Apple MacBook Air 13in (mid 2013) review
There’s still no sign of Retina, but improved battery life and gaming performance makes the MacBook Air better value than ever
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.
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.
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.
|Price ex VAT||£791|
|Price inc VAT||£949|
|Features & Design||5|
|Value for Money||5|
|Warranty||1 yr return to base|
|Dimensions||325 x 227 x 17mm (WDH)|
Processor and memory
|Processor||Intel Core i5-4250U|
Screen and video
|Resolution screen horizontal||1,440|
|Resolution screen vertical||900|
|Resolution||1440 x 900|
|Graphics chipset||Intel HD Graphics 5000|
|VGA (D-SUB) outputs||0|
|Hard disk usable capacity||119GB|
|Hard disk||PCI Express SSD|
|Replacement battery price inc VAT||£0|
|802.11 draft-n support||yes|
|Integrated 3G adapter||no|
|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|
|Pointing device type||Touchpad|
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|
Operating system and software
|Operating system||OS X Mountain Lion|
|OS family||Mac OS X|