Without Haswell, why bother buying a new Mac?

Without Haswell, why bother to buy a new Mac?

If you're in the market for a MacBook Air, times are great. Apple's new machines, updated in June with Intel's fourth-generation Core processor, are better values than ever. But if you need a MacBook Pro, iMac or Mac mini, the current crop of computers from Apple is looking long in the tooth. Is there any point in buying a new Mac until Apple completes the Haswell transition?

What's the big deal?

At its Worldwide Developer Conference in June, Apple took the wraps off a new crop of 11 and 13-inch MacBook Airs. The computers look almost unchanged from their predecessors, but under the hood it's a very different story. The new Intel Core processor, widely known by its code-name "Haswell," is considerably more power-efficient than the processor it replaces. The net result is that both machines see dramatically improved battery life - the 11-inch MacBook Air went from five to nine hours of use per recharge, according to Apple's tests; the 13-inch jumped from seven hours to 12.

MacBook Air

MacBook Airs don't have discrete graphics processors - they're dependent on the integrated graphics processor (IGP) that's built into the CPU in order to render graphics. And Haswell delivers there, too - it's up to 40 percent faster than the chips which powered Apple's last MacBook Air.

The improvements to the MacBook Air don't end just at the Haswell chip. Apple's also taken the opportunity to upgrade the MacBook Air's wireless networking performance with 802.11ac. Also known colloquially as "Gigabit Wi-Fi," 802.11ac provides dramatically faster transfer speeds when paired with 802.11ac-compatible Wi-Fi routers like Apple's new AirPort Extreme and Time Machine.

The MacBook Air also relies on flash-based storage, and Apple didn't skimp there either. The company changed the way the MacBook Air's flash storage works - instead of using Serial ATA (SATA), the interface hard disk drives use to communicate, Apple migrated the MacBook Air to PCI Express (PCIe)-based storage instead. The net result is a 45 percent speed improvement over the previous-generation MacBook Air.

In the end, benchmarks for the new MacBook Air show that it lasts longer on a single charge and works way faster than the system it replaces. All told, it's a much better value for the same money you would have paid only a couple of months ago. But it also casts a shadow over the rest of Apple's product line, which is suddenly looking old and tired. (The Mac Pro is the one exception, as that's due for a complete redesign that's coming later this year.)

MacBook Pros show their age

The MacBook Pro is the Mac model most in need of a Haswell makeover. The standard MacBook Pro, equipped with non-Retina Display, hard disk drive and SuperDrive, last saw a refresh in June of 2012. The 13-inch MacBook Pro, priced at $1199, is one of Apple' most popular models.

Yet there's very little to recommend the 13-inch MBP over its MacBook Air cousin. It has an optical drive, if you're still dependent on such media, and it has a large hard drive, but it's hampered by the slower integrated graphics of the previous-generation Intel chip and could certainly use some power efficiency and longer battery life.

The 15-inch MacBook Pro escapes the graphics issue by incorporating a discrete graphics processor that provides some oomph when it's needed (say, running games, Photoshop or even Flash content), but it's been too long since the last update.

Apple's Retina Display-equipped MacBook Pros are also sorely in need of an update. They were last bumped in February, after being introduced in October 2012, but they're still hampered by slower, less efficient technology. Rene and I both have noticed that our 15-inch MacBook Pros with Retina Displays are particularly awful when relying on their integrated graphics; a 40 percent boost in graphics performance would be welcome there.

And we haven't even gotten to the other innovations present in the MacBook Air, like 802.11ac Wi-Fi support and PCIe-based Flash storage. All told, it's very, very hard to justify a MacBook Pro purchase before Apple overhauls the line with new processors and other enhancements.

The desktop dilemma

While it's Apple's least expensive machine, the Mac mini doesn't usually skimp on features. Apple's able to keep costs low by using a common component base for the Mac mini - it uses many of the same parts you'll find inside Apple's MacBook line. So I expect that once the MacBook Pro line gets the Haswell treatment, the Mac mini will follow shortly thereafter. At least if it doesn't, it's safe to guess that it's a marketing decision on Apple's part, not an engineering problem.

Mac mini

Both the Mac mini and the iMac were last updated in October of 2012 (though the 21.5-inch iMac got a mid-stream refresh with a faster high-end option earlier this year). Apple tracks a more-or-less annual upgrade cycle with those systems; sometimes they'll come out in the summer, sometime in the fall, but eventually they'll come.

But apart from 3D graphics improvements, computationally, Haswell microprocessors don't do much to differentiate themselves from their third-generation Intel Core counterparts. The Mac mini relies on integrated graphics, so a Haswell boost will help there. But the iMac uses discrete graphics, and Haswell's power efficiency is largely a non-issue for either desktop model.

Apple's going to incorporate faster Wi-Fi into its next desktop systems, for sure, but what else will it do? I don't see a major redesign of the iMac in the cards any time soon, especially after Apple's trouble with the last major redesign last fall, which caused enormous production problems as Apple's manufacturers struggled to get the display panels right.

Waiting is the hardest part

It's inevitable that new computers are going to come out, so you'll always benefit from waiting until there's a system that meets your needs. Some people don't have that luxury and will have to buy sooner, because they need a system for work or school or because they're replacing a computer that's just bit the dust, or for a million other reasons.

But right now, if you're in the market for a Mac laptop, it's worth taking a second or even third look at the MacBook Air even if you've ruled it out, because the MacBook Air is the sweet spot in Apple's product line between price, performance and efficiency.

Otherwise, bide your time and wait for Apple to make the Haswell jump. It'll be worth it.

Are you waiting for Apple to replace its current MacBook Pro and desktop lineup with Haswell-based systems? Or is it not that important to you? Let me know in the comments.

Have something to say about this story? Share your comments below! Need help with something else? Submit your question!

Peter Cohen

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

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Reader comments

Without Haswell, why bother buying a new Mac?

47 Comments

In the market for the 13 inch retina display and waiting on Haswell tho but the lack of discrete graphics kills it for me and the 13 inch is a perfect size for school so thinking of the 15 inch now but with Haswell. So now I play the waiting game

The Waiting Game... iMore should totally make a new post with poll asking what apple stuff are we waiting for. And title it, The Waiting Game 2013

For lack of a better place to ask, I am going to try here...I am finally in the market for an iPad, but don't know if I should wait. Is there anything really major that could come down the pike that would be worth waiting for? I am curious about internals, not so much the aesthetics of the outside. Thanks

There's always a new machine out on the horizon with better specs than what you have. Just buy what you need when you need it, and accept that sooner or later it's going to be replaced with something better. ;)

I was expecting the refreshments to come out at WWDC 2013. However, only MacBook Air managed to get refreshed so I went with it. I hope I don't regret when MacBook Pro 13" comes out later this year :(

its killing me as well... i desperately want a new mac mini... but i am forcing myself to wait. i already sold my custom built gaming desktop, solely because i have finally made the jump from MS to Apple, and now all i have is my iphone and a nook, lol. another reason why i REALLY want one of those apple TV's your giving away! hopefully i get enough best buy gift cards for my bday TODAY (7/26/81) to start filling my apple ecosystem!

Very glad I didn't wait and bought a new rMBP in February. Scrolling can be a bit stuttery on Safari but I'm hoping Mavericks improves on that.

Just bought a mini for $509 on the refurb store. It'll be a while before Haswell mini's show up as refurbs. FYI, unless I need custom config, I always buy refurbs. Same quality, less money.

I'm a big fan of buying refurb too - that's how I got my last MacBook Air - saved $150 on it over buying new, and it's still going strong. Of course, that means that you're going to be waiting until next year, in all likelihood, before you can get your hands on a Haswell mini, but if you're in no rush, it shouldn't be an issue. And I can't see a really compelling argument to upgrade a desktop Mac just for a Haswell chip, unless Apple does something really remarkable.

Probably should get your article facts straight about battery life before you just give out wrong info to people. Your battery life figures are wrong period. Battery life in the 11" air went from 5 hours to 9. 13" air went from 7 to 12 hours. Next time research before writing misinformation to people looking for answers.

the 11-inch MacBook Air went from seven to nine hours of use per recharge, according to Apple's tests; the 13-inch jumped from nine hours to 12.
<----------------- Did you transpose the MacBook Air screen sizes? Why does the 11 inch get less battery life than the 13 inch?

For a desktop (mini, iMac) I wouldn't worry too much about waiting if I had an immediate need. Haswell's main (but not the only) benefit is power consumption. For a laptop, I wouldn't buy one (Mac or PC) right now without Haswell unless I had no other choice.

I have been waiting for the macbook pro with haswell. I just gotta wait. I know that september and august is gonna be a big month for apple plus they always finish the year with a bang. i just gotta wait.

Definitely waiting for the new haswell MBP Retina. The new mac air might not be powerful enough. And of course the new darth vader mac pro.

I am going from an older 17" MBP and want the Retina MBP in 15". It is killing me to wait but I am doing it. Apple needs to get the ball rolling here and get to the Haswell Processor MBPs out. 802.11ac is not that important to me as I will not be moving from my Airport Extreme anytime soon and I don't go anywhere that can support it. Heck Panera is 802.11b and I don't think Starbucks is even g. But that battery life and faster storage are key things for me. Besides I think they will make the transition with Mavericks and it will come pre-loaded with it saving me $20.

Apple seems very slow to upgrade things. Seems to me it was a nobrainer to updated macbook pros that were long in the tooth. I'd thought iphone hardware was do for a change with the 4s let alone LAST year. If you believe rumors there's no hardware design change coming. But it's other things. Apple tv is nice but they never add new codecs. Even the airs didn't get bit storage upgrades. I sort of feel like Apple has simply been coasting for several years now. my two cents.

They're really not. If you check their release schedules, with a few occasional hiccups, their upgrade cycle is pretty predictable. The biggest weirdness we had recently was going from the iPhone 4 to the 4S, and the longer-than-expected wait time for iMacs when Apple switched over to the new design last fall.

See i would respectfully disagree. I get what you're saying about the "weirdness", and look i'm not up on their cycles. but When they released the 4s, I expected that to be a 5 instead with a whole new outer shell look. It didn't happen. I still bought it though because, i'd been waiting almost two years, needed a phone and aside from LTE, 4 inch screen, and a new shell it gave me every other thing i wanted. So for me i was stunned to see the shell of the 5 and "5s" essentially the same.

But when i say they seem to be coasting i look at the air and i wonder why they still start with such super low specs. with less memory than my 7 year old ipod video. I don't get why the processors in some laptops didn't get bigger spec bumps. I don't get why they don't start with more memory in base models. To me i get what your saying but when i looked at the iphone 5 all i saw was they put a new camera and a slightly bigger screen and lte. I'm sure designing a bigger screen isn't easy but it didn't strike me as new. Hell again i thought a 4 inch screen would hit the 4s. Again they seemed late to me. He's another example. I have no clue why the macbook pros didn't get an update this year, removing the hard drive to thin it out especially since many people don't use it, a spec bump, better ports, graphics card, to raise it to the level of comparable windows laptop. And like i said Apple tv is fine for netflix but if Apple wanted to they could have made it the only streaming box in town. Add all the codecs compatibility of a wdtv. I'm talking mkv, ts, iso, in iso chapters, divx, xvid. Add all the possible container combos of ac3, dts, etc, etc. Add all the audio codecs of flac, ogg or whatever is missing (sorry i don't know what is actually missing as i don't use them but i know the common complaints). To me they've been asleep on that one. In fact its interesting that i see they are doing the iphone in the car thing now because i thought several years ago the iphone was overdue to have a big icon/text car mode that exist in some apps.

Regardless, about 6 years ago Apple would announce and you got everything you expected and more. The product was better than you expected. It was better and higher spec'd than much of the competing devices. Now i just don't see it. Just my opinion but, they used to over deliver and now i find my self saying "is that all? Please please impress me. Let me hear, "Oh, And one more thing..." But there's nothing, and then the house lights come on.

I've just invested in my first Mac, An iMac 27".. I considered waiting for the haswell version but I wanted it now and there isn't much difference between the 3rd gen so i went for it. I love it and it feels a bit like Christmas... In July :-)

I just picked up a MacBook Air 13" today as my travel machine. It replaces my 2010 13" MacBook Pro, which still works great, but I wanted something lighter with better battery life. My daughter gets to inherit my MBP. So far, I like the MBA. It's unbelievably fast and is a joy for me so far. I am sure the battery life will be fantastic as well.

I had no choice. PC died, and I needed another. Since I had an iPhone, and iPad, it made sense to go Mac, and went with the new MacBook Pro 13 in. I would have liked to wait, but no choice. It runs fast, and I am happy, heck by the time they update the MacBook line, Haswell may be a thing of the past, and they will still put it in the MacBook Pro's, and we will have another conversation about wish the newest processor was put in the............. Oh well.

Sorry, but I think this article is hyperbole. The power savings don't matter at all, and the graphics and hard drive speed performance improvements make no bigger of a difference than one could expect from a newer model of any computer in the past. Wait for the new one if you must have the best as it's obviously going to be better, but to suggest this state of affairs is really any different than it always is ...

Good article although a bit obvious if you follow tech news even a little bit. However, even though waiting for Haswell is worthwhile, I think the article should include Mavericks as well. Because when combined with the improvements that Mavericks offers, I think we'll see a significant jump in performance, battery life, etc.

I've heard enough about problems with the retina machines and software issues as well. I'm hoping the Haswell/Mavericks combo solves a lot of these issues. I've heard good things in this regard from Mavericks beta users.

I have been riding a late 2011 MBP and was perfectly happy with it... until my friend got his rMBP. I have almost pulled the trigger on one a few times but will now bide my time until the Haswell's hit the market. My friend loves his retina but he says he can tell the processor is working hard to keep the retina going. With the specs my MBP has I almost feel selfish or greedy wanting a new one, but man that retina display is gorgeous! Now if they would only bring back the 17" screen...

I fully intend to buy the forthcoming Mac Pro when launched. But I'm also about to pull the trigger on the new 11" MacBook Air as a secondary, portable, addition to my system for those times when I'm away from the desk and not in need of my Thunderbolt displays.

I've had SSD's in my systems for some time now but I'm excited to sample the speeds of these 'on the chip' flash storage solutions Apple are now offering us.

I 100% agree with this. Also, if you do not buy a mac within 3-6 months after it is released there is no point of not waiting. But then again I have waited to upgrade my laptop for 3 years on this method. I keep waiting for that "it" factor that makes me want to upgrade my laptop. The retna display almost did it, but I figured wait a year for possible lower price or at least let them work out the bugs of the first run.

I was thinking about getting a new 15" rMBP but the deal breaker for me is the ability to upgrade the ram myself, so I'm going for a 27' iMac....cant wait..

Got already a 27 680GTX mx Imac and for gaming i'll take Ps4 and Xbox one beside my 360 so what i was waiting for an Haswell Macbook Pro..but rumors say no discrete Gpu will happen this time..so no 15 for me and as long the 13 retina won't gain a quad core beside a 5200 Iris..no Macbook Pro...for me this year and maybe with Intel Gpu..forever.
Same as Mac Pro,as long the new one won't let me change the Gpu...having already an Imac with unrepleaceble Gpu doesn't not make any sense for me.

I just contacted Apple/Chat yesterday and they are unable to predict when/if the next redesign of the MBP will include Haswell chip. I've been waiting a long time to migrate away from the PC enviroment into the Apple world; but I want to get in with the latest and greatest. Any updated info on when Apple will be taking orders for Haswell equipped MBP?

What are people saying about the chance of Apple phasing out the non-retina line of MBP's? With the MBA's being as good as they are now, the non-retina MBP line is only an incremental jump. But for someone who has no need for a retina screen, I might just be out of luck when they give the MBP's the Haswell refresh. What do people seem to think?

went into the apple store specifically wanting an air, but I ended up leaving with the pro non retina. Honestly, the 999 price point plus 100 dollar gift card was enticing enough. I know theres a new version coming out in like a week but still theres going to be a new upgrade to that model in feb 14 if it follows the pattern. 12 hour battery life would be amazing but I don't have a problem packing a charger. But I gotta say this macbook pro is a beast compared to my 1.4 2gb ram air

Well, it's the 1st of September today...hooray...I've made it to September !!
I've been waiting since June.....and it has been slightly painful.
While my wife has been enjoying her new MacBook Air (with Haswell), I'm still "trying" to be
productive on my old 2010 MacBook Pro 13" dual core.

I almost caved in and purchased a current 2.8/16/768 last week, but I'm trying to stay strong......

The thing I'm most concerned about is whether the new MacBook Pro will have a dedicated GPU? If not, I would buy the current model now.
If yes, then great.
I wish Apple would tell us the new specs, then we can all make an informed choice.

Aaaaaaaarrrrggghh Apple !

I'm on a Powermac G5 Dual 2.0 PowerPC box (which I paid $3299 for...lol). I'm waiting on the Mac Mini Haswell, which I hope is announced on September 10th. My current machine, which is stuck at OS X 10.5.4, doesn't support the latest Java and is barely useable.

I'm looking forward to hooking up a 24" 1920x1200 display and, hopefully, playing some multiplayer Internet games with my son (who has a pretty decent PC). I'm also hoping that Boot Camp with Windows 7 works well on the Mini, since there are some games (e.g. World of Tanks) which can only be played on the PC platform.

If a new Mac Mini isn't announced on September 10th, does anyone have any guesses as to when it might be released? I'm assuming it will be announced before Christmas, but I'm hoping for sooner, rather than later.

Thanks for this post. It seems like whenever I'm ready and want to upgrade...a new one is about to come out and my son who built his own gaming PC is laughing at their outdated technology with their high prices! But this time I really need (vs want) a new laptop. Glad I didn't buy yet, but they better hurry up! Should I just go and buy the Air? My son says no. I need an optical drive for education software which is always behind the times when it comes to digital downloads. ( I homeschool) or I can just get an external drive, but really don't want to carry it around with us. We also have an Imac which I'm waiting to upgrade to a Mac Pro because my hard drive storage is full and my external hard drive is getting there as well. I don't want tons of hard drives sitting around, but that route is probably more economical. I need at least 3T because of lots of photos and video. I need to sift through tons of video but just do not have the time right now. With 4 kids and 6 years of photos.. it adds up! Any suggestions on the best route to go? A Mac Pro with lots of storage, or an Imac with external drives, and how much SSD? I need storage but would like speed and stability as well. ;-) I'm kind of clueless..any input would be so appreciated! Thanks!!

I want haswell in the older body, you know, the one that allows for much cheaper after market ssd, is easily upgraded by anyone and has room for a second drive instead of an optical?

'function follows form' is apple's new mantra :(