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What are all the differences between the "Mid-2011" MacBook Air and the "Early 2011" 13-Inch MacBook Pro models available at the time this MacBook Air was introduced?
Please note that all systems mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. For more recent comparison Q&As, please refer to the main MacBook Air Q&A page.
With even a passing glance at the "Mid-2011" MacBook Air models -- the MacBook Air "Core i5" 1.6 11-Inch (Mid-2011) and "Core i5" 1.7 13-Inch (Mid-2011) -- and the "Early 2011" 13-Inch MacBook Pro models -- the MacBook Pro "Core i5" 2.3 13-Inch and "Core i7" 2.7 13-Inch -- it is obvious that there are notable differences.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (11" & 13" MacBook Air)
With razor thin profiles and silver bezels around the higher resolution displays, there is no mistaking the MacBook Air line -- above -- for the still sleek, but comparatively "chunky" 13-Inch MacBook Pro with a black bezel around a lower resolution display, below.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (13" MacBook Pro)
Although basic differentiation may be easy, deciding which one to purchase may be more difficult. When the original MacBook Air was introduced in 2008 it was considerably underpowered and overpriced compared to the MacBook Pro models available at the same time. Since then, however, the MacBook Air models have become both much less expensive and much more powerful and this makes the decision between the lines more difficult for many users.
Quick Decision Overview
Which is best for you? Well, for those interested in a quick answer -- the main decision is between size, weight and display resolution or performance, connectivity, expansion, and an internal optical drive.
If size, weight, and/or a high-resolution display (relative to the physical dimensions) are most important to you, get a "Mid-2011" MacBook Air model. If performance, connectivity, expansion, data capacity and/or an internal optical drive are more important, a 13-Inch "Early 2011" MacBook Pro would be a better choice.
For those who would like an in-depth comparison to fully understand all of the differences the following also can be useful. For some readers, the choice may come down to a single feature.
These MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models all use "Unibody" case designs milled from a single piece of aluminum, but otherwise are quite different externally.
The MacBook Air models use razor thin all aluminum cases that are 0.11 of an inch at the front and taper to 0.68 of an inch at the rear. The 13" MacBook Pro models, by contrast, are 0.95 inches of an inch thick and uniform in thickness. The weight difference also is significant as the 11-Inch and 13-Inch MacBook Air models weigh 2.38 pounds and 2.96 pounds, respectively, whereas the 13" MacBook Air weighs a comparatively hefty 4.5 pounds.
All of these models have widescreen, LED-backlit displays, but MacBook Air models have displays that are higher-resolution for their physical dimensions -- an 11.6" 1366x768 display for the 11-Inch and a 13.3" 1440x900 display for the 13-Inch. The 13-Inch MacBook Pro, on the other hand, still has a 13.3" display, but it only is a 1280x800 native resolution. However, as first noted by the always excellent AnandTech, the MacBook Air displays are not quite as high quality and have a narrower viewing angle in actual use.
All of these models also essentially have the same "chiclet-style" backlit keyboard, and glass "no button" trackpad with "inertial scrolling" support as well as stereo speakers. However, the MacBook Pro has a higher-resolution "FaceTime HD" webcam and supports a remote, whereas the MacBook Air models have lower resolution non-HD "FaceTime" webcams and do not support a remote at all.
One final external difference may be important to some users -- the MacBook Air models do not have an integrated optical drive like the MacBook Pro -- but Apple offers a separate, USB-powered optical drive as a US$79 option.
Connectivity is a significant point of differentiation between the MacBook Air and 13-Inch MacBook Pro. All models have 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi and two USB 2.0 ports, but otherwise vary.
Perhaps most notably, the 13-Inch MacBook Pro has a Firewire "800" port and a Gigabit Ethernet port, whereas the MacBook Air models do not. The MacBook Air line can be configured with an external 10/100Base-T Ethernet adapter, but does not support Gigabit Ethernet at all. The MacBook Pro also supports an external remote via IR whereas the MacBook Air models do not.
The MacBook Pro has "combined optical digital output/headphone out (user-selectable analog audio line in)" whereas the MacBook Air models only have an analog audio output/headphone minijack (that also supports an iPhone/iPod touch headset with microphone). The 13-Inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models have an integrated SDXC-capable SD Card slot as well, whereas the 11-Inch MacBook Air does not.
The MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models all have a new "Thunderbolt" port that is backwards compatible with the older Mini DisplayPort and likewise supports an external display at 2560x1600 and passes an audio signal as well. However, as first reported by AnandTech, the MacBook Air models use a cheaper "Eagle Ridge" Thunderbolt controller that provides two Thunderbolt channels (2 x 10 Gbps bidirectional) compared to the MacBook Pro which uses a "Light Ridge" controller that provides four Thunderbolt channels (4 x 1- Gbps bidirectional). In practice, this means that the MacBook Pro is able to support more external devices -- like Thunderbolt-equipped hard drives and SSDs -- in addition to Firewire 800-equipped devices.
One final connectivity difference is that the MacBook Air models support Bluetooth 4.0, compared to the MacBook Pro that supports the older Bluetooth 2.1+EDR standard.
The MacBook Pro and MacBook Air models are easy to differentiate when side-by-side, but as multiple MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines use the same cases, precisely identifying the "Mid-2011" MacBook Air and "Early 2011" 13-Inch MacBook Pro models can be more of a challenge.
The "Mid-2011" MacBook Air line has unique EMC Numbers that can be used for external identification -- 2471 for the 11-Inch and 2469 for the 13-Inch. Unfortunately, the "Early 2011" MacBook Pro models do not have externally visible EMC Numbers, so these models can only be uniquely identified externally by the last four characters of their Serial Numbers courtesy of EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature. EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup can identify the "Mid-2011" MacBook Air models by the last four characters of their Serial Numbers as well.
In software, all of these models can be pinpointed by Model Identifier. The "Mid-2011" MacBook Air models use MacBookAir4,1 and MacBookAir4,2 for the 11-Inch and 13-Inch models, respectively, and the "Early 2011" 13-Inch MacBook Pro models use MacBookPro8,1.
Internally, there are some similarities between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro lines -- both use "Sandy Bridge" processors, architectures with a 5 GT/s "Direct Media Interface" in lieu of the "traditional" system bus and have integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 graphics processors that share memory with their respective system.
However, there are significant differences as well. The MacBook Air models use Mini-SATA connected flash memory for storage that is not intended to be upgraded whereas the MacBook Pro use hard drives by default which are higher capacity, but slower and can be easily upgraded either at the time of purchase or later to SSD-based storage. The MacBook Air models are not designed to be upgraded, and options are more limited, but the upgrade itself is not particularly difficult.
Perhaps the most notable internal difference is that the MacBook Air models have either 2 GB or 4 GB of memory soldered to the motherboard and the MacBook Pro has upgradable memory. The MacBook Air models cannot be upgraded beyond 4 GB of RAM and cannot be upgraded at all after the time of purchase either. The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, has 4 GB of RAM by default and can be upgraded to as much as 16 GB of memory after purchase.
Both lines have integrated batteries that are not designed to be "swapped" -- or even replaced -- by end users. Apple estimates 5 hours of runtime using a 35 Watt Hour battery for the 11-Inch MacBook Air, 7 hours of runtime using a 50 Watt-Hour battery for the 13-Inch MacBook Air and 7 hours of runtime using a 63.5 Watt-Hour battery for MacBook Pro while performing "wireless web" tasks.
All of the above differences -- as well as configuration differences -- are summarized below:
MacBook Pro Early 2011
MacBook Air Mid-2011
|Processor:||I5-2415M, I7-2620M||I5-2467M, I5-2557M|
|Speed:||2.3 GHz, 2.7 GHz||1.6 GHz, 1.7 GHz|
|L3 Cache:||3 MB, 4 MB||3 MB|
|Std. RAM:||4 GB||2 GB**, 4 GB|
|Max. RAM:||16 GB*||4 GB**|
|RAM Type:||PC3-10600 DDR3||Soldered**|
|Int. Graphics:||HD Graphics 3000||HD Graphics 3000|
|VRAM:||384 MB†||256 MB, 384 MB†|
|Display Size:||13.3"||11.6, 13.3"|
|Int. Storage:||320 GB, 500 GB||64, 128, 256 GB|
|Optical Drive:||8X DL||External Only|
|SD Card Slot:||Yes||No, Yes|
|Trackpad:||4-Finger Inertial||4-Finger Inertial|
|Battery Life:||7 Hours††||5, 7 Hours††|
|Dimensions:||0.95 x 12.78 x 8.94||.11-.68 x 11.8 x 7.56
.11-.68 x 12.8 x 8.94
|Weight:||4.5 lbs (2.04 kg)||2.38 lbs (1.08 kg)
2.96 lbs (1.35 kg)
|Model Identifiers:||MacBookPro8,1||MacBookAir4,1, MacBookAir4,2|
|Original Price:||US$1199, US$1499||US$999-US$1599§|
* Officially, the "Early 2011" MacBook Pro supports 8 GB of RAM, but it actually is capable of supporting 16 GB.
**The entry-level MC968LL/A MacBook Air configuration can be upgraded to 4 GB of RAM only at the time of purchase as a US$100 option. RAM in all MacBook Air models is soldered in place and cannot be upgraded after purchase.
† All of these systems have a graphics processor that shares the system memory.
†† Battery life as estimated by Apple in a "wireless web" test.
§ The 11-Inch MacBook Air is available with 2 GB of RAM and 64 GB of flash storage (MC968LL/A) for US$999 and 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of flash storage (MC969LL/A) for US$1199. The 13-Inch MacBook Air is available with 4 GB of RAM and 128 GB of flash storage (MC965LL/A) for US$1299 and 4 GB of RAM and 256 GB of flash storage (MC966LL/A) for US$1599.
Ultimately, as noted earlier, deciding between a "Mid-2011" MacBook Air and an "Early 2011" MacBook Pro may be a difficult choice. Those primarily interested in style, size and weight would be most likely to be happy with a MacBook Air and those most interested in performance, connectivity, upgrades, and data capacity and an internal optical drive would be most happy with a MacBook Pro.
However, for some users, it may be necessary to compromise and sacrifice a bit of performance to shave weight or sacrifice a bit of portability for connectivity and expansion. Others may find a single feature -- like the higher resolution display on the MacBook Air or the higher resolution webcam on the MacBook Pro -- to tip the balance in one direction or the other. It is only by thoroughly understanding all the differences can one make the best personal choice.
Please refer to EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Comparison feature to dynamically compare any MacBook Air or MacBook Pro model to any other G3 or later Mac.
Also see: How fast are the "Mid-2011" MacBook Air models compared to one another and to earlier MacBook Air models? How fast are these models compared to the "Early 2011" MacBook Pro models?