13-inch MacBook Air, mid-2013

KEY INFO

Manufacturer: Apple
Price: £1,129

SPECIFICATIONS
Processor: 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 5000
Memory: 4GB


It’s amazing how quickly Apple’s innovative designs become commonplace. When the MacBook Air was first released in 2008, there was little else like it. An ultra-portable notebook that was thin and light enough to carry around all day, but without the cheap-and-nasty feel of the netbooks that were popular back then. Five years and six generations later, the Air has grown from being a useful supplement to your main Mac to a portable notebook that’s powerful enough to use as your sole computer. And ultra-portables are everywhere, with PC manufacturers releasing their own thin and light notebooks that pay more than a passing tribute to Apple’s.

If you read last issue’s review of the 11-inch model, you know this sixth generation MacBook Air uses slower processors than the mid-2012 release. Both the 13-inch models use a 1.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, down from 1.8GHz in the previous generation. But as they’re from Intel’s new Haswell range, they feature faster graphics and lower power consumption. Faster flash storage has been utilised too. As a result, the new MacBook Airs have an overall performance that’s on a par with the last generation – some tests see a small improvement, others a minor decrease – but the battery life far exceeds anything we’ve seen before.

We tested the Air’s battery by streaming the BBC iPlayer news channel’s live feed over a wireless network. It lasted for nine hours. That’s significantly better than the 2013 11-inch version’s seven hours and 15 minutes, and a substantial improvement over the 2012 MacBook Air’s five and a half hours. Since switching to solid-state storage with the late 2010 update, the Air has been known for its good battery life. But with the Haswell processors in place, it’s absolutely stunning. At last, you can use your notebook all day long on a single charge.

Our other benchmarking tests were a mixed bag, with the faster graphics and storage fighting the slower CPU clock speeds. Thanks to the improved graphics enjoyed by the Haswell processors, this 2013 13-inch MacBook Air ran Call of Duty 4 at 67.8 frames per second, compared to 59.5 FPS for the 13-inch, 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 model from last year. The much older Doom 3 seemed less able to take advantage of the Intel HD 5000 Graphics, running at 68.9 FPS on the 2013 Air, and 83.0 FPS on last year’s model.

The new MacBook Air’s faster storage gave it a definite advantage in our Xbench test, which we set up to measure both the CPU and storage performance. Its score of 357.50, is 5.4% up on last year’s model. But it was around 40 seconds slower when encoding our five-minute test movie to iPod format using iMovie.

There are other improvements. Wi-Fi is now 802.11ac across the MacBook Air range, and they all have dual mics for lower ambient noise. Like the 11-inch model reviewed last issue, there’s no Retina screen option.

So is the 2013 release a net gain for the MacBook Air? We think so. A better integrated graphics chipset and improved components make up for the slower CPU clock speed, and the new battery life is nothing short of phenomenal.

Verdict

Despite the slower CPUs, the 2013 MacBook Air wins with excellent battery power and better Wi-Fi.

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