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2013 13-inch MacBook Air Review - Longer Battery Life and Better Performance

Simply Astonishing Battery Life

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MacBook Air

The 2013 13-inch MacBook Air

Brian Kersey/Getty Images News/Getty Images
Left side of 2013 MacBook Air

Dual microphones, headphone jack, USB 3 port, and the MagSafe 2 power receptacle are placed along the left side of the MacBook Air (click to enlarge).

Courtesy of Apple
illuminated keyboard

The MacBook Air includes a full size illuminated keyboard (click to enlarge).

Courtesy of Apple

Manufacturer's Site

The 2013 13-inch MacBook Air may be almost indistinguishable from previous years’ models, at least at a cursory glance. But it’s not the outside that received updates, it’s the inside; with a new processor family, a higher capacity battery, better graphics performance, and advanced wireless connectivity.

Perhaps best of all is the pricing. There’s less of a price difference between a base model and a fully custom-configured version, which means that if the 2013 MacBook Air is on your radar, you may be less inclined to skimp on memory or storage just to keep the price down.

2013 13-inch MacBook Air - Overview

The big news for this year's MacBook Air is the use of the Haswell processor lineup from Intel. Haswell promises better performance while reducing power consumption, which is the Holy Grail for lightweight notebooks like the MacBook Air. By combining the power efficient Haswell processor, SSD storage, and a new battery design that increases energy storage without increasing battery weight, the 2013 MacBook Air can operate for up to 12 hours for routine usage (web browsing, email, office apps, etc.). Apple claims that 10 hours of watching iTunes videos is within reach, putting an end to bad in-flight movies for MacBook Air users.

The 13-inch MacBook Air is available in two standard configurations, plus build-to-order options.

Standard Configurations:

Base

  • 1.3 GHz Dual Core Intel i5
  • Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 128 GB SSD
  • $1,099.00

Base + 256 SSD

  • 1.3 GHz Dual Core Intel i5
  • Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • 4 GB RAM
  • 256 GB SSD
  • $1,299.00

Custom build options let you bump the memory to 8 GB ($100.00), the processor to a 1.7 GHz Dual Core Intel i7 ($150.00), and/or the SSD from 256 GB to 512 GB ($300.00).

All 13-inch MacBook Airs also include:

2013 13-inch MacBook Air - Processor and Performance

Apple's goal for the 2013 MacBook Air lineup was an overall improvement in run-time without reducing processor performance. To that end, Apple is using one of the low-power Haswell processors from Intel, which is specifically designed to optimize power saving while delivering similar or better performance than older Ivy Bridge-based low-power CPUs.

In bench testing, the 2013 MacBook Air meets or exceeds the processor performance of last year's MacBook Air. But the really big news is the simply amazing battery run-time of the new MacBook Air.

According to The Verge, the 2013 MacBook Air was able to last 13 hours and 29 minutes in their tests, setting a new record for computer battery performance.

Even more interesting, battery performance may improve marginally once Apple releases OS X Mavericks, because one of its core features is better power management.

The ability to run a MacBook Air all day on a single charge is impressive, but there are some points to consider. These battery tests don't really replicate how you might use your MacBook Air on a day-to-day basis. So, while it may be possible to get over 12 hours of battery run-time while surfing the web using Safari on a display that has been dimmed to 65 percent brightness, that may not be how you work. You may like a brighter display, and you may use your MacBook Air to do more than surf the web with Safari. Battery performance will still be impressive; just don't expect to get 13 hours out of the battery every time you use your MacBook Air.

2013 13-inch MacBook Air - Graphics Performance and Display

The new Haswell processors give the MacBook Air great battery performance while maintaining or slightly exceeding the overall CPU performance of last year's MacBook Airs, but there's one place where raw performance really gets a nice boost: the graphics.

Apple's overall goal for the MacBook Air was power efficiency to improve battery performance, but not at the cost of graphics performance. Instead, Apple chose to use the largest integrated GPU available from Intel: the HD 5000.

Graphics performance generally exceeds last year's model by up to 40%, at least when playing Half-Life 2 and other first-person shooters. Don't worry if you're not a gamer; the 2013 MacBook Air's graphics abilities are still very impressive, as long as you don't expect the performance you'd get from a Mac with a dedicated graphics card.

Some Mac users are put off by the lack of a Retina display option, or at least an option to upgrade to an IPS-based display panel. The 2013 MacBook Air still uses a glossy TN display panel, and the reason is a sound one. Not only would a Retina display dramatically up the pixel count, it would also require a much larger backlighting system, both of which are power drains, a real concern for Apple. And while switching to an IPS panel would result in better color fidelity, it would do so at a higher cost and a higher power requirement. If you need accurate color rendering, you should probably look to the MacBook Pro lineup.

2013 13-inch MacBook Air - Final Comments

Overall, we're impressed with the 2013 13-inch MacBook Air. Its battery performance is simply amazing. If you're out and about, you won't have to worry too much about running low on juice, even though graphics performance is much improved over last year's models. In fact, the 2013 MacBook Air's graphics performance is head and shoulders above any other current ultrabook.

Processor performance is about the same as or slightly better than last year's models. Apple's emphasis in the Air product line isn't blazing speed but very usable performance with outstanding power utilization.

Recommendations

The 13-inch MacBook Air is available in a base level with options that allow you to up the processor, memory, and SSD storage. Because there are no user serviceable parts in the MacBook Air, you must make your configuration choices at the time of purchase. Unless you're a whiz at DIY (and you're not afraid of voiding the warranty), you won't be able to perform any upgrades yourself.

The MacBook Air comes stock with 4 GB RAM; an upgrade to 8 GB ($100) is available. Four GB is sufficient for general usage, where you're not running a large number of apps concurrently, or planning to run a virtualization program so you can run Windows or another OS concurrently.

If you need virtualization or other memory-intensive apps, then bumping the RAM to 8 GB is a very good idea.

The base model is provisioned with a 128 GB SSD. This is adequate for basic use, such as using office suites, email, and web browsing. If you're going to be working with images, playing music, watching videos, or developing apps, I recommend pushing the SSD to 256 GB.

Processor choices are a 1.3 GHz Dual Core i5 or a 1.7 GHz Dual Core i7. While the i7 is a better performer, I don't think it's a great choice for a Mac whose main feature is battery run-time performance. I'd be more inclined to select the base processor configuration and not have to worry about how long I can go on a charge, than to get a bit better performance but have to keep alert for places where I can charge my MacBook Air when I travel.

The 2013 13-inch MacBook Air is currently the best of its class in the ultrabook category. If you need portable Mac performance in a small, lightweight package, this MacBook Air should be at the top of your list.

Manufacturer's Site

Disclosure: Review samples were provided by the manufacturer. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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