Apple's Haswell-Powered 13-Inch MacBook Air

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Intel's roll-out of their 4th generation Haswell-based Core series processors has been a little pokey, quite frankly, when you compare this launch to the deluge of products that hit the market when Ivy Bridge broke cover last year.  Regardless, Apple always seems to have an inside track on Intel's latest technology and so, as it turns out, our first Haswell-powered notebook has finally arrived and it's none other than the Apple MacBook Air. The new MacBook Air for 2013 is virtually indistinguishable from the previous gen model, though if you'll look closely there actually two tiny pinholes on its left edge, for dual omnidirectional microphones, versus a single mic on previous models.  Beyond that, it's the guts of the new Air that bring the glory.

In addition to the anticipated performance gains that Intel's new CPU might bring to the table for the MacBook Air, there are additional component-level enhancements that Apple baked in to their new ultra-light machine; namely a higher capacity 54 Whr battery and a PCI Express-based Solid State Drive (SSD).  If you've been reading these pages for any length of time, you'll know the latter feature gets us more than a little fired-up.  Let's see what the new MacBook Air is made of and if it holds its own versus Windows-based Ultrabook offerings in the market.

MacBook Air 13-Inch Notebook with Intel's 4th Generation Haswell Core Mobile Processor
Specifications & Features
  • Mac OS X 10.8.4
  • 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz) with 3MB shared L3 cache
  • 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3L SDRAM
  • 128GB or 256GB of PCI Express Flash storage
  • Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen, TN display
  • 1440x900 native resolution (16:10)
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (up to 5Gbps)
  • Thunderbolt port (up to 10Gbps)
  • Mini DisplayPort video output (via Thunderbolt port)
  • DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter (sold separately)
  • VGA output using Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (sold separately)
  • Dual-Link DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (sold separately)
  • HDMI audio and video output using third-party Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter (sold separately)
  • MagSafe 2 power port
  • SDXC card slot
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • Dual internal omnidirectional microphones
  • Headphone port
  • Support for Apple iPhone headset with remote and microphone
  • Full-size backlit keyboard with 78 (U.S.) or 79 (ISO) keys
  • Multi-Touch trackpad with support for Multi-Touch gestures
  • Built-in 54-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
  • 45W MagSafe Power Adapter with cable management system
  • 0.11-0.68 x 12.8 x 8.94 inches (HxWxD) - 2.96 pounds
Direct Price: $1,099 (as tested) - $1044.99 via Amazon Prime

We won't belabor the point but Apple still hasn't seen fit to up the ante on the MacBook Air's display, opting instead to stick with the 1440x900 TN panel carried over from the previous generation 13-inch machine, with the 11-inch variant sporting a 1366x768 native res.  Regardless, in its 13-inch incarnation, the MacBook Air's display is still a decent high-end option on the market, save perhaps for the Toshiba KIRAbook or the Chromebook Pixel -- both of which are significantly more expensive alternatives.

Again, notable upgrades come in the form of its storage subsystem and battery capacity with the new Air offering a 54Whr battery over last year's 50Whr cell.  In fact, Apple claims "all-day battery life" with up to 12 hours of up-time in standard use and 10 hours with continuous movie playback.  We'll have see if that pans out in testing but there's one more feature that stands out rather prominently and that's the MacBook Air's MSRP, which weighs in at a cool $100 less versus last year's 13-inch model (as tested).  Let's look more at design and function, next.

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realneil one year ago

Nice little Lappy.

p4madeus one year ago

How is a laptop with a Thunderbolt / Mini Display Port "Missing video output ports"???

Dave_HH one year ago

[quote user="p4madeus"]

How is a laptop with a Thunderbolt / Mini Display Port "Missing video output ports"???


Some might consider the lack of HDMI an issue.

anthrobug one year ago

You can pickup a thunderbolt to HDMI adapter for $20. Or basically thunderbolt to anything for the same price: VGA: DVI: dual-link DVI: HDMI: Composite.

Thunderbolt is basically PCIe 4x & Display Port over the same connector, so besides hooking up your display, you can also get a 4x PCIe to plug in video cards, sound cards, whatever you want. I don't know if Thunderbolt 2.0 means PCIe 8x, but I doubt it. And 4x is a bit low for a video card, but I'd want to try it. \

Basically you plug in one thunderbolt cable to connect your PCIe 650Ti, 24" monitor, keyboard, mouse, ethernet and whatever else. Kind of like a docking port, but it's a cable. (OWC) already has a PCI card chassis for sale too.

Dave_HH one year ago

Anthro, understood and that was duly noted in the review.

hexblot one year ago

Nice write-up, and a mean machine at that!

There are a couple of things I feel should be tested though, which have been asked numerous time in most forums regarding this machine :

* Accoustics (ie when and how loud do fans work )?

* How does i5 / i7 difference affect battery, heat, and accoustics (fan noise) under various loads?

* There are rumors that the 128Gb SSD performs differently than the 256Gb SSD and up (with much greater performance to the latter capacities) - can you confirm / deny these?

As far as I know, there have been some answers in forums, but most are empirical in nature ( as in "duh i7 has less battery time and heats up more" ). It would be nice to have some answer from an authoritative source that actually ran some tests though.

Thank you in advance for your answers, and keep up the good work!

Dave_HH one year ago

Hexblot, GREAT questions and you know, I was going to note acoustics in the battery test section of the article but forgot.  

I will update the piece now with my impressions.

In short though, this MacBook was dead (and I mean as in no noise whatsoever) in all but the toughest graphics tests.

Stay tuned!

Dave_HH one year ago

HB, I added a section to this effect, on the battery test page, now titled "Battery Life and Acoustics." Thanks!

slimfit one year ago

mac pro + SSD = speed freak

BrianKeegan one year ago

Excellent review! :)

I'm still not convinced that Macs are worth the price tag though...

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