Road Apple: The Late 2008 MacBook Air

Where the original MacBook Air was a certifiable Road Apple due to its slow PATA drive bus, horribly slow 1.8″ hard drive, and fixed 2 GB of memory, the Late 2008 MacBook Air isn’t quite as bad. Yes, it is still limited to 2 GB of RAM, but at least it uses SATA for its drive.

macbook-air-480The Late 2008 model also has a faster CPU with a large Level 2 cache and a faster memory bus. It also has a dedicated graphics processor, the GeForce 9400M, which takes that burden off the CPU – but at the cost of 256 MB of system memory being dedicated to video. The hard drive version has 120 GB of space, 50% more than the original MacBook Air.

This model also shipped with OS X 10.5 Leopard, just like the original MBA.

Overall, the Late 2008 model offers significantly better performance than the Early 2008 MacBook Air, as these Geekbench 3 32-bit multicore results show:

  • 1.86 GHz Late 2008 MBA with SSD, 1416
  • 1.6 GHz Late 2008 MBA with hard drive, 1453
  • 1.8 GHz Early 2008 MBA with SSD, 1283
  • 1.6 GHz Early 2008 MBA with hard drive, 1183

(Both the Late 2008 and Mid 2009 1.86 GHz models are identified as MacBookAir2,1, so it’s likely that the 1.86 GHz results include both the Late 2008 SSD model and the Mid 2009 hard drive model.)

As with the original MBA, worst thing about the Late 2008 model has always been that memory is soldered to the system board and cannot be upgraded. If you buy one with 2 GB of RAM, that’s all you’ll ever have. And with video using 256 MB of that memory, it has even less available system memory than the Early 2008 model.

When OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard arrived in August 2009, 2 GB of system memory was still adequate. But when OS X 10.7 Lion came out in July 2011, 2 GB was barely enough.

Adding insult to injury, the entry-level MacBook Air used a 1.8″ 4200 rpm hard drive, one of the slowest hard drives Apple ever used on an Intel Mac.

Soldered RAM, a physically tiny and slow hard drive, and a slow CPU helped Apple keep the size, cooling requirements, and cost of the MacBook Air down to $1,799 for the base model. The upgrade model has a 1.86 GHz CPU and a 128 GB Solid State Drive (SSD) with the same 2 GB of RAM, and it retailed at a relatively reasonable $2,499 (compared with $3,098 for the 1.8 GHz Early 2008 model).

Performance

With a faster memory bus, dedicated graphics processor, and faster drive bus, the Late 2008 MacBook Air easily outperforms it older sibling. It still lags behind the slowest Core 2 Duo MacBook model from Late 2008, but it comes much closer to that level of performance than the original MBA.

Upgrade Options

The best thing to happen to Late 2008 MBA was Other World Computing and others offering upgrade SSDs ranging from 60 GB up to 480 GB, currently selling for $90 to $295 depending on capacity – and they move data up to 25% faster than Apple’s SSD. (OWC also offers a USB 2.0 case for your original SSD to facilitate migrating to the new drive.) An SSD will be a huge performance upgrade for those with the wimpy 1.8″ hard drive – OWC says its SSD is 41x faster!

OWC also offers replacement batteries for 2008-2009 MacBook Airs at just $79 with the same capacity as the original battery.

Conclusion

With only 2 GB of system memory and no option to upgrade that, the Late 2008 MacBook Air is definitely a Road Apple. While 2 GB was adequate with OS X Leopard and Snow Leopard, it was not forward looking enough to run OS X Lion well, let alone anything since then.

The entry-level model with its 1.6 GHz CPU and slow 1.8″ 120 GB hard drive is absolutely a Road Apple. If you buy one on the used market, plan on replacing that horrid little hard drive with an SSD – and set your purchase price for the MBA accordingly.

The Late 2008 MacBook Air with an SSD installed is a better choice, but it is still a Road Apple.

Rating

  • Late 2008 MBA with hard drive three road apples
  • Late 2008 MBA with SSD two road apples

Keywords: #roadapple #late2008macbookair

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