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How fast is the MacBook Air compared to the MacBook and MacBook Pro?
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 and MacBook Pro models were replaced by the "Late 2008/Unibody" MacBook and MacBook Pro models on October 14, 2008. For more recent performance Q&As, please refer to the main MacBook Air Q&A page.
An astute reader might notice that Apple generally has provided some basic benchmarks evaluating the performance of the MacBook and MacBook Pro models, but did not do so for the original MacBook Air.
Subnotebooks never have been known for their performance, merely their size, but with even a quick glance at the specifications for the MacBook Air compared to the MacBook or MacBook Pro models, one will notice that the MacBook Air has a 1.6 GHz "Core 2 Duo" processor -- with a slower clock speed than any other MacBook -- as well as a stock 4200 RPM hard drive and unremarkable integrated graphics.
With these specifications, it would be a safe assumption that the MacBook Air is slower than the MacBook or MacBook Pro models.
A variety of reviewers put the MacBook Air through its paces, and came to much the same conclusion.
With a 1.6 GHz, Core 2 Duo processor and a 4200-RPM hard drive, nobody expects the MacBook Air to be a speed demon. So we were pleasantly surprised by its general responsiveness. While disk-intensive operations, such as starting up applications, were noticeably slower than on a MacBook Pro, routine web browsing, email, and word processing tasks were quick. PowerPoint 2008 ran transitions and builds in its dual-screen Presenter Tools mode with no slow-downs at all.
Geekbench scores, which test pure processor performance, show the 1.6-GHz MacBook Air to be about 80% the speed of a 2.0-GHz "Late 2006" MacBook.
The MacBook Air is quite a bit slower than the other MacBooks. The MacBook Air was also outpaced in our tests by one of its closest desktop cousins, the ultracompact Mac mini 1.83 GHz Core 2 Duo. Its Speedmark score of 124 is the lowest score we've recorded for any Intel-based Mac laptop, but it does handily beat our PowerPC laptop reference system, the 1.67 GHz PowerBook G4. The MacBook Air is also clearly the slowest currently shipping Mac model.
The Air didn't fare too badly against the MacBook and MacBook Pro. There are a few tests where the MacBook had uncharacteristically long bars that may have been freak accidents, but otherwise everything else falls in line with what we would expect given the differences between the three machines. For its specs, the MacBook Air did rather well.
Ultimately, the MacBook Air is remarkable for its size -- including a 13.3" display and a full-size keyboard in a very thin package -- but unremarkable in its performance.