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
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Our 13-inch MacBook Air had the following hardware components:
- Intel Core i5 Processor-2557M with integrated Intel HD 3000 graphics
- Intel E78296 Platform Controller Hub
- 128GB Toshiba mSATA SSD
- 4GB Hynix DDR3 SDRAM (H5TQ2G83BZR x 16)
- 7.3V 50Wh 6700mAh Li-ion battery
- Broadcom BCM943224PCIEBT2BX miniPCIe wireless card
- Cirrus 4206BCNZ audio controller
- Broadcom BCM5976A0KUB2G
- Cypress CY8C24794-24L PSoC
- SST 25VF020 20-4C-QAE 1052Y1E-AB
- Texas Instruments 58864D
- Genesys Logic GL822 SD-slot controller
- Linear Technology 3857
- MAXIM 15092G
- Fairchild DB12AC FDMS 0355S and AB20AL FDMS 0349
- Intersil 80 14AIRZ F112NK
- SMSC USB2513B USB 2.0 Hub Controller
- Macronix MX25L64 serial Flash chip
- Intersil 625 9AHRTZ F115QB
- Texas Instruments TPS 51980
- SMSC 1704-2 146007B CTW
- F2117LP 20H RVP AC03453 1111JPN
- Parade PS8301 U08FUC ARR97 1411 A2
- NXP 1112 /A 11161B
- PI3VeDP 212ZLE W1116GG
- Texas Instruments SN1010 017 TI 15K D9PF
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.
Update 12/19/2011: This post originally appeared in our TR Dojo blog.
Bill Detwiler has nothing to disclose. He doesn't hold investments in the technology companies he covers.
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 support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.