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MacBook Air (2011 13-inch) Teardown: Evolutionary, not revolutionary

Bill Detwiler cracked open the 13-inch 2011 MacBook Air. Inside the case, he found a few significant hardware upgrades, but the same basic internal layout.

In July 2011, Apple released the 3nd generation MacBook Air (Model A1369). As with the 2nd generation Airs, the 2011 notebooks are available in 11-inch and 13-inch models. The 2011 MacBook Air is available in four basic configurations--11-inch with 64GB of storage, 11-inch with 128GB of storage, 13-inch with 128GB of storage, and 13-inch with 256GB of storage. Within each of these divisions, you can further customize the processor and RAM.

Our $1,299 MacBook Air (13-inch) came with a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 SDRAM, 128GB flash storage, Intel HD Graphics 3000 processors with 384MB of shared DDR3 SDRAM, and a 13.3-inch LED-backlit display (1440 x 900 pixels native). Apple added a Thunderbolt port to the 2011 MacBook Air.

We cracked open the 1st generation MacBook Air (released in 2008) and 2nd generation 13-inch MacBook Air (released in 2010). And given the near identical external appearance of the 2011 and 2010 models, I couldn't wait to see if they were equally similar on the inside. They are, but Apple did make several key, evolutionary updates to the 2011 Air.

Full teardown gallery: Cracking Open the Apple MacBook Air (2011 13-inch)

Cracking Open observations

  1. Tamper-resistant external screws: As on the 2010 MacBook Air and some iPhone 4's, Apple used tamper-resistant pentalobe screws on the 2011 Air's bottom cover. You can remove them with a small flat-head screwdriver, but you risk damaging the screw heads.
  2. Nearly identical internal design as the 2010 Air: The 2011 MacBook Air's hardware layout is nearly identical to that of the 2010 model. The motherboard has a slightly different chip configuration, but is the same shape and size.
  3. Integrated graphics processor: Our 13-inch 2010 Air had an NVIDIA GeForce 320M GPU. Apple switched to Intel's integrated HD Graphics 3000 processor for the 2011 model. This change gave Apple room on the motherboard to include the Intel E78296 Platform Controller Hub, which likely contains the Thunderbolt controller. It also meant Apple could shrink the internal cooling assembly.
  4. Many components are identical to the 2010 Air: The 2011 MacBook Air uses many of the same chips as the previous model, such as the Broadcom BCM5976A0K and Cypress PSoC.

Internal hardware

Our 13-inch MacBook Air had the following hardware components:

Evolutionary, not revolutionary

The 2011 MacBook Air is an excellent next step in the product line's evolution. The Intel Core i5 and i7 processors, additional base RAM, and Thunderbolt port are welcome updates. Still, I was a little disappointed by the lack of change inside the case.

Apple was clearly following the "if it isn't broke, don't fix it" mantra. There's nothing wrong with this philosophy. In fact, sticking with the 2010 Air design makes it easier to build and support the 2011 models. It's just not as much fun from a cracking open perspective.

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...

5 comments
kharnak
kharnak

Understand there is boot camp but just would like to explore more options. Now thinking of complete wipe of the hard disk and save all space for windows due to work need (will skipping Boot Camp process make it faster when booting?). but also like to reserve the option of recovering to OS X when got more time to learn to use OS X.

emmanuel adeyi eluma
emmanuel adeyi eluma

tech republic, do u have support for some of us in nigeria desire 2 be come professional africa but can make it, do to lack of financial backing.

Bill Detwiler
Bill Detwiler

Along with releasing updates versions of the ultra-thin MacBook Air and ultra-compact Mac Mini, Apple quietly pulled the classic, white MacBook from its online store. And according to several reports, the venerable MacBook won't be returning. The Air appears to be Apple's new entry-level laptop. After cracking open and using both 11-inch and 13-inch Airs, I think they're a great replacement for the classic MacBook. Unfortunately, most buyers will likely end up paying more for the Air than a similarly-equipped white MacBook. The 11-inch MacBook AIr starts at $999, the same price as the white MacBook. But this entry-level Air has only 64GB of flash storage. According the CNET's review, only 48GB of that space is available for use, once you account for the operating system and preinstalled apps. I suspect most buyers will opt for either the 13-inch Air (starts at $1,299 with a 128GB SSD) or an 11-inch Air with a 128GB SSD ($1,199.00).

pinroy
pinroy

... no problems here running XP on VMWare Fusion.

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