Road Apple: The Mid 2009 MacBook Air

The Mid 2009 MacBook Air was essentially a speed-bumped version of the Late 2008 MacBook Air. It runs at up to 2.13 GHz – almost 15% faster by clock speed – but it is still limited to 2 GB of RAM.

macbook-air-480The 2009 MBA also has a faster CPU with the same 6 MB Level 2 cache and a 1066 MHz memory bus as the Late 2008 MBA. It also has the same GeForce 9400M graphics chip, which takes the video burden off the CPU but also uses 256 MB of system memory. The 120 GB 1.8″ hard drive is the same one found in the Late 2008 MacBook Air.

This was the last MacBook Air to ship with OS X 10.5 Leopard, the same Mac OS that shipped with the original MBA.

Although its clock speed is 15% faster, the  2.13 GHz 2009 model offers just 7% better performance than the 1.86 GHz Late 2008 MacBook Air, as these Geekbench 3 32-bit multicore results show:

  • 2.13 GHz Mid 2009 MBA with SSD, 1516
  • 1.86 GHz Late 2008 MBA with SSD, 1416
  • 1.6 GHz Late 2008 MBA with hard drive, 1453

(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 2009 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 2006 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 relatively slow CPU (compared with MacBooks and MacBook Pros) helped Apple keep the size, cooling requirements, and cost of the MacBook Air down to $1,499 for the base model – $300 less than the entry-level Late 2006 version. The upgrade model has a 2.13 GHz CPU and a 128 GB Solid State Drive (SSD) with the same 2 GB of RAM, and it retailed at $1,799 – the same price as the original entry-level MacBook Air.

Performance

With a fast memory bus, dedicated graphics processor, and SATA drive bus, the Mid 2009 MacBook Air outperforms the Late 2008 model – although not by as much as you’d expect.

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 Mid 2009 MacBook Air is 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 1.86 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 Mid 2009 MacBook Air with an SSD installed is a better choice, but it is still a Road Apple.

Your best bet is a newer MBA with 4 GB of installed memory.

Rating

  • Mid 2009 MBA with hard drive three road apples
  • Mid 2009 MBA with SSD two road apples

Keywords: #roadapple #2009macbookair #mid2009macbookair

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