MacBook Air: Tempted again, disappointed again

By on October 27, 2010
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To MacBook Air or not?

Looking at the new MacBook Air announced during Apple’s conference last week made me really consider buying one of the most beautiful laptops I’ve ever seen. A simple and elegant, yet extremely efficient and effective design process has been Apple’s philosophy since forever. The sleek form factor and beefier upgrades, especially in the graphics department, were exactly the kind of things I was looking for to push me over to the OSX side of the field.

I did like the MacBook Air when it first launched in early 2008, but back then the weak components inside did not provide with a better browsing and normal working environment than a netbook. Lack of easy upgrades and a high entry price completely put me off the thing. Now though, things have changed. While gaming has become a bigger part of Apple’s overall plan for world domination (thanks to the iPhone paving the way), Macs are still not devices I would go to for a proper gaming session. Still, something is better than nothing; an Nvidia 320m GPU is better than an Intel GMA or the old GeForce 9400m.

Of course, I’m not planning to play for a long time, nor anything as graphically intensive as Crysis. Just some WoW on occasions and a bit of StarCraft II whenever I’m feeling up for it, and maybe dabble in a little bit of Team Fortress 2.  All of these are old games, with some heavy shaders working under the hood; nothing the GeForce 320m can’t handle. However, can the system as a whole handle my gaming needs? Will the fan head into full speed of irritating whiny noises and completely destroy an otherwise silent experience associated with the MacBook Air? And even after all that, will the games look decent (I don’t expect full resolution and effects glory) and be playable at an acceptable framerate? Going through many forum threads, I’m looking at a bare minimum performance on games.

That said, gaming is not my primary focus with the new MacBook Air. I want it because it “feels” good, at least in my mind. It’s ultra-lightweight and small enough to be used anywhere without any discomfort whatsoever. So basically I’m picturing myself on my couch, legs up and all, playing some Cataclysm, quitting out and then writing about it in a blog post for MEGamers.  Sounds real nice, but what about the times when I want to do the same in my bed? Lights off, cozy blanket, finishing a match in StarCraft II and then working on some article with a glass of hot chocolate on my side table. Except I can’t type. No backlit keyboard.

After so many things that seemed right in the new MacBook Air, there are still one or two very fundamental items that are missing which put me off buying it. The graphics card isn’t too weak, and I can definitely get much better performance on the above mentioned games if I dual boot into Windonws 7, but that would utterly defeat the purpose of having a MAC. No backlit keyboard is also a huge issue for me, and what’s more irritating is that this was a perfectly good functionality available in the previous MacBook Air models.

At the end of the day I’m paying $999 for the new MacBook Air; it looks gorgeous, works smooth, plays some games and comes with all the brilliance of the Mac OSX (which I have yet to experience in its full glory). Or I can pay the same and get much better hardware and performance from an Alienware M11x (R2) with all the brilliance of Windows 7 that I use and love. Yes, it’s bulkier compared to the MacBook Air, but it’s got a backlit keys.


From auditing to editing, I now test and analyze the latest gadgets and games instead of the latest financial statements. Both jobs are equally intense and rewarding. When I'm not burning up hardware in the name of science, you'll find me nuking in DOTA 2 or engineering in TF2.

  • Abbas Jaffar Ali

    “the brilliance of the Mac OSX” – enough said!

  • Nick Rego

    Don’t give in! Get the Alienware M11x – I bought it and love it for gaming and my photo work, especially since I clocked in an SSD :-)

  • Nick Rego

    Oh and did I mention that I’ve got PINK backlit keys? :-D

  • http://FightYourPhotoTicket.Com Mike

    I am a user of an older MacBook Air and was eagerly awaiting the new release. I was ready to place my order for a top of the line new MacBook Air for $1800, but immediately cancelled when I found out that it had no backlit keyboard. I absolutely cannot believe Apple released the new Air without one of its key features! I guess this new one should be called the “MacBook Error”. Sorry Apple. I’m keeping my old Air and my $1800. Maybe next time once you fix this oversight in the next revision.

    • Abbas Jaffar Ali

      It wouldn’t have been as bad if the Air never had a backlit keyboard but the fact that its taken away makes me cringe.

  • Jeremy Levy

    I don’t understand why you’re even talking about gaming or dual-booting Windows 7 on the Air. It’s simply not made for either. You’re only strong argument is the lack of a backlit keyboard, which I agree is a huge mistake. However, don’t you know your home keys? Can you not feel the small elevations at the F and J keys? If so, then you can’t type in the dark but if no, then you’re good. I’m not trying to support the lack of a backlit keyboard, but just saying it’s not the end of the world if you know how to type (you may have some issues with keyboard shortcuts). If you’re a gamer (like me), then of course you would go with an M11X and Windows 7 and better hardware. For what the Macbook Air is and the fact that it is made by Apple and that of course it’s going to be more expensive than other ultra portables, it’s a great machine for general use.

  • Guest

    A Sony Vaio Z is a better choice, but at $1700, it’s a tad expensive. The Alienware is too heavy (weighs over 2 times more at 4.5 lbs) and bulky and it’s screen is too glossy to be acceptable.

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