In reviewing the 2013 MacBook Air, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I'd recommend the various notebooks in Apple's lineup. By the end of this year, once Apple has updated (almost) all of its lines to Haswell, it will have one of the strongest Mac lineups in Apple history. The problem of course is deciding what configuration to buy. Today's review helps understand and explain what's going on with the new MacBook Air, but I wanted to do a separate post with recommendations depending on usage types. The table below is what I'd recommend today according to usage model. This is by no means comprehensive, but in most cases offers a cost optimized look at the current Mac notebook lineup:

Apple Mac Laptop Recommendations - June 2013
  Budget Writer's Aid Mobile Workhorse Desktop Replacement Desktop Replacement
Model 11-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2013) 13-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2013) 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro
CPU 1.3GHz Core i5 1.3GHz Core i5 2.6GHz Core i5 2.4GHz Core i7 2.7GHz Core i7
GPU Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 + NV GT650M Intel HD 4000 + NV GT650M
SSD 128GB 256GB 256GB 256GB 512GB
Buy or Wait Buy Buy Wait (~3 months) Wait (~3 months) Wait (~3 months)
Total Price $999 $1399 $1599 $2079 $2629

We'll start at the bottom. On a budget, the 11-inch MacBook Air is really your best bet to getting into a notebook that ships with OS X. The base configuration isn't terrible either. I've been using the 2013 13-inch MBA with only 4GB of RAM for the past couple of weeks and generally don't have any issues with the memory size. OS X Mavericks should have some more accommodations for limited amounts of DRAM, which will likely give the 4GB configuration some more legroom. I wouldn't upgrade the CPU or SSD either as both can add considerable cost. If our goal here is to remain cheap, then we've got to stay committed. If you need a larger display, I'd simply opt for the base 13-inch model at $1099.

Next up is the writer's aid configuration, an upgraded 13-inch MacBook Air. Once again I'd stick with the base CPU, but mostly to optimize for battery life than anything else. The faster CPU would be nice, but I'd only consider the upgrade if you need a mobile workhorse and for whatever reason won't consider the 13-inch rMBP. I threw in the larger SSD simply because I believe 256GB is really the minimum for all of the applications I'd typically install as someone who regularly has to produce content (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Lightroom, iWork, Office, Boot Camp partition). You're going to need some form of external storage for photos, videos and music though. I could go either way on the memory capacity, but at only $100 for the upgrade it might make sense to give the machine a bit more longevity.

Both of the MBA configurations I'm fine with recommending today. It'll take us some time to get to Broadwell, so there won't be an issue with early obsolesence with any of these. The next three configurations are a different story however.

MacBook Pro Recommendations

As I alluded to in this morning's MacBook Air review, the most interesting configuration for me is the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Unfortunately, the current model still ships with a 35W Ivy Bridge part. All current indications point to the next-gen model using a 28W Haswell-ULT part, which should have a tremendous impact on battery life (similar to the MBAs). That shift alone makes this one worth waiting for. If you have to have one today though, this is the configuration I'd opt for. Amazon has a deal on the upgraded configuration, with a 256GB SSD and 2.6GHz processor for $1599. That's probably what I'd recommend. The cost of the upgrade to a 512GB SSD is a bit too high on the entry level model ($500) and on the upgraded system it'll put your total cost right at $2000. If you need the space, go for it, but if you can make 256GB work it might make sense to go that route and rely on external storage for the rest of your needs. Do keep in mind that you'll want to keep around 10 - 20% of the drive free to keep it performing nicely. The CPU upgrade isn't necessary, but it's a part of Amazon's deal so why not. I've been pretty happy with 8GB of memory in this configuration as well.

The last two configurations are also due for Haswell upgrades, although here the upgrades may not be as significant on the battery life front as Apple will be using standard voltage Haswell M parts. The big gains in battery life will come if Apple indeed decides to use Iris Pro, you won't have to worry about babysitting your dGPU all the time. The lower end configuration is pretty much stock. The reason I threw this one in here is because otherwise you get dangerously close to $3000, which is tough to stomach any way you look at it.

The higher end DTR configuration is really the reasonable shoot-for-the-moon option. Here I finally cave in to the larger SSD, double the amount of memory and opt for the upgraded CPU. The total price ends up at $2629 if you snag the latest deal from Amazon.

My Personal Choices

For me personally, I'd wait for the 13-inch rMBP upgrade (Mobile Workhorse option) as that'd be a great combination of display and battery life (if it gets a 28W Haswell ULT). I like the 15-inch model but that's a bit too large of a machine to comfortably use in coach on most US domestic airlines (where I spend a lot of my time). If I didn't travel as much, I'd opt for the 15-inch rMBP. If you're running a dual-system configuration (perhaps 2013 Mac Pro + a notebook), then I might go lighter end on the notebook side and opt for the 13-inch MBA (Writer's Aid configuration).

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  • dsumanik - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Or clicking the close button, could actually close a program.

    why is there a close button at all? should just have minimize.

    Try tiling or cascading all your open windows....oh wait. Impossible.

    Now go try and find me an "app" to do that one, oh wait...there are apps that emulate windows snap capability, bit as for multiple wondows from multiple programs? haha good luck.

    Theres only one and its clunky as hell and costs 8 bucks.

    Just to organize your desktop. I mean seriously im no MS or apple fanboy, im a developer, to get things done i need to run both OS's .....mac is terrible on the basics, and fundamentals like networking and file system.... but great in the "hey thats kinda cool" department.
  • Focher - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I'm just going to respond to one of your assertions (as some of your others don't seem to even understand how OS X sometimes works architecturally to make the complaint irrelevant) and that's about Apple's innovation. Here's the thing. You don't know if they are innovating before they actually release a product because they don't communicate about product development. As for competitiveness, when you are focused on specs then you're inevitably going to be disappointed. Personally, I find an 8GB Macbook Air to be much "faster" than a 16GB Windows laptop. I guess your mileage may vary.
  • dsumanik - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    There is no reason 16gb wouldnt fit in the MBA.

    But apple knew people like you would justify it as a good move anyways and make the purchase lol.

    Its not about speed, when developing, I am forced to run several VM's for testing simultaneously in parallels. 8gb isnt enough, without having to start and stop constantly, or run your machine at a crawl. Thats why i was forced to buy a mac mini. I need to test and develop in both OSX and Windows, otherwise I wouldn't even run apple hardware, its not worth the premium.

    Yeh I know you can Hack OSX into a VM as well, but Im busy enough as it is and dont have time to eff around with making sure my pirated software validates in an "illegal" VM

    16gb of ram cost a 100 bucks retail.

    stop defending a lost cause, this is about anandtech marketing for apple, and ignoring the fact they are releasing the same thing as they did last year...just a bit slower...which is why it went down in price lol.
  • goffam - Wednesday, April 23, 2014 - link

    I realize this is several months old... But I'll never understand some people. News flash pal... No one is forcing you to use a Mac. Ok, so you're a "developer" - would it really kill you to give up the Mac market share? Probably not. Severaly VMs - why would you even be trying that on a MBA? Oh wait... You're obviously too cheap to buy a more capable machine...

    You go on and on and on and on about things you don't like on the Mac.... No offense, but who cares what you think? Please, go and be fruitful with your Windows machine and when you do - stay off of Mac-centric articles or at the least - refrain from commenting.

    You obviously don't get it... Nor will you even get, that you don't get it. I've been using Macs for 25 years and there's a reason I keep using them. I really couldn't care less if I could eek out a couple GHz here, nor a few pixels there with another machine - I don't like Windows, plain and simple, nor do I care for what I consider to be largely inferior hardware. I like what I like and I'll gladly pay for it - it shouldn't concern you in the least, so why would you have a problem with that?

    Price premium? Buy refurbished... For myself (and the vast majority of users) there's no need to stay on the bleeding edge. I upgrade about every five years or so... My current machine is a 15" MBP with a quad-core i7, 6GB of ram, and a hi-res antiglare display (the last non-retina model) and I paid significantly less by simply waiting a while after it came out. It's by far, the nicest, most powerful machine I've ever owned and it has more than enough horsepower for many more years to come. Heck... It may very well be the last "traditional" computer I'll ever buy.

    Bottom line... Save yourself (and everyone else) a lot of frustration. It's pretty unhealthy to get this riled up by a computer company. Bottom line... If you don't like it, go somewhere else. That's the beauty of a free market - everyone gets to buy what they want.
  • darwinosx - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    Run along now.
  • dsumanik - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    "My Personal Choices
    For me personally, I'd wait for the 13-inch rMBP upgrade"

    -anand lal shimpi

    Ill bet u the entire internet and raise u wall street Mr anand is invested heavily in apple stock. Read this review...the information is limited.

    It's an ad: an attempt to directly influence the purchasing habits of the reader.

    Open your eyes.
  • caleblloyd - Sunday, June 30, 2013 - link

    If AT would let us up/down vote comments, the readers who actually care about this site could make sure stupid comments like this one didn't end up on the front page of an article...
  • Sushisamurai - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I think you need to reread the first paragraph, or at least between the lines. This article was only to recommend hardware within the realm of apple. As an apple user, I thought this was fantastic, and helped shape my buying conundrum.
  • akdj - Monday, July 8, 2013 - link

    WoW...Amazing....where do folks like you (dsumanik) come from? Why would you A, read the article and B, take the time to respond? You can't be serious???? Un Real---To blame an excellent run down on Apple Hardware for Apple buyers (and the general public possibly considering a first Apple purchase) on his stock options? Wow....sinking to a new low. Why not find a place that interests you? Samsung or Google (BTW---Lots and LOTS of Google/Sammy reviews and plenty of information on if you're interested in those) infer he's losing money or attempting to manipulate the stock market somehow with a buyer's guide for current Mac Gear...what a LAME response. Folks like you should quit feeding that spider, move out of your mother's basement, grab a whiff of fresh air and maybe even take a shower.
  • Bownce - Saturday, December 7, 2013 - link

    I read this in an article called "Best Mac Laptops - June 2013". As such all the WinTel Fanboi-ism asking why they aren't mentioning Windows seems... misplaced at best and outright trollish if typical of many comments sections.

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