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


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

(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.  

Trusted Score

Score in detail

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

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