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I am buying a Macbook Air and would like to know about the difference between the i5 and the i7 option. The i7 is only 100mhz faster and has 1mb of extra cache on the CPU. Does that small difference make a big difference to performance? Or is it so small that its not really worth the AU$100 extra?

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up vote 4 down vote accepted

AnandTech did a report comparing the two options and came to the conclusion that there isn't really a noticeable difference. Just 7-12% improvement on certain benchmark tests.

Below are the figures they got for reference.

Test 1
Test 2
Test 3 Test 4

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Technical Details

I see you are in Australia. There was a recent article published by PC World Australia that goes into some detail on the differences between these processors at a technical level.

The i7 has a larger on-chip cache than the i5 (4 MB instead of 3 MB). A larger cache can speed up intensive operations like video encoding.

MacBook Air 2011 i5 vs. i7

Mac Crazy published an article specifically directed at answering your question with relation to the MacBook Air it was titled, "MacBook Air 2011 i5 vs i7 – Is the upgrade worth it?".

They include this table detailing the two i5 and single i7 CPUs used in the mid-2011 MacBook Air models.

enter image description here

There bottom line was this,

People who would find the upgrade to the i7 worthwhile would be those doing heavy media work, particularly video encoding, or people who are very speed-sensitive.

I would argue that people who are that speed sensitive would probably do better to buy a MacBook Pro.

Air vs. Your Current Machine

I am a designer who makes extensive use of Photoshop and I have been very happy with my recent purchase of a MacBook Air i5. The MacBook Air easily beats my MacBook Pro. Here's a video from the article showing a MacBook Air i5 beating a 2010 MacBook Pro 15″ Core 2 Duo 2.66 GHz:

enter image description here

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I totally agree on your comments about choosing the MBP over the Air, but you cannot deny the portability of the Air. I have a 15" MBP and am seriously thinking the Air will be my next notebook. – EmmEff Sep 25 '11 at 13:33
It appears I was not clear. I currently own (and am very fond of) a 13" MacBook Air i5. My previous computer was a MacBook Pro 15" and I made the choice to move to an Air for the same reasons you are considering it. – Samuel Mikel Bowles Sep 25 '11 at 15:25
I don't know where this canard originated (I've seen it in other articles too), but video encoding is a perfect example of something that gains very little benefit from cache. – Kevin Peterson Sep 25 '11 at 17:08
Kevin, I don't know that much about the technical details of processors so I am very open to being wrong on this one. The claim made above is found in the article I linked to. Would you mind substantiating your claim? I'd love to learn more about the architecture and uses of these chip designs. – Samuel Mikel Bowles Sep 26 '11 at 1:26

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