I'm not a gamer, but I did find that the Nvidia chip improved video playback. In my time with it, I noticed no stuttering when viewing YouTube videos or clips on news sites like CNN or MSNBC. Nor did video playback push the temperature up so high that it caused any problems. Users had complained that some of the early models would freeze up when playing videos -- until Apple released a software update that apparently changed how quickly the built-in fans kicked in for first-generation machines.
Those fans helped keep things pretty cool. Although the review unit usually chugged along with an operating temperature of around 122 to 130 degrees, it did jump to 180 degrees at times when I was watching a video. (Processor usage never topped out either, generally hovering around 70 percent to 75 percent during playback.) I could hear the fans kick in to keep things from overheating -- turning at about 6,200 rpm, according to the iStat menu monitoring app I use.
And I never noticed the aluminum casing getting hot. Even the bottom was only slightly warm to the touch, a far cry from the early days of Apple's move to Intel chips in 2005. Some of those early MacBook Pros could get darn toasty.
What a difference an SSD makes
For me, the biggest eye-opener with the new Air is how much the hard drive shapes perception. I worked with one of the first-generation Airs, the one with an 80GB hard drive, and while I found it fast enough in day-to-day use for most tasks, moving up to the SSD makes a real difference. I'm beginning to think that SSD, which is also available as a build-to-order option on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, really stands for Speedy Sweet Delight.
That's because it makes the Air feel a lot faster than it really is. And perception goes a long way toward dictating how a person feels about his or her computer.
When I reviewed the first MacBook Air , I recommended that buyers eschew the SSD. At the time, it offered less storage space than the standard drive and cost $999 more, pushing the price for the Air beyond $3,000. That's no longer the case, which is one reason I've warmed up to the SSD.
Another reason: With an SSD, there aren't any moving parts, so if you drop the laptop, there are no delicate spinning platters and heads to worry about.
Finally, the SSD makes the Air feel exceptionally snappy. For instance, that first Air took 70 seconds to boot up from Mac chime to desktop; my 2007 vintage MacBook Pro takes 48 seconds; this new Air needs only 28 seconds.
Now, boot time does not an ownership experience make. But when you combine that with how fast applications launch -- Adobe Photoshop Elements took 8 seconds on the new Air, 16 seconds on my MacBook Pro -- you feel like you're driving a BMW M3 when in fact you're tooling around in the Apple equivalent of the diminutive BMW 1 Series.