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Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2013 - Performance, Gaming and Battery Life

Andy Vandervell

By Andy Vandervell

Reviewed:

Summary

Our Score:

9

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2013 - Performance

There's a lot more to talk about here than first meets the eye. The Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2012 saw a straightforward speed bump. That was it. But this latest refresh to Intel's Haswell processors has more subtlety.

Intel has focused on two things this time around: efficiency and graphics. Haswell processors are only 10 per cent faster than their direct predecessors, give or take a percentage or two. But they're more power efficient, while Apple puts the graphics improvement at 40 per cent

You can read a lot more about these details in our guide: What is Intel Haswell? 5 reasons why you should care.

To complicate matters further, Apple has tinkered with the innards. It's opted for a notional downgrade on the processor, choosing a dual-core 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 instead of the 1.7GHz clock speed on last year's model - a 23.5 per cent (400MHz) decrease in clock speed alone. It's notional because Apple has effectively traded the performance bump of Haswell for a lower clock speed, all in the name of reducing the price and improving battery life.

It's hard to know what difference this makes without testing the two processors in isolation. But we can't test in isolation because of another Apple change: it's switched the built-in 128GB SSD from a SATA3 6Gbps bus to PCIe.

It doesn't really matter whether you understand what all this means. All you need to know is that, as SSDs have become faster, the traditional SATA3 6Gbps connection has become a bottleneck. Moving to PCIe unlocks the true potential of the SSD in the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2013. That means faster read and write speeds, even faster boot speeds (now around 10 seconds from cold) and instant waking from sleep. SSDs have a hugely beneficial impact on system responsiveness, so it's a significant change.

The result, however, is that in raw benchmarks the Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2013 is actually marginally slower than its 2012. We do mean marginally, it's only 1.5 per cent slower in the Geekbench 2 benchmark - not enough to make a noticeable difference - but it is slower.

Does this matter? Not hugely. Actual responsiveness is just as good, if not better, and it is in effect exactly as fast as last year's model, which is quite fast enough for this type of laptop, especially considering the battery life gains. It sails through most computing tasks with ease, including light image work. Only video editing and heavy-duty photo editing tax it.

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2013 - Gaming Performance

It's quite a different situation in games, where Intel's HD 5000 integrated graphics is a significant step up from the previous generation. We managed to run Half-Life 2: Episode 2 at 1,440 x 900 with all detail levels set to their maximum, and with 2x MSAA, and enjoy a smooth game with only very occasional dips into the low 20 frames per second. Removing anti-aliasing, meanwhile, resulted in a silky smooth 60fps or more most of the time.

The previous generation Intel HD 4000 chipset can't touch this performance, even in this relatively old game. It means more recent titles are within reach and at reasonable settings, too, though probably without really taxing features like anti-aliasing.

Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2013 - Battery Life

But battery life is the 2013 Apple MacBook Air's true coup de grace, and the reward for the performance trade-off. Apple's claimed 12 hours of online productivity is nothing short of astounding. But what about the reality?

We kicked off our testing running an HD video playback test run at 50% brightness with Wi-Fi kept on. Even in this challenging scenario it lasted six hours and 56 minutes, near enough seven hours. Had we switched off Wi-Fi we wager it would have passed this mark comfortably.

That's impressive enough, but our web-browsing test proved even more spectacular. Left refreshing a web page every two minutes at 50 per cent brightness, the 2013 Apple MacBook Air 13-inch lasted 10 hours and 15 minutes.

A little short of Apple's 12-hour claims, then, but our test is on the tough side and doesn't include any downtime whatsoever. We have no doubt this really is a laptop you could use 'all day' and not worry about charging.

The Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2013 charges impressively fast, too. A 30-minute charge from near flat took the battery from 4% to 41%. Enough for a projected three hours and 47 minutes in our web browsing test, and more than likely enough for four hours of light use. Impressive

It's not me!

June 21, 2013, 6:00 pm

I don't think its Thunderbolt 2......

Guest

June 21, 2013, 7:18 pm

No surprises. I can wait until the next iteration.

Thanong

June 21, 2013, 9:50 pm

Decreasing clock speed from 1.7 GHz to 1.3 GHz means 23.5% decrease in clock speed !! not 15% decrease as shown in this article.

DigitalFury

June 22, 2013, 8:25 am

"Apple sets the standard once again"

Not really, you need to actually test the new Sony Vaio Pro 13.

I'm a MacBook Pro Retina 2013 user myself, but no way I would buy this new Air over the Pro 13.

andyvan

June 22, 2013, 9:59 pm

You're totally right. I'm better at words than maths it appears.

Hamish Campbell

June 24, 2013, 1:26 pm

Don't want to give an indication on what areas it wins up against this?

andyvan

June 25, 2013, 1:30 pm

We've got the Pro 13 in at the moment, so we'll have a review soon. I'm not reviewing it, but there are a few key differences. It uses the slower Intel HD 4400 graphics and doesn't have 802.11ac Wi-Fi, and I don't personally think the design or build quality is anything like the same. However, it's got a 1080p screen and some other things the MacBook doesn't.

Alejandro Gonzalez

June 26, 2013, 1:56 pm

i think that the pros you are describing are not enougth, the vaio have less weigth, better resolution, better performance options despite the graphic card(u wont game in this laptop and for office stuff no more power is required) in a bolity laptop o ultrabook the key points are size and weigth nothin else matters most

imaginarynumber

July 1, 2013, 5:52 am

Yes the Pro has got the slower HD4400 but it does allocate more RAM to graphics than the Air, resulting in a comparable performance.

802.11ac, a nice touch but how many people have a suitable router?

Design/build quality? By and large a matter of opinion.
Other things the MacBook doesn't have- Touchscreen, HDMI, NFC, smaller footprint, 30% lighter, longer battery life when using the sheet battery, WIFI router built into the charger (to allow Ethernet use), cheaper (but still expensive), faster charge and boot times.

So the Mac is better in 2 marginal respects but inferior in the rest?

And if you want 15 hours battery life look at the Vaio Duo 13

andyvan

July 1, 2013, 8:32 am

Our review will be live very soon.

Rory Quinn

July 9, 2013, 8:30 am

Should a RAM upgrade be considered?

Elijah Kurk

July 16, 2013, 9:10 pm

The pro is not cheaper, it is $150 more expensive... The sheet battery doesn't weigh a lot, but it is very bulky. There is a point of diminishing return when concerning weight, the carbon fiber ultrabooks are lighter, but they flex more, and 3 pounds is already very light. I'd rather have thunderbolt over hdmi, that way I can use my 1440p screen at full resolution, since ultrabooks sure as hell don't have dual link dvi. Hdmi 1.3 and up support higher res, but not many monitors have that support.

Andrew Pennebaker

July 23, 2013, 4:53 pm

Was this review for the completely standard, i5 model? Were any upgrades included in the model reviewed?

imaginarynumber

July 26, 2013, 4:23 pm

In the uk the pro is much cheaper than the air, at all price points. The difference gets greater as you increase the spec, in part because apple charge so much more for the same components, eg sony charge £40 for 4gb extra ram, apple charge £80 for the same ram...

imaginarynumber

July 26, 2013, 4:25 pm

To date i have only connected my laptop screen to a larger monitor when working with Flash or very large excel files.

Natito

July 28, 2013, 1:52 pm

It doesn't have a touch screen. How can a laptop with no touch screen be 9/10 unless a touch screen is of no value? I don't particularly care about touch screens myself but a lot of people do. You are obviously and Apple fan and just can't see beyond that.

Matt Burns

August 31, 2013, 12:12 pm

Ultimately even though the PC show better specs, they just dont work like Macs. SSD logic technology delivers higher speeds in caparison, and even with the reduction in clock speed, the benchmark test came out 3% difference for double the amount of battery. Ultimately though...OS-X will not clog up, slow down and die like my Sony Vaio I7 work laptop has.... a few times now (its like a cart and horse to a rockaet as my PC loving friend told me when he used my Mac)! Oh and when i do to sell in a couple of years, i will get a lot more for the Mac than the PC. These are just facts.

Nikhil

September 22, 2013, 12:06 pm

OS X is not made for touch screen unlike Windows 8. So what is the point of the Mac having a touch screen? Just because it doesn't have a touch screen it doesn't mean the rating needs to be lower.

Nikhil

September 22, 2013, 12:16 pm

Have you looked at the user reviews of the Pro 13? A lot of users have complained of wi-fi issues. Many have said connection is very unstable and keeps getting disconnected while using the internet. Sony to date still haven't solved the problem.

Performance tests between the air and pro 13 are virtually identical, and that is because of the better/quicker SSD on the Air. The only + side to the pro 13 is the 1080p display and that is it. But it is a no brainer to see why apple stuck with the 1440x900 display. They wanted to build a laptop with a long battery life.

Nikhil

September 22, 2013, 12:23 pm

Yes and if you want to get the battery sheet, it costs.

Battery life without the sheet is around 6-7 hours which is nearly half of what the Mac Air provides.

The base model of the pro 13 is £859 but that is without the touch screen. Touch screen is an additional £80.

Alterity

November 1, 2013, 3:38 am

very nice machine; I just got one. In reality, the battery life, SSD hard disk and portability are really really nice things to have.

Henk

December 2, 2013, 9:22 pm

I'm also inclined to think the Macbook Air doesn't have Thunderbolt 2.

Apple doesn't say anything about Thunderbolt 2 in the Macbook Air on Apple.com, and its not the kind of company to shy away from boasting about tech advancements (even if they're not all that advanced). On the Macbook Pro site Thunderbolt 2 is portrayed gloriously among the MBP's features. "the most advanced I/O gets 2x faster", in proper Apple-style.

Would be great if you rectified this (if of course we turn out to be right), otherwise people might be disappointed after buying the machine, and that would be a shame.

Otherwise, good review. Thanks.

Ruck_n_Maul

February 18, 2014, 1:27 pm

Im a MacBook Air owner - and have consulted widely with others - I would not recommend - it has shocking wifi - always network time out issues - disconnects for no reason and will reconnect - even with reboot - no solutions to this problem - happens everywhere - all wifi locations

nathan

November 7, 2015, 9:27 pm

bad wifi signal?! you mad i connect with signals that others can't and an all round beautiful system!

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