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Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, April 2014) review: Latest MacBook Air is faster, runs longer, costs less

The 13-inch MacBook Air gets a minor CPU upgrade and $100 price cut, keeping it near the top of our recommended laptop list.

Dan Ackerman Editorial Director / Computers and Gaming
Dan Ackerman leads CNET's coverage of computers and gaming hardware. A New York native and former radio DJ, he's also a regular TV talking head and the author of "The Tetris Effect" (Hachette/PublicAffairs), a non-fiction gaming and business history book that has earned rave reviews from the New York Times, Fortune, LA Review of Books, and many other publications. "Upends the standard Silicon Valley, Steve Jobs/Mark Zuckerberg technology-creation myth... the story shines." -- The New York Times
Expertise I've been testing and reviewing computer and gaming hardware for over 20 years, covering every console launch since the Dreamcast and every MacBook...ever. Credentials
  • Author of the award-winning, NY Times-reviewed nonfiction book The Tetris Effect; Longtime consumer technology expert for CBS Mornings
Dan Ackerman
7 min read

The now-familiar MacBook Air hasn't seen a design overhaul in several generations, and the small update to the 13-inch and 11-inch models released in April 2014 does nothing to change that.


Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, April 2014)

The Good

While minor, the small upgrade to the stock CPU in Apple's 13-inch MacBook Air results in improved performance. The multitouch trackpad is still the industry's best, and even better, the 13-inch Air now starts at $999, which is $100 less than the previous model.

The Bad

Newer features such as touchscreens and higher-resolution displays are still missing. The ultrabook competition is catching up, in terms of design.

The Bottom Line

If you own a MacBook Air from the past couple of years there's really no need to upgrade, but a small spec bump and minor price cut make the most-current Air even more attractive.

The current

models differ from the 2013 versions in that the base model uses a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5, an upgrade from the previous 1.3GHz processor. More significantly, the 11.6-inch MacBook Air now starts at $899 (from $999) in the US and at £749 (from £849) in the UK, while the 13.3-inch version now drops to $999 (from $1,099) in the US and to £849 (from £949) in the UK. List prices in Australia are AU$1,099 for the 11-inch and AU$1,199 for the 13-inch model.

We've tested the new 2014 versions, and found their performance to be slightly improved. (Some have seen different results, owing to Apple using SSDs from multiple manufacturers in Airs, but our tests all fall in line with expectations from this small CPU uptick.) There's certainly no reason to upgrade if you have last year's MacBook Air. Instead, the price cut is the big news here, making this an even more viable option for midprice laptop shoppers.

While the lower price is a plus, the lack of significant performance improvement and the static physical design remind us that the Air is overdue for a more radical overhaul. Balancing out those two factors, our rating remains the same, and the remainder of this review is essentially unchanged from the 2013 version. Both the 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs are still universally useful laptops that are largely frustration-free, but that also lack some of the latest bells and whistles (edge-to-edge glass, touchscreens, higher display resolutions) you may be looking for.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Like the 2013 Air, this model has an Intel Haswell-generation CPU, and also Intel's improved HD5000 graphics. It's still not anything like having a discrete GPU, as in the 15-inch Retina Pro, but with game services such as Steam and EA's Origin now being Mac-compatible, it may make some small inroads for OS X gaming.

The 2013 Air also added 802.11ac Wi-Fi, a new standard that will slowing working its way into wireless routers, as well as Apple's AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule hardware. If you have an 802.11n router, which is a much more likely scenario, this may not help you, but it's a nice piece of future-proofing.

Sarah Tew/CNET

Battery life remains a big selling point, and when you consider the cost of the base model has come down from $1,199 to $999 in two years, the 13-inch MacBook Air is, despite not being the newest design on the block, still one of the most universally useful laptops you can buy.

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)
Price as reviewed $899 $999 $899
Display size/resolution 11.6-inch 1,366 x 768 screen13.3-inch 1,440 x 900 screen13.3-inch 1,920 x 1,080 touch screen
PC CPU 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U1.4GHz Intel Core i5 4260U1.6GHz Intel Core i5 4200
Graphics 1,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 50001,536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 50001,792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400
Storage 128GB SSD128GB SSD500GB+16GD SSHD
Optical drive NoneNoneNone
Networking 802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0802.11a/c wireless, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11b/g/n wireless, Bluetooth 4.0
Operating system OSX 10.9.3 MavericksOSX 10.9.3 MavericksWindows 8.1 (64-bit)

Design and features

The MacBook Air keeps the same external look as the previous couple of generations, a look that still rivals the newest ultrabooks, although some systems, such as Sony's Vaio Pro line, are getting thinner and lighter without sacrificing much in the way of productivity.

Both the 11-inch and 13-inch versions of the MacBook Air still have the same thickness, ranging from 0.11-inch to 0.68-inch. Spread over the larger footprint of the 13-inch chassis, the 13-inch version still feels satisfyingly thin.

The Vaio Pro 13 next to the 13-inch MacBook Air. Sarah Tew/CNET

As with previous versions, the rigid aluminum construction makes the Air feel sturdy enough to just throw it in a bag and carry it along with you without a protective case or sleeve, and it's interesting to contrast the aluminum unibody construction here with the lighter carbon fiber in the aforementioned Vaio Pro. I'd still trust the Air and its unyielding lid more in a throw-in-your-luggage field test.

The backlit keyboard and trackpad are the same as on the previous models, and the trackpad especially remains the standard by which all others are judged. Many other laptop makers have moved to larger clickpad-style touchpads, but we have yet to find a touchpad that comes close to this for multitouch gestures. The pad is again hinged at the top, allowing the entire pad to click down, and we strongly suggest going into the Preferences menu and turning on all of the tapping options for further ease of use.

It will be interesting to see how Apple's user interfaces develop in the face of both Windows 8, which tries (not always successfully) to reinvent the entire concept of working with a computer OS, and the upcoming OS X Mavericks update. For now, flicking around with three-and-four-finger gestures on the MacBook trackpad remains the most seamless way to swap between windows and applications, at least in my experience.

Unlike the 11-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch screen is still not a 16:9 display. The screen area also lacks the edge-to-edge glass over a black bezel found in the MacBook Pro; instead the screen is, as in previous years, surrounded by a thick silver bezel.

On the positive side, the native resolution of the display is 1,440x900 pixels, which is slightly better than the 1,366x768 you find in many 13-inch laptops, although even midpriced models are quickly switching over to 1,600x900 or even 1,920x1,080, and premium systems are adding higher-than-HD displays.

While the Air screen isn't flat-matte, it's also not terribly reflective, which is a step up from the "mirror image" effect you get on some laptop screens.

(13-inch, April 2014)
Video DisplayPort/Thunderbolt
Audio Stereo speakers, headphone jack
Data 2 USB 3.0, SD card reader
Networking 802.11ac Wi-Fi, Bluetooth
Optical drive None

Connections, performance, and battery

The ports and connections remain unchanged on this version of the MacBook Air. That gives you two USB 3.0 ports and a Thunderbolt port to play with, with the latter used for both external accessory and video connectivity. The faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi will play nice with Apple's own upcoming new AirPort Extreme and AirPort Time Capsule hardware, but I suspect you're still working off an 802.11n router. There's more on what 802.11ac means for you here.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The base configuration for the 13-inch Air now costs $999, versus $1,099 in 2013 and $1,199 in 2012. The only difference here is a jump from a 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 processor to a 1.4GHz chip. The 128GB SSD and 4GB RAM remains the same (although that may depend on which company made the SSD in your particular unit).

The difference in our test results between the 2013 and 2014 models was minor. Application performance shows a small improvement, as one might expect from a CPU with a small increase in clockspeed, but you'd never really notice, even in side-by-side use. As a longtime MacBook Air user, in everyday use -- Web surfing, social media, HD video playback -- any of the past few generations is more than powerful enough for mainstream users.

The integrated HD 5000 graphics chip from Intel isn't meant for serious gaming, but at the native 1,440x900 resolution, it ran the recent Tomb Raider game (one of a handful of current Windows and OS X cross-comparable games) at medium settings at 17.6 frames per second. 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 MacBook Air (both the 11-inch and 13-inch versions) really stands out. The 2013 13-inch Air ran for 14 hours and 25 minutes in our video playback battery drain test. The 2014 version adds to that, running for 16:26 on the same test. Note that our test involves offline video playback (such as one might do on an airplane trip), which has become easier for laptops over the past few years. But even if your online-heavy , multitasking workday cuts battery life in half, you're still looking at a truly all-day laptop.


The overly familiar design and lack of trendy new features (touchscreens, higher-res displays, NFC) make it hard to get particularly excited about this very minor update. If you have a recent Air, there's certainly no need to update.

But, the $100 price cut, which brings us down below that very-important $1,000 barrier (before sales tax, at least) is a big move, and will put the Air more within reach for some. Even without the small performance upgrade and price cut, I'd still be hard-pressed to think of a single competitor that comes close to the ubiquitous usefulness of this system.

Handbrake Multimedia Multitasking test

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014) 460Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch) 475Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014) 476Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 478Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) 532Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013) 534
Note: Shorter bars indicate better performance

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 253Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014) 269Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014) 289Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch) 310Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013) 330Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) 333
Note: In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance

Apple iTunes encoding test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 76Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014) 77Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014) 77Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013) 82Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) 82Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch) 124
Note: In seconds, shorter bars indicate better performance

Video playback battery drain test

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014) 986Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2013) 865Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014) 723Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2013) 637Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch) 435
Note: In minutes, longer bars indicate better performance

System Configurations

Apple MacBook Air (11-inch, 2014)

Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i54260U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 128GB SSD

Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, 2014)

Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i54260U; 4GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1536MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 128GB SSD

Apple iMac (21.5-inch Fusion drive, 2014)

Apple OS X 10.9.3 Mavericks ; 1.4GHz Intel Core i54260U; 8GB 1,600MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 5000; 1TB HDD + 128 SSD

MacBook Air (13-inch, June 2013)

OSX 10.8.4 Mountain Lion; 1.3GHz Intel Core i5 4240U; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1,600MHz; 1024MB (Shared) Intel HD Graphics 4000; 128GB SSD

Lenovo Yoga 2 (13-inch)

Windows 8.1 (64-bit); 1.6GHz; Intel Core i5-4200; 4GB DDR3 SDRAM 1600MHz, 1792MB (shared) Intel HD Graphics 4400; 500GB SSHD


Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, April 2014)

Score Breakdown

Design 8Features 7Performance 8Battery 10