Apple has hit two notable ‘firsts’ with this, the 2013 incarnation of the iconoclastic Apple MacBook Air. It packs several game-changing revisions. Not only is it the first mainstream laptop you can buy with an Intel Haswell processor, it’s also the first production laptop supporting the new ‘three-times-faster’ 802.11ac Wi-Fi draft standard.
The use of a low-power Intel Core i5 processor means that the Apple MacBook Air should now last longer than ever before and quite possibly by a significant margin Apple’s figures, based on wireless web browsing, spell out a total runtime that has been stretched from an already handy seven hours, all the way to 12 hours.
Apple MacBook Air 2013 has the same familar tapered profile as the last few generations
Despite Apple’s reputation for assembling premium products at premium prices, we’ve not seen any Microsoft hardware partner match the features, build and attention to detail, either at the same price or higher.
One small visible change for the new Apple MacBook Air is an extra pinhole on the left flank, marking an additional, second microphone. This trusted tech trickled down from the Retina MacBooks, adding noise cancellation to improve voice clarity in FaceTime and Skype calls.
Looking over the internal specs, there are two primary and significant changes. Most notably, we can see Apple has made a brave move in marketing terms by specifying a lesser-looking processor.
Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2013): Performance
The processor clock speed is down, but processor performance is up. That’s what we found when running the PCMark 7 benchmark in Windows 7 Home Premium.
The previous Mid-2012 Apple MacBook Air Air with its 1.8 GHz Intel Core i5-3427U reaped 4497 points in this general test of computer speed and responsiveness.
This Mid-2013 version with its lowly 1.3 GHz Intel Core i5-4250U scored 4602 points, suggesting a modest but measurable 2.3% boost in overall performance.
Apple's trademark backlit keyboard is still available on the 2013 Apple MacBook Air
Since PCMark 7 also measures the speed of storage as part of the test suite, this better-for-less result could also be attributed to the upgrade in flash memory. There’s now 128 GB as standard across both 11.6in and 13.3in models, and importantly this takes a new form-factor that bypasses any SATA bus. Instead it uses a direct PCIe connection, obviating the intermediary and unneeded SATA stage.
In fact, turning to Geekbench 2 test, we can see that raw processor and memory performance is overall slightly down on last year’s
Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2013): Battery life
Apple seems to have taken several strategies to help eke out more runtime with the Apple MacBook Air (Mid-2013) 13.3in notebook.
The larger factor is still almost certainly the shift in Intel processor from third-generation IvyBridge to fourth-generation Haswell.
But unplugged operation is also helped by a slightly larger battery, up 10% in capacity from 49 Wh to 54 Wh, and perhaps the use of low-power memory too.
We put the 2013 Apple MacBook Air to the test in Windows 7 Home Premium, using the venerable MobileMark 2007 (Productivity) benchmark test. And here we recorded a runtime that comfortably exceeded the specified 12 hours, hitting a new record figure of 12 hrs 57 mins.
Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2013): Wireless
The first wireless routers with the upcoming standard of 802.11ac first appeared late last year, yet for the last 8 months whenever we looked for 11ac-capable laptops, all we saw was tumbleweed.
Apple has finally broken ranks and included an 802.11ac wireless chipset, courtesy of the only manufacturer currently shipping 11ac components, Broadcom.
The Broadcom BCM4360 is a three-stream capable wireless processor, although Apple appears to only fit the Apple MacBook Air with two Wi-Fi antennae (hidden in the screen hinge).
At 10m from the 11ac Time Capsule, with one intervening plaster stud wall, transfer speed was measured at a relatively good 148 Mb/s. But that's only relative to 11n. In previous tests with 3x3 MIMO 802.11ac we've seen close to 500 Mb/s.
But you can expect to benefit from better Wi-Fi connections with the 2013 Apple MacBook Air on 11ac, compared to 11n, and especially at more distant range where pre-11ac networks tail off so rapidly in quality.