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Apple MacBook Air 13in Review (Mid 2012)

Laptops & PCsReviews
8/10
by Joel Santo Domingo, 29 Jun 2012Reviews
Apple MacBook Air 13in Review (Mid 2012)

The recently launched 13in MacBook Air is thin, light, and has a decent battery capacity. For mid-2012, Apple has updated its system with a new Ivy Bridge processor from Intel. There are other new features, like USB 3.0 ports and the potential upgrade to OS X Mountain Lion. If your MacBook Air is less than a year old, you can skip this generation because the Ivy Bridge processor is only a slight speed bump over the last generation. But if you're running an older MacBook (of any kind) with a Core 2 Duo or quad processor, now is the time to upgrade.

Design and Features

The new MacBook Air looks very much like the previous model. It has the same wedge-shaped chassis that tapers almost to a sharp point. It even weighs the same as the previous iteration, at 1.35kg. The screen is a 13.3in widescreen display with a 1,440 x 900 resolution. This is the same resolution as the previous two generations of 13in MacBook Airs. For the time being, Retina display is limited to the new MacBook Pro. The screen is still bright and clear, though, and should keep most users happy.

The system has the same aluminium unibody, silver bezel around the screen, and a similar set of physical ports on the sides (with a couple of exceptions). The new MacBook Air uses a MagSafe2 power connector that is shorter and wider than original MagSafe connector. The MacBook Air's 45-watt MagSafe2 AC adapter has a T-shaped connector; hopefully, Apple has corrected the problems that led to frayed MagSafe cords in the late 2000s.

MagSafe and MagSafe2 are physically different connectors, so users with spare MagSafe adapters lying around will need a MagSafe–to–MagSafe2 adaptor, netting Apple an extra £9. The two USB ports are now USB 3.0, which are much faster than the previous USB 2.0 connectors. Of course, USB 2.0 (and USB 1.1/1.0) devices will still work with the USB 3.0 ports. The Thunderbolt connector, headphone jack, SDXC slot, and microphone carry over from the previous MacBook Air.

Typing on the MacBook Air's keyboard was the same as the older model, with the same somewhat shallow key travel. You'll need to get used to it if you're switching from a desktop keyboard, but it's otherwise as comfortable to use as the previous MacBook Air. The large multi-touch trackpad also carries over the same gestures and reacts just as smoothly.

The base configuration of the new 13in MacBook Air comes with 4GB of system memory (as much as before, though now it's 1,600MHz DDR3), and the processor is upgraded from a 1.7GHz Intel Core i5-2557M (Sandy Bridge) processor to a 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U (Ivy Bridge) processor. In addition to the slight speed bump, the processor includes Intel HD Graphics 4000 integrated graphics with DX11 support.

The system's 128GB flash storage helps it start up, launch apps, and go to sleep mode quickly, taking only a couple of seconds to do each operation. A version with 256GB is available for £1,249, which can then be upgraded to 512GB if you’ve got an extra £400 burning a hole in your pocket. Upgrades to a 2GHz Core i7 processor and up to 8GB are a few other options.

The system ships with Mac OS X Lion (10.7.4), but under OS X Mountain Lion (10.8) the MacBook Air will be able to use Power Sleep. Power Sleep will continue to update compatible info (like Facebook, email, and messages) while the system is sleeping. The OS X Mountain Lion will be a free upgrade when the updated operating system is released in July 2012.

The 13 inMacBook Air comes with the usual set of iLife apps, like GarageBand, iTunes, iMovie, and iPhoto. FaceTime is currently a Mac-to-Mac program, but the Mountain Lion update will allow Mac to iOS (iPad, iPhone) video conferencing. Aside from iLife and the apps built into Mac OS X, the system's flash memory is free, which means there's no bloatware and therefore more room for your stuff.

Performance

The MacBook Air uses Intel's new Core i5-3427U processor, which is one of the new Ivy Bridge processors made to work in compact, speedy laptops like the MacBook Air and Ultrabooks. The new MacBook Air completed the CineBench R11.5 test with a 2.61 CPU score, which improves on the 2.17 score on the previous Air. The MacBook Air also garnered a good time of two minutes 42 seconds on our Handbrake video test and four minutes 53 seconds on our Photoshop CS5 test. Media scores are similar to the previous MacBook Air's, at least in Photoshop (2:09 Handbrake, 4:55 CS5).

The CPU is an Ultra-Low Voltage model with an extremely low 17-watt TDP. There's a smidge of increased performance over the last MacBook Air, but remember that clock speed has only been boosted by 100MHz and there’s the same amount of L3 cache (3MB).

As far as battery life and 3D is concerned, we couldn't run our usual MobileMark and 3D tests on the new MacBook Air because at the time of this review Apple had not yet released Boot Camp Windows drivers for the system. Stay tuned for updated benchmark tests after that happens. Using our ten-hour video rundown test, run in Mac OS X, with the backlight set to 50 per cent and Wi-Fi and keyboard backlight both activated, we were able to manage about seven hours (six hours 56 minutes) matching Apple's claims for battery life on its wireless Web test using the system's 50Wh internal battery.

Compared to the competition, the MacBook Air remains a good choice after its Ivy Bridge update. While it's not a “must have” upgrade if you have the previous Sandy Bridge version, folks who continuously trade up will find a few improvements like the USB 3.0 ports, updated CPU and faster memory. If you're still rocking a Core 2 Duo–equipped MacBook Air without Thunderbolt, you'll welcome the new Core i5 processor.

Verdict

The new MacBook Air will be seen as an incremental update for anyone already equipped with the last generation model. If, however, you have an older MacBook Air, the upgrade to Ivy Bridge is pretty compelling. The addition of USB 3.0 is welcome, but the new power connector will mean that your spare PSU at home won't work without an adaptor. 

It would have been nice to see a higher resolution screen, maybe not to Retina display levels, but an increase in pixels wouldn't have hurt. All that said though, the new MacBook Air is every bit as svelte, light and desirable as ever - now it's just a bit more powerful too.

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