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Home > Notebook Reviews & Ultrabook Reviews > 13" MacBook Air (mid-2013, Haswell)

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MacBook Air Review (mid-2013)

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What's Hot: Latest gen Intel Haswell CPU with HD 5000 graphics, super solid yet slim, attractive design, great keyboard and trackpad.

What's Not: 1440 x 900 non-IPS panel not hugely competitive with similarly priced full HD Windows 8 Ultrabooks. Base 1.3GHz model makes us feel less future-proof than the 1.7GHz Core i7 option.

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Reviewed June 25, 2013 by , Editor in Chief (twitter: @lisagade)

The MacBook Air hardly needs an introduction. It started the Ultrabook craze before Intel coined the word "Ultrabook" as a way to gain PCs some market share and encourage manufacturers to produce good looking, light laptops in the face of Apple's challenge. The mid-2013 MacBook Air gets special notice because it's one of the first ultraportables to run the new fourth generation Intel Haswell CPUs (the Sony Vaio Pro is the only other Ultrabook with Haswell at the time of the new Air's launch, and the Sony Vaio Duo 13 convertible will follow in a few weeks). While we've seen a few desktops and gaming quad core machines with Haswell, they're largely the least to benefit because Haswell's improvements particularly target Ultrabooks and thin and light laptops where they can amp integrated graphics and bring significant battery life improvements. The MacBook Air, much like the Sony Vaio Pro 13 Ultrabook and Vaio Duo convertible, stand to gain the most. As it turns out, the Air gains a bit more in the graphics department since it uses the faster Intel HD 5000 graphics rather than HD 4400 graphics found in the Vaio Pro. Don't get too excited, because as it turns out neither HD 4400 nor HD 5000 come anywhere near dedicated graphics performance (watch our video review below where we play Diablo 3). We're talking a few percentage points and 5-7 fps gains in demanding 3D games.

MacBook Air 2013

So how about CPU performance improvements? These are small compared to the outgoing third generation Ivy Bridge platform, but they're impressive because they slightly outperform Ivy Bridge while running at lower clock speeds and consuming less power. The mid-2013 MacBook Air isn't a genius compared to the outgoing model in terms of CPU performance, but it does show gains in graphics thanks to Intel HD 5000 graphics, and better yet it runs even cooler and much longer. Part of that battery life improvement is thanks to Apple increasing the battery size a bit; the 13" MacBook Air has a whopping 7150 mAh battery that's larger than most Ultrabook batteries (the Vaio Pro 13, whose goal in life is to be super-thin and 3/4 lb. lighter than the MacBook Air has a 4740 mAh battery). Our review unit is running on the 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-4650U, while most reviews cover the 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4250U, yet battery life is still amazing. We're talking 10 to 12 hours at 50% brightness with WiFi on in a mix of productivity tasks plus some YouTube and Netflix streaming. No external sheet batteries or clip on barrel battery required.

MacBook Air 2013

Intel fourth generation Ultrabook ULV CPUs are paired with Intel HD integrated graphics. There are two versions: Intel HD 4400 and HD 5000. The HD 5000 is the faster of the two, and while it shows a modest improvement over Ivy Bridge HD 4000 graphics and is a few points faster than the HD 4400, it won't compete with anything beyond a low end dedicated graphics offering. The MacBook Air has never been a gaming or CAD workstation machine, but the Haswell MacBook Air does gain 5-8 frames over the HD 4000 and HD 4400 in some current popular 3D games like Diablo 3 and Civ 5. The gain is sufficient to make these games playable as long as you go for lower resolutions and graphics settings. Apple offers only the faster HD 5000 graphics on the MacBook Air, and it's matched with slightly slower clocked CPUs to keep the power requirement at 17 watts total, which is Haswell's power cap for the CPU and GPU combined. If most of your work is CPU intensive (calculations, compiling software), then this offers less of an advantage. However, if you do play games or depend on Adobe Photoshop's use of the GPU, the Intel HD 5000 is more attractive. If you need more computing power, the full mobile CPUs in the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display offer considerably more. The dedicated graphics plus full mobile CPUs in the MacBook Pro 15" and 15 inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display are good for serious computing plus good gaming with dedicated graphics. Of course, those Mac models are larger, heavier and more expensive than the MacBook Air.

 

MacBook Air 2013

The Sony Vaio Pro 13 and 13" Macbook Air.

Geekbench 2 Benchmarks Comparisons:

MacBook Air (Core i7, 4 gigs RAM, 128 gig SSD): 8297
Sony Vaio Pro 13 (Core 1.6GHz i5 Haswell, Intel HD 4400) 7666
15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display (2012, 2.3GHz Core i7, Nvidia GT650M) 12,001
Sony Vaio Z (Core i7, third gen, HD 4000 graphics) 12,716

Gaming Test:

Diablo 3 (1440 x 900 resolution):
22 fps with medium and high settings, 43 fps average at low settings

 

Deals and Shopping:

 

2013 MacBook Air Video Review (Core i7)

 

2013 MacBook Air 13" vs. 2013 13" Retina MacBook Pro Comparison Smackdown

 

Mid-2013 MacBook Air 13" vs. Sony Vaio Pro 13 Comparison (Haswell Smackdown)

Tried and True

The rest is the same old MacBook Air 13" that we know and love. The design is unchanged from the last generation model, and it has two USB 3.0 ports (one on each side), a Thunderbolt port that also functions as a mini DisplayPort, 3.5mm audio, MagSafe 2 charging connector and an SDXC card slot. It weighs 2.96 lbs., is clad in curvy silver aluminum, has a large glass trackpad that's as good as it gets and a good backlit keyboard. There's a webcam for Skype and FaceTime video chat, and new for this model are dual built-in mics. Build quality is always superb with Apple computers and the Air is an essay in visual perfection. There are no gaps, pointless angles or creaking and the casing is extremely rigid (I'd hate to drop it on my foot). Our only complaint with the MacBook Air is that the front edge feels sharp against the palms when typing.

Display: Same as it Ever Was

The gloss display's resolution stays at 1440 x 900, which hurts a bit in the face of today's premium 1920 x 1080 and higher Windows 8 Ultrabooks. My guess? Apple didn't want to cannibalize the Retina line of Mac laptops, and a full HD display would drag down that record-setting battery life. Obviously there's no touch screen here, Apple doesn't do that (at least not yet). That's not to say this is a bad display, rather it's quite good. Viewing angles are comfortably wide (except when viewed from below, but few people sit lower than their laptop) and colors are pleasing. Movies look bright and color saturated and there's sufficient sharpness to make text look good. Those who've grown accustomed to Apple's much higher PPI Retina displays will likely think that text looks a tad fuzzy, but those who've been using standard resolution laptops will find it very good.

This isn't a wide color gamut display that you'll find on some high end laptops like Apple's own Retina 13 and 15 inch models that cover 99% of sRGB or the Sony Vaio Pro 13 that covers 95% of sRGB. The 13" MacBook Air covers 67% of sRGB and 51% of Adobe RGB. At 300 nits, it's as bright as the Retina Macs and brighter than the 250 nit Sony Vaio Pro 13, but contrast is lower at 550:1 in our tests vs. 900:1 or higher for the Vaio and Retina. That's decent contrast and the display doesn't look washed out, but blacks aren't as rich and black on white text isn't as crisp compared to the Retina and Vaio Pro. Contrast is above the industry average though, as is brightness.

MacBook Air sRGB

MacBook Air Adobe RGB

Pricing and Configurations

The 13" MacBook Air starts at $1,099 for the 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 with 4 gigs of DDR3 RAM and a 128 gig SSD drive (now using the significantly faster PCIe interface). You can get the machine with the 1.7GHz Intel Core i7, 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 or 512 gig SSD drive. The Core i7 with 8 gigs of RAM and a 256 gig SSD costs $1,549. For those of you who really love traveling small, the MacBook Air 11" ($999 base price) is available with Haswell and Intel HD 5000 graphics too. Battery life is lower at 9 hours according to Apple because 11.6" notebooks don't have room for as large a battery as their 13" brethren.

The Competition

If you're a Mac person, the choice is between the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display and the MacBook Air. The 13" Retina is heavier at 3.57 lbs. and more expensive at $1,499 (base price), but you get a much better display and faster full mobile CPUs in trade. If you're looking for extreme portability and the least expensive Mac you can buy, the MacBook Air is the better choice. Both can handle productivity work with MS Office, email, web, streaming HD video playback and image editing perfectly well. Neither is well suited to gaming since both models use integrated graphics. You can play casual games on either, but you'll have to resort to lower resolutions and settings for current 3D titles. Of course, there's the standard 4.5 lb. 13" MacBook Pro which offers a full mobile CPU and Intel integrated graphics like the Retina, but it adds a built-in DVD drive, Ethernet and FireWire 800. It's the heaviest of the three, and has a lowly 1280 x 800 resolution display (really, Apple?). That said, if you need an all-around laptop that can be your one and only machine, the base $1,199 MacBook Pro has all the creature comforts like plentiful ports, an optical drive and a fast CPU for a relatively low price by Apple standards.

And how about the world of Windows? I generally don't recommend a Mac If you plan to run Windows 7 or 8 most of the time. Apple's Windows drivers aren't nearly as good as their Mac OS X counterparts. Power management and the trackpad, which are two highlights under Mac OS X become mediocre under Windows using Bootcamp. If you only sometimes need Windows, then a Mac is fine (via Bootcamp or Parallels).

For those of you who are Windows users, you've got a great selection of Ultrabooks to choose from. A few years ago the Air had a significant lead but now the Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch, the Sony Vaio Pro, Dell XPS 13 FHD, Samsung ATIV Book 7 and Samsung Series 9 (also called ATIV Book) are compelling alternatives with classy designs, full HD displays, touch screens and good backlit keyboards.

Conclusion

The MacBook Air remains one of our favorite ultraportable computers. It's built with incredible attention to detail, is strong yet thin and the backlit keyboard is excellent. Though the display won't win against recent full HD Windows 8 Ultrabooks or the 13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display, it's sharp, colorful and bright. And the battery life? It's simply off the charts and our Core i7 13" model routinely manages 10 to 12 hours of use time on a full charge. Wow.

Price: Starting at $1,099 ($999 for 11.6" model)

Website: www.apple.com

Related:

13" MacBook Air vs. Late 2013 MacBook Pro 13" Comparison

Late 2013 13" MacBook Pro Review (Retina, Haswell)

13" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review (first gen)

15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display Review

Microsoft Surface Pro 3 Review

Sony Vaio Pro 13 Review

Asus Zenbook Prime UX31A Touch Review

Samsung Series 9 (full HD) Review

Samsung Series 7 Ultra (Samsung ATIV Book 7) Review

 

MacBook Air 2013

 

MacBook Air 2013

 

MacBook Air 2013

 

MacBook Air 2013

 

MacBook Air 2013

 

MacBook Air 2013

The MacBook Air and Sony Vaio Pro 13.

 

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Specs:

Display: 13.3", 1440 x 900 LED backlit display. Intel HD Graphics 5000 integrated graphics. Mini DisplayPort and Thunderbolt.

Battery: 54 watt-hour Lithium Ion rechargeable, not user replaceable. Comes with 45W MagSafe 2 power adapter.

Performance: Fourth generation Intel Haswell dual core ULV CPU with Intel HD 5000 integrated graphics. 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4250U CPU is standard (2 cores, 4 threads, Turbo Boost up to 2.6GHz). 1.7GHz Intel Core i7-4650U with Turbo Boost to 3.3GHz is an optional upgrade. 4 or 8 gigs DDR3 LPDDR3 1600MHz RAM (not upgradable, soldered onto motherboard).

Drives: 128 gig, 256 gig or 512 PCIe SSD drive.

Size: 12.8 x 8.94 x 0.11-0.68 inches. Weight:2.96 pounds.

Camera: 720p FaceTime video chat camera.

Audio: Built in stereo speakers, mic and 3.5mm stereo headphone jack.

Networking: Integrated dual band WiFi 802.11ac and Bluetooth 4.0.

Software: Mac OS X Mountain Lion 10.8. Mac Mail, Safari web browser, iLife suite including iMovie, iDVD, Garage Band and iPhoto, FaceTime video chat app and more.

Expansion and Ports: 1 SD card slot. Two USB 3.0 ports, 3.5mm headphone jack and combined Thunderbolt/mini DisplayPort.

 

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