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Old Jul 1, 2013, 03:04 AM   #1
johngwheeler
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Join Date: Dec 2010
First impressions of new MacBook Air i7/8GB

After a lot of thought about whether I should go for a rMBP or MBA, and waiting for new models at the WWDF, I finally pulled the trigger on a new MBA.

My existing (Windows) laptop was becoming too frustrating to use (and is way too heavy when travelling), and I really didn't feel like waiting several months for the Haswell rMBP to arrive.

I also own a 2007 MBP and a 2011 Mac Mini Server (quad core i7), so I wasn't sure what to expect from the seemingly "low powered" MBA.

I have to say that I am hugely impressed by my new purchase.

1) Performance

The i7 MBA feels incredibly fast, and considerably faster than my SSD-fitted Quad Core Mac Mini. I think a lot of this may be due to the PCIe SSD, which benchmarks at nearly 750MB/s (Blackmagic) - about 3-4 times as fast as the OWC SSD in my Mac Mini.

I went for the i7 option because it offers 3.3GHz turbo (presumably for a single core), which seemed to offer a lot more peak performance than the i5.

I did a quick Handbrake encode test of the same video on both the MBA and Mac Mini, and got surprisingly good results (13m43 for MBA vs 11m35 MacMini). I was expecting the MBA to take maybe 50-60% longer, considering it has 2 cores vs 4 in the Mac Mini.

Windows 7 bootcamp and VMWare Fusion (running the bootcamp partition) perform excellently. Windows boot time is slow compared to Mac OS, but still much better than any HDD-based laptop.

2) Heat & Noise

The MBA is extremely quiet in normal use, and even when going full tilt during an encode, the fan noise is not intrusive; you can hear it, but it sort of blends into the background rather than standing out like some other laptops (Toshibas are particularly irritating!)

I installed smcFanControl to monitor temperatures, and was a bit alarmed at the figures - up to 95 Centigrade during encodes.

However, the case remains remarkably cool despite the CPU temperatures, even the aluminum strip between the keyboard and hinge, which on my MBP gets too hot to touch. In normal use, with the default fan speed of 1200rpm smcFanControl shows 50-52C temps, and the case is cool to the touch. You really can only feel the slightest warmth above ambient temperature - incredible!

3) Screen

The screen in my opinion is good, but not great. It doesn't really "pop" like the retina or other high-res IPS screen, but it's quite acceptable. My screen is an LG, and I applied the MacRumors screen profile, which made a slight improvement. I will nearly always plug in to an external screen whenever one is available, because the ergonomics of a large screen at eye height are so much better (much less neck pain!), so the screen isn't a deciding factor for me.

4) Build & Ergonomics.

The MBA feels like a quality item. Despite its thinness, it feels really solid when typing. Keyboard is pretty good, possibly marginally less positive than the Apple bluetooth keyboard, but very good compared to other laptops. Trackpad is excellent, almost negating the need for a mouse, except for graphical work.

5) Conclusion

I am really happy with my purchase. I was going to get a 15" rMBP, which would have been almost twice the price. I was concerned that the MBA would be underpowered (particularly when running virtual machines, which I use for software development), and that it would be a compromise compared to the rMBP (lighter & cheaper vs heavier, faster and better screen), but I actually think the MBA might be a better choice for me.

A lot of "heavy" computing work is moving to cloud-based or remote solutions (e.g. render-farms/server clusters), so the need to have a high performance laptop is diminishing for many people. I may look at the new Mac Pro (cylinder) when it comes out, if I feel the need for serious horsepower, which should easily exceed the best rMBP, and which might be a perfect combination of portability and brute power (albeit non-mobile).

My rating: 9/10.

PS No problems with wi-fi, bad battery life or excessive heat so far.
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Old Jul 1, 2013, 03:28 AM   #2
PeterJP
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Join Date: Feb 2012
Location: Leuven, Belgium
Quote:
Originally Posted by johngwheeler View Post
I installed smcFanControl to monitor temperatures, and was a bit alarmed at the figures - up to 95 Centigrade during encodes.
That's no problem at all. My passively cooled SandyBridge PC at home goes over 100C during encodes. The CPU monitor I have (something Windows-based, name just escapes me at the moment) shows a green-orange-red code and 100C is the starting point for orange. So don't worry, particularly if it's not for days on end.

Nice review, it makes the MBA quite tempting. I'd be using it for couch surfing, too, so a retina display is tempting, too.


Peter.
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Old Jul 1, 2013, 05:52 AM   #3
mattmower
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Join Date: Aug 2010
Location: Berkshire, UK
I would pretty much concur with this review.

I have the same i7/8GB 2013 Air and I've been very impressed with it, although coming from a 2007 15" MBP that was always on the cards.

In my use I am getting about 10 hours of battery life: a mixture of browsing and coding. I can go out for the day without the power supply, I'm pretty happy with that. In general I find it to be cool, silent, and quick.

I have only one niggle so far; sometimes when I bring it back from sleep it immediately sleeps again. I can wake it right back up so it's not a big problem. If it happened more often it might be.

Kind regards,

Matt
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Old Jul 1, 2013, 10:50 AM   #4
Porkaysi
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Join Date: Sep 2012
Coming from mid 2012 15 inch retina, the I7 air has not made me wish I had my retina back. Only performance difference so far is the retina screen is way better but u only notice this when u have use a retina and then go to the air. Playing LoL on the retina was a much better visual experience, both where steady and playable.
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