Inside the 2013 MacBook Air: SSD sizzles, graphics gain

MacBook Air's solid-state drive is groundbreaking and its graphics silicon isn't too shabby either.


It may look the same outside, but the MacBook Air got overhauled on the inside.

In the case of the solid-state drive (SSD) and graphics, it's a major overhaul.

SSD: Apple appears to be one of the first to stick a PCI Express (PCIe) SSD in a thin laptop. And that makes a huge difference, according to Anand Shimpi of Anandtech.

"This is a huge deal, totally the future. And pretty much all other notebooks announced at Computex still use [Serial ATA]. Apple did the right thing here," Anand said in response to an e-mail query.

Running Quick Bench on the SSD yields peak sequential read/write performance that approaches 800MBps, according to Anand. That is about 300MBps better than the 2012 MacBook Air.

Generally, a faster SSD means faster software loads and a quicker computer boot up -- among other speed-ups.

Graphics: Intel's fourth-generation core processor, aka Haswell, is not about CPU (central processing unit) performance. It's all about the upgraded GPU (graphics processing unit).

On Monday during the WWDC keynote, Apple said the GPU has 2x the execution units (EUs). That's actually an understatement. The number of EUs jumps to 40 in Haswell's HD 5000 graphics from 16 in the prior-generation Ivy Bridge's HD 4000 graphics.

"HD 5000 [is] probably 30 percent faster than last year's MBAs," Anand said.

Higher-performance graphics generally means faster decoding/encoding of video, better gaming, and snappier updating of graphics-intensive Web pages.

And realize this is being accomplished while extending battery life. Apple is claiming that the 13-inch MacBook Air gains as much five hours of battery life over its predecessor, while the 11-inch MacBook Air gains four hours.

Apple seems to have kept the MacBook Air in the sweet spot between laptops and tablets. It's appreciably faster than a tablet but boasts battery life that gets closer to tablets than ever before.

The new MacBook Air's solid-state 'flash' drive is one of the first laptops to use a PCIe interface.
The new MacBook Air's solid-state 'flash' drive is one of the first laptops to use a PCIe interface. Apple
About the author

Brooke Crothers writes about mobile computer systems, including laptops, tablets, smartphones: how they define the computing experience and the hardware that makes them tick. He has served as an editor at large at CNET News and a contributing reporter to The New York Times' Bits and Technology sections. His interest in things small began when living in Tokyo in a very small apartment for a very long time.


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