Final Words

The MacBook Air is in its third iteration of the current design and it's tangibly better than the two that came before it. The 2010 (and older) models are just plain slow by comparison. Thanks to architectural, frequency and thermal improvements, one of the cores from a 2012 MacBook Air ends up being faster than two from a 2010 MBA. In other words, the 2012 models end up being more than twice as fast as the 2010 models in many of our CPU bound tests.

Battery life has also improved thanks to Intel's 22nm silicon. You'll get between 3 - 7 hours on the 13-inch MBA, and between 1.85 - 5 on the 11-inch model.

It's not all about Intel in the 2012 Airs however. The improvement in storage performance is even more revolutionary. Similar to the rMBP, with the 2012 MacBook Air Apple has entered the world of modern SSD performance. The impact of the faster SSDs is felt everywhere from boot to application performance. Once again there are two SSD suppliers, but unlike in previous models both can be deliver good performance. If you use FileVault or plan on working with a ton of already compressed data, you'll want to pick a 256GB or 512GB drive to end up with Samsung's controller rather than the SandForce driven Toshiba solution.

By offering 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD BTO options, Apple has made the MacBook Air even more of an upgrade for owners of older MacBook Pros. The options aren't cheap but the flexibility in an inflexible machine is important.

The only real downside to the 2012 MacBook Air is in the display department. Apple raised the bar with the 2012 iPad and Retina Display on the MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air's display is good for a TN panel but the rest of Apple's new world has moved to high resolution IPS panels. The same is starting to be true outside of Apple as well. The competition has simply caught up and surpassed Apple in the low-cost, but high-quality display business. The MacBook Air is no longer competing against poorly designed netbooks, but a bunch of clones that are quickly approaching parity across the board. The MBA panel isn't bad, but it needs to be better.

Even without a new display however, the MacBook Air continues to be one of the best executed ultraportables on the market today. If you're after absolute portability, the 11-inch model is great. If you want a Pro replacement and can get away without four cores and a discrete GPU, the 13 gets the job done. I have no issues recommending either system.

Looking forward, Haswell will have an even more significant impact on the MacBook Air next year. Without room or the thermal budget for a discrete GPU, the MacBook Air stands to benefit even more from improved processor graphics. With 2.5x the graphics compute power of HD 4000 plus embedded DRAM, Haswell's processor graphics will bring an entirely new level of gaming performance to the MacBook Air.

 

Battery Life
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  • flying_butt_pliers - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    Wow, superb on the UX32, Anand! Just what I was in the market for. Bonus points if you can run the Photoshop speed test in your review (perty please).

    I'm currently looking at this beauty to be my desktop replacement (for photo retouching) soon hopefully with a swapped out SSD instead of the hybrid drive and upgraded RAM.
    Reply
  • kmmatney - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    "Similar to the rMBP, the actual power adapters themselves haven't changed: 45W is all you need for both systems. "

    Nice. My new Ivy Bridge Dell requires a 130W adapter, and gives me an error message and runs at reduced speed with a 90W adapter. These same adapters worked fine on my older, supposedly more power hungry, 17" laptop. Lame.
    Reply
  • SodaAnt - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    Well, it depends on the philosophy of how they design the power adapter. My dell actually has a 180W power adapter, but there's a good reason for it. They designed it for the worst case, where you have to charge the battery at 50W, have full GPU+CPU load, HDD load, burning a DVD, full brightness, and while charging multiple devices. On the other hand, I can't imagine apple's power adapter could handle full charging speed while charging an iPad and handling cpu intensive tasks. Reply
  • KPOM - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - link

    It's partly this "just in case" thinking that can slow progress, particularly in the Windows world. My employer has HP Elitebooks as late as 2011, and they still include VGA and modem ports "just in case" they are needed. VGA I can almost see, but modems? Reply
  • Pessimism - Tuesday, July 31, 2012 - link

    VGA: Eleventy five billion legacy digital projectors in schools and businesses (case in point: my workplace is just now upgrading from a fully working 10+ year old 1024x768 projector that has a VGA input and no digital inputs)

    Modems: Dial-up internet and PC Faxing transmissions from hotels in third-world countries. Yes, there are business people obsessive enough with their jobs that these two functions are mission-critical to them.

    All it takes are a few LARGE, corporate customers who lease or purchase these laptops by the thousands of units to keep such legacy ports in-place. Someone using an Apple product would need a bag full of $49-99 dongles along with their svelte macbook to replicate this functionality.
    Reply
  • name99 - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - link

    You can buy a larger power supply if you like. Apple sells both 65W and 85W MagSafe(2) power supplies. But of course they are larger. Most people prefer a smaller power supply for traveling.

    It's silly to complain that Apple is not serving your very particular needs when they are probably matching most people's needs optimally, and when they DO provide an alternative for your very particular needs.
    Reply
  • Galatian - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    I've just recently switched from my late 2008 15" MacBook Pro to the 2012 13" MacBook Air. I needed the discrete graphic card when I was still on duty onboard ship but now that I am at university that tradeoff was just to cumbersome, so I decided to purchase the new MacBook Air, as my university participates on the Apple on Campus project and the back to school event is just on. I was really not sure if I should go with the 13" or the 11", but the deciding factor was the battery. Turns out, with my light working load at university (just Word and Preview with some pdf open), screen brightness to 50%, backlight from the keyboard off, airport off I actually get around 10 hours of battery life, which is completely nuts compared to the 3 hours I got on my old MacBook Pro with the screen on lowest brightness setting. I have to add though that I manually set the time for the hard disk to power off to 3 minutes via Terminal (10 min are standard by Apple).
    Next years Haswell should bring further energy saving increases, hence allowing me to get the 11" with comparable battery life. On top of that maybe some of my games I played on the MacBook Pro 15" might be possible to run (Civilization 5, Deus Ex, Skyrim). Looks to be an exciting time in roughly 1 year ;-)
    Reply
  • tipoo - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    I've seen skyrim play manageably on an Atom + Ion netbook, so this should be fine. Reply
  • mastertoller - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    lawl Reply
  • Damienstensonphotography - Saturday, July 21, 2012 - link

    Hi Galatain,
    Impressive battery life you're getting. Out of interest, is it the i5 or i7 you have?
    Cheers
    Damien
    Reply

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