MacBook Air 2013 teardown reveals hardware upgrades, no design changes

Bill Detwiler cracks open the 2013 MacBook Air and shows you how Apple improved the machine's performance and nearly doubled the battery life.

Apple didn't make any changes to the exterior of the Air. The 11-inch Air is still 11.8 inches wide, 7.56 inches deep, and between 0.11 and 0.68 inch high. It weighs 2.38 pounds. Pricing starts at $999 (U.S.) and can reach $1,749, depending on the configuration. But thanks to several hardware updates, the new Air offers faster Wi-Fi, more base storage, and almost double the battery life.

For more information on the 2013 Air, including performance and battery life benchmark tests, check out Scott Stein's full review.

Cracking Open observations

Opening the Air still requires special tools: The bottom panel is held on with special, pentalobe screws. And while your local hardware store might not have the necessary driver to remove them, plenty of online retailers do.

Removing the bottom cover on the 2013 MacBook Air 11-inch. Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Same internal layout: Despite all the hardware updates, the 2013 Air has the same basic layout as the 2011 and 2012 Airs. Along the back edge is the motherboard, cooling fan assembly, and a small I/O board. A pair of speakers flank the battery.

So if the 2013 Air looks so much like the previous models, what did Apple change and how did it so dramatically improve battery life?

Apple didn't change the overall internal layout of the 2013 MacBook Air. Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Better battery: For starters, the battery is better. The new Air has a 7.6V, 5,100mAh battery compared with the 2012 model's 7.3V, 4,680mAh unit.

Power-efficient processor: But this change alone can't account for the jump from 5 hours of battery life to 9. For that, Apple turned to Intel's new fourth-generation Haswell processors. By combining the CPU and the platform controller hub onto a single BGA package, these ultralow voltage chips are better able to manage power than previous chips. They also require less space on the motherboard. A 1.3GHz dual-core Core i5 comes standard on both the 11-inch and 13-inch Airs. Our test machine had a 1.7GHz Core i7.

Removing the cooling assembly from the 1.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 "Haswell" processor. Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Faster graphics: Along with the new CPU, the chip also has Intel's HD Graphics 5000, which Apple claims is up to 40 percent faster than the old GPU.

Faster solid-state drive: But it's not only the graphics that are faster. Thanks to a solid-state drive, which uses a PCI Express interface instead of a slower SATA connection, the new Air is 45 percent faster when accessing files. You also get more storage for your money. The base-model Air comes with a 128GB drive; last year's model has a 64GB drive.

Removing the 2013 MacBook Air SSD. Bill Detwiler/TechRepublic

Faster Wi-Fi: Rounding out the upgrades is a new wireless card that also speeds things up by supporting the 802.11ac standard . Just remember you'll need an 802.11ac access point to take full advantage of the new card. Conveniently, Apple released new AirPort stations that do just that.

Bottom line
This year's Air upgrades were all about efficiency and speed. More efficient power management, faster graphics, a faster SSD, and faster Wi-Fi. Thanks to these updates, Apple definitely hit a triple with new Air. Had the company included a Retina Display, given the 11-inch version an SD card slot, and upgraded the camera, it would have hit a home run.

About the author

Bill Detwiler is Managing Editor of TechRepublic and Tech Pro Research and the host of Cracking Open, CNET and TechRepublic's popular online show. Prior to joining TechRepublic in 2000, Bill was an IT manager, database administrator, and desktop support specialist in the social research and energy industries. He has bachelor's and master's degrees from the University of Louisville, where he has also lectured on computer crime and crime prevention.

 

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