After one week on the market, the first good benchmarks of the new MacBook Air models are beginning to show up. Macworld ran benchmarks of the i5-based 11.6" and 13" MBAs and found them to be quite fast in everyday operations. The Macworld lab is in the process of fine-tuning their SpeedMark benchmark for Lion, so the tests were performed by timing tasks like duplicating, zipping, and unzipping folders, importing and exporting files from Pages and iMovie, and so on.
Not surprisingly, the tests showed that the new MacBook Airs were faster than the last generation models and the final generation of the MacBook. The MBAs beat even the current 13" i5 MacBook Pro in the file duplicate and zip tests. Strangely enough, though, the previous model 13" Core 2 Duo MacBook Air bested all comers for importing a movie archive to iMovie '09, had the best results with the Cinebench R11.5 graphics benchmark, and the highest framerate while playing Call of Duty 4.
If you do a lot of AAC to MP3 encoding in iTunes 10, then the 13" i5 MacBook Air is going to be your best friend. It was faster than even the latest 13" i5 MacBook Pro, although not by much. The bottom line is that these new MBAs are fast, due in part to the SSDs used for storage, but slower than their predecessors in some graphics operations.
Why? The previous MacBook Air models used Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics, while the new models use the Intel HD Graphics 3000 capability embedded into the silicon of the i5 processor. The Nvidia graphics chip was faster, but the i5 with graphics is less expensive than the Core 2 Duo / Nvidia combo used before.
With the specs of the MacBook Air approaching those of the MacBook Pro line and rumors of a 15" Air-like Apple laptop on the horizon, it's interesting to conjecture that Apple may eventually get to one line of MacBooks -- the MacBook Airs.
Macworld plans on running more tests in the future using various configure-to-order options of the MacBook Air, and we'll be waiting to see what they find.