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Practical Experience

Our tests showed that Apple MacBook Air works OK with Windows Vista operating system. We encountered no serious compatibility issues, so you do not have to use this exclusive ultra-portable computer with its native operating system.

The performance rating demonstrated by MacBook Air is quite good, since it is equipped with pretty up-to-date hardware.

Of course, MacBook Air cannot be used for gaming because it features an Intel integrated graphics core. However, it should perform quite well in most contemporary applications. At least the operating system thinks so.

However, we have a somewhat different impression of the notebook performance. The thing is that during our subjective tests the system would occasionally slow down showing absolutely inadequate performance numbers for the type of hardware inside. And we did discover objective evidence backing up these observations: some test applications reported suspiciously low results. However, we all know from our desktop experience that a fully-fledged dual-core processor on Core micro-architecture working at 1.6GHz frequency and 2GB of high-speed RAM should be quite enough for pretty good performance in Vista. All this indicated that there evidently were some problems with notebook’s hardware.

First of all we suspected the hard drive used in MacBook Air since it was a 1.8-inch HDD that is initially intended not for notebooks but for more portable miniature devices. However, the results of its performance measurements confirmed that it was not the one to blame for system slowness.

Although Spinpoint N2 HDD installed in MacBook Air cannot boast extreme performance, it is not that slow as well.

Therefore, we continued looking for bottlenecks in our configuration. And it turned out that the problems were hiding where we least expected them to. It was Enhanced Intel SpeedStep technology that worked very poorly in Windows Vista. Once the processor clock speed was reduced to 1.2GHz in case of low workload, the notebook was very uneager to increase it back to its nominal level and hence the system kept working under full workload at slower CPU speed. The only reasonable explanation could be some firmware issues. In case of MacBook Air it is not the traditional BIOS, but a more advanced EFI system (Extensible Firmware Interface).

I have to point out that even conventional MacBook Air users working in Mac OS X complain about the firmware issues. Namely, there is a lot of evidence showing that one of the processor cores may get disabled under heavy workload. In other words, although Apple engineers paid so much attention to the exterior design and hardware components, its EFI still needs some work done.

When we completed the tests, Apple released a firmware update that was claimed to eliminate some problems with the cooling system. Unfortunately, we didn’t have a chance to check how this update affects Windows Vista performance. We also couldn’t do it because we needed Mac OS X to install the update, which we gave up in the very beginning of our test session. However, the user response suggests that this update doesn’t in fact affect the performance in any way.

Besides performance, we have one more complaint to make: the notebook case heats up greatly during work. The hottest spot is in the farther left corner of the case behind the keyboard (it is right above the processor). We detected its temperature of 46ºC under heavy workload. The thermal mode of other hardware components is also questionable. For example, the CPU temperature stays around 70-75ºC during normal work, while under heavy workload it may hit 85ºC, which is dangerously close to the maximum acceptable temperature value.

Luckily, high CPU and case temperature doesn’t affect the thermal conditions for the hard drive. The right part of the MacBook Air case remains at an acceptable level of 33-34ºC, and the HDD is located in this particular part of the system.

Despite not the most positive feedback regarding the practical aspects of MacBook Air, we have to admit that this ultra-portable computer can work on battery for a pretty long time. The manufacturer claims that it can run for up to 5 hours, we got slightly lower numbers. However, it still looks very attractive against the competitors’ background.

The battery life tests were performed with disabled WiFi and Bluetooth, screen brightness was set to two modes: maximum and medium that can still guarantee comfortable working experience. We tested the system with MobileMark 2007 with eliminated DVD playback test, because MacBook Air has no DVD ROM drive. We measured the playback time for an MPEG4 video loaded from the hard drive instead. The results are given in the table below:

 

Maximum Display Brightness

Average Display Brightness

Productivity

2:44

3:18

Reader

3:10

3:42

Video Playback

2:15

2:26

Almost 4 hours in read mode is a pretty good result for today. The battery also lasts long during regular office work in Productivity pattern. However, the video playback time turned out a disappointment, as it could last a little over 2 hours. The only thing we can say in Apple’s defense, is that our tests were performed under Windows Vista and maybe the results turn out better in Mac OS X, because MacBook Air firmware version for Microsoft OS is definitely not impeccable.

 
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