Comparing Apple's old and new MacBook Air models

Apple introduced new MacBook Airs at WWDC today. The new MacBooks Air are faster, more power efficient, and in some cases, cheaper than their predecessors. And they're shipping now, so if you've been waiting to get one, now's the time.

It's been a year since Apple refreshed the MacBook Air, so Apple's smallest and lightest laptop was certainly due for some improvements. The new systems still come in the familiar 11 and 13-inch form factors, with 1366 x 768 and 1440 x 900 pixel resolutions respectively. That's unchanged from last year, and bound to disappoint some forward-thinking Mac users who were hoping to see a Retina Display-equipped MacBook Pro join the ranks.

Weight and dimensions remains virtually unchanged: the 11-inch MacBook Air weighs a scant 2.38 pounds, measuring 0.11 x 11.8 x 7.56 inches when the lid is closed. The 13-inch model still weighs 2.96 pounds, measuring 0.11 x 12.8 x 8.94 inches.

Despite the same display resolutions, same sizes and same weights, under the hood there are a lot of differences. The new MacBook Airs are the first Mac models to use Intel's fourth generation Core processor - the chips known as "Haswell." The new MBAs have lower CPU clock speeds than their predecessors - 1.3 GHz across the board, compared to 1.7 GHz for the 2012 11-inch and 1.8 GHz for the 2012 13-inch - but they also feature Intel HD Graphics 5000, an integrated graphics processor that Apple says is up to 40 percent faster than what was in last year's model.

All of the new MacBook Airs come equipped with 4GB of RAM standard (configurable to 8GB), and the base 11-inch model now doubles storage capacity from 64GB to 128GB. The higher-end 11-inch also doubles capacity from 128GB to 256GB. 13-inch models remain unchanged, with 128GB and 256GB as standard issue for the low and high-end, respectively.

Haswell processors also introduce dramatically improved power management. This is one area where MacBook Air owners are going to see huge improvements: Apple estimated the battery run-time of the 2012 11-inch model at up to five hours, and that jumps up to nine hours for the new one. The 13-inch, which packs more battery capacity inside its larger case, jumps from nine hours to 12.

Other accouterments remain unchanged, for the most part - stereo speakers, FaceTime HD cameras, two USB 3.0 ports, headphone jack and MagSafe 2 adapter; one Thunderbolt port (and yes, it's the original Thunderbolt, not the Thunderbolt 2 that will be featured on the Mac Pro later this year).

There's one other modest change: all MacBook Airs now come equipped with dual microphones, a carryover first introduced on the MacBook Pros with Retina Display. Dual mics produce better sound quality for voice chats via Skype, Messages, FaceTime and other services.

The price of the base 11-inch model remains unchanged from last year: $999. The higher-end 11-inch model jumps up $100, however, from $1099 to $1199 (likely explained by the double SSD capacity). There's better news for 13-inch buyers - both machines see a $100 price drop, to $1099 and $1299 respectively.

All told, a solid enhancement to Apple's popular lightweight laptops. Apple took the "if it ain't broke, don't fix it" approach while incorporating solid enhancements that promise better performance and better power management - always welcome news for road warriors who depend on the nimble MacBook Air to get their work done.

Peter Cohen
  • re: "That's unchanged from last year, and bound to disappoint some forward-thinking Mac users who were hoping to see a Retina Display-equipped MacBook Pro join the ranks." I've never understood why folks would want Retina on a laptop. Sure, a slight rez bump might be nice for the eagle-eyed, but Retina?!?! Instead of 8 or 10 hour battery life, they'd be looking at 2.
  • Slight over exaggeration.
  • yeah cause it was pointless on the iPhone right? (not) once you have retina you never go back - and the battery life isnt a huge issue - the ipad has one and it has 10 hour battery.
  • The iphone, is often held quite close to your face... so is an iPad. A laptop goes in your lap, or on a desk. While a slight rez bump might be welcomed to people with great eyesight, I don't see the point of Retina. It's a waste of GPU and battery life. Also, the iPad is extrememly energy efficient in comparison to a laptop... but even so, notice that Apple had to increase the SIZE and WEIGHT of the iPad when it went to Retina, even after significant technology increase. Imagine how fast, small, and light the iPad would be if it weren't Retina (but, again, iPad benefits from it enough to justify the tradeoff).
  • it's not important enough to me to justify any price increase. Well honestly i don't care about retina at all in a laptop.
  • Too bad they're only using the HD 5000. Would have preferred the 5100 or 5200, at least on the higher end models.
  • So even tho the processor is now only 1.3 GHz, the way everything works together under the hood still means these new MBA's will be faster machines. Am I understanding correctly? Thanks in advance.
  • First, note that you can't always compare processor speeds between different lines of processors. I don't know how different the architectures are in this case. But, while I don't know about the difference between this generation and the last, I know that my wife's MBA (2011, I think) is considerably faster than the MacBook it replaced, even though the processor was slower (and in this case, it was the same architecture). This is because so much of it was upgraded (bus, ram, graphics, etc.) but especially, going from a hard drive to SSD. It might not win on CPU benchmarks, but feels far faster than even new machines that don't have SSD.
  • Oh SSD will make an otherwise way slower laptop much faster.
  • Yes I agree. When I gave my wife my 2012 MBP for the 13" rMBP it felt so much faster because of the SSD. Not only did it feel that way, but it was much faster. Almost instant. My old MBP never bothered me a bit until I got this and now I can't even stand to use my wife's laptop because of the speed and lack of HiDPI retina display. This is multiplied when working on photoshop or any photography work. I don't know how I used to do it without the SSD and this display.
  • With the new Haswell chips and intel HD 5000 will certainly make it quicker but i can't see it being a whole lot quicker especially with the 1.3 ghz processor.
  • this update is about battery life more than anything else
  • you can also upgrade to 1.7 processor - I wonder how that will affect battery life
  • I'll let you know in a week (I ordered an 11" 1.7 8/256 Air to replace my 2011 4/128 Air...)
  • I wanted it to get an upgrade to 1080p and a new Haswell processor. As of now I dont see a reason to get this over, say the Sony Vaio Pro (both the 11 and 13 inchers have 1080p screens and the 11 incher has twice the amount of storage for the same price). I just dont want to use Windows.
  • So I guess you answered your own question. If you don't want Windows then Air it is.
  • Or if you want to sacrifice some disk space, you can have Windows too. MBA's work as well as any other Mac with Boot Camp or virtualization software.
  • You missed the 512 HD option on both models
  • Interesting how this will affect the next iPad, losing some weight won't be enough if the Air is better at everything (except touchscreen friendly).
  • 16:9 screen? What?
  • I was ready to buy but the ram and slower processor are disappointing. I was hoping for 8gb for the base upgradeable to 16gb.
  • I may be alone, but I was very pleased with the announcement of the new Macbook Airs. The 2012 Air was a phenomenal product (resolution was fine) but the price was high once you added a usable amount of storage. The new $1199 price for an 11" with 256GB is much more appealing than $1399. My other (small) gripe, was that my wifes 13" 2011 Macbook Pro had better battery life than my 11" 2012 Macbook Air. It appears that has been addressed too! Adding in better graphic performance and this looks like a home run to me! :)