MacBook Air Tests: Good Looks, Poor Battery Life

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Running Boot Camp

The PC World's Test Center evaluation of the MacBook Air actually included running WorldBench 6 and battery life tests on the unit both before we installed the additional Boot Camp utility drivers the installation disc included with the MacBook Air, and after.

Without the Boot Camp utility drivers, we had to manually install some hardware drivers in Vista. Those drivers did not include some aspects of support for Apple's hardware; for example, the Air's function keys were inactive, and the keyboard wasn't backlit.  After we used the Boot Camp utility, the keys became active, and the keyboard became backlit.

The Air's performance before we installed all of the drivers and utilities from the Apple disc was actually slightly better: At that time, the MacBook Air received a WorldBench score of 61, and its battery lasted an average time of 2 hours, 53 minutes.

Vista Troubles, Too

The pre- and post-Boot Camp utility drivers' performance difference was significant enough for us to wonder what was going on. According to Apple, the Boot Camp utility installs drivers that are the necessary for enabling unique Mac hardware features, such as the MacBook Air's backlit keyboard, iSight webcam, trackpad (you get two-finger scrolling, but not the neat gesture maneuvers Air is capable of under Mac OS), and function keys (which enable hardware button controls for volume and display brightness, for example).

Meanwhile, we also noticed that Vista seemed to have some issues as well. We observed that, although you can bump down the display's brightness using the keyboard controls, our Vista installation on the MacBook Air showed incomplete power management options: The brightness control sliders and adaptive display functionality were missing in action.

According to Microsoft, the Windows Mobility Center controls in Vista checks to see if a system has a battery installed. If it does, then Vista assumes the system is a laptop, and enables the Mobility Center controls that provide power management options such as the brightness control sliders and adaptive display functions.

It's unclear why those controls were not enabled--especially considering that a battery is clearly represented in the Vista System Tray.

The MacBook Air's Limits

While the MacBook Air clearly showed a performance advantage over other uber-lightweight notebooks, it's important to note that it is only an average performer once you consider it against the greater field of ultraportables.

More critically, its mediocre battery life should give serious pause to anyone who plans to use the Air on-the-go, and away from an outlet. If you buy one, stick close to electricity.

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