Last week we published our review of the new 2011 MacBook Air. Both the 11 and 13-inch models ship with ultra low-voltage (ULV) dual-core Sandy Bridge CPUs, a first for the lineup. Also another first for the lineup is the fact that you can now get equally specced CPUs in both models. In theory you'd be able to have the same performance regardless of chassis size.

The table below highlights the three CPUs available on the new MBAs:

2011 Apple MacBook Air CPU Comparison
1.6GHz Core i5 1.7GHz Core i5 1.8GHz Core i7
Available in 11-inch (default) 13-inch (default) high-end 11-inch (option)
high-end 13-inch (option)
Intel Model Core i5-2467M Core i5-2557M Core i7-2677M
Cores/Threads 2/4 2/4 2/4
Base Clock Speed 1.6GHz 1.7GHz 1.8GHz
Max SC Turbo 2.3GHz 2.7GHz 2.9GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.0GHz 2.4GHz 2.6GHz
L3 Cache 3MB 3MB 4MB
GPU Clock 350MHz / 1.15GHz 350MHz / 1.2GHz 350MHz / 1.2GHz
Quick Sync Yes Yes Yes
AES-NI Yes Yes Yes
VT-x Yes Yes Yes
VT-d No Yes Yes
TDP 17W 17W 17W

The 1.8GHz Core i7 is offered as an upgrade to both the 11 and 13-inch MacBook Air. With much higher max turbo speeds and another megabyte of L3 cache, it's clear this is going to be a big upgrade over the standard 11-inch Air.

Last week we got our hands on one of these upgraded 11-inch models to find out just how much faster it is. We also wanted to find out what sort of an impact the faster CPU would have on the 11's thermals and battery life. It just so happens that our upgraded 11 gave us more than just that to investigate.

The Panel Lottery

For commodity parts within its systems Apple typically sources from two different vendors. This is done to avoid shortages due to a single component vendor. It also puts Apple in a good negotiating position. The MacBook Air is no different. Each model (11 & 13-inch) ships with one of two panels. Word on the street is that one of those panels is better than the other. It was time to find out if that's the case.

If you want to know who makes the display in your Mac and Apple hasn't overridden the EDID information from the panel simply open up terminal and execute this string:

ioreg -lw0 | grep IODisplayEDID | sed "/[^<]*</s///" | xxd -p -r | strings -6

The output will look something like this:

Color LCD

The first line is the panel's model number. Typically a quick Google search of the first few characters will give you the manufacturer's name. In this case, the LP116WH4 is made by LG Philips (hence the LP prefix). This happens to be the panel in the 11-inch Core i7 MacBook Air I just got my hands on. If you read my original review of the 2011 MBAs you'll know that both of the systems I tested there had panels by a different manufacturer:


The LT prefix on both of those part numbers implies Samsung is the OEM. The current working theory is that the LG panel in the new MacBook Air is somehow worse than the Samsung panel. Given the vast difference we saw in SSD performance between the Samsung and Toshiba drives, is it possible that Apple has allowed a similarly large gap to form between LCD vendors? Not so much:

Notebook LCD Quality - White

The LG panel is slightly dimmer than the Samsung panel I originally tested.

Although you don't get peak brightness, you do get lower black levels on the LG panel:

Notebook LCD Quality - Black

The combination of the two actually gives us a healthy boost in max on/off contrast:

Notebook LCD Quality - Contrast

In normal usage I never noticed the increase in contrast, nor did I feel the panel was any dimmer, but there is technically an advantage here.

Notebook LCD Quality - Color Accuracy

Color accuracy is also slightly better on the LG panel, although this small of a difference is basically impossible to notice.

Notebook LCD Quality - Color Gamut

Perhaps due to backlight differences the LG panel does have a narrower color gamut.

Apple calibrates all of its systems with integrated displays before shipment so the LG panel has a similar white point to the earlier Samsung panel we tested (6700 - 6800K):

Based on these numbers alone I don't see any reason to believe that the LG panel in the new MacBook Air is any worse than the Samsung panel. However I do believe that there may be an explanation for the perceived inferior quality of the LG panel. The LG panel exhibits vertical color/contrast shift more readily than the Samsung panel. Unfortunately I don't have them both here to show you a side by side comparison but the LG panel seems to be slightly more sensitive to vertical viewing angle. As I mentioned in our original 2011 MacBook Air review, the 11 is a particularly tough system to use due to the height of its display. In order to get perpendicular line of sight to the display you need to tilt the display back and your head down. If you're off by just a few degrees you'll start to see color/contrast shift. On the LG panel that classic TN panel distortion seems to come a bit sooner than on the Samsung panel.

Viewed Above Center

Viewed Perpendicular to the Screen

Viewed Below Center

The issue was most noticeable to me when I had the 11 on a desk rather than on my lap. While it was particularly bothersome when I first got it, I've since become used to the display. Obviously these machines are expensive enough that I believe you should be happy with your purchase, but from my perspective the two panels are close enough that it's not worth losing sleep over. Both the LG and Samsung panels are TN panels. They may have better display characteristics than your typical cheap TN panel, but they still have the same viewing angle limitations as other TN panels. Both panels exhibit the same issues, the LG may just show them off a few degrees sooner.

The bigger problem for some is that the 11-inch MacBook Air has the highest pixel density of anything Apple ships:

While I'm glad Apple opted for a high resolution 11-inch display, not everyone will find it easy to read. This isn't something that varies with panel type, it's just a side effect of having a small display with a high pixel density.



View All Comments

  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Oh, but that's so Apple can keep everything running, all the time.

    It was bad enough that Mac OS apps don't quit when you "close" them. With Lion, Apple is taking this to new idiotic extremes.

    It's just another example of Apple hypocrisy: The user is qualified to launch an app by himself, but not qualified to decide when to close it.

    If Apple's mania for never quitting anything works so well, why doesn't the OS just launch every app on the machine at startup time?

    Could it be, Apple, that applications actually DO require resources, and that running them when they're not needed WASTES those resources? Uh huh.
  • weiran - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    The most wasteful memory is the memory that isn't being used at all.

    Keeping apps in "free" memory means they will open quicker, not only saving on HDD time but power consumption as well. OS X can decide to kill that app if it needs the RAM for something else.

    People are too concerned about the memory footprint and amount of free RAM they have, the most effective use of memory is to use it rather than leaving it empty, and needing to use the far more resource intensive (in terms of speed and power) disk drive.
  • h00ligan76 - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    That's true - and it is also possible some of the paging I am seeing is due to cycling out idle apps when more ram is needed. I don't know what they are doing for memory management. I can say however, that with only photoshop and lightroom open, I start paging FAST... so it's a real bummer they arbitrarily declined to offer 8gb. The color gamut issue is also another real bummer. Between these two - I may end up returning tbh. Reply
  • KineticHummus - Monday, August 1, 2011 - link

    I dont use an apple simply because i dont really like the Apple OS, but look at their screens! In almost every test, most models top the charts. Look at contrast, the top half of the graph is all apple laptops! PC manufacturers need to step up their game. The only screen that seems to compare is HP's radiance display from their old envy 14, too bad they discontinued those screens Reply
  • nardreiko - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    I just feel the need to express two disappointments I have with the new models:

    1. Scrolling up and down on the new Macbook Air models at the local Apple store, text in particular seemed to jitter in a way that literally made me so nauseous that I had to stop using the computer after just a couple minutes. I don't usually get motion sickness or anything of the sort, so I was kind of alarmed by this. I moved over to the 13'' Macbook Pros and did not have the same problem (scrolling was buttery smooth and no sick stomach), which confirmed for me that the problem was not at least entirely due to Lion (though it might help if Lion allowed users to modify the scroll speed the way Snow Leopard does). I asked someone at the store if they had any idea why the screens were so jumpy and and why they were making me sick. They were indignant and walked away in a huff. I've never had an apple employee treat me that way, but I found out later they have had a string of problems with "the Lion images" on the display models of the Macbook Airs ... who knows what that means.

    2. Given that Lion is unusable for my work, and a huge disappointment to everyone I know who actually uses their computer to do work, it is too bad there is no way to downgrade these machines to Snow Leopard. I'm really surprised how positive so many journalists have been toward Lion. It has a few features that are nice on the 11'' screen, like smaller scroll bars and the full screen mode for web browsing, but frankly it adds nothing of value to me on a 13'' or greater model and removes many important functions that I rely on constantly throughout the day. I'm not criticizing the bugs, and I'm sure Apple will work all of those out over time. But the design of Lion is pretty clearly a disaster to everyone I know personally, and I'm shocked at how positive the media has been about Lion. I wholeheartedly agree with those who consider it Apple's Vista. Unfortunately, without a more consistent public outcry about some of the usability issues, I'm pretty sure I'll have to move away from OS X to Windows or Linux within 2-3 years. So while I had been hoping to move to a 13'' MBA once these new models came out, I'm now going through a bit of a grieving processes, realizing my Apple journey may be coming to an end rather than moving forward the way I was hoping.
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Now you're becoming aware that there is seldom a real review of an Apple product. There are very few articles from people who actually USE Apple products.

    What we get is one article after another fawning all over Apple and failing to call them out for glaring design defects. Well, look what customers get for it: A shoddily designed, buggy OS riddled with bad ideas and no fixes for longstanding embarrassments like Finder.
  • MobiusStrip - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    This has nothing to do with Anandtech, whose reviews obviously rise above the rabble. Reply
  • weiran - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    I think you're talking about yourself there rather than most of the MacBook Air reviews which have been extensively researched.

    A MacBook Air isn't for everyone, but its not a "shoddily designed OS". You only need to compare it to the current state of Linux desktop OSes and even Windows 7 (which was a big improvement over Vista) to see that its still ahead in most of the areas people actually care about.

    You probably aren't those people so why do you keep commenting on this review?
  • Mystermask - Sunday, October 9, 2011 - link

    Yeah. That's why Apple customer satisfaction is so low, but wait .. it isn't.

    Finder is ok. Much better than Exploder or most file managers I've seen so far on other OSes.
  • KPOM - Tuesday, August 2, 2011 - link

    Apple doesn't believe in downgrading, and for good reason. People will adopt Lion, and it won't be their Vista. They won't get stuck in the situation Microsoft was in where people clung to XP. For all its faults, Vista wasn't that bad after the first few months when most of the bugs were worked out and the drivers released. Yet people and enterprises clung to XP for so long that even today, 2 years after Windows 7's release, XP is still a sizable share of Windows users.

    Lion is different, but I wouldn't call it a disaster. It takes a little getting used to, but so did the original OS X. I think it will be tweaked a bit, and I'd be curious as to the percentage of people who switch back to the Classic look and the "unnatural" (for lack of a better term) scrolling method. When you first install Lion, it asks if you want to send data back to Apple, so I suspect that they are keeping track.

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