The new MacBook Air is cheaper and faster, but is it worth buying?

The new MacBook Air is cheaper and faster, but is it worth buying?

Now faster and cheaper, the MacBook Air is Apple's best laptop value. But is it right for you?

On Tuesday Apple quietly released a new version of the MacBook Air with an upgraded processor and a lower price. Is the refreshed MacBook Air worth getting? Let's take a look.

On a scale of mild to wild, this upgrade is squarely on the mild side: clock speed has been improved by 100 MHz from 1.3 GHz to 1.4 GHz, which gives a modest, almost negligible bump in performance.

Overall graphics performance remains the same — the Intel i5 processor that Apple uses in the refreshed MacBook Air has the same graphics operating at the same speed as before. Other specs like Thunderbolt, USB 3.0, 802.11ac Wi-Fi and Bluetooth 4.0, are unchanged. The MacBook Air keeps 4 GB RAM and 128 GB flash storage in its base configuration, so memory and storage remain unchanged as well.

Battery life remains at an estimated 9 hours between charges for the 11-inch model, 12 hours for the 13-inch model. Apple says that power efficiency for iTunes movie playback has improved with this new CPU bump, however, if that's important to you.

More affordable than ever

What Apple has done, however, is to drop the price of both base models by $100. This means you can pick up an 11-inch MacBook Air for $899, while the 13-inch model will set you back only $999.

Since Apple's Retina MacBook Pro refresh last fall, Apple's 13-inch laptops have been the most crowded product segment of the Macintosh line — up until yesterday, the 13-inch MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina display were separated by $200: $1099 for the MacBook Air, $1199 for the MacBook Pro and $1299 for the Retina MacBook Pro.

This created confusion for many Mac customers not intimately familiar with the technical differences between systems. They were faced with a what seemed to be a perplexing array of choices. For the uninitiated, the mix of CPU speeds, features, and storage options seemed bizarre: A 1.3 GHz laptop, followed by a 2.5 GHz laptop with four times the storage, followed by a 2.4 GHz laptop with the same storage as the system on the other end of the spectrum.

Adding some breathing room

That $100 drop gives the 13-inch MacBook Air a little headroom to differentiate itself from the MacBook Pro line. It also drops the tiny 11-inch model squarely into the high end of the Ultrabook price range. Apple doesn't compete on price with the Mac compared to the much more commodity-priced Windows PC (and now Chromebook) market, but it has made the 11-inch MacBook Air a more palatable choice for budget-focused Mac customers.

Refreshing the MacBook Air now suggests that Apple won't touch the line again in June when WWDC rolls around; WWDC was Apple's venue to refresh the line in 2012 and 2013. Intel's still working to get its delayed Broadwell processors out the door, so it's no great surprise that Apple's providing a modest bump to the MacBook Air now.

As an aside, I find the standard 13-inch MacBook Pro still the odd man out in this revamped product matrix. It hasn't been refreshed since 2012 and I don't think it will be again, simply because it doesn't reflect Apple's current design or performance aesthetic.

Even though it's squarely two-year-old technology and showing its age, the 13-inch standard MacBook Pro remains a popular seller with many Mac buyers. It's the only model left in Apple's entire Mac line that still has an internal CD/DVD drive, and the 500 GB of storage capacity make it a popular option with digital pack-rats concerned that the 128 GB of speedier flash-based storage just won't be enough.

Despite that, I'd be very surprised if the standard MacBook Pro survives the year. Apple's expected to be adding another MacBook somewhere in the line this year; right now the odds-on favorite among the rumor sites is a 12 or 13-inch MacBook Air with Retina display. A new Mac laptop in the mix would be another nail in the coffin for the venerable standard MacBook Pro.

Who should get the MacBook Air?

If you're looking for Apple's lightest, most portable laptop, the MacBook Air is a better value than ever before. The refreshed processor isn't that much of a draw — it's the new lower price that's key.

Obviously if you have a 2013-era MacBook Air, this mild update isn't really worth jumping ship for — the performance update is negligible, and I doubt many Mac users will want to upgrade last year's model just to get improved battery playback while watching iTunes movies. Having said that, if you have an older MacBook Air and you're thinking about a replacement, now may be the right time, unless rumors of a Retina display-equipped MBA come to pass.

The 11-inch MacBook Air may be a bit too small for some users; I could never get mine to fit comfortably on my lap without awkwardly locking my knees together, for example. Having said that, the 11-inch MacBook Air still has a full-sized keyboard and trackpad, which make working on it just like any other MacBook, except for the smaller screen.

The 13-inch MacBook Air, at $999, is a no-brainer for anyone who values light weight and easy portability over performance. It's a spectacular Mac laptop that runs all day without needing a charge, though I might recommend bumping the RAM up to 8 GB (another $100) to help give it a bit more headroom to run memory-intensive apps.

Still undecided?

If you're still having trouble deciding if the MacBook Air is the right Mac laptop for you, make sure to pay our Apple notebooks discussion forum a visit and ask questions there, or just post a question or comment below.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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The new MacBook Air is cheaper and faster, but is it worth buying?

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A cheap Mac? :O

Anyways, good for Apple. However, they should really releas a successor to the standard MacBook Pro with that HDD, because it's what a lot want...

Agree. Love the upgrade ability of my Mac Pro and feel they won't refresh it because then they can charge an arm and a leg to upgrade ram, storage, etc since they are much harder to upgrade on your own. Still a great option, and love my MacBook Pro

Sent from the iMore App

If $100 were so easy to sway you, a person could have gotten a refurb awhile ago. No, if you don't have a MacBook Air already or your computer isn't immediately dying, I'd just wait for the MacBook Air with Retina Display. Even if you don't care for the display itself (which honestly, why wouldn't you), you'll get FAR more resale value in the future with it than without it. Apple's already figured out most of the kinks with Retina displays, so I'd just go for that.

Then again, some people don't care as I've learned on Twitter today. *sigh*

As an owner of the i7 version of the 2012 non-retina MBP I can say it's still an awesome machine :) Retina would be nice, but since I use it with an external monitor quite a bit it's not a deal breaker for me. The user-upgradability is something I'm not too keen on giving up so I'm planning to hold on to this thing as long as I can!

Getting into graphic design (mostly adobe programs and 3D modeling software like Maya). I've heard macs do an excellent job in this field, which one could you recommend for me that would get stuff done without stuttering and lag?

Retina MacBook Pro would be your best choice, if you need a laptop. Otherwise, go for an iMac. Excellent bang for the buck.

I frequently use Photoshop CS6 and Final Cut Pro X on the entry-level 2012 11" MacBook Air (64GB SSD, 4GB RAM, 1.7 GHz), and it runs smoothly without a single freeze-up.

EDIT: I am not sure how it would do for 3D modeling, as I don't use it for that. You may want a MacBook Pro

I have my 13" Haswell Air since last year june and I can't imagine life without it. I bought it super cheap off of kijiji which is a good place to buy macs for cheaper but you have to be careful. If you're looking to enter the mac world I would honestly suggest the old macbook pro with the disc drive OR the 13" Air. The most I ever agreed to pay for an Air is a 1000 dollars and now it's (almost) comes true. I think they're worth that. You can even get the 2013's model (yesterday's Air) NEW for 900 dollars no tax on kijiji. Amazing deals! Like Peter said, if you're looking for the best bang for your buck with ANY apple hardware then go for the iMac BUT if you want a laptop there is no better deal than the 13" Air. Unless you plan on doing either serious VID coding or GTA5 then get the NEW 13" pro, but if you're using it for pretty much everything else the Air's the best. Last forever and super, super light. Even the basic 4GB of ram is good enough.

The only error in the article is that if you live in Canada the 13" Air is $1100. I think that's important to mention when talking about the Air. Of course if you wait a week, you can find it new with AppleCare on kijiji for $1000 and no tax.

Nothing personal but this article reads like click-bait. A product that was leading it's category gets improved (however slightly) and you run a piece about whether it's "worth it" to buy one? Hmmmm. Something smells here.

Also ... I heard the memory is now PCIE attached as in the Mac Pro and therefore there *should* be a speed bump from that. I wouldn't be surprised to be reading articles next week about how the "mild" update turned out to be not so bad when the speeds and feeds were actually, you know ... tested.

PCIe isn't new to the MacBook Air. It's been that way since the June 2013 refresh. In fact, the MacBook Air was the first Mac to get both the Haswell chip and PCIe-based flash storage.

Fine, only too bad this strategy wasn't used with iPad Mini 1st gen last year or iPod Touch 5th.
If the $329 = $299 change was accompanied by a simple RAM bump to 1GB or 32GB flash storage as a minimum it would reflect the real value of the Mini model (lets face it, the truth is it should have been done in 2012 with this device).
If ever there was such a time to bid farewell the Macbook Air it is probably now because this means Apple has it's eyes on something else and the upcoming 12" inch machine will be a complete game changer, not just a redesigned replacement of the current Air (they wouldn't bother with this price cut 3 months before unveiling something else). This is good news because nobody wants another normal notebook like Macbook Air with Retina display (btw this model is called Pro and it already exists). Don't get me wrong, Apple will continue to sell a traditional affordable notebook like Air for some time but don't expect hardware upgrades and new models anytime soon.

MBA 11" or wait for MBAr? That is the question (and the rumo(u)r...), and, personally, only if I give my MBPr to my colleague so she can enjoy Photoshop better, and I can enjoy a lighter Pad&Quill powered walk to work!

Sent from the iMore App

Peter: You claim the following in this article

"The MacBook Air keeps 4 GB RAM and 128 GB flash storage in its base configuration, so memory and storage remain unchanged as well."

They remain unchanged in terms of quantity, but isn't the flash storage situation a bit different? The storage is now PCI-e based, which it was not before. Or rather, in another one of your articles, you claimed the mid-2013 Macbook Air had PCI-e based flash storage, but this does not show up in the Apple marketing materials. I called sales at Apple and they claim the 2013 Macbook air does NOT have PCI-e based flash storage.

So, I'm confused. Who is telling the truth!?

Hi, I wanted to know if it is the right time to buy a top of the line mac air, when there are so many rumours about a 12inch retina air.
Do you think it would be a bang for your buck to invest in the air right now?
PS: I'm buying it as a gift for my father (for fathers day); so I'm eagerly waiting for your honest advise.
Thanks in advance