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Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2012 – Performance, Value and Verdict

Ardjuna Seghers

By Ardjuna Seghers

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

8

User Score:

MacBook Air 2012 Performance

PCMark 07

General: 4284

Entertainment: 3278

Along with its connectivity, specifications is the other area where the 2012 MacBook Air has received a major update. The biggest news here is of course Intel’s Ivy Bridge, its third-gen processor and integrated graphics architecture. The Air comes with your choice of dual-core Core i5 or i7 CPUs. Our review sample sported the standard low-voltage dual-core Core i5-3427U, which runs at 1.8GHz but can Turbo clock up to 2.8GHz. This is similar to the kind of processing power you’ll find in most premium Ivy Bridge ultraportables.

Graphics are handled by the HD 4000, which increases performance over Intel’s previous HD 3000 effort. Intel claims an improvement of up to 40 percent, and indeed we found results in Stalker to not be far off that, with a comfy 26.8fps average in the same 720p, Medium Detail test where last year’s Air only just managed 20fps.

While we wouldn’t go so far as to say it’s a gamer-worthy chip, at least a few demanding titles are now actually playable, even if you still have to make significant sacrifices in detail and resolution.

Pretty much every premium consumer laptop on the market comes with 4GB of RAM as standard; the one exception was the Air, which started you off with an anaemic 2GB of 1,333MHz DDR3. Thankfully, Apple has now upped that to 4GB and increased the 2012 MacBook Air 13 inch’s maximum to a generous 8GB of 1,600MHz RAM, which should be plenty for even the most demanding user. Better yet, the £80 it demands for the upgrade is actually somewhat reasonable. With many Ultrabooks only coming in one configuration and thus sporting a 4GB maximum, this can be a significant advantage for power users on the go.

With a baseline 128GB SSD, minimum storage remains the same but the largest capacity choice has increased from 256GB to 512GB and the actual 6Gb/s drives used are faster than the 3GB/s ones used before. At time of writing there are very few other ultraportables available offering this much memory and solid state storage capacity, putting the 2012 Air at the top of its game – for now.

On a different note, it’s worth pointing out that the MacBook Air gets a tad noisy and hot around the hinge when running CPU/GPU-intensive content, but this is common with performance machines this thin.

MacBook Air 2012 Battery

MobileMark

(40 percent screen brightness, wireless radios disabled, mixed productivity)

321 minutes

Unfortunately, Apple claims the exact same 7-hour battery life figure for its new 13in Air as on the old model – despite the slightly more efficient processor and graphics chip. This is a shame as, in our light productivity test, the previous 13in MacBook Air only managed five hours 41 minutes - though admittedly this was running Windows 7, which will have had an impact.

Bizarrely, we actually got a slightly lower score of five hours and 21 minutes this time around. Using the laptop with Apple’s OS as intended delivered closer to the claimed figure, but we would still say it’s the one other area where, together with its screen, the 2012 MacBook Air isn’t quite the king of the ring.

MacBook Air 2012 Value

With a starting price of £999, the new 2012 Macbook Air 13in is solidly positioned at the premium end of the market, but is better value than ever before thanks to its upgraded bits. Frankly, it doesn’t appear to carry too much of an Apple premium. There are cheaper Ultrabooks available, but most don’t match up in either the screen or connectivity departments, not to mention design and build.

However, some do, and the Air is about to face some tough times due to its lack of upgrades - especially where the screen is concerned. In this regard, it’s already outperformed by the Samsung Series 9 900X3B with its matt 1,600 x 900 PLS panel, and will be absolutely annihilated by the 1080p IPS Zenbook Prime UX31a.

Once the former receives its Ivy Bridge update and the latter makes it to the UK market, only the Air’s Thunderbolt connectivity will still give it an edge, but we’ll cross that (Ivy) bridge when we come to it. In the meantime, if you desire MacOS the easy way or must buy now, the 2012 Air is well worth considering. Otherwise, we’d recommend holding off just a little longer to see what others will bring against it.

MacBook Air 2012 Verdict

Apple has updated what was already one of the better ultraportable laptops on the market to keep it competitive, with a downright impressive set of specification upgrades and (in theory) some of the best connectivity going thanks to its dual USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt combination. However, we can’t say we’re not disappointed to have the same old 1,440 x 900 TN screen rather than an IPS-panel Retina display, especially since some of the competition will be packing 1,600 x 900 or even 1080p IPS screens on their premium 13in Ultrabooks.

Overall Score

8

Scores In Detail

  • Battery Life 7
  • Design 9
  • Features 9
  • Performance 8
  • Screen Quality 8
  • Value 8

Alvin

July 3, 2012, 7:09 pm

"Oh, incidentally, those on their way to Hell may wish to consider purchasing a pair of skates." wtf?! lol

Pbryanw

July 4, 2012, 4:47 am

Hehe, where did that come from - Is it one of those phrases put in to make sure we're paying attention?

gdawg304

July 4, 2012, 11:40 am

Such a shame it doesn't have an IPS screen. Still trying to decide if I want a laptop that could be used for some gaming, or a smaller, lighter beast like this...but so far the Samsung still looks like the winner with their Ivy Bridge updates (shame the Series 9 only has 128GB but I guess at least no Bootcamp is needed!)

On the subject of SSDs, I know I've commented on the Pro review, but it's interesting that the new MB Air can be upgraded to 512GB storage, but the base Retina Pro cannot! Apple definitely seem to have a "consumer, do as you are told" attitude, as beautifully made as their kit is.

TechVegan

July 4, 2012, 2:19 pm

- Lol, thanks for the comments guys, glad you're paying attention ;)
Just suggesting Hell has frozen over as Apple has actually put USB 3.0 onto its machines. Though I guess that won't truly happen till they add Blu-ray drives (remember, you read it here first!).

TechVegan

July 4, 2012, 2:22 pm

Couldn't agree more, with a higher-res IPS screen it would be the perfect Ultraportable (okay, maybe it needs Ethernet & HDMI too).

"Apple definitely seem to have a "consumer, do as you are told" attitude, as beautifully made as their kit is"
- again, totally agree. It's one of the things I dislike most about the company and many of its products (iPad especially). Though to be fair, in this instance at least they're offering the possibility of upgrading bits, which not all laptop manufacturers do...

gdawg304

July 4, 2012, 3:06 pm

If it had an IPS screen I'd probably have my credit card out already and not worry about having a laptop capable of gaming!
But then I'm (perhaps excessively) fussy about screens, I've had IPS at home since 2006 and I really notice the difference using TN monitors at work.
Until I can find a buyer for my spare kidney to get the new MBPwR, I guess Apple don't get my cash quite yet. :o)

As an aside, is the Samsung Series 9 SSD user replaceable? (Still find it irritating they don't at least offer the option of a 256GB drive, 128GB would require a lot of space management)

Glenn Gore

July 4, 2012, 3:31 pm

Why on earth would one test battery life on an Apple computer using Windows 7? Is this an extremely common use for the device, therefore making it acceptable to test in this manner? I would think playing some video files or doing a video conversion or playing a heavily video-intensive game, or some other much more common use of the product would be more appropriate, but I guess I am wrong. Devoting 15 Gb of an already small hard drive to a VM installation of Windows 7 doesn't seem to me to be the way most users would utilize this product and make this testing procedure worthwhile. But as I said, I must be wrong.

gdawg304

July 4, 2012, 4:51 pm

They will never install BR drives, because YOU the consumer do not use Blu Rays. Do you? If you do, Apple says you shouldn't, so be good chaps and start downloading all your HD content from iTunes instead! ;o)

(with my 1MBps connection I shudder to think how long it would take me to download even an hour of HD TV content!)

Qddy

July 4, 2012, 5:47 pm

SSD in the Series 9 is replaceable. A few users on another forum have already done so with various brands.

Two reasons for this: 1. 128GB not enough for some people, 2. Samsung fit this notebook with a Sandisk U100 not their own model that is considerably better.

You may or may not notice it but the Sandisk model has slow 4k random writes or something like that. It chokes quite easily when multitasking. It's a shame you may have to fork out more money when the laptop is already more expensive than the air.

Qddy

July 4, 2012, 5:58 pm

I am currently deciding between this and the Samsung Series 9.

Pros for the 2012 Air:
- faster and larger SSD
- 8GB memory
- Thunderbolt port (perfect for thin laptops)

Pros for Series 9 13"
- IMO, the Samsung looks better and more professional. Maybe because the Air design has been around a while now.
- smaller and lighter
- better screen (higher res. + good quality matte display for using outdoors)
- Windows 7 (personal preference)

It's a shame Samsung cut corners on its flagship model otherwise it would be an easy decision for me. It is more expensive than the Air so really should match or surpass the Air's specs. But they put in an inferior SSD and some silly proprietary micro-vga port instead of Thunderbolt or DisplayPort.

The biggest thing holding me back from the Air is the BootCamp compatibility. Heard some issues regarding battery life and the CPU getting stuck at one speed.

gdawg304

July 4, 2012, 6:41 pm

I'd read that about the use of the Sandisk. Seems weird that they'd use a third party drive that's inferior to the own drives they produce, for one of their flagship machines!

gdawg304

July 4, 2012, 6:42 pm

I'd say I agree 100% with this, I played around with a the Samsung in store and it's a nice machine if you're in the market for a W7 based ultraportable....such a shame the storage options are so limited (And as you said, that they used an SSD which is inferior to their own drives!)

TechVegan

July 5, 2012, 7:28 pm

Well said, @gdawg304.

TechVegan

July 5, 2012, 7:37 pm

You're not 'wrong', but it's because we subject all laptops (and X86 tablets) to the same battery benchmark which gives a like-for-like indication of their actual battery capacity relative to the power draw of their components.

We also tried mixed usage under MacOS (as mentioned in the review) and got around six and a half hours.

RE "an already small hard drive" - you do realize you can go up to 512GB on the Air? Besides which, there are many games and programs that simply aren't available for MacOS, plus Windows users may want the Air for its hardware rather than OS.

mttbythrow8891

July 11, 2012, 10:16 am

Although it is very small and a good traveling laptop. I would not recommend it if youre going to be using this for home. It can be very uncomfortable, just because you must purchase a seperate CD-Rom drive. Also due to the fact it is very slim, the laptop will get extremely hot.

MikeX

August 24, 2013, 11:00 am

No one uses a CD-ROM drive now! All other UltraBooks do not have a CD drive either. Have you used one of these? They do not get hot in normal use and can be very comfortable on your lap.

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