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What are the differences between the original MacBook Air and the "regular" MacBook?
Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The original MacBook Air was replaced by the MacBook Air (NVIDIA/Late 2008) models and the "Early 2008" MacBook models were replaced by the "Late 2008/Unibody" MacBook models on October 14, 2008. For more recent comparison Q&As, please refer to the main MacBook Air Q&A page.
Upon viewing the respective specifications pages for the original MacBook Air and a "regular" MacBook -- the MacBook "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 13" (Black- Early 2008), for example -- two users might come to very different conclusions. A style-conscious user might view the MacBook Air as sleek and beautiful and the "regular" MacBook as comparatively clunky. A cynical user might instead view the MacBook Air as half the system for twice the price.
Both of these viewpoints could be legitimate. Most would agree that the MacBook does look rather "clunky" compared to the MacBook Air.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (MacBook Air - Left, MacBook - Right)
Likewise, there is no denying that the MacBook Air does have substantial limitations compared to the "regular" MacBook in performance (it's slower and uses the same lackluster integrated graphics), connectivity (it only has one USB 2.0 port and no onboard Ethernet, compared to the "regular" MacBook with two USB 2.0 ports, a Firewire "400" port, Gigabit Ethernet, and optical digital audio in/out), and expansion (no swappable battery or upgradable RAM and it is a pain to upgrade the hard drive, compared to the "regular" MacBook which has a swappable battery, upgradable RAM, and it is relatively simple to upgrade the hard drive). The "regular" MacBook also has a convenient internal optical drive whereas the MacBook Air requires the usage of an external one or software workarounds.
A fan of the MacBook Air would no doubt shoot back that the MacBook Air has a better keyboard -- due to backlighting and an ambient light sensor -- a superior LED-backlit display, and a clever trackpad that supports "multi-touch gesturing" (two-finger scroll, pinch, rotate, swipe, tap, double-tap, and drag). A fan also would object to the "twice as expensive" comment, remark that the MacBook Air is a full two pounds lighter, and note that it really only truly cost twice as much in the stock SSD configuration when introduced for US$3098 (the cheapest MacBook costs US$1099 and the cheapest MacBook Air is US$1799).
These differences are perhaps summarized most conveniently in a chart:
|MacBook Air||MacBook "Early 2008"|
|Processor Speeds:||1.6-1.8 GHz||2.1-2.4 GHz|
|Video System:||Intel GMA X3100||Intel GMA X3100|
|Video Memory:||144 MB*||144 MB*|
|Hard Drive Size:||80 GB†||120, 160, 250 GB|
|Hard Drive Type:||PATA (ZIF)||Serial ATA|
|Default Memory:||2 GB||1, 2 GB|
|Max Memory:||2 GB||4 GB|
|USB 2.0:||Yes (1)||Yes (2)|
|Firewire 400:||No||Yes (1)|
|Optical Audio In/Out:||No||Yes|
|SuperDrive:||Optional (External)||Standard (Internal)|
|Case Color:||Silver||White or Black|
|Size (Inches):||.16-.76 x 12.8 x 8.94||1.08 x 12.78 x 8.92|
|Weight:||3.0 lbs (1.36 kg)||5.0 lbs (2.27 kg)|
|Max Battery Life:||5 Hours§||4.5 Hours§|
|Intro Price Range:||US$1799-US$3098||US$1099-US$1499|
* Both systems "borrow" main memory for video function. Minimum graphics memory usage is 144 MB.
† A 64 GB SSD version originally was available as a US$999 upgrade, or configured along with a 1.8 GHz processor for US$3098 total. On July 8, 2008, Apple dropped the price to US$599 for the SSD upgrade alone or US$2598 for the upgraded system.
†† An external 10/100Base-T Ethernet adapter was available for US$29, but due to the bandwidth limitations of USB 2.0, the MacBook Air cannot support Gigabit (10/100/1000Base-T) Ethernet.
§ Maximum battery life as reported by the manufacturer. Please refer to "What is the battery life of the MacBook Air in real-world usage tests?" for objective third-party information.
Ultimately, the MacBook Air and MacBook are two very different types of notebooks targeting two very different types of users. The MacBook is a relatively compact, relatively inexpensive system designed for day-to-day use by a mass audience, whereas the MacBook Air is a premium product for those who want a beautiful, lightweight notebook and are willing to sacrifice affordability, performance, connectivity, and expansion to save weight and gain style. Which notebook is the ideal choice for you is really a decision that only you can make.
Also see: What are the "pros and cons" of the MacBook Air? Is it the right Apple notebook for my needs?
Please refer to EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Comparison feature to dynamically compare any MacBook Air model to any other G3 or later Mac.