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13-inch MacBook Air review: Apple's affordable laptop nicely blends performance and portability

Roman Loyola | May 25, 2015
Now that there's a new ultra portable laptop in town in the form of the 12-inch MacBook, what's the deal with the MacBook Air? It's still an active part of Apple's lineup, and in case you missed it, was updated on the day the 12-inch MacBook was announced.

Now that there's a new ultra portable laptop in town in the form of the 12-inch MacBook, what's the deal with the MacBook Air? It's still an active part of Apple's lineup, and in case you missed it, was updated on the day the 12-inch MacBook was announced.

The 13-inch MacBook Air changes are relatively minor, but its standing in Apple's lineup is what changed the most. While the MacBook Air is still an ultra portable laptop, there's a newfound emphasis on its value — the four recently refreshed models make up the affordable end of Apple's laptop lineup.

What's new with the 13-inch MacBook Air

The major update to the MacBook Air is a straightforward CPU and graphics upgrade. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch models sport a dual-core 1.6GHz Core i5 Broadwell processor that supports Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz and 3MB of shared L3 cache. This replaces a dual-core 1.4GHz Core i5 Haswell processor in last year's model. The new graphics is an integrated Intel HD Graphics 6000 chip, which replaces the Intel HD Graphics 5000.

The Thunderbolt implementation has been upgraded to Thunderbolt 2. And the 13-inch MacBook Air also has faster flash storage — Apple says it's two times faster than before. 

That's about it for the upgrades. There's no Retina display; it's the same display found in previous models. The trackpad isn't a Force Touch trackpad; it's the old Multi-Touch model with which you're probably familiar. Compared to the Force Touch trackpad, the MacBook's Air's Multi-Touch trackpad is much louder when you press to click, and the clicking feeling is much more pronounced. The keyboard is the same, it's not the new butterfly keyboard in the MacBook. (For me, that's a good thing. I'm not a fan of the MacBook's keyboard.) And there's still the standard 4GB of memory, though you can upgrade to 8GB for an additional $100.

Performance

The speed boost over last year's 1.4GHz Core i5 Haswell MacBook Air is modest. In Geekbench 3 tests, the new 1.6GHz Core i5 Broadwell 13-inch MacBook Pro was 10 percent faster in multi-core tests, and about 8 percent faster in single core tests.

The improvement is, of course, much more noticeable when you compare the new MacBook Air to the 2014 and 2013 models — the speeds are 10 to 15 percent faster.

Compared to the new 1.1GHz MacBook, the MacBook Air has a distinct performance advantage. The MacBook Air was 28 percent faster in multi-core tests, and 22 percent faster in single core tests.

When it comes to graphics performance, the new MacBook Air takes a big leap over the new MacBook and last year's MacBook Air in the Cinebench OpenGL test, posting a 29 percent improvement over both computers. The new MacBook Air still lags behind the new 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, but not by much: about four frames per second.

 

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