The CPUs

Apple keeps things simple across the 2013 MacBook Air lineup by configuring both 11 and 13-inch models with the same base CPU: a Core i5-4250U.

To understand Apple’s CPU choice, you have to understand that Apple is primarily concerned about improving battery life this generation. The line between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro has to be well defined. The Air is about portability, while the Pro is about performance. When faced with a power/performance tradeoff, it’s clear on which side of the fence Apple will fall whenever the MacBook Air is concerned.

Apple 2013 MacBook Air CPU Comparison
  1.3GHz dual-core 1.7GHz dual-core
Standard On 11 & 13-inch MBA Optional on Both
Intel Model Core i5-4250U Core i7-4650U
Base Clock Speed 1.3GHz 1.7GHz
Max SC Turbo 2.6GHz 3.3GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.3GHz 2.9GHz
L3 Cache 3MB 4MB
TSX-NI No Yes
TXT No Yes
AES-NI Yes Yes
VT-x/VT-x EPT Yes Yes
VT-d Yes Yes
TDP 15W 15W
Processor Graphics Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 5000
GPU Clock (Base/Max) 200/1000MHz 200/1100MHz

The lower base clock alone shouldn’t mean much, but the max TDP of the CPUs in the new MacBook Air falls as well - from 17W down to 15W. The thermal limit is even more dramatic since with Haswell ULT, the 15W includes the CPU/GPU as well as the on-package PCH. In Ivy Bridge the PCH was off package and wasn’t included in the 17W TDP.

Max turbo clocks are identical between the Haswell ULT CPUs Apple picked this round and the Ivy Bridge models before, but with a lower TDP it’ll be harder to always sustain the same frequencies given the right workload.

Haswell does feature a not insignificant gain in IPC compared to Ivy Bridge, which should help offset the power constraints that could otherwise force a larger regression in performance.

Both 2013 MBAs ship with the same CPU by default, and both can be upgraded to the same higher end SKU: a Core i7-4650U. The 4650U retains the same 15W TDP as the i5-4250U, but it increases its base clock speed to 1.7GHz and max turbo to 3.3GHz. The L3 cache also grows from 3MB to 4MB. All in all, this should be a very healthy upgrade in performance. Intel likely maintains the same TDP by binning for power; the i7-4650U is probably capable of running at higher frequencies without any appreciable increase in voltage. The max GPU clock also goes up by 10%.

Haswell ULT, Courtesy iFixit

What's arguably coolest about the i7-4650U is it enables Haswell's Transactional Synchronization Extensions (TSX-NI), a feature which is unfortunately disabled on the i5-4250U. I don't suspect this will matter much for most MBA users, but anyone looking to play around with Haswell's TSX instructions will want to opt for the higher end SKU. The upgrade costs $150 regardless of base model. Intel charges $454 for the i7-4650U and $342 for the i5-4250U, a difference of $112; Apple is adding another $38 onto the 1KU pricing, which isn't unreasonable.

Many have asked me what the impact of the i7 will be on battery life. I'm hoping to get my hands on an i7 based machine when I return from the UK in a week, but for those of you making immediate decisions I'll offer the following. Sustained operation at higher frequencies will likely draw more power, and negatively impact battery life. Light to medium workloads will enjoy a mix of race to sleep benefits as well as higher power consumption under load. Idle power should be roughly similar between the parts however. For most workloads I'd expect a modest impact to battery life, but it won't be enough to regress to 2012 levels of battery life. All of this is said without knowing key details like operating voltage for most 4650Us. I plan on addressing that shortly.

 

Introduction CPU Performance
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  • Skolde - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I find the current display resolutions on these "premium" products to be very lacking for me to actually seriously consider a purchase. At least stick something in there like 1600x900.

    ....1366 x 768? Come on!

    Also - bumping the memory up to 8GB would be nice. I know it isn't build to be a workhorse, but still.

    The XPS13 from Dell seems to be a much nicer option currently.
    Reply
  • rangerdavid - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    1440 x 900 on this 13". Reply
  • ddriver - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Why not, they put higher resolution on 5 inch phones... Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    They put higher resolution screens on their retina laptops. The Air focus on battery life and performance above all. Reply
  • designerfx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    except that's a problem. You can't take advantage of certain basic parts of *performance* if you have a terrible display. Reply
  • dsumanik - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Here is the non TLDR version of this review:

    "intel came out with a new CPU, samsung made a new SSD and apple slapped it together last minute in an existing design. Ultimately, You get a slower, longer lasting air for a 100 bucks less that carries over all the little annoyances from last year."

    whoop dee f*ckin do……..This is apple innovation?

    "the m.2 spec wasnt far enough along to be used in this generation"

    Oh please, What a load of horse ****. I think anand, like many other review sites invested heavily in apple stock and are now trying to stop the bleeding. Apple has been deliberately stifling user upgrades for years….That is why they have proprietary connectors…ON EVERYTHING...your readers, and your reviewer knows this.

    "The only thing that hasn't changed, that perhaps should have is the display. "

    ya think? My phone has better rez. You've been criticizing PC makers for 2 years about the 1366x768 resolution, and here we have apple in 2013 and you say they "perhaps should have changed"

    ROFL

    Here are some "cheap" things they could have done to actually make this product an upgrade:

    -move the thunderbolt port beside the power connector (no more stethoscope when plugged in driving a display)
    -second thunderbolt port (now you can have 2 displays native and not be down a precious USB3)
    -16gb ram availability (now I can run several VM's comfortably when developing)
    -performance on par with last years MBA?
    -nfc support
    -4G support

    here is some mild innovation they could have done:

    -detachable screen (tablet notebook hybrid)
    -retina display
    -wireless desktop charger

    3rd tier PC makers are coming out with better hardware than apple now, this year was critical and they've dropped the ball…with the exception of the Mac pro.

    a smartwatch *could* be cool if it comes out totally water proof for active users…jogging swimming etc, if not i don't see the incentive to purchase unless it is super low cost.

    what they need to "fix" the situation

    -low cost iPhone (incoming 2013)
    -large screen iPhone (2014)
    -retina display across the board on all products (2015)
    -updated thunderbolt display, USB3 and 4k Rez for under 2000 bucks.
    -apple branded TV and home theatre system
    -thunderbolt or USB3 sync speeds on all iDevices

    Dump your apple stock now, it will bounce back but never to the highs it was previously.
    Reply
  • Glindon - Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - link

    Bored much? Reply
  • abazigal - Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - link

    Can you name me all the other manufacturers who are implementing these features, much less doing them properly?

    You want retina, there's the 13" retina MBP. And I think he was criticising manufacturers for using 1366x768 res on a 13" laptop screen. Apple uses that for their 11" MBA line, which I find is still acceptable.

    Apple decided that a slight decrease in performance was an acceptable tradeoff for longer battery life. And I am inclined to agree with them. The new processor speed still more than suffices for what typical consumers use it for anyways.

    What am I supposed to do with NFC on a laptop? You want the power source to be beside the thunderbolt port. I don't think there is quite sufficient space for 2 USB ports on one side, and so long as it hooks up to your thunderbolt display just fine, does it really irritate you so that the two cables split up?

    Personally, I feel there is nothing Apple "needs" to do. I am perfectly fine with their products. I like them, I buy them.
    Reply
  • ysaykin - Saturday, July 13, 2013 - link

    I think that in a way the comments are right. 11 inch laptops for $1000 should have some luxury features. One of those is amazing battery life, good keyboard, nice display, and good performance. The macbook air has some bases covered, but lacks the display. The resolution is fine for a sub $600 notebook but not at $1000, also a TN panel on a $1000 notebook sounds like a rip off. It should have been at least an ips panel. The longer battery life is only achievable because Mac OSx has been optimized for battery life, but if you use windows on the machine your battery takes a huge dip. So is it a good laptop, definitely, but is it worth the $1000 price? I think it's def a mac tax. Look at the Lenovo yoga which if updated to haswell would have awesome battery life, touchscreen, ips 1600x900 resolution, and convertible to tablet mode. Reply
  • rudolphbyers - Thursday, October 09, 2014 - link

    There's nothing that could replace my MacBook Air! /Rudolph from http://www.consumertop.com/best-laptop-guide/ Reply

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