″ MacBook Air models materialize, they will probably have integrated graphics cards, comparable in speed your 13″ MacBook Air.

      If you want super fast, dedicated graphics cards, they’re the domain of the MacBook Pro line.

      You won’t get any speedup for typical web design programs (like Dreamweaver) by running a faster graphics card. The 2D graphics performance of the MacBook Air 2011 is more than fast enough for web development.

      Stick with the MacBook Air 13″ Missedcall, you’ve made a great choice for a web developer.

      See my article “2011 MacBook Air – a Web Developer’s Dream Rig?” on SmartWebDeveloper.com.

      :-)

      -Taz.

  38. Star says:

    I am struggling between 11″ or 13″ MBA and also between i7 or i5, I am currently owning Asus N43 (i7 2630m GT550m 8gb RAM) and I would like a MBA as an alternative. My job requires me to edit movie, adding effect on Adobe AE and such, so I would either always bring both my laptops around or only MBA when go meeting and such. I prefer 13″ because of the battery life and bigger screen for editing but 11″ for the portability since I am carrying both laptop. I may also do a little WoW daily questing on the MBA. so which spec and size will be better for me.

    Thanks

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Star,

      I’d get the i7 MacBook Air. If you’re using Adobe AfterEffects and doing other video post-production, you’ll benefit from all the CPU power you can get.

      World of Warcraft will run acceptably on any of the new MacBook Air models.

      As for 11 inch versus 13 inch MacBook Air, I’d go for 13 inch model for video editing if you’re moving around. (The exception is if you can plug into an external display everywhere you edit videos.)

      See my article on MacBook Air 11 or 13 inch for facts and advice on choosing between the two sizes.

      Let me know how you go Star. :-)

      -Taz.

  39. Julius says:

    Great article.
    I have just bought MacBook Air 13″ 1.8/i7/4GbRam/256SSD
    I played few clips from my New Sony CX700 Full HD- BUT the clips (200mb-300mb-not too big) play choppy after playing smooth for a couple of seconds. Is it the Hardware (Graphic Card) or the Software?
    I am using VLC.
    Thanks for your advice!

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Hi Julius!

      The good news in that your MacBook Air can handle full HD playback, no problem.

      VLC only uses a single processor core. I find VLC is always good for 720p, but often stutters with full HD (1080i or 1080p) in its default configuration. There is a way to adjust VLC’s config to decrease the quality and stop the stutter. If you want, I’ll post the details.

      A better option is to use Quicktime if possible. Apple did lots of work to ensure H.264 video playback can use multiple processor cores. The catch is Quicktime needs a “.mov” file. What format does you Sony CX700 video camera produce?

      For full HD video that isn’t in Quicktime format, for example MKV files, I’ve used XBMC. It’s worked flawlessly for me. It is a media center style player that takes over your whole screen.

      If you don’t like that style, and want something more like VLC, you could try mplayer. I’ve heard XBMC uses mplayer’s libraries. I haven’t tried mplayer yet, so I can vouch for it.

      Let me know how you go Julius!

  40. Julius says:

    Esteemed Mr. Hayes

    Thank you Thank you and thank you for this quick response. People like you make this
    world worth living…..!

    Well, in the mean time I played with VLC preferences and found out the trick in “input & Codecs” with setting Post-Prosessing to “ZERO” (0) and now the mts (Produced by cx700) file runs flawlessly.

    Would you please throw some light on FCP X use on MBA. Like how well it handles the whole production ( importing, editing, rendering and exporting).

    Thank you again and again.

    Many Blessings to you

    Julius

  41. Alex says:

    Hello. Im deciding btw 13 inch i5 128gb mba or 11 inch i7 128 gb mba. Both are almost same price. What i wnt is to be prepared for the future but i dnt wanna mbp (lol). Is it worth to sacrifice screen for get a better cpu for having a best computer? That it still being a giod one like in 3 years for example? What are th difference btw both of them talking about performance.

    Im a university student and will be my main computer for some years. I dont work with video or that stuff but probably i use design engeneering sftw like cad for example

    Thanks

  42. McGroarty says:

    The i7 has some extra instructions that speed AES encryption many times over. Only some i5 processors have these extra instructions, and I haven’t found a clear answer as to whether the i5 processors in the MacBook Air have these instructions.

    If using Lion’s AES-based disk encryption, an i7 may make a substantial difference. Has anyone seen benchmarks of disk activity with and without encryption on both the i5 and i7 variant of a model?

  43. Matteo says:

    Dear Tasman Hayes,
    Thanks so much for this very helpful article! I’m wondering if buy the i5 or the i7 MBA 13″ (256 gb ssd). I plan on using my MacBook Air for several years, so I thought the i7 was the right choice. But then I read your article, where you write that the differences are just around a 10% speedup (“probably not woth it”, as you said). Moreover I care about battery life, and you wrote that with i7 processor battery time last around 30 min less than with i5.
    My question is simple: what to do?? I want a notebook which will be suitable not only for 2-3 years, but – I hope! – for 5-6 years and more! But many people told me that the choice i5/i7 doesn’t make difference in the performance of the computer for many years to come, so they suggested me to buy the i5 version. What do you think about?

    P.S. I’l use my MBA for Safari, Office Suits, iTunes (Movies, Music), a little Photoshop, and Parallel desktops every time I will need windows to read database that support just windows (-.-‘).

    Thaks a lot for your answer

  44. Wayne says:

    How are the 11″ and 13″ i5’s for playing back HD movies via iTunes? Does it get the machine hot? Is the video and audio smooth and fluid? I’m thinking of getting one of these for websurfing, emails, etc and when I travel to watch HD movies on plane trips. Thanks!

  45. Choua Xiong says:

    Re-Port from wrong threads…

    I Taz, love your review. And what were the two song you put on your video? I was really getting into it.

    Anyways, I am looking to get the 128 SSD 11″ Mac air but is stuck between the i5 and i7 (glad to hear that both are Sandy Bridge though). Here’s what I’m going to use it for. I’m a college student in Bio major and a lot of my classes requires these program that I have to download to do homework or view notes or other things. So I have been using a PC all these time for it. After going to one of the apple store, one of the sales rep show me this program… (I forgot the name) that you can switch between using a PC and OS X (with rebooting the computer). I haven’t talk to my professor on whether the program will be mac compatible, but lets say that I will need to use that program at least once a day (and being that this will be my first Mac), will upgrading to the i7 be worth it? As far as I know, that will probably the most intensive thing I will do (nothing close to video editing).

    (And no more PC. I’m done with the lags.)

  46. John says:

    Killer comparison – great work on your presentation: A++

  47. Sam Daniel says:

    Can u say the difference between 1.6 ghz & 2.3 ghz?

  48. Larry says:

    What a useful site!!! I’m typing this on a 2007 macbook pro 17″ Until I bought an iMac quad core 27″ last year this was my main computer. Weighing in at 6.5 Lbs, it gives new meaning to the word portable. Here’s my thinking. I’m a film maker and for the last year have been using the mbp mainly to transfer HDV video from my cameras to an external hard drive while I’m doing a shoot. The iMac now does all the editing. When I have to edit on the road, I actually found a need rolling case for the iMac to take with me when I can drive to the location. My only problem we the fact that to transfer digital video cassettes one needs a firewire port. So… I’m going to be getting the mba 11′ 128gb i7 and wait for the release of numerous thunderbolt adapters that will give me a firewire port. Another great product to check out is the Digistore outboard blu ray writer. It weighs less that a pound, burns everything, has a built in rechargeable battery that can let you plug it in to the MBA’s usb drive and burn disks without external power. Only costs $200 at Amazon. Thanks again for all the info.

  49. Hi there,

    At first: I’ve been doing a lot of research on the 2011 13″ Air lately, but this is by far the most informing website I’ve seen so far!

    I still got one question:
    Next to use that will be mostly webbrowsing etc, I am planning to use this laptop for DJing as well (think of software like Serato ITCH, NI Traktor Pro/2 and maybe even some Ableton Live 8). As far as I can conclude from my internet research the 2011 13″ Air will be capable of doing that, but I am wondering whether it may be necessary to go for the i7 processor instead of the standard i5 in order to make sure these applications run smoothly. Is it necessary to spend the extra 100 euros for the i7, or will I be okay with the i5?

    Thanks a lot for the info so far!

  50. Nic Roggeman says:

    I am trying to decide on getting a 13″ MBA or a 13″ MBP as a replacement for my 15″ 2006 MBP. I am a photographer who uses Aperture and want o be able to store my files and edit while on the road and then dump the projects onto my iMac set-up when I get home. The 256 GB SDD HD is large enough for my needs but am unsure about Aperture’s dependence on CPU vs GPU processing power. Do you have an opinion on this?

  51. BOOGIEFROMCUR says:

    Great review and even greater your honest replies and corrections in case others came up with remarks..
    Keep up the good work
    greetings from Curaçao

  52. Josh Clarke says:

    I’m really struggling to choose a Macbook Air. I definitely want the 11inch but cant decide if its worth the extra £200 for an i7. I will probably use it everyday for basic tasks and streaming TV and watching movies. I do use Photoshop, but don’t do much else in media. I assume you don’t notice a difference in everyday tasks?
    It’s a really hard choice but I don’t want to get it wrong as either way its a lot of money.

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  54. Bluestone says:

    nice review and keep up the good work, write more quality reviews!

  55. luka says:

    hej! air 13 i7 and auto cad? im working only 2d in acad. your opinion? tnx for d answer. L

  56. Leon says:

    This is definitely a great post for those who can’t decide on i5 vs i7. I just wanna add some extra points. I owned i7 and my GF has a i5 . I was surprised by the fact that i5 performs faster in terms of reboot, shut-down and boot-up. However, i7 seems to have a greater battery life which I feel is kinda contradict to the post.

  57. Bob D says:

    Really excellent article. I much prefer the smaller size of the 11″, and wound up buying the i7 because I saw a good deal on the model I wanted in the Appe refurb section. I do a lot of audio editing and some video. Your statement that the i5 is more than fast enough for most people is correct, though. It is hard to overstate how much of an impact the speed of the SSD has on performance in most applications. I have seen a Core 2 Duo Macbook Air with 2GB of RAM outperform a quad core i5 with 12GB of RAM on some apps because even when the Air has to swap memory out to disk, the swaps are very fast. The only area where performance might be an issue is a high end graphics processor, and those are generally not possible on laptops due to the power drain. The processor can also appear as 2 virtual cores for each core, a nice feature for apps like Handbrake which use all of the cores. Utilities like Activity Monitor will show the processor as if it has four cores.

  58. qaisar ameen says:

    sir i want to parchase mac book air i7 in pakistan u can guide me about price and maximum ram support and maximum hard kindly guide me …..thnks.

    • Winterbreeze says:

      I think you can go to the pakistani apple website, and click on ‘buy now’, you will go to a page where you can pick your desired specs and they will show you the updated price. =)

  59. Winterbreeze says:

    Hi, really thank you for the great review! I’m a student and I’m thinking about buying a MacBook air. As for size, I really prefer the 11″, thoughI still can’t get over the disadvantage on battery life… As for 11″, I’m thinking whether I should upgrade to the i7. Actually the tasks I perform are really basic like web browsing, word, and maybe some video and audio recordings. I think I most likely won’t need an i7, but I really hope to use this computer for a long time like 4 or 5 years, so I have this mentality of getting whatever I can right now. Can you give me some advice?

    And can I know which one affects the web browsing speed? The memory (4G, 8G) or the processor (i7, i5)? As my main motive of getting i7 is that I hope to have faster Internet. Thanks a lot! =)

    • Tasman Hayes says:

      Winterbreeze,

      I would get the Intel Core i5 processor, rather than the Intel Core i7. You probably won’t notice that much difference between them for the apps you’re running, except for video editing. Any you’ll enjoy longer battery life. I bought the i5 model myself, even though I love high performance – the i5 is fast enough.

      When you have enough memory for a task, adding more memory doesn’t make things any faster. 4GB is enough RAM for web browsing, so unless your running lots of other apps at the same time, 8GB won’t make your browsing faster. I would get 8GB because you intend to keep the MacBook Air for a long time. Having 100% more RAM will give your MBA a much longer life than 25% extra CPU speed.

      Hope this helps,
      -Tas.

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