11-Inch 2013 MacBook Air Review

MacLife Staff's picture

11-Inch 2013 MacBook Air Review

The new Airs feature faster storage and low-power Haswell processors.

The 2013 MacBook Air refresh brings us two 11-inch and two 13-inch models, with the Airs of matching screen size differentiated solely by their solid-state storage capacity. The cheaper options come with 128GB, while the more expensive ones boast 256GB, with a custom option of 512GB for an extra $300. For the 11-inch Airs reviewed here, this is double the size of the previous generation, which offered 64GB and 128GB respectively.

The 2013 MacBook Air switches to Intel’s new Haswell processors, the fourth generation of the Core CPUs. Off the shelf, the entire range uses dual-core 1.3GHz Core i5s that can Turbo Boost to up to 2.6GHz at times of high needs. Buy on the Apple Online Store and you can custom-upgrade to a 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 that can reach up to 3.3GHz under Turbo Boost for an extra $150.

The key advantage of the new Haswell processors is that they use significantly less power than the previous Ivy Bridge generation without compromising on performance. This further boosts the Air’s already-excellent battery life. Apple tells us the 11-inch MacBook Air can last for up to nine hours on a single charge, and playback iTunes videos for up to eight hours. In our tests, we streamed a TV news channel over a wireless connection for 7 hours, 15 minutes—more than double what its 2012 counterpart could manage. Frequent flyers and business travelers take note—you can comfortably use a 2013 MacBook Air all day without recharging, regardless of what you throw at it.

Apple’s latest ultra-portable revision redefines our idea of “power” in a laptop.

Another key advantage of the new Haswell chipsets is their superior graphics performance. Their integrated Intel HD Graphics 5000 chipset gives up to 40 percent faster graphical power. The new Airs use faster flash storage too. It’s up to 45 percent quicker than the previous generation’s, and around nine times as fast as a regular notebook’s hard drive. However, the expected performance boost is held back by the processors’ slower clock speed.

The new Airs use 1.3GHz dual-core CPUs across the range, while the 2012 models had 1.7GHz for the 11-inch models and 1.8GHz chips for the 13-inch Airs, again with dual cores. Although the faster storage and improved graphics more than make up for this in most areas, it undoubtedly holds back what would otherwise have been a very significant leap forward in power. This is borne out in our benchmarking tests. Using Xbench to check processor and hard drive performance, the cheaper of the new 11-inch Airs was 2.6 percent up on the last generation’s similar model. While even a small increase is welcome, it’s clear the performance advantage gained by faster storage is partly offset by the slower clock speed.

The new Intel HD Graphics 5000 chipset proved its worth when running Call of Duty 4, boosting the previous model’s 59 frames per second to a snappier 69 FPS— a significant increase. But the older Doom 3 seemed less able to take advantage of the superior graphics, and actually slowed from 81.9 FPS to 69.6 FPS. Unfortunately, the new Air is also significantly slower at video rendering, taking 243 seconds to re-encode our test video to iPod format. This is 26 seconds down from last year’s model.

Like the 2012 version, the new Airs offer 4GB of 1600 MHz RAM across the board. All 2012 models can be upgraded to 8GB for an extra $100, but as the chips are soldered directly onto the logic board, this has to be done at the time of purchase using the Apple Online Store. You can’t add RAM yourself.
Wi-Fi is upgraded to 802.11ac. When used with a Wireless ac router such as Apple’s new AirPort Time Capsule or AirPort Extreme, your wireless connection could be up to three times faster than 802.11n, and boast a much better range. Also, beam-forming technology focuses the Wi-Fi signal onto connected ac devices for a much more stable connection. Some early adopters have reported drop-out problems, but that wasn’t our experience during testing. Our wireless connection proved stable.

Although a Retina screen was widely predicted (at least as a custom option) for the new Airs, no such choice is available, unfortunately. The display we get is 1366x768 resolution, beautifully consistent and blessed with excellent viewing angles, but it isn’t Retina.

The Bottom line. Even with the new Haswell processors, gamers, video editors, and other high-needs users might prefer the power offered by a MacBook Pro. But the highly portable MacBook Air is perfect for students, business travelers, and just about anyone who appreciates its incredibly thin and light design.

Company 
Apple
Contact 
Price 
$999-$1,199
Requirements 

1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 with 3MB shared L3 cache, 4GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 RAM, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 128GB flash storage, one Thunderbolt ports, two USB 3.0 ports, 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, FaceTime HD camera, stereo speakers, dual microphones, headphone output with support for Apple iPhone headset with remote.

Positives 

Great battery-life. Faster solid-state storage. 802.11ac Wi-Fi.

Negatives 

CPU down to 1.3 GHz.

Score
0

Comments

+ Add a Comment

Log in to Mac|Life directly or log in using Facebook

Forgot your username or password?
Click here for help.

Login with Facebook
Log in using Facebook to share comments and articles easily with your Facebook feed.