Apple MacBook Air 13in (mid 2013) review

19 Jun 2013

There’s still no sign of Retina, but improved battery life and gaming performance makes the MacBook Air better value than ever

Price when reviewed: 
949(£949 inc VAT)
5

With all the excitement surrounding Apple’s radical new Mac Pro, not to mention the arrival of iOS 7, the spotlight didn’t linger long on the latest MacBook Air. Despite all the rumours, there was no Retina display, an identical chassis to last year’s model; the only dramatic change was the appearance of Intel’s Haswell mobile processors and a handful of subtle tweaks to the specification.

Those hoping for a drastic ground-up redesign, or the arrival of killer new features such as a High-DPI Retina display, will doubtless be disappointed, but the MacBook Air remains a stunning piece of design. It’s not the lightest laptop out there – at 1.33kg, it’s noticeably heavier than the 1.05kg Sony VAIO Pro 13 – but the build quality is absolutely top-notch. Indeed, it might just be our imagination playing tricks, but this year’s model feels a touch stiffer – the base is absolutely rock-solid, and despite measuring only 4mm thick, the metal lid is stout, too.

Apple MacBook Air 2013

Beneath that familiar exterior, Apple has rung the changes. Intel’s Haswell processors snatch centre-stage, and Apple has swapped out the mSATA SSD of previous models for PCI Express-based flash storage. As a result, the MacBook Air now feels snappier than ever, and raw application performance has moved up a notch. We ran our Real World Benchmarks in a Boot Camp installation of Windows 8, and the 1.3GHz Core i5-4250U of our review unit powered to an impressive 0.7 overall; last year’s Ivy Bridge-based 1.8GHz Core i5-based Air scored 0.68.

It’s the Samsung-made SSD that delivers the biggest boost. In the AS SSD benchmark, the 128GB drive read large files at 690MB/sec and wrote large files at 485MB/sec – faster than any SSD we’ve seen in a laptop, and not far off what we’ve seen from twin SSD RAID arrays in desktop PCs. When it comes to shunting huge amounts of data to and from external USB 3 or Thunderbolt drives, or just loading up everyday applications, it’s an upgrade that guarantees you won’t be left waiting.

Apple MacBook Air 2013

Graphics performance is slightly improved, too. Unlike the Sony VAIO Pro 13, which uses Haswell processors equipped with the more modest HD Graphics 4400 GPU, the MacBook Air’s CPUs utilise the faster Intel HD Graphics 5000 chipset. In our least demanding Crysis benchmark, run at 1,366 x 768 resolution and low detail settings, the MacBook Air achieved an average of 43fps; upping the resolution to 1,600 x 900 and the detail to Medium settings saw that average drop to 25fps. For casual gaming, that’s more than enough power.

The arrival of Haswell sends battery life soaring. In our light-use battery test run in Windows 8, the MacBook Air lasted 11hrs 43mins, longer than any Ultrabook we’ve tested so far, and enough to put the Apple a nose ahead of the Sony VAIO Pro 13.

Details

Price ex VAT £791
Price inc VAT £949
Overall rating 5
Features & Design 5
Value for Money 5
Performance 5

Warranty

Warranty 1 yr return to base

Physical specifications

Dimensions 325 x 227 x 17mm (WDH)
Weight 1.330kg
Travelling weight 1.7kg

Processor and memory

Processor Intel Core i5-4250U
RAM capacity 4.00GB
Memory type DDR3

Screen and video

Screen size 13.3in
Resolution screen horizontal 1,440
Resolution screen vertical 900
Resolution 1440 x 900
Graphics chipset Intel HD Graphics 5000
VGA (D-SUB) outputs 0
HDMI outputs 0
S-Video outputs 0
DVI-I outputs 0
DVI-D outputs 0
DisplayPort outputs 0

Drives

Capacity 128GB
Hard disk usable capacity 119GB
Hard disk PCI Express SSD
Replacement battery price inc VAT £0

Networking

802.11a support yes
802.11b support yes
802.11g support yes
802.11 draft-n support yes
Integrated 3G adapter no

Other Features

Wireless hardware on/off switch no
3.5mm audio jacks 1
SD card reader yes
Memory Stick reader no
MMC (multimedia card) reader no
Smart Media reader no
Compact Flash reader no
xD-card reader no
Pointing device type Touchpad
Integrated microphone? yes
Integrated webcam? yes
Fingerprint reader no

Battery and performance tests

Battery life, light use 11hr 43min
3D performance (crysis) low settings 43fps
3D performance setting Low
Overall Real World Benchmark score 0.70
Responsiveness score 0.79
Media score 0.81
Multitasking score 0.50

Operating system and software

Operating system OS X Mountain Lion
OS family Mac OS X