Final Words

Simplicity permeates Apple from design and software all the way down to the purchasing experience. The 2013 MacBook Air offers only two choices of CPUs, and honestly for the vast majority of the population, that's all you really need. The default Core i5 1.3GHz (4250U) delivers the best overall battery life regardless of workload. Its performance is often somewhere in between a 2011 and 2012 MacBook Air depending on workload, although in some cases it's possible to see equivalent performance to an upgraded 2012 MBA. If you need more performance however, the 1.7GHz Core i7 upgrade (4650U) delivers. In most situations you get more than a 20% increase in performance, bringing the platform up to somewhere in between last year's 1.7GHz Core i5 and 2.0GHz Core i7 options. Once again, with the right workload you could even see performance as much as 20% better than a 2GHz Core i7 from last year. Although I didn't publish any results here, GPU performance seemed roughly unchanged compared to the Core i5 option.

The tradeoff in battery life is pretty easy to understand. In mostly idle workloads, I wouldn't expect any real degradation in battery life compared to the Core i5. Both configurations are equally capable of hitting the same max battery life number. More active workloads however will likely show a 15 - 20% decrease in battery life when paired with the faster CPU. It's possible that you'll see a larger drop with a very aggressive CPU-bound usage model, but at that point I'd assume that you'll probably want to be plugged in regardless of what system you're using.

In previous MacBook Airs, the choice of what CPU to buy was almost always a difficult one. Do you opt for the in-between upgrade or go all the way to the top? With this year's model, the decision is greatly simplified. If you want ultimate battery life regardless of usage model, stick with the base Core i5. If you need performance, the Core i7 upgrade is absolutely worth it. My personal choice would be for the Core i5, but that's because I tend to fall on the battery life side of of the battery life vs. performance fence when it comes to the MacBook Air. If the MacBook Air is going to be your only machine however, I can definitely make a case for opting for more performance.

Battery Life & Thermals
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  • TheinsanegamerN - Wednesday, July 10, 2013 - link

    was there any increase in graphical performance vs the i5? Reply
  • antonio22m - Wednesday, August 14, 2013 - link

    Macbook Air is undoubtedly a very good laptop.
    Price and lack of optical drive can affect a large number of users whose decision during the judgment can be negative so that they can decide to choose another manufacturer.
    Air is perfect and the best "second computer" that you can wish for.
    His task was not to be the main and only computer we can possess.
    If you want excellent laptop computer that will be able to carry it with you wherever you go, the Air is an excellent choice for perfectly reasonable size and more pronounced weight that barely exceeds one kilo.
    Take a look at this comparison at <a href="http://www.squidoo.com/apple-macbook-air-133"... MacBook Air 13.3</a> and You will see comparison to the another Apple laptops.Anyone considering purchasing this laptop needs to see the information in this chart.
    Reply
  • Mr_Data - Thursday, August 15, 2013 - link

    I more powerful CPU would finish a task faster than a slower CPU. I made so calculations and for medium and heavy loads the i7 has a lower battery life with 12.65% and 15.37% than the battery life of the i5. But the performance increase for the i7 for heavy processing (Adobe Lightroom, compiler test) is between 17.21 and 23.25% over the performance of the i5. Either way, starting from a full battery, you'll finish more tasks and faster with i7 than with the i5. Reply
  • Kestryn - Saturday, November 09, 2013 - link

    Just want to say, "thank you" for your well-written and organized feature on the MBA. In today's environment of waning journalistic excellence, it is always refreshing to find a good writer. Not that you've asked for advice, but if you have a taste for investigative adventure, perhaps you should link up with one of the new philanthropy-spawned internet "newspaper" outfits. Cheers, and keep writing! Reply
  • tetsuk - Friday, November 15, 2013 - link

    Can anyone with the 1.7GHz model comment on the temperature? I have actually suffered from low heat burns due to the constant heat generated by a Macbook pro in the past. The temps in this article seem to go extremely high under medium-to-high load. Reply

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