If you’re anything like me, every time that Apple MacBook Air commercial comes on, you are suddenly gripped by the compulsion to go out and buy one of these sexy little subnotebooks immediately. But then you see the pricetag. Starting at $999, the Apple MacBook Air is pretty steep for—let’s face it—a netbook. That high price is especially balk-worthy when you consider the alternatives, such as the Asus EE PC 1215N, which you can get for under $500. But it’s hard to deny that magical charm that all Apple products wield. So, what exactly are you getting extra when you pay $500 more dollars to get the Apple MacBook Air as opposed to an EEE PC? This review will attempt to answer that question.
We’ve already broached this subject, but just to be clear, the MacBook Air starts at $999 and ranges up to $1,599. For the purpose of this review, we’ll be comparing the lowest end MacBook Air, which is the 11-inch model. Likewise, the Asus EEE PC family has a wide range of prices and models. For this review, we’ll compare the MacBook Air to the Asus EE 1215N, which can be had for about $484 on Amazon.com.
Winner: Asus EEE PC 1215N
Processor and RAM
The Asus EEE PC 1215N has 2 GB DDR3 of RAM (upgradeable to 4 GB) and an Intel Atom D525 Dual core Processor (1.8 GHz). The MacBook Air has a 1.4 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor and 2 GB of RAM, but if you want to upgrade the RAM, you’d better do it before it leaves the factory, since it’s soldered on.
There’s some debate over which processor is faster, and much of your experience is going to depend on speed differences between the operating systems, but generally, the Atom processor found in the EEE PC is said to be more efficient in terms of battery usage while the Core 2 Duo line is considered faster overall.
No winner can be declared here, but it’s notable that the Asus EEE PC 1215N ships with Windows 7 Home Edition, rather than Windows XP, as some cheaper netbooks do. MacBook Air runs OS X. It’s an apples and oranges comparison, really. It all depends on which one you prefer.
Winner: No Contest
The Asus EEE PC has a 12.1-inch screen, which, on paper, ends up being 1-inch bigger than the MacBook Air’s 11-inchees of screen real estate. But both computers have a 1366 x 768 native screen resolution, so, really, it’s going to look about the same. Both also have LED backlit screens, which is the leading computer monitor technology.
Here’s where these two computers really diverge: The MacBook Air has a 64 GB solid state flash hard drive, while the EEE PC has a 250 GB hard disk drive. If you’re going by numbers, the EEE PC seems like a better deal, but overall, flash-based solid state hard drives are simply better. They are more reliable, they are faster and they are more resilient when subjected to the roughness of travel. But EEE PC sweetens the deal by adding 500 GB of Internet storage, which is a ton of space (most third-party cloud storage companies offer 2 GB to 5 GB for free accounts).
Given the sheer amount of storage space you get with the EEE PC 1215N, the performance benefits of a solid state hard drive aren’t enough to win the MacBook Air the title in this category.
Winner: EEE PC 1215N
Both computers take netbooks to the next level by including graphics cards. The MacBook Air has a Nvidia Geforce 320M with 256 MB of shared memory. The EEE PC has an Nvidia ION2 with Nvidia Optimus technology, which is designed to deliver performance while conserving battery life on a netbook.
The MacBook Air weighs 2.3 pounds and measures up at 0.68 x 11.8 x 7.56 inches when closed. The Asus EEE PC 1215N weighs 3.21 pounds and is 1.46 x 11.65 x 7.99 inches when closed. The MacBook Air is clearly thinner by almost an entire inch and lighter by nearly a pound. But both are teeny tiny.
Winner: MacBook Air
The MacBook Air boasts the undeniably intuitive and cool multi-touch trackpad, which supports a wide range of gestures, including inertia scrolling, pinch, rotate, swipe, three-finger swipe, four-finger swipe, tap, double-tap and dragging. The Asus EEE PC 1215N also has a multi-touch trackpad, but Apple has always excelled in this category.
The EEE PC comes with a mini-HDMI out port as well as a VGA port. The MacBook Air has the flexible, yet frustratingly costly Mini DisplyPort which you’ll find on many Macs. You can output to DVI, VGA or HDMI, but you’ll need an adapter for each one.
The MagSafe power adapter is another feature that shouldn’t be overlooked. Apple MacBooks, including the MacBook Air, have the easy “breakaway” power adapters that prevent the laptop from going flying if someone trips over the power cord. Given how light they are, this is a real danger. Thousands of MacBooks across the globe have likely had their lives due to MagSafe.
Given the above, it makes more sense to get the Asus EEE PC 1215N than the MacBook Air—unless you are dead set on running OS X, or simply have a thing for Apple products. But in terms of portability, speed and computing power, these two netbooks are nearly evenly matched. Pay the extra $500 if you simply must have Apple hardware and software.