Laptops

MacBook Air 11-inch (2012) teardown reveals upgraded hardware, same battery/internal design

Bill Detwiler tears down the 2012, 11-inch MacBook Air and shows you how Apple upgraded its hardware without changing the internal design.

The 11-inch MacBook Air is Apple's smallest, lightest, and lowest-priced laptop. The company didn't make any big design changes to the 2012 Air, but Apple did make several significant hardware improvements. In this week's episode of Cracking Open, I take you inside this year's 11-inch Air and show you what's changed and what hasn't.

Our MacBook Air test unit had a 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor, Intel HD Graphics 4000, 8GB RAM, a 128GB SSD, and a 11.6-inch LED-backlit display (1366 x 768 native resolution). It measured 0.68" (H) x 11.8" (W) x 7.56" (D) and weighs 2.38 pounds.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the MacBook Air 11-inch (2012)

Cracking Open Observations

  • Intel 3rd generation (Ivy Bridge) processors: A 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor comes standard, but our test machine had a 2.0GHz Core i7.
  • Better graphics: The 2012 Airs also come with Intel's HD Graphics 4000--a step up from the older model's HD Graphics 3000 system.
  • More, faster RAM: The 2012 Air can support up to 8GB of RAM, compared to the 2011's 4GB. The chips also faster, 1,600MHz DDR3L SDRAM compared to the older model's 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM. As on previous models, the chips are soldered to the motherboard, which makes adding more memory impossible.
  • More storage: The new Air can be configured with up to 512GB of storage--twice the maximum capacity of the 2011 model.
  • 720p FaceTime camera: The Air's built-in camera can shoot 720p video.
  • USB 3.0: The 11-inch Air has two USB 3.0 ports, a single Thunderbolt port, 3.5mm headphone jack, and built-in microphone.
  • MagSafe 2 power connector: Like the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, the 2012 Air has Apple's new MagSafe 2 power connector.
  • Tamper-resistant case screws: Like previous Air models and the MacBook Pro with Retina Display, Apple uses special, pentalobe screws on the case's bottom cover.

A design that works

Despite all the hardware updates, the 2011 and 2012 11-inch Airs have identical internal hardware layouts. There's a large battery in the center, two speakers on either side, a small I/O board, single cooling fan, and motherboard. And just like this year's 13-inch Air, the battery is identical to last year's 11-inch model.

So what's not to like about the new 11-inch Air? Well, nothing too serious. There's no SD card slot, as there is on the 13-inch Air. The base model's 64GB SSD seems small given the machine's $999 price tag. And for those accustomed to a standard laptop, the machine's 11-inch may take a little getting used to.

Bottom Line

As is its larger sibling, the 2012 11-inch Air is a solid update to the line.

Just remember you can't upgrade it, so get all the RAM, storage, and processing power you'll need when you buy it.

For more information on the 2012 MacBook Air 11-inch, including performance and battery life benchmark test, check out Scott Stein's full CNET review.

Internal hardware

Our 2012 13-inch MacBook Air test unit has the following hardware:

  • 2.0GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor with Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • Intel Platform Controller Hub (E210B677 SLJ8B G11334 01 PB3)
  • 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3L SDRAM (Hynix H5TC4G83MFR x 16)
  • 128GB Toshiba THNSNS128GMFP SSD
  • Broadcom BCM943224PCIEBT2 wireless module
  • Apple 7.3V, 35WH 4,680mAh Li-ion battery pack (Model A1406)
  • Panasonic UDQFZYR72DQU DC brushless cooling fan
  • Texas Instruments (58872D TI 221 A6LE E4)
  • Intel DSL3510L (Thunderbolt controller?)
  • K03P0 2B4 61N4
  • Maxim MAX15120G TL214 +BSAG
  • 3050 008B
  • Intersil ISL8014A 4A Low Quiescent Current 1MHz High Efficiency Synchronous Buck Regulator (8014AIRZRF209QP)
  • Texas Instruments TPS51916 DDR2, DDR3 and DDR3L Memory Power Solution Synchronous Buck Controller (51916 TI 22K D0FG)
  • SMSC USB2512B USB hub controller (USB2513B D1212-A2P10 8J149932D SCM-MY)
  • TL02043A 6352.107 ZSD211
  • 148AV 2D012 MSA
  • Macronix MX25L6406E 6Mb Serial Flash (L121483 MX25L6406EZNI-12GF 3K463400)
  • Texas Instruments/Stellaris LM4FS1AH microcontroller (980 YFC LM4FS1AH 5BBCIG 23A48YW G1)
  • Intersil ISL6259A battery charger (6259A HRTZ F209LN)
  • Texas Instruments TPS51980 TI 231 A50K G4
  • 21BF D68B
  • Texas Instruments CD3210 A0 TI 231 APHX
  • Linear Technology LT3957B DC/DC inverting switching regulators (212 3957 B65277)
  • Texas Instruments TPS2561 Dual Channel Precision Adjustable Current-Limited Power Switche (2561 TI 22I AL8Q)
  • 023 12 18 2D210
  • Cypress Semiconductor CY8C24794 PSoC Programmable System-on-Chip (CY8C24794-24L QXI 1219 A 05 PHI CYP 618090 245)
  • Silicon Storage Technology (SST) 25VF020 2 Mbit SPI Serial Flash (SST 25VF020 20-4C-QAE 1205AS2-AB)
  • Broadcom BCM5976A0KUB2G trackpad controller (BCM5976A0KUB26 TD1212 P10 194070 5T)

About

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop supp...

20 comments
Yan05
Yan05

Good article, but there is one thing that is incorrect. Although the Mac does have a proprietary SSD, OWC makes replacement drives for most of the models. Most are cheaper than buying from apple and come in sizes up to 480gb.

cybero_designs
cybero_designs

This is yet another return to base for repairs item of kit. For a lot of manufacturer's, including Apple, this might seem to be a sensible approach for such non professional consumer oriented bits of kit. That said though the recycling limitations and difficulties such a form factor provides is not to be underestimated. So much of the design approach seems to be dictated by the desire to be the slimmest, the lightest and with too little consideration of the likely net results of such an approach. When one sees this glued in battery, SSDs, soldered in RAM , all in one display unit becoming the norm reference for even the MacBook Pro, then one has to ask just how thin do we need to be getting. All in all, it means that even the most frequently in need of repair and replacement component parts shall have to be sorted out by effectively replacing the entire computer, or a major component part of the same.

cquirke
cquirke

Soldered-in RAM doesn't only mean no RAM upgrades, making this worse in that regard than any PC (which have at least 2 RAM slots, even in laptops). It also means no safe way to get your data off, if the RAM goes bad. Bad RAN can not only corrupt data written to storage, but also corrupt where in the storage it is written to. Still not getting it? A bit-flip can cause a read operation to become a write operation. Now you get it? So if RAM is bad, you want to get that storage out of the system and into a known-good system, so you can salvage it. Oh wait, this is an SSD that may have funny connections, and those "tamper-resistant" screws make it harder to get inside. This sort of nonsense construction is barely excusable in a throw-away-priced sub-PC mobile toy. It takes real arrogance to build a premium-priced laptop this way.

Professor8
Professor8

Like democracy, it's a rotten way to do things... except that all of the rest are worse. Intel & ADM & IBM kludgey CPUs. Garrumph! Whatever happened to RISC? Whatever happened to elegance? Whatever happened to competition? Whatever happened to honest Country of Origin Labeling? And what's with this odd fixation on "thin" for the apparent sake of "thin"?! I'd much much prefer something several times as thick and a heftier battery at an eighth of the price.

bs1521
bs1521

As a grass chewing, woolly consumers & "clueless abuser" (labeled by my savvy geek colleagues), “If not Apple, what?” You’re not suggesting a PC product, produced by the megalith corporate bandits? Pieces of computing garbage, w/ a shelf life of apprxly 2 ?? yrs from Manfctr date. We pay up front or pay later when its’ self destruct timer activates! You isolated a problem, what are your recommendations for an alternate solution?

OptimalOptimusSupreme
OptimalOptimusSupreme

Apple doesn't make anything . Never did. Intel makes the motherboard for them and then apple puts the case around it .Its a weak system - come on dual core very old also. They get away with because of Fools like this so called tech editor -Bill -is saying that apple makes their stuff. Then people buy into that lie.

Gisabun
Gisabun

How on earth does Apple get away with glueing down batteries and soddering memory to the mobo and [I'm assuming like the MacBook Pro] a proprietary SSD. I'm sure an environmentalist [or for that matter anyone who even cares just a wee bit about the environment] would buy one of these. JUst those who likes their status symbol crap. [Unfortunately Lenovo is copying them a bit with their X1 Chrome (?) model that just came out.]

Gisabun
Gisabun

How many of the typical users will know that....

Nitramd
Nitramd

So it was'nt a spelling mistake in his post, when RAM goes wrong in this Macbook, it really is soddering.ERRR Apple-care, what are you doing with that iron!

Gisabun
Gisabun

If the RAM craps out, you buy a replacement Mac. Put it to you this way, I'd be very p?ssed if the RAM was crapping out and you couldn't change the RAM [but you can ona non-Mac]. I wouldn't be buying a Mac after that.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

"And what's with this odd fixation on "thin" for the apparent sake of "thin"?!" I'd have to say: 1) because they can (to demonstrate superior technical ability) 2) To save weight/size (to increase portability) 3) For aesthetics (to increase desirability) As for: "I'd much much prefer something several times as thick and a heftier battery at an eighth of the price." Win........although I must say that you wouldn't be looking at the MacBook in the first place if that were your main driving requirement.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Took that a bit personal, didn't we?Not necessary - we're all on the same side, here (the one that wants better tech, that is). Good question though - certainly you deserve an answer. The point I was making was clear and it applies to any and all brands - Apple just happens to be the conversation piece here. If we, as consumers, keep buying products that we aren't happy with we're giving the companies that make these product the signal that they can get away with it.....and so they produce more. Anyone who is brand loyal because they 'buy into' the brand identity will help perpetuate the myth and the production of bad products and use of bad practices. If we don't buy, they can't make. My recommendation is simple - find a product that suits your needs if you are unhappy with the product you are being offered by your normal vendor of choice (Apple, in this case). IF SUCH A PRODUCT DOESN'T EXIST and you choose to bite the bullet and buy anyway, write a letter of complaint to the company suggesting the things you want to see changed. If enough voices say the same thing, guess what? Smart companies (such as Apple) will listen and changes may be made for the future. Look, Apple aren't unique in all this but they are the highest profile. They set themselves up as a 'premium brand' and provide their customers with overpriced tech that seems to have a lot less thought about their consumers than they used to have. Apple are supposed to be the innovator all other brands watch for the next trend, not a 'megalith corporate bandit king' whose limiting practises form the playbook by which other corporate bandits realise that the consumer will buy what they're told to and put up with more than they thought they would. We're better than that, and we should demand that they are, too. BTW - While I agree that build quality on some consumer tech seems to have suffered in recent years I absolutely hold no opinion that manufacturers are deliberately making tech to expire after 2 years. Imagine if that were true and was provable? Lots of people would be out of business. Quite a lot of my own tech is quite old and still highly useful. The answer to this conundrum is the same - don't like, don't buy. Find an alternative or complain loudly if you can't. I hope this answers your question. It's not a clever solution but it is elegant in it's simplicity.

Gisabun
Gisabun

Apple designs their gadgets. On the box. Everyone knows Foxconn puts them together and supplies some parts but [as you can see in the specs list], nothing has an Apple brand name on it.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

.....it's because people keep buying Apple products. Apples mighty marketing machine and design aesthetic has ensured that people see the Apple symbol as a desirable designer icon and a symbol of quality. Apple's pricing model confirms the 'premium' status of the products it produces and the media hype surrounding Apple's products keeps this idea firmly in our minds. The old G3 and G4 desktop units were both beautiful and a joy to work on as a technician. Apple have decided somewhere along the way that clever design no longer needs to take account of the people working on repairing or upgrading these units and have instead opted to control the hardware to such a degree that they produce layouts like this and zero customisation/upgrade options (beyond, give us another thousand bucks, please). Apple's business practises bug me. In a company full of talented designers, surely it's possible to make things easier for users, technicians and customisers alike? They've (arguably) done it before. The real nub of the matter is this: As long as we, the grass chewing, woolly consumers, keep buying Apple's stuff, Apple will keep making it's stuff the way it does. Fanboyism can indeed stifle innovation.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

......if Apple has their way. Thanks for sharing that nugget, Yan05. Could come in handy for our Marketing folks (our Mac users). [Oh, go on. vote me down as well because I look to be Mac-bashing. I'd be saying the same thing if it were Dell, HP or IBM]

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Sorry but I don't agree with this comment being voted down at all. The point is valid, albeit in need of a minor correction. If the MAC's RAM dies, you send it to Apple for repair. No warranty? THEN you need a replacement. At $1000 a pop, you'd be sure as hell I'D be annoyed too! [vote click!]

Gisabun
Gisabun

Apple wants to cut out the technician. They are basically saying, "if it's busted or dead by a new one". This goes for anything now part of the actual case. DVD burner dies, buy a new one [on a desktop that's about $25 to replace instead of $1000+]. Or maybe they think nothing ever breaks down in their gadgets and computers? I still have no Apple productsMy next phone [due for an upgrade in a few months] won't be an iPhone.

mckinnej
mckinnej

the Hollywood exposure Apple always gets. The "hero" always seems to be using an Apple with the logo centrally displayed. Anything else is either nameless or has a piece of duct tape stuck over the logo.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

I certanly get the feeling that Apple wish to control their user experience more closely by limiting the hardware configurations they may be dealing with. To get to that, it means trying to limit what people can and can't change, and what techs can replace. Simply put, Apple really don't want us messing with their stuff.

dl_wraith
dl_wraith

Apple aren't the only tech company to get a lot of Hollywood exposure, but I take your point. That's marketing!