Core i5 MacBook Airs zoom past predecessors

Macworld Lab has received and benchmarked every standard configuration of the new Core i5 MacBook Airs released last week. We’ve found that the new processors push the Airs to new performance heights.

While we continue to work on Speedmark, our overall system performance benchmarking suite, to take advantage of Lion, we’ve been running a preliminary set of tests on all of the new Macs and a set of older Macs to use as baseline results.

The results for the new $999 entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air with a 1.6GHz Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, 64GB flash storage, and the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 (which is found across the new MacBook Air lineup), show the system to be more than twice as fast at many processing tasks than the previous entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air with a 1.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor. The new entry-level Air was 2.4 times faster in Cinebench CPU, 2.3 times faster in HandBrake, and took exactly half as long to convert files from AAC to MP3 in iTunes. Duplicating a 2GB folder was 18 percent faster, zipping a 4GB folder was 46 percent faster, and unzipping the same file was 29 percent faster. While iMovie export on the new entry-level Air was 32 percent faster, importing the footage from a camera archive was 7 percent faster on the older model. Also faster on the older model was Call of Duty and Cinebench OpenGL frame rates, due to the 2010 model’s faster Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics.

Comparing the new entry-level Air to the next step up the product line, an $1199 11-inch MacBook Air with the same 1.6GHz Core i5 processor, but with twice the RAM and twice the flash storage capacity, we see very subtle performance differences—most tests were just a few seconds faster on $1199 system. HandBrake was 4 percent faster on the $1199 Air, while Cinebench CPU and Call of Duty scores were identical between the two.

Moving a step further up the MacBook Air line, we find a $1299 13-inch MacBook Air with a 1.7GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, and 128GB of flash storage. Our tests showed this Air was actually a few seconds slower in the folder duplication and file unzipping tests than the $1199 11-inch Air. Every other result, though, was faster with the 13-inch. Our Parallels tests showed the $1299 13-inch Air to be 16 percent faster than $1199 11-inch Air. Zipping a 4GB folder was 15 percent faster; the Pages, iTunes, and Cinebench CPU results were each 14 percent faster; HandBrake was 13 percent faster; and iMovie import from camera archive was 11 percent faster.

Comparing the new $1299 13-inch to last year’s 13-inch 1.86GHz Core 2 Duo MacBook Air, we see a familiar pattern. Graphics scores are higher on the older system, with 21 percent higher frames per second in the Cinebench OpenGL test and 53 percent faster in Call of Duty. Duplicating and Unzipping files and folders was 16 and 17 percent faster, respectively, on the new Air, while zipping the 4GB folder was 40 percent faster, importing the Word document into Pages was 36 percent faster, and iTunes MP3 encode was 45 percent faster. HandBrake and Cinebench CPU tests took about half the time on the new $1299 13-inch Air than its 2010 Core 2 Duo-based predecessor.

The two new stock 13-inch models, being identical in every way except for flash storage capacity, performed similarly.

Benchmarks: New MacBook Airs (Mid 2011)

Duplicate
2GB
folder
Zip
2GB
folder
Unzip
2GB
file
Pages
'09
import
Word
doc
Import
movie
archive
to
iMovie
'09
iMovie '09
export
to
iTunes
10
for
iPhone
11-inch MacBook Air/1.6GHz Core i5
2GB RAM (64GB SSD, Mid 2011)
27 301 47 111 115 119
11-inch MacBook Air/1.6GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (128GB SSD, Mid 2011)
24 298 43 110 112 115
13-inch MacBook Air/1.7GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (128GB SSD, Mid 2011)
27 253 50 95 100 111
13-inch MacBook Air/1.7GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (256GB SSD, Mid 2011)
26 254 52 93 100 110
11-inch MacBook Air/1.4GHz Core 2 Duo
(Late 2010)
33 553 66 196 107 176
13-inch MacBook Air/1.86GHz Core 2 Duo
(Late 2010)
32 420 60 148 91 146
13-inch MacBook Pro/2.3GHz Core i5
(Early 2011)
70 271 180 90 116 88
13-inch MacBook/2.4GHz Core 2 Duo
(Mid 2010)
82 337 177 120 123 180

Benchmarks: New MacBook Airs (Mid 2011)

iTunes
10
AAC
to
MP3
encode
Hand-
Brake
0.9.5
encode
Cine-
bench
R11.5
graphics
Cine-
bench
R11.5
CPU
Call
of
Duty 4
frame-
rate
Parallels
World-
Bench
Mulitask
11-inch MacBook Air/1.6GHz Core i5
2GB RAM (64GB SSD, Mid 2011)
114 291 9.6 211 24.9 449
11-inch MacBook Air/1.6GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (128GB SSD, Mid 2011)
112 279 10.1 211 24.9 443
13-inch MacBook Air/1.7GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (128GB SSD, Mid 2011)
96 242 10.7 182 25.3 373
13-inch MacBook Air/1.7GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (256GB SSD, Mid 2011)
96 246 11.2 185 25.7 361
11-inch MacBook Air/1.4GHz Core 2 Duo
(Late 2010)
228 677 10.9 499 35.5 640
13-inch MacBook Air/1.86GHz Core 2 Duo
(Late 2010)
173 474 13.0 367 38.7 475
13-inch MacBook Pro/2.3GHz Core i5
(Early 2011)
100 210 12.5 161 27 328
13-inch MacBook/2.4GHz Core 2 Duo
(Mid 2010)
145 388 12.6 294 37.9 428

Call of Duty 4 and Cinebench graphics results are based on framerate; higher results are better. All other test results in the above charts are in seconds; lower results are better. References models in italics. Best result in bold. We duplicated a 2GB file, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 2GB files and then unzipped it. In iMovie ’11, we imported a camera archive and exported it to iTunes using the Mobile Devices setting. We converted 135 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used HandBrake 0.95 to encode a single chapter from a DVD previously ripped to the hard drive to H.264 using the application's Normal settings. We recorded how long it took to render a scene with multiprocessors in Cinebench and ran that application's OpenGL, frames per second test. We ran a timedemo in Call of Duty 4 at a resolution of 1024-by-768 with 4X anti-aliasing turned on. We installed Parallels 6 and ran WorldBench 6's Multitask test.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, Mauricio Grijalva and William Wang

The test results on the new 13-inch Airs also show the systems to be stiff competition for the entry-level, $1199 13-inch 2.3GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro. The flash storage in the Airs is much faster than the hard drives found in the MacBook Pros, and the graphics tests were just a frame or so faster per second on the Pro than on the 13-inch Airs. Zipping the 4GB folder and importing video from a camera archive into iMovie was faster on the Airs, while iTunes MP3 conversion, as well as HandBrake and iMovie encoding tests, were faster on the MacBook Pro.

And finally, for those of you lamenting the dearly departed MacBook, our test results show the new $999 MacBook Air to be much faster in our file duplication and unzipping tests, and faster in our processor tests—but as we’ve seen before, slower in the graphics tests.

Check back soon for Macworld’s full reviews of the new MacBook Airs, and test results for the build-to-order options of the new MacBook Airs.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

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