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MacBook Air (2008) vs. Dell X1 (2005)

January 16th, 2008 Leave a comment Go to comments

If you want a good and thorough review of the MB Air, please go here. This blog post is mostly a load of BS.

In the MWFS '08 keynote Steve Jobs presented Apples very much anticipated new Ultra-portable, the MacBook Air (MBA). And behold, a sleek, sexy, glossy, aluminium sheet of pure goodness!  Or is it really? In 2005 Dell came out with the ultraportable X1, and I was wondering how that three years old machine holds up to the newest and greatest from Cupertino.

Mbair  X1

Left: Apple MacBook Air. Picture from Apple.com.
Right: Dell X1. Picture from

Size. Size matters, no matter what they say.  MBA  is boasting a thickness of 0.4 to 1.94 cm, while X1 is 2.5 cm all over.  Since it is a square world I use the thickest measurement when calculating volume. So, the MBA is 1.94×32.5×22.7 = 1431.235 cubic centimetres. X1 clocks in at 2.5×28.6×19.68 = 1407,12 cubic centimetres. Winner:  Dell X1.

Weight. Matter has it (yes, a phun). And since the MBA is 1.36 kg and the X1 is 200 grams less at 1.140 kg the winner must be the X1.

Screen resolution. MBA has 1024000 square pixels, while the X1 has only 983040. But, when you measure screen size vs number of pixels you get that the MBA has 1024000/13.3 = 76992.5 pixels/inch, while the X1 has 983040 /12.1 = 81243 pixels/inch. This means the MBA has a big screen with low pixel density, and since I really dislike it when hardware doesn't fill it's full potential (also look at the size of the edge around the screen on the MBA – it's huge!) the winner is the X1 again.

Connecting extra peripherals and such. USB: X1 2, MBA 1. Ethernet: X1 1, MBA 0. Modem: X1 1, MBA 0. VGA: X1 1, MBA 1, DVI: X1 0, MBA 1. Audio jacks: X1 2, MBA 1.  Firewire: X1 1, MBA 0 (!).  SD and CompactFlash card reader: X1 1, MBA 0. The MBA's lack of built in ethernet, VGA and only one usb connector plus it's heavy reliance on extra dongles makes the X1 the winner once more.

Connectivity. X1 has wifi b/g, 1 gigabit ethernet, bluetooth and a modem. The MBA has a/b/g/n wifi and bluetooth. It must be mentioned that the MBA has 802.11n that is now becoming increasingly popular.  It also has EDR. But still, lacking a gigabit ethernet port is the reason the X1 is yet again victorious.

Drives. The MBA proudly toutes an optional 64GB SSD, which normally would be a "wow, omg, gimme!" – but as usual with Apple and upgrades I am betting that  getting a 64GB SSD for the X1 on the open market is much cheaper than upgrading the MBA to the SSD.  And talking about drives, the X1 comes bundled with a optical drive, while the external USB MacBook Air SuperDrive is an option. Because of the bundle and Apples over-pricing of upgrades the X1 come out on top.

Power. Intel core 2 duo 1.6GHz versus a Centrino mobile 1.1GHz? Come oon. MBA totally owns that. But in order to get CPU power you will need battery power. And the MBA battery is not easily replaceable. With the X1 you can bring a few six cell batteries with you and use your laptop all the way to where you are going, while when the MBA is dead it must be plugged into an electrical outlet. Replaceable batteries is a much more on-the-go feature than heavy CPU power, so the ultraportable power price goes to the X1.

Availability. The X1 is no longer manufactured. However, you can pay $535 for it by pressing the "buy it now"-button on ebay and have it shipped to you in less than a week.  The MBA has 2-3 weeks delivery time according to Apple, but I would not be surprised if it would take 6 weeks to get it in your frisky little hands. However, as the X1 has reached the end of it's production life the MBA must be declared the winner by walkover.

Memory. The MBA wins this with it's 2BG vs 1.25GB maximum capacity.  It looks like the memory chips on the MBA is onboard chips that are not replaceable, so when a RAM chip fail you must get the machine to the apple repair shop, while with the X1 you may just get a replacement RAM chip and pop it in. I said the MBA won, but it did not.

Ok. I guess I could go on and on with this. The key points are that the X1 is smaller, lighter and has a wider range of possibilities than the MBA. If I were to leave my 15″ MacBook Pro at home and go ultraportable and had to choose between a three years old design and a brand new super slick designer laptop I would choose the old one. Does not look that good, but is more practical. I am quite disappointed that Apple could not outcompete that three year old heap of silvery plastic, but they will probably sell quite good on their good looks and impressive thin-ness.

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  1. Helten
    January 17th, 2008 at 16:47 | #1

    OS: The MBA runs Mac OS X, the Dell doesn’t. MBA WINNAR! ;)

  2. James
    January 17th, 2008 at 20:29 | #2

    I have a latitude X1, bought it when it first came out for 1500, fully upgraded with an extra 6 cell battery and a 3yr warranty. I have an iMac to run final cut pro and was hoping to completely switch over to the apple camp for the ultra portable… but after the keynote, I realized how much more the x1 was suited for my mobile life… even though it was old. I completely agree with your comparison.

    I like OSX, it runs very nicely and is reliable, so much so I had it on my X1 for a while to play with using a dual boot partition via OSX86′s nice wikipedia guides. OS X isn’t fully compatible with the dell, it doesn’t support standby which is terrible. “If only apple would make an ultra-portable, I thought…”

    I was really hoping apple would find a way to make a ultra portable that mobile users like me are looking for.

  3. James
    January 17th, 2008 at 20:30 | #3

    $1500 USD, sorry.

  4. Jørgen
    January 22nd, 2008 at 08:44 | #4

    “Since it is a square world” -You always lived in a different word then the rest of us :p Entertaining read, but In my world the MBA is better, what will be interesting though, is seeing what the other manufactures have up their sleeve. Usually when apple does something like this, the rest will have a answer (hardware vice often better) in a relatively short time.

  5. Jeremy
    January 26th, 2008 at 17:04 | #5

    Clearly the X1 has its advantages, but give the MBA some credit.

    I agree with Jergen – you can stack 2 MBAs and still be thinner than the X1. Trapezoidal volume is 60% of the volume of the X1 – much smaller.

    I like how you penalize the MBA for having a too-big screen. And 248 mbit/sec wireless would probably have more use in an ultraportable than wired gigabit.

    … you tend to redefine your terms so the x1 wins – that’s not good argument strategy. The x1 wins on power because you can lug around extra batteries? There’s no advantage for 3x the processing power and more memory?

  6. pesc
    January 26th, 2008 at 20:32 | #6

    Interesting comparison. Even more interesting is to compare the Air to the three years old 12″ Mac Powerbook G4. I think you would get the same results: the Air loses.

    I don’t understand why everyone is going on about how thin Air is. For me the footprint is much more important. The Air has the same footprint as the MacBook!!! :(

    And I hate glossy.

  7. smurf
    January 27th, 2008 at 02:10 | #7

    Wow, your calculation of the volume is really off. The thickness of the MBA tapers from 0.76″ = 1.930 cm to 0.16″ = 0.406 cm. The average thickness is thus 0.46″ (1.168 cm, so the X1 is 2.14 times thicker), and the actual volume is more like 861.692 (so the X1 is 1.63 times larger).

    You also make an assertion that amounts to: “the processor in the MBA totally owns the one in the X1, but you can change the battery of the X1 so it is more powerful”. Talk about spinning it! You are comparing apples and oranges here (no pun intended). Those are two separate categories: the MBA wins one, the X1 wins the other one.

    And regarding the batteries, you failed to take into account battery life: the article you link to mentions 2h 40m, though it’s not clear what is the load. Walt Mossberg (WSJ) and Edward Bay (USA Today) got 3h 24m and 3h 40m from the MBA, with full screen brightness and WiFi on, while surfing the web and playing music. (Of course you can get the larger battery for the X1, but then you lose the weight advantage).

    Also the conclusion of the RAM comparison is silly: when you buy RAM, you notice if it’s flaky in the first few weeks (usually in the first two days, but let’s assume weeks). If you don’t have problems with it during that time, it will normally outlive the useful lifespan of the computer. And if during that time the RAM in your MBA fails… guess what, it’s under warranty, Apple will replace it!

    All in all, you made a fairly mediocre comparison, to be honest.

  8. January 27th, 2008 at 21:14 | #8

    A comparison is interesting – I’m so disappointed in the MBA’s lack of Ethernet and multiple US jacks that I’m inclined to think the X1 is the superior machine – but I found yours lacking between of your obvious bias in the choice/definition of categories:

    * you included both “Connecting extra peripherals and such” and “Connectivity” so you could double-count the lack of Ethernet.

    * you used an odd definition of “size” when two simpler definitions (thickness or true volume) would have made the MBA win.

    * you morphed “screen resolution” from “pixel count” into “size” so the X1 would win.

    * you morphed “power” into “battery life” so the X1 would win. (These should have been two distinct categories.)

    * you morphed “RAM” into “serviceability” so the X1 would win.

    I find this tactic not only dishonest but obviously so. You’re not likely to convince many people in this way.

  9. January 27th, 2008 at 21:19 | #9

    A sixth deception, slightly more subtle:

    * you neglected to include a “software options” category. Most people considering the MBA would choose OS X over Windows or Linux, so this is important. Furthermore, the MBA wins it hands-down as it can run everything the X1 can and more.

  10. 64GB SSD
    January 27th, 2008 at 23:39 | #10

    You really might want to price out a 64 GB SSD flash hard drive before you claim you could buy one cheaper in the after-market.

  11. Mike
    February 8th, 2008 at 21:20 | #11

    As a big Mac geek, I was super-excited about Apple’s new ultraportable. I have a great Mac for the home office (PowerMac G5) and another for the many extended business trips when I need to take the office with me (17″ MBP), but I was on the lookout for something for meetings, day-trips, and that I could reasonably use in Coach on an airplane. A couple weeks before the Macworld announcement I took a gamble that anything Apple announced would be way outside my price range and bought a Dell X1 with XP Pro for $600 (with two new batteries and even 6 months left on the warranty).

    So, did I have serious buyer’s remorse when they announced the Air? or when I stopped by my local Apple store to check one out? Maybe for about two seconds, because I am a Mac geek, but not really. I’m afraid the MaBook Air is Steve’s latest Cube. Super-high on cool and it’d be fun to have one… but not practical enough to justify the price tag.

    With the X1 I can just sync all my Mac files to an 8GB Compact Flash Card, pop it in the X1 (running Windows versions of Office, CS3 and Thunderbird for e-mail), and there isn’t a moment loss in productivity. The smaller footprint and 2.5lb weight make it easy to throw in any bag and use anywhere, and the integrated CF and SD slots mean one less cable/card reader to carry in my bag. And really one of the big deal-makers for me: the X1 has a Firewire port. To top it all off, I patched my Mac OS disc and set the X1 up to dual boot if I really need to run OS X for something.

  12. Endless
    March 16th, 2008 at 21:25 | #12

    The post is quite unfair to the Air, but it does show that a 2-3 year-old X1 is a great competitor to the Air.

    X1 can handle 2Gb of ram, since DDR2 400Mhz is forward compatible with newer ones; I just side in a 2Gb DDR2 677Mhz & now it show 2GB in the system (it should be able to handle vista now). So I would say the RAM is almost a tie.

    The size of X1 is just uncomparable to the Air, when the x1 can slide into a regular 3-ring binder; while the Air can be damage inside binder. Only if the X1 had a 12.1 inch led screen, it could be even lighter than the eee. A sheet of paper cover the whole laptop with 1/2 a inch to spare on the wdith & The height is 2 DVD case stack-up, which is not bad at all.

    OSX is neat & slightly nicer to use (I have been using it for 1+ year now), while XP is just as stable, reliable & more control over the system. I would probably willing to pay $50-100 more to use the OSX for it’s slight advantage, but not anymore.

    Value wise, X1 was about 2k when it came out, while the Air is slightly cheaper when it came out. If you are deicde between the 2 now, the X1 is $500-700 from ebay, so…
    The missing ethernet port is a deadly for a business traveler with little IT expertise, who can’t check his/her e-mail at client’s site through a firewall.

    I do think the Air will good enough for regular use in the next version probably in Sept with a 45nm CPU with higher speed & longer battery(maybe a real 5 hr) & hopefully a second USB port + ethernet port.

  13. Adam
    April 2nd, 2008 at 03:30 | #13

    Actually, the Dell can take up to 2.0GB of Ram, with latest BIOS

  14. Bricamac
    May 26th, 2009 at 11:15 | #14

    I installed MACOS 10.5.7 on my dell X1,

    Wifi work well ( I have changed the wifi card)
    Sound work well
    Video quiet well ( I have sometime artefact )
    Sleep work well
    bluetooth work well
    SD card reader no work well

  15. Mat
    December 19th, 2011 at 19:56 | #15

    Please could you tell me what version OS X you used on X1 as I have the same machine but video, sound and wifi would not work. Thanks Mat