Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, June 2013) review: A familiar MacBook Air, with an all-day battery

Sarah Tew/CNET

The base configuration for the 13-inch Air now costs $1,099, versus $1,199 previously. Most of the system is unchanged, with the main difference being the new Haswell-generation Intel processor and platform. Interestingly, last year's base model CPU was a 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, while the newer Haswell version is a 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4250U. The step-up $1,299 configuration keeps the same CPU as the $1,099 one, but doubles the SSD to 256GB.

The actual difference in our test results between the 2012 and 2013 models was minor. Year-over-year application performance doesn't show any real improvement, and the new Air actually ran some tests a hair slower. As a longtime MacBook Air user, in everyday use -- Web surfing, social media, HD video playback -- the 2013 MacBook Air didn't feel any different than the previous version. Any of the past few generations is more than powerful enough for mainstream users.

What is decidedly different, however, is the integrated HD 5000 graphics from Intel, a step above the HD 4000 in the previous Air. In our older Call of Duty 4 test (one of the few standard gaming benchmarks for OS X), at the native 1,440x900-pixel resolution, the game ran at 39.0 frames per second on the 2013 Air and 21.9 frames per second on the 2012 Air.

Neither is a gaming machine (and you'll have to move all the way up to the 15-inch Retina Pro to get a discrete Nvidia GPU), but our anecdotal gameplay tests in Portal 2 show that the Air can handle mainstream games that lean a bit more on the casual side.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life is where the new MacBook Air (both the 11-inch and 13-inch versions) really stands out. The previous-generation 13-inch Air ran for 7 hours and 27 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. The 2013 version blows that out of the water, with an astonishing 14 hours and 25 minutes on the same test. That's better than Apple's estimate of 12 hours, and one of the only times our tests have indicated longer battery life than a manufacturer's claims.

Now, before we get too excited, there are a few caveats for that number. Much of the credit must got to Intel's fourth-generation Core i-series platform, which was pitched as being incredibly power-efficient. Our early tests confirm this, with the new 13-inch Sony Vaio Pro 13 running for nearly 9 hours. And, while this is a much better score than last year's Air, the CPU itself runs at a lower clock speed, and the new Intel chips are especially optimized for video playback, which is the heart of our battery test. Using Wi-Fi and Bluetooth heavily or playing 3D games would cause that number to drop.

But even keeping those factors in mind, Apple's typically stellar battery achievements and Intel's new Haswell chips have combined to make this a truly all-day laptop.

Conclusion

For a laptop that looks and feels so identical to last year's model (and frankly, the prior year's as well), there's actually a lot going on behind the scenes in the new 13-inch MacBook Air.

The overly familiar design and lack of trendy new features (touch screens, higher-res displays, NFC) can make it hard to get particularly excited about the 2013 Air, especially considering the basic application performance is so similar to the 2012 version. The updated Intel GPU is welcome, even with the still-sparse OS X gaming environment, and the lower starting price helps, too, making this just a couple of steps above an impulse purchase, at least as far as laptops are concerned.

But if all that adds up to a modest step forward, the amazing battery life, which Apple and Intel must share credit for (with the scale tilting towardsthe Intel side), makes this feel like a brand-new era for the MacBook. Even if our 14-hour video playback battery life run is cut by a third or more in rigorous real-world conditions, you've still got a true all-day, always-on computer. Couple that with OS X and the best-in-show trackpad and gestures, and I'd be hard-pressed to think of a single competitor that comes close to the ubiquitous usefulness of this system.

Multimedia multitasking test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Video playback battery drain test (in minutes)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)

HandBrake multitasking
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
532

Find out more about how we test laptops.

System configurations

MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

MacBook Air 11-inch (June 2013)
OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5-4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch w/ Retina Display (October 2012)
OSX 10.8.2 Mountain Lion; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5-3210; 8GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 768MB (Shared) Intel HD 4000; 256GB Apple SSD

Sony Vaio Pro 13
Windows 8 (64-bit); 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-4200U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1,659MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 128GB Samsung SSD

MacBook Air 13-inch (June 2012)
OSX Lion 10.7.4; 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600; 384MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB Apple SSD

Find more shopping tips in our Laptop Buying Guide.

Editors' Top PicksSee All

 

Join the discussion

Conversation powered by Livefyre

Where to Buy See all prices

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013)

Part Number: MD760LL/A Released: Jun 10, 2013
MSRP: $1,099.00 Low Price: $859.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jun 10, 2013
  • Operating System Apple OS X 10.9 Mavericks
  • Installed Size 4 GB
  • Weight 3 lbs
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 5000
  • CPU Intel Core i5 (4th Gen) 1.3 GHz
Hot Products