Heat and noise
While the MacBook Air does have a cooling fan, you wouldn't know it. Under normal loads, the notebook is silent, with the fan either off or running at extremely low speeds. As load increases, so will the fan speed, though it became really noticeable only during the benchmarking process, and not even during a little light gaming session.
The same benchmarking saw the notebook get worryingly hot, however, with nearby vent temperatures reaching up to 115 degrees Fahrenheit. Even then, only the area close to the vent got warm, with most of the keyboard remaining below 100 degrees and the trackpad dipping below ninety. Under typical loads, the keyboard barely warmed up at all.
Apple switched to non-user replaceable batteries some time ago, and while there are always critics, most customers appear unruffled. With the addition of lithium-ion polymer batteries and their associated extension in usable battery life, it's often a non-issue.
The 11.6-inch MacBook Air offers a 35Whr li-poly battery, while its larger 13-inch sibling ups the capacity to 50 watt-hours. At an estimated 5 hour battery life, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air is actually Apple's shortest-running notebook in production.
In our tests, we managed to eke out 6 hours and fifteen minutes on the battery, running with Wi-Fi and Bluetooth on and backlighting set to fifty percent brightness. Admittedly, testing was limited to some light web browsing - no real media or computationally-taxing programs were run. Performance will vary, but taking the backlight down even further could make for some interesting battery life numbers.
A note: battery testing was done inside of Mac OS X; Windows is widely reported to suffer from worse battery life (likely due in part to unoptimized drivers from Apple).
While there is something about the Apple/Microsoft dichotomy that seems to bring out the worst in tech aficionados, it's hard to deny that the new MacBook Airs, especially the smaller, 11.6-inch model, have style. Holding one makes it easy to believe Apple's rhetoric about the future of computing: all solid state, no optical drives, no power cycling, standby times and more.
Despite the fact that it's pretty, and useful, and even pretty useful, it's still an Apple laptop. That means that buying into the MacBook Air means paying a little Apple tax - especially noticeable when compared to alternatives such as the Alienware M11x or Acer TimelineX 1830T.
Still, Apple did well what Apple usually does well: they made a gorgeous computer. In today's increasingly cloud-centric world, that might just be enough.
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