MacBook vs. MacBook Air Comparison: Which Apple Notebook is Right For You?

MacBook vs. MacBook Air Comparison: Which Apple Notebook is Right For You?
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Standard or Ultra Portable

Apple markets their notebooks through three distinct channels: baseline, power, and ultra portable. The MacBook is Apple’s baseline notebook. The MacBook Pro is Apple’s power notebook. The MacBook Air is Apple’s ultra portable notebook. When comparing the baseline MacBook with the ultra portable MacBook Air, there are several different aspects and perspectives that you may want to consider, even more so if you are trying to decide on which one to buy.

Screen Size

The MacBook is currently available only with a 13 inch screen.

The Air is currently available with an 11.6 inch or 13 inch screen.

Both the MacBook and the Air have LED backlit screens and both notebooks support a wide range of different screen resolutions, but the 11-inch MacBook Air supports a resolution of 1366 by 768 and the 13-inch MacBook Air supports the highest resolution, at 1440 by 900. The base MacBook has a native resolution of 1280 by 800, putting it slightly behind both Air models.

If you want a laptop with a screen size of less than 13-inches, go with the 11-inch MacBook Air.

If picture quality is important to you, the MacBook Air 13" is slightly better than the MacBook.

Dimensions and Weight

MacBook Air Weight

The standard MacBook has a height of a little more than one-inch (1.08 inches), a width of 13-inches, a depth of 9.12-inches, and a weight of 4.7lbs.

The 13-inch Air has a height of 0.11-inches (lowest point) - 0.68-inches (highest point). It has a tapered design. It has a width of 12.8-inches, a depth of 8.94-inches, and a weight of 2.9lbs.

The 11-inch Air has the same height as the 13-inch Air, but has a width of 11-inches, a depth of 7.56-inches, and a weight of 2.3lbs.

Although none of these numbers seem staggering, the difference between the normal MacBook and the Air is substanial when you compare them side-by-side. For quick reference, the MacBook is nearly twice as thick as the Air. The Air weighs roughly half as much as the MacBook.

Both laptops are portable, but if weight is a factor, consider either version of the Air.

Build Quality

The MacBook is built from polycarbonate (plastic like) material.

The MacBook Air is built from aluminum.The Air is silver in color throughout, but has a black keyboard.

Both the MacBook and the Air are constructed using similar unibody construction. The aluminum Air is made of a stronger material. However, the Air is also much thinner, which could also be a downplay to its durability. The polycarbonate MacBook is a better material for Wifi signals. While the aluminum used on the Air is stronger, this can sometimes be to its deteriment, as the material will dent.

With normal use, the MacBook’s finish is prone to “surface scratches.” However, they are not as noticeable unless viewed at the right angle because of the white finish. With normal use, the MacBook Air’s aluminum finish can be scratched, but it is a different kind of scratching than with the MacBook. When a MacBook Air is scratched the damage tends to be more noticeable.

The MacBook has had some reports of the rubber bottom piece not being very durable, and Apple has issued a plan to replace this component should it fail. The white finish on the MacBook can stain, particularly the palmrest area. The aluminum finish on the Air is more resistant to stains from hand oils and other toxins. The keyboards on both notebooks, black (Air) and white (MacBook), will become shiny and wear slightly with use.

If WiFi signal strength is important, the MacBook’s polycarbonate material makes it the better choice. The overall durability of both laptops is about equal , although the aluminum Air has a slight edge.

Ports and Expansion

MacBook Expansion

The standard MacBook has the following ports: Gigabit Ethernet, Mini DisplayPort (soon Thunderbolt), USB 2.0 (2x), Audio in/out jack, and Kensington lock.

The 13-inch Air has the following ports: Mini DisplayPort (soon Thunderbolt), USB 2.0 (2x), SDcard slot, headphone jack, and microphone jack.

The 11-inch Air has the same ports as the 13-inch version, minus the SD Card slot.

The main differentiating factor between the standard MacBook and the Air is the optical drive. The MacBook has a built-in SuperDrive, where the Air does not have a built-in optical drive. However, an external USB powered SuperDrive is available for the Air.

If you need an Ethernet port, the Air is not really an option. If you prefer a built-in optical drive, the Air is not really an option. USB powered SDcard readers are cheap and could be used to add an SDcard slot to the standard MacBook if desired.

Other Notable Features

MacBook Air Flash Storage

The processing power on both the MacBook and MacBook Air is currently Core 2 Duo. However, they are both set to receive an upgrade to Intel Core-i in the near future. One thing to note about the CPUs in the Airs are that they are low voltage, power conservative processors. They have a lower clock speed as a result. Although the Air is priced higher than the MacBook, the MacBook is somewhat quicker.

Both laptops have equal graphics power, utilizing the same Nvidia GeForce 320M chip. However, both are set to receive a graphics update in the near future as well.

The Air stands apart from the standard MacBook when it comes to storage. While the standard MacBook utilizes normal hard drives (with SSD upgrade available), the Air comes standard with built-in flash memory. While flash memory has the disadvantage of being very costly to upgrade, it is much faster as well. On the flip side, the MacBook’s mechanical drive provides more storage space at a lower price.

Price Comparison

The MacBook is priced at a dollar off the grand mark, at $999.00.

The Air has a significant price range depending on which model you select. The low-end 11-inch model starts at $999.00. The high-end 13-inch model starts at $1,599.00.

If you want a budget 13-inch notebook, the MacBook is the much cheaper option. MacBook Pros start at $999.00, but that it is for the 11-inch models. Once the Airs hit 13-inches, the price ups significantly.

If price is not as much of an issue, the Air trumps the MacBook in most areas. Of course, if you’re budgeting for the 13-inch Air you’re likely to compare it to the MacBook Pro, which is quite a bit faster and also constructed of aluminum.



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This post is part of the series: Which Apple Laptop is Right for You

While Apple only manufacturers three major notebook lines, MacBook, MacBook Pro, and MacBook Air, each notebook like consists of several specific models and options. This series helps you determine which Apple laptop is best for you, based on features and comparison.

  1. MacBook vs. Air: Apple Laptop Showdown!
  2. The MacBook Air and Pro: A Head-to-Head Comparison