MacBook Air 13″ Ivy Bridge (mid-2012) MBA Ultrabook Review and SSD Performance Analysis

REPORT ANALYSIS

If last month, someone had told me that I would be compiling a ten page report of the MacBook Air on my MacBook Air while using OS X Lion, I would have told them they were dreaming.  Things change though and there were just too many things that attracted me to this release to keep me away any longer. While I still stand by the fact that pound for pound, the Intel Ultra may be more affordable, the MacBook Air displays a number of superior qualities and it’s starting prices of $999 and $1199 comes very close to that of many Ultra buys.

With our initial order, definite pluses were the fact that it took only ten days to arrive from China with free shipping and there were plenty of configurations available when deciding on exactly what we needed. With this came something many never bargain for and that is that the MBA is, for the most part, upgradeable only at the time of purchase.  If you want 8GB RAM, vice 4GB, it is integrated into the board to keep the units size very small and there is no upgrading after the fact.  As well, migrating a system to a larger SSD after the fact would be like pulling teeth given the proprietary nature of OS X.

As much as the 1440×900 HD resolution, 2 x USB 3.0 ports, Thunderbolt, SD card slot, MagSafe 2, and a free upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion on release are huge benefits, I am wondering how I am going to be connecting this to my big screen via HDMI as there is no port present, something that I definitely found a great deal of use in with my Ultras. A similar concern may be expressed by those upgrading who have also learned that, although an adapter is available for older MagSafe power adapters, the adapter for this version of Mac is not directly compatible with the older releases.

Although we haven’t done any timed testing of battery life, we can confirm that the MBA, in normal surfing and e-mail patterns, easily bypasses the six hour mark and, as well, sound quality is among the best we have heard from any Ultra with stereo speakers well hidden in the keyboard.  This sound is complemented by HD quality video when watching movies or simply talking on Face Time which has 1280×720 resolution.

That brings us to our opinion of Apple’s proprietary nature which is the biggest turnoff of them all.  Yes, it works to their advantage but what happens if we want to ‘simply’ migrate to a larger SSD or if our OS fails and needs to be replaced?  As a reviewer, I have spent the last two days chatting back and forth with our friends over at Other World Computing, only to find out that we cannot test the OWC Mercury Aura Pro MBA mSATA SSD as it is not physically compatible with this mid-2012 release of Apple products and, more importantly, a simple migration does not exist with OSX Lion.  It seems that the operating system is so proprietary that migration could be accomplished but only at the expensive of a final loss of data on the original SSD.

Last but not least, we should speak on SSD performance which, for the most part, is excellent.  We know that, in purchasing an MBA, the buyer has no idea whether they are getting the Samsung PM830 SSD installed or the Toshiba branded ‘LSI SandForce Driven’ option and this still bothers us a great deal.  Identification only makes sense as the upgrade to an SSD is the most visible upgrade one will observe in their system purchase, trumping that of even the CPU and RAM.  On the other hand, unlike other Ultra releases that resulted in serious customer concerns, Apple has followed the high road and both SSD choices are top tier SSDs that we could spend weeks arguing over which is the better.  Big Plus here Apple!

27 comments

  1. Does Apple still offer the extended AppleCare hardware warranty on these units? Almost a necessity.

    • Yes, I noticed it in a Google search. The unfortunate part is how they maintain such control. On any other laptop, if say the RAM or ssd went dead, you could simply replace it…not with Apple! It practically mandates the warranty…agreed.

  2. Great article.
    To give you some help with … “Now if I could just figure out this right mouse button thingy” To Go to System Preferences and click on Trackpad. Under “Point & Click” you will see a settings for “Secondary Click”. This will give you a “Right Click’ function.

    Sorry if you were looking for “right mouse” help in Windows 7, I cannot help you there.

  3. Les, I was a Windows guy through and through like you were. Call me petty but when my wife insisted on buying the 2011 macbook air (after using a Lenovo X61), I felt ‘betrayed’.

    After 3 Hail Mary’s (you know, for protection)…needless to say, after a few days with the MBA, it is an ‘experience’ and the best designed hardware in any notebook/ultrabook I have seen to date. I had to fight her for the privilege of using the MBA ;p.

    I now easily recommend the MBA to all my friends who want to buy a notebook.

    OSX was another matter. After a while, I started to miss Win7.

  4. David Lindegren

    Migrating an OSX boot drive using Superduper! is very easy, especially if OWC would release a similar “external drive enclosure” for the new “air” as well. You could also exchange the drives, put your old one in an external enclosure and then use the migration assistant to move the information from your old drive to the new one when installing OSX on the new drive.

    • I will look closely into this. If you do the migration, does it affect your registration with any of the OS X utilities like iTunes/itore etc and also, once the migration is complete, does it automatically delete the source drive? The deletion of source drive is the big one.

      • David Lindegren

        I am not sure how the iTunes/store is affected.

        What do you mean by deletion? As far as I know it does not automatically delete the source, but if you want it to I guess you can just format it. Superduper! allows for some scripting and stuff to be run after the mirroring so it might be able to do what you are looking for.

      • Yes it may be what I am looking for. The reason I ask about it formatting the source is because this is an Apple thing so there arent two copies. I would like that, however, as it is easier to maintain a duplicate of the laptop.

  5. I just did a migration last week to the 480GB OWC drive with carbon copy cloner. The new version (last few months now) of CCC has the option to clone not only the primary partition but the hidden OSX install source partition as well.

    I bought the external enclosure, stick the 480GB SSD in it, cloned the main partition and the hidden partition.

    Before you physically replace the SSD, press ALT during bootup and you can boot off the newly cloned drive running off USB (this is an amazing feature of OSX that I wish MS could do with Win).

    If that works, then just put the new SSD in the MBA and voilla, a bigger partition.

    • By the way CCC will automatically detect when you destination drive is missing the hidden OSX source partition and all you have to do is follow the on screen instructions, easy.

  6. I would love to read this on my iPad but those crazy widgets on the left get in the way. please get rid of them.

  7. hold on, you can clone Lion, i am a MAcOSX noob, and bought my wife a late 2011 MBP13″, i migrated the installed OS , quite seamlessly using carbon cloner, it was so beautiful and trouble free, i just hated being a PC user, oh..if you found facetime (which we incidentally found out 1 week ago) amazing check out the time machine backup system…sheesh… an apple update launched recently, upset the OSX, 1.45 later the machine had used the latest time machine backup, from an aged netgear nasduo, and restored the entire thing, 0 user input in one hour 32 min….

  8. Nice write-up. I have been a Mac user since 1985, only in the past 4-5 years have I seriously been able to use them in business. They are great and have been easy to use with the iCloud this year. This really has made it worth having a Mac Pro, iPad, iPhone and I have been waiting for 3 weeks for the retina display Macbook Pro. I hope that the flash drive (768 GB) is just as good. Thanks for the review.

  9. You write about the rubber strip around the edge of the lid as if it is a unique Apple feature. Take a closer look at the edge of the display on your Samsung Series 9.

    • You are right John. They have done similar in the new S9 release of less than a month but, IMHO, the key here is to ensue that rubber completely surrounds the screen and, in fact, the most wear I see in laptops and ultras always seems to be along the bottom ledge closest to the hinges.

  10. Thank you for your review. I’m looking forward to your review of the
    Toshiba SandForce Driven SSD and a comparison with the Samsung one. Apparently, of all the models of the new MBA that I’ve checked in person across various apple premium retailer stores in my current country of residence(India), it seems that only the 11 inch i5 models(64GB/128GB) and the base 13 inch i5 model (128GB SSD) have a Toshiba SSD and only the 256GB 13 inch seem to have the Samsung SSD. I hope that you’ll have your review published before or at least just in time when the “Back to School” discounts roll out here, to help me decide if it’s worth opting for the base 13 inch model(My first Mac) or opt for an Ultrabook instead. Whatever I choose, I still plan to keep Win7 as my main OS.

    Personally, I hate the “lottery” concept propagated by Apple-The idea of getting a “better performing” SSD/TFT for the same price as the one with mediocre performance(in comparison, as evident in the 2011 MBA’s) but advertised as “calibrated” & living up to a certain minimum performance, as decided by the company beforehand, without the customer finding out what he has paid for until he opens the packing & boots the machine and leaving the rest to sheer “luck”!

  11. I sell all kinds of laptops, please contact me for new laptop or used at : audiomatches@gmail.com

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