Things didn’t go exactly as I’d expected at WWDC. I spent the week before the show at Computex, talking to PC OEMs, who had all just launched their Haswell ULT based Ultrabooks. With a couple of exceptions however, the bulk of Haswell ULT systems weren’t scheduled to ship until later this year. Even the Acer S7 I snagged while in Taipei was still a pre-production unit, with final hardware due out in the next month. Based on what I saw in Taiwan, and Intel having seeded me an Iris Pro machine the week before, I assumed that the MacBook Pro with Retina Display is what would get the Haswell treatment first. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

In hindsight, the move makes sense. Apple will sell far more MacBook Airs than rMBPs. The Apple/Intel relationship is looking very healthy these days, so it’s also not surprising that it would have supply and early enough access to Haswell ULT to launch the MBAs at WWDC with almost immediate availability. The Haswell ULT shift didn’t require a new chassis for Apple, which meant a less complex development process.

From the outside, the new MacBook Air looks nearly identical to its predecessor. There's a second mic opening on the left side of the machine now, but otherwise you'd be hard pressed to tell this year's model apart from the previous generation. Internally, nearly everything has changed.

The battery is higher capacity, with no increase in weight. Making better use of that larger battery is Intel's new Haswell ULT silicon. Since we're talking about a ULT part, the PCH moves from the motherboard to the CPU package - creating an emptier motherboard than we've seen in previous years:

The 2013 13-inch MacBook Air Motherboard, Courtesy iFixit

It's clear to me that the MBA is due for a more significant redesign, but this is not the year for that.

Alongside Haswell comes a brand new PCIe SSD, 802.11ac support and LPDDR3 memory. All at a price equal to, if not less than last year's models:

2013 MacBook Air Lineup
  11.6-inch 11.6-inch (high-end) 13.3-inch 13.3-inch (high-end)
H: 0.11-0.68" (0.3-1.7cm)
W: 11.8" (30cm)
D: 7.56" (19.2cm)
H: 0.11-0.68" (0.3-1.7cm)
W: 12.8" (32.5cm)
D: 8.94" (22.7cm)
Weight 2.38 lbs (1.08kg) 2.96 lbs (1.35kg)
CPU 1.3GHz dual-core Core i5 1.3GHz dual-core Core i5
GPU Intel HD 5000
Display Resolution 1366 x 768 1440 x 900
Ports Thunderbolt, 2x USB 3.0, headphone jack Thunderbolt, 2x USB 3.0, SD card slot, headphone jack
Networking 2x2:2 802.11ac 2x2:2 802.11ac
Battery 38 Wh 54 Wh
Price $999 $1199 $1099 $1299 

We've been over the MacBook Air chassis thoroughly in the past so I won't go through it again here. Build quality remains excellent. The clickpad and backlit keyboard never give me any troubles either. It's sad that we're still having clickpad issues elsewhere in ultraportables but this is one area where Apple's vertically integrated advantage is apparent (as is the company's willingness to spend a little extra on even the little details).

The only thing that hasn't changed, that perhaps should have is the display. The MacBook Air retains the same 1366 x 768/1440 x 900 panels from last year, while much of the competition has moved to at least 1080p IPS in the 13.3-inch form factor. This year at Computex we saw a number of systems move to 2560 x 1440 13.3-inch panels, at least as an option, however I'm expecting those systems to be priced more in line with the 13-inch rMBP rather than the MacBook Air. Admittedly, I don't know the right solution here.Ultra high resolution panels drive cost and power consumption up, the latter which can be offset by going to a larger battery - but then you have a 13-inch rMBP. Perhaps the right move for the MacBook Air would be for Apple to move to IPS panels at least? Or maybe we see a merger of the 13-inch MBA/rMBP, and something new entirely replace the 11-inch model.

The CPUs
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  • JDG1980 - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I think we should have seen noise and thermal measurements, especially since this is Haswell. Will you be able to sit it on your lap without burning yourself? The desktop Haswell chips get nearly hot enough to boil water. I don't believe Intel's official TDP ratings for Haswell; the 4770K allegedly dissipated only 84 watts, but generated more heat than a 130W Sandy Bridge-E.

    Assuming you plan to use OSX (I can't stand it myself), the low resolution is a real killer. Windows is the only OS that has good font rendering at low DPI (via ClearType). On OSX everything is a blurry mess, and on Linux it's even worse. (Rendering at low DPI is much harder since they have to use a bunch of hacks like hinting and sub-pixel antialiasing to get the font to fit the pixel grid and look reasonably clear.)

    It's disappointing to see Apple using Elpida RAM; it's far worse than Hynix or Samsung. And end users shouldn't expect to get the Samsung panel reviewed here; they will almost certainly end up with an inferior LG panel unless they return the system and complain. That's what happened with the rMBP last generation. The sales tactics came close to bait and switch, IMO: send out a good product to reviewers, then after a few months of sales, switch to inferior parts for future production without any indication on the packaging or labeling.
  • FwFred - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Temperature != heat. Also, there is no IHS on a mobile part, so the CPU die may directly be mounted against the cooling solution.
  • mavere - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    No IHS means no TIM issues means TDP has an extremely, extremely strong correlation to heat and noise, especially as teardowns show similar internal construction. Like the review said, TDP is respectably lowered in Haswell.

    >>> "It's disappointing to see Apple using Elpida RAM; it's far worse than Hynix or Samsung."

    By what metric? Are you claiming that the RAM won't reach their rated speeds? Or are you claiming there's a pending RAM death situation here?

    I would love citations in any case.
  • star-affinity - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Don't agree on OS X. It's great overall, once you get used to it. A good start is to not expect everything to behave like in Windows. Also don't agree on the font rendering. If you think it looks better in Windows I'm guessing you're not really into graphic design?
  • tipoo - Thursday, November 6, 2014 - link

    I think it does look better, I'm not a graphic designer. However I know OSX may have fonts that are more true to what they were designed as, Cleartype dramatically improves edges on low res displays and makes them bearable. Each pixel effectively becomes three pixels of resolution, so edges are much much smoother. OSX may have "truer" fonts, but chunky looking.
  • A5 - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    That 130W SB-E die is significantly larger than the 84W Haswell die. Once you add in the fact that more of that TDP is actually being used due to the on-package VRMs, it is pretty obvious why a Haswell would be hotter at the same loads.
  • Paapaa125 - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I just used MBA 2011 11" model and the resolution is just fine. At normal viewing distances (30-40cm) the text look clear - no pixels. 135ppi at 40cm means one pixel covers 1,5 arcminutes. That is actually very small unit and quite close to eye resolving power. Definitely you can see the pixels when viewing closer but for normal distances the resolution is 100% sufficient for getting the job done.
  • helloworldv2 - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I've been running some terminal stuff for multiple hours with the new i7 model (8GB RAM) utilizing 100% of both cores (4 cores with hyperthreading) and at no point the laptop got uncomfortable to hold on lap (bare skin)..
  • akdj - Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - link

    A) Thermal measurements. BS. You don't think the reviewer would've brought to our attention the fact he burned his lap while watching a movie? It's drawing less power at lower clock speeds...there isn't an expectation that the 'heat' on the outside would be anymore significant than the 11/12 core i models. Noise was commented on. In comparison to last year's model, it was quieter while rendering I believe. As well...he mentioned several times throughout the article his anticipation testing the i7 model when he's done flying around the world....yet still submitting a tremendous 'initial' over view or the new Airs. Believe Intel or not....these are 15watt chips. Not 85. Not 130. They're not gonna hurt ya bud.
    B) OSx. Now your comments are becoming a bit more clear. I use Windows 7/8 and OSx daily. Your comments on text are clearly based on 'what you've heard' and nothing to do with reality. In fact, my friend...'Tis Windows that has awful 'scaling' implementation when it comes to hiDPI displays....including any non native Windows software on the Surface pro. Very troublesome and hopefully will be addressed in 8.1. You're comments on a 'blurry mess' are nothing but BS. @ over 135 dpi on the standard 11" Airs, the resolution in relation to the size of the monitor are just fine! 1080p on that sized display without the same pixel doubling tricks used on the rMBPs would be truly unreadable for most folks over 12 years old! Seriously! I'm an Air and rMBP well as a PC high resolution display owner. While windows does have some benefits to 'ClearType'....OSx has NO issues with text display. While I'd like to so them step up to IPS, their TN panels, out of the box...have lead the industry for years. Objectively and subjectively. There is NO argument. Windows...on the other hand....they've got a way to go. ClearType isn't the answer. They'll need to implement the same trickery as OSx for text display on HiDPI monitors. No one can see, much less make use of a 2880x1800 display in native Rez. That's the cool thing OSx has managed to pull off....while pixel doubling for, video, and other creative work can be displayed @ it's native resolution while 'inside' an app using the pixel doubling for its interface. EG; photoshop, FCP....where you CAN have the entire 1080p, every pixel represented inside your canvas while the UI remains usable and crystal clear

    Elpida RAM. You are awar that Apple has achieved near 100% efficiency now with their 'soldiered in' RAM. Something NO other user replaceable RAM system can compete with. There are no issues with Elpida...other than the fact you've not heard about them.
    LG vs Samsung...very, very arguable. I ended up with an LG in one of our two rMBPs. In four months, image retention set in and Apple immediately replaced it. No questions asked. That said, LG is one of the Biggest and Best panel manufacturers in the world. LG panels in comparison to Samsung have shown better contrast, white and black point....and higher brightness. My Samsung is warmer, but calibrated I've got it pretty close to 6500°. LG is absolutely NOT 'inferior'. They changed out their original panel in the rMBP with an updated version. This is new technology, after all....there are going to be hiccups.

    Your 'bait n switch' conspiracy theory is just that. As a small business owner....and as fa from a 'tech reviewer' as one could be....each of my rigs has performed in parity with reviewed models from sites like Anand. No different.

    You're full of a WHOLE LOTTA hot air....and obviously have some sort of vendetta against Apple and OSx. Not sure why, maybe your mom said 'Absolutely Not!' When you asked if she would buy you one. Who knows...but quit with the drivel
  • gxtoast - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Fantastic article! However, I just wanted to hit something on the head that seems to be a common misperception:

    "...In living situations where you can’t just run a bunch of Cat6 everywhere, but still want high speed networking, 802.11ac could be a real alternative."

    It seems that most people think that installing Cat6 will give them better 1Gbps Ethernet performance. It won't. Cat6 is irrelevant for 1Gbps. Cat6 is a 10Gbps standard. Cat5e is the 1Gbps standard.

    Cheers :)

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