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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  • LuckyKnight - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    I've contemplated a MBA for some time - however I wish they would make a MacBook Pro 13" with dedicated graphics like the ASUS UX32VD.

    The MBA only has 1 thunderbolt connector, which means there's no cheap way of connecting my existing DVI monitor, HDMI to my TV and gigabit ethernet all at the same time (if that is possible at all).

    The MBA also presumably suffers from the 23.967Hz bug as it uses Intel graphics. So it's use as a XBMC client is reduced for me.

    I don't want a 15" model any more. This is just too big for me.

    The MBA is a very nice product. I would consider the ASUS if they keyboard didn't bend? and it was available in the UK! Despite the faults, still considering it.

    If ASUS were to resolve their issues I would probably get that however.
    Reply
  • Elwe - Tuesday, July 17, 2012 - link

    "The MBA only has 1 thunderbolt connector, which means there's no cheap way of connecting my existing DVI monitor, HDMI to my TV and gigabit ethernet all at the same time (if that is possible at all)."

    This is true. But you do have a couple of options. One is to use the Apple USB to Ethernet Adapter (http://store.apple.com/us_smb_78313/product/MC704Z... It was made for prior years' models, and it will only 10/100Mb/s. Not anywhere close to ideal, but there it is.

    Your other options is to wait and see if something with the ASIX AX88179 chip (or some such) gets released (http://www.asix.com.tw/products.php?op=pItemdetail... I guess USB 3.0 to GigE is not really desired by the market (I guess because most people are either already in a tower and so have other options or are fully OK with wireless).

    In this form factor, one has to ask how many high-speed sports are realistic . . . Three? If so, perhaps they have it right (two USB 3.0 and one Thunderbolt given how much people have been screaming for USB 3.0). Or perhaps it should be the other way (I think I would personally rather have the two Thunderbolt and do use either an adapter from Thunderbolt or a USB hub when I need two or more USB ports). Four? Well, I am not sure I know of any Ultrabooks that that this configuration but it would be nice.
    Reply
  • reactor - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    I have a previous gen MBA and tried out the new one in store. Not nearly enough of a leap for me to think about upgrading. Hopefully Haswell comes through with the supposed GPU bump(and maybe, hopefully, a retina display), my old MBA handles everything I need it to do except graphics heavy things and I like the form factor too much to go up to the 15" retina. Reply
  • KPOM - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    Ivy Bridge is the "tick" part of the tick-tock cycle. It is a small upgrade to the CPU, though the GPU is a bit more of an improvement. Consider that in 2011, Apple switched to the Sandy Bridge from the 5 year-old Core 2 processor. I don't think the 2012 is aimed at 2011 owners as much as it is 2010 and earlier owners, as well as those new to the platform. Reply
  • mastertoller - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    well with the 2x faster SSD, 8gb ram option, it makes up for it. Reply
  • ltcommanderdata - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    Great review. How's OpenCL performance like on the HD4000 since that was a sore point with Sandy Bridge that Ivy Bridge corrects? A comparison between the HD4000, 320M and an older discrete GPU like a 330M GT or 6490M would be informative.

    You've consistently noted in your reviews that Apple's desires for smaller enclosures, GPGPU, and smaller displays are constrained by GPU hardware, particularly from Intel. With Mountain Lion's upcoming release, I wonder if you'll consider examining the software side of things to see how much effort has been put into the GPU drivers and whether they are now up to par with Windows GPU drivers? Once they are released, perhaps a comparison between 10.7.5, 10.8, and Windows 7 with the best recent GPUs from each vendor (Intel HD4000, nVidia GT 650M, AMD 6970M) and one example of an older GPU that still supports OpenCL (nVidia 8xxx/9xxx or ATI HD4xxx) to see if all Macs are seeing development effort or only recent ones. Ideally the benchmarks would not only be games (Portal 2, SC2, Civ V, and a non-Source Engine shooter or two like Deus Ex Human Revolution or Bioshock 2), but also OpenGL accelerated applications (such as Cinebench and Photoshop) and OpenCL accelerated applications (the new OpenCL Photoshop CS5 filters).
    Reply
  • De_Com - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    As a long time reader of AT, I must say how nauseating it has become to read any Apple reviews nowadays, especially Anand's.

    I believe all objectivity has gone out the window, and that someone else should be given a crack at reviewing Apple products. Both Brian and Dustin have done some cracking reviews lately and I'd like one of these guys to be given a shot at reviewing the next Apple laptop.

    Reading the words "awesome", "amazing","infatuated", "it just works"...etc, the reviews have morphed into what seems like some weird sales pitch, seriously am I the only one to notice this?
    You'd be hard pressed telling this review apart from the sales blurb direct from the Apple website.

    Whenever there's a bad word to be said, like f/f camera, wifi, there are immediate excuses made overlooking them. The camera is crap, unless you've excellent lighting, again glossed over with "well the software is easy and starts quickly". I could go on.

    Don't wanna overgripe the situation, most reviews are excellent and well informed, but Anand's Apple reviews have just got so lopsided lately that they have become hard to stomach.

    Please try and bring back the objectivity, it's what brought me here in the first place.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    "As the MacBook Air retains its TN display, for the first time we can actually say that ASUS' Ultrabook offers better viewing angles than the Air. The difference is quite noticeable: ...

    There's no denying that what ASUS has done is better,"

    Yeah, Anand NEVER acknowledges when other products are better than Apple.
    Reply
  • De_Com - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    "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"

    Your missing the point, being objective is taking similar products, stepping back and reviewing both in an unbiased way. Never did I accuse Anand of not acknowledging other good products, however I did accuse him of making a bad point followed by glossing over it with a good one, and you sir have made my point for me.
    Reply
  • KPOM - Monday, July 16, 2012 - link

    On the whole, it IS still one of the best executed ultraportables on the market today. I have seen other ultraportables, and the only ones that I have seen that come close or exceed the Air are the Samsung 9 series and the ASUS Zenbook. They are also priced similarly.

    Anand's review of the 2011 was far more glowing. This was an evolutionary update, and so the difference isn't as stark, and the display is starting to become more ordinary. However, the rest of the machine is still very good.

    Being objective sometimes means praising a product.
    Reply

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