MacBook Air ‘Ultrabook’ is Not, But Teaches

Posted on 11 February 2012 by

It looks like this article from The Verge is more of a ‘must comment’ than a ‘must read’ but I encourage you to do both. Fellow tech blogger Joanna Stern has published a review of the MacBook Air running Windows.

If any of you are still here after seeing the link, go back and read some of the comments. There’s a huge, and sometimes over-excited, comments section. One thing is for sure, the Ultrabook sector is clearly a HOT topic.

Windows7Air

 

And the result of this Windows-on-Apple experiment was….good and bad.

The Apple MacBook Air (2011) hardware has always been something special. The keyboard, screen and trackpad are really best-in-class. The efficiency is amazing. The design, iconic. A hat-tip has to go to Intel too because you don’t design a device like this without close interworking on thermals, dimensions and driver optimizations with the silicon producer. I have a gut feeling that Apple aren’t suing left right and center because so much of the design was down to Intel. Time will tell on that hunch.

Back to the article – The Verge is reporting good performance alongside great hardware support but there’s a massive, massive [can I say it again] massive problem. Actually two. Both of them give me reason to say ‘walk on, there’s nothing to see here’ to nearly all of you.

This set-up is costing significant battery life and hundreds of dollars above an Ultrabook solution to achieve.  Battery life and price are the two  most important figures for most customers in this sector. The discussion is great but for most, the solution is a no-go.

In comparison with the original, OS X version of the MBA you could lose 2 hrs of battery life. Roughly put, the original MBA has 50% more battery life than the Windows hack in The Verge’s test.  In comparison with an ASUS UX31, you’ll be looking at 1hr less battery life. The figures are debatable, yes, but bad.  On the cost side it looks even worse because you’ve got a $1500 figure to contend with after you’ve bought the MBA and the required software. That cost doesn’t include time.

For some, it’s worth it to have the dual-use MBA/Windows scenario but for others, the issues are a massive roadblock. $1500 for a Core i5, 4GB RAM and 128GB? Too much.

The MBA as Windows 7 ‘Ultrabook’ is a no-go for most but there are lessons that should have been learnt already. Keyboard, trackpad and screen quality for example. The Ultrabook market needs to see MBA quality hardware with Windows 7, and soon. The next-gen MBA is looming and if the price of the MBA drops and the quality rises, the competition could have problems. For us, the consumers, reduced competition is a very bad thing.

Have you tried the Windows/MBA solution? If so, let us know your thoughts below.

  • Michael

    I have to admit one thing, MBA quality is so up there and precise. I used a MBA the other day, it was so smooth, the trackpad was so precise that it puts the ultrabook to shame. It was so user friendly and smooth.Sad to say, the ultrabook is merely thin and light, that is all. Nothing else. Everything else is exactly the same as your 5 year old notebook. Exactly what you have said Chippy, there is no real excitement in an ultrabook. They need to improve all aspects to make it attractive to the consumer and not just make it think and light.

  • Michael

    I have just read the full article and all the comments. I must say, the article was very well written and objective. It was so informative, However, the comments written were so disgraceful. So immature. Can’t believe people can be so insensitive, immature and stupid. I suspect most of the comments are coming from the US and I am quite shocked at the immaturity levels of readers from the US.

    • James

      Now let’s not confuse personal bias with facts.

      There are immature commentators all around the world, no country has a monopoly in that department and so none should be singled out.

      Besides, only about 30.6% of the verge traffic is from the US.

      • michael

        Its still the largest single country when traffic is concerned. So, its the same thing.

      • James

        michael :
        Its still the largest single country when traffic is concerned. So, its the same thing.

        No, it’s not the same thing. You still got more total people from other countries than the US viewing that site.

        Besides, there’s no break down of where each poster is from. So no other reason than personal bias to assume the bad posts came from anywhere in particular.

  • Reily

    As much as I want to like TheVerge, their constant Apple-leaning editorials makes it hard. There’s not a Windows/Android review Joanna does that she doesn’t bring up Apple as well. While to the contrary, Donna over at Engadget focuses on the product & it’s direct competitors in the same ecosystem. Donna reviews products professionally & correctly, while Joanna’s reviews just seem to be a “front” to tell us why everything Apple is just better.

    I don’t think it’s a coincidence that when Josh left he took mostly the Apple-leaning writers (Paul, Nilay, Joanna, & many more) who he felt would adhere to his agenda. Notice that the head people left behind at Engadget are primary Windows users (Tim, Darren).

    Considering TheVerge’s awful traffic numbers (less than 5% of Engadgets), Josh has got to be feeling the heat as people in the industry are deeming the site a failure. He surely doesn’t want to be labeled the “FoxNews” of tech sites if he plans on longterm credibility.

    • Peterdon

      Speaking of which, things can’t be going well when one of your head writers (Joanna) has announced she’s quitting just a couple months after the site opened to go work somewhere else. I’m sure she was aware of the sites lousy numbers & decided to jump ship while she still can.

      Too bad, I really like Josh but he completely botched The Verge’s chances of being a success with his poor decision making.

      • Chippy

        I’m not exactly the biggest ‘Verge’ fan. Josh needs to do something a bit more arty. Maybe TV is his thing. Dragging a mainstream tech-blog in that direction doesn’t work for me.

    • Chippy

      I can’t speak about ‘The Verge’ but I can say something about Joanna having known her personally for a number of years now. She’s knowledgeable, honest and does a good job of highlighting some of the things that really affect day-to-day usage. Because the MBA isbthe benchmark for Ultrabook-sector battery life, touchpad, screen and keyboard it make sense.to reference them. You also have to remember that competitor-comparions stimulate (mostly good) discussion. Yes, some page-view bait too but that’s normal for a top-tier tech blog.

    • bearforce1

      Reily, I think the problem of constant “Apple-leaning editorials is because the Apple at present does have it all over the rest in some well recognised areas. So if they are honest they praise the same stuff stuff each time. It is repetitive and boring.

      Me I really dislike Apple cause of the proprietary systems lock ins and have not and will not buy Apple cause of this. It would be equally boring to mention this same fault with Apple systems over and over.

      The thing I find frustrating is the inability of the The Rest, of the industry not being able to even simply copy Apple stuff after all these years.

      I just wish Apple competitors would just get competent at taking the best things from everywhere and sticking them all together. Unfortunately this appears really hard .

  • So had to drop by and comment as you know this is a subject close to me.

    I’m not an Apple fan, in fact I’m now fairly agnostic as to the platforms I use, which is good because its all of them. However as you know I own a 13″ Macbook Air. At the time I bought it in late 2010, there was simply no Windows machine as thin and powerful with the anywhere near the same battery life. Fast forward 15 months and still the competition isn’t at the same level, slow but surely Ultrabooks are catching steadily but I still think elements of quality are lacking, one of which have already been mentioned here.

    For a while I ran native Windows 7 on my MBA, it was a very good experience but yes I lost between an 1 hour – 1.5 hours battery life when compared with Mac OSX, why?… drivers. If Intel / Nvidia wrote Windows optimised drivers then Windows would run almost as long as Mac OSX. I know my late 2010 MBA isn’t quite Ultrabook territory (Core 2 Duo, Geforce 320M instead of Sandy Bridge) but I’m confident the same would apply with the 2011 MBA line.

    On the driver train of thought, do you think Apple have any control / Influence over Intel’s development of Windows drivers for the MBA platform? We know the drivers are made for Mac OSX’s dual boot method ‘bootcamp’ but how far are these drivers developed / optimised for Windows?

    On a personal note Joanna Stern is one of, if not the best female technology writers currently around, her comparisons to Apple products are because of the devices popularity, not because she’s an out and out fan.

    • James

      Yes, Joanna Stern was just making a honest comparison. Though she might have worded it differently as it’s mainly the first paragraph that caused most of the problems and many just didn’t bother reading the rest of the article.

      While Apple does optimize their OS for their Hardware. So no surprise OS X would have better run time on a Apple certified system. Even Linux distro like Ubuntu would still use more power than OS X on a Mac system.

      Mind that Windows has to support a wide range of hardware. While Apple only has to support the hardware they have tested and certified.

      Though this may change with Windows 8, as it’s being heavily optimized for power efficiency and similarity of hardware for Ultrabooks should make optimization easier.

  • celly

    just so you know these numbers there in the articles are not a joke and more than reasonable.,..

    im actually running win7 on a macbook air model 2011, i5 cpu and the battery life is A JOKE…

    even with no websites running just text 40% screen brightness level, you will get no more than 2.5 AT MOST 3 hours battery and this only if you lucky… and want to risk around working on 3-10% battery in the last phase…

    ill wait for the next better ultrabook that offers me the same as the air, in technical aspects (screen, build quality, normal windows keyboard ) and im out there selling the AIR again..

    i have tried it.. air + win7, but seriously now… it isnt worth it having 2.5 hours battery life, it is simply not doing it…

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