Ultimate 2013 MBA Review/Guide/Advice

Discussion in 'MacBook Air' started by diogoh, Oct 16, 2013.

  1. diogoh macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2013
    Location:
    Joinville, Brazil
    #1
    Hello,

    I bought a maxed out non-refurb 13" MBA (i7, 8Gb, 512SSD, MacOS 10.8) and after a few weeks of moderate use, here is my opinion:

    The first thing I noticed is the screen. Coming from a 2011 13" MBA (i5, 4Gb, 128SSD), the difference is really clear. The LCD panel on the new model is from LG and has a yellow-ish look. Putting them side by side, my older MBA had a much better screen. Sadly, I could not load the calibration profile provided by a forum member. After a few days of use I ran the calibration tool and the screen improved, the icons on the dock and general text appear much clear/sharper.

    The new model seems also a bit lighter than the previous. Barely noticeable though...

    Doubling the RAM seems to have no effect on my daily use, except when running Win7 on Parallels Desktop 9. Still haven't got much time to test it under heavy load, since I have a Windows desktop machine at work and use my MBA at home only. Activity Monitor shows at least 4GB free RAM almost all the time. I consider myself a power user, running multiple apps (and lots of tabs on broswers) at a time and having a few background processes.

    The SSD is made by Samsung and is very fast. More than 750mb/s read/write speed. No regrets here... 512GB seems more than enough now (still have 200Gb free space with all my media and a few apps), but will pay off in the future. Since this will be my main computer, I like the idea of having all my media in it and carry it around without any external drive. I don't have another computer at home and don't store any personal file on my work computer. Not having to attach an external HD and the power cable everytime I plug the computer on my TV to watch a movie is a plus. Hopefully will do this wireless in the near future with a 802.11ac Apple TV.

    The processor choice was a tough decision. After reading several benchmarks and reviews, I opted for the i7 because it seemed much faster than the i5 and could achieve a 12-hour battery life under light load, having a better GPU performance as well. I think I made the right choice, everything loads really fast and I barely see the spinning ball icon... Performance gain is very noticeable coming from a 2011 i5 MBA.

    Regarding the battery, mine came fresh with a 3 cycle count. After two weeks of use it is still on 5. After initially having it fully charged, I disconnected the power and started the configuration process, retrieving my media from a time machine backup on a external media (new USB 3.0 drive from Samsung) and copying other files from my old USB 2.0 drive, both 1.0 TB plugged at the same time. This included importing photos to iPhoto and adding media to iTunes, installing Windows 7 and configuring it (upgrading, installing Office) under Parallels 9 Desktop and a few other apps, while surfing the web and downloading torrents at the same time. I got a bit more than 4 hours with battery juice under this heavy use. Seems good, can't think of having such extreme use any time soon.

    Watching a 2 hour 1080p movie using VLC on a external screen (internal screen brightness set to zero) consumed approximately 25% of my battery.

    The i7 can surpass the 12 hour battery time under very light load, but it seems that a small load increase can have a noticeable effect on this number, dropping to a 9 hour (or even 7h) under my normal use. I think this is the difference from i5 to i7, since with the first you can have a moderate use without decreasing the battery life that much. Got used to close all applications that I am not using, since the i7 can load them very fast when needed. Other important point is to use Safari instead of Firefox, got aproximately 2 hour battery improvement after changing my default browser.

    Final conclusions:

    - RAM: 8GB seems more than enough at the moment, but I like the concept of running Windows 7 at the same time. So, if you need to run a VM or deal with large files (3D rendering, video editing), go for it. For normal users, stick with 4Gb. Mavericks will have even better RAM usage.

    - Processor: Only choose i7 if you are a power user and need intensive processing power. Other than that, i5 should be more than enough and will save you a few hours in battery life. Still have to test the i7 performance gains in GPU power...

    - SSD: If you have other computer to store all your files or don't have much media, 256Gb should be enough. It is possible to buy a SD card with up to 128 Gb if needed in the future. 128 Gb SSD is not enough from my own experience with previous 2011 MBA. It should be ok for users with few media, but won't last loo long, especially when you start backing up a few iDevices. If I had bought my 2011 MBA with 256 Gb, I would keep it a little longer. If this is your main machine and you need space, go for 512Gb. If not, choose 256 Gb to keep it future-proof and buy a 128 Gb SD card if needed.

    - Screen: The MBA screen is outdated and needs a refresh, since its rivals provide better options (Wouldn't ask for a retina, but 1080p is a must). Anyway, it is enough for my daily browsing/development and I don't plan on buying an external display. If your model has a LG screen, run the display color calibration tool immediately.

    - Wi-Fi: Still have to test the 802.11ac wi-fi, looking for a airport extreme/time capsule purchase before the end of this year.

    - Battery life: It's amazing, I can carry my notebook around (with my acme made skinny sleeve) without the power adapter and still have plenty of battery time by the end of the day.

    - Size/weight: Perfect, no need for a lighter/smaller notebook.

    These are my thoughts after a couple of weeks of use. Will keep you updated with battery usage and Mavericks performance once it becomes available. Also planning to installing Windows 7 on Bootcamp and run a few games when I have time for it, and compare its performance to Parallels as well.

    If you have any doubt, feel free to ask!
     
  2. RightMACatU macrumors 65816

    RightMACatU

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2012
    Location:
    192.168.1.1
    #2
    Good review.
    I have the same MBA and can't complain about speed and storage
    while I use VMWare Fusion with 4GB of dedicated RAM.
    The screen clearly needs an upgrade but I would disagree with a 1080p. This would imply a resolution of 1920x1080 and even with my 20/20 I wouldn't go there on a 13" ;) I solved that problem with an external 24" monitor.
     
  3. ZBoater macrumors G3

    ZBoater

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    Sunny Florida
    #3
  4. diogoh thread starter macrumors newbie

    Joined:
    Oct 16, 2013
    Location:
    Joinville, Brazil
    #4
    From the link above: Actual weight varies by configuration and manufacturing process.

    This is why I had the same feeling when comparing my former 2011 MBA with my mothers MBA which were exactly the same model. However, they were bought in different countries with a difference of months. I felt that mine was a bit lighter than hers. That should explain the barely noticeable difference in weight.
     
  5. brdeveloper macrumors 68020

    brdeveloper

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2010
    Location:
    Brasil
    #5
    Besides the screen (that could be a low-res IPS panel), the only problem with the ultimate Air model is RAM. User-upgradeable RAM would be perfect, but 16GB as an option should be mandatory. 32GB excellent. Quad-core options are being increasingly necessary, though.

    To me, laptops must last at least 4 years, nice if lasted 5 and would be perfect if 6. Apple should offer options that could make a just bought laptop last up to 6 years. I can imagine a Haswell i7 Macbook Air working nicely in 2019 if it had 32GB of RAM and a big SSD (the SSD is user-upgradeable).
     
  6. ZBoater macrumors G3

    ZBoater

    Joined:
    Jul 2, 2007
    Location:
    Sunny Florida
    #6
    Ummmmm, ok. I guess if some people are super sensitive to pixels and fps, there can also be some who can detect a few grams of weight here and there. Got it.
     
  7. RightMACatU macrumors 65816

    RightMACatU

    Joined:
    Jul 12, 2012
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    #7
    What you describe already exists. It's called a MacBook Pro ;)
     
  8. m98custom1212 macrumors 6502

    Joined:
    Jul 20, 2013
    Location:
    Toledo, Ohio
    #8
    Yea I'm sure that 10 grams makes a huge difference. They are the same weight.
     
  9. brdeveloper macrumors 68020

    brdeveloper

    Joined:
    Apr 21, 2010
    Location:
    Brasil
    #9
    Yes, I agree. But do you remember the 17" MBP? Suddenly it became obsolete and unecessary. That is, the features a professional laptop must have is rather relative to the user that operates the machine. I'd be pretty satisfied with a Pro workstation in a MBA form factor.

    Unfeasible? Perhaps currently, but who knows in the near future? If you could make it work with two cores when unplugged and quad-core when plugged it would be nice. You had a portable and adaptive workstation. The IGZO MBAs have potential to be the next Retina MBPs.
     
  10. Orr macrumors 6502

    Orr

    Joined:
    Oct 8, 2013
    #10
    Very nice review in lay terms. Your part about the perceptible weight differences is pretty hilarious. The current Haswell Airs are really quite incredible all day ultraportables (minus the cheap TN screen panel which prevents the current Airs from dominating the field like they should). I think as an entry model (w/ the 8GIG RAM upgrade) the Airs have a great price/performance value but once you start maxing out the upgrades, especially in this case of an ultimate, a mid level 13" rMBP or refurbished base 15" rMBP offer much better value for the same price.
     
  11. jdechko macrumors 68040

    Joined:
    Jul 1, 2004
    #11
    Great review. Thanks for sharing such detailed information about your thought process and final configuration.

    It seems like you got everything you needed/ wanted.

    One thing that I found interesting was the amount of free RAM when running Parallels. How much memory do you have allocated to the VM? It would be interesting to see how that changes under load. Also, when you do test, could you possibly post a screenshot of the Activity Monitor RAM usage?

    From my personal experience, I have no problems running an XP VM on my Air. I have the 4GB model, but I've only allocated 640MB of RAM to the VM, as the machine only gets used for a single program: AutoCAD 2008. I only do 2D drafting on it, but everything seems to run smoothly.

    Of course, I got a little bit of swapping, as I was running a few programs in OS X at the same time. But it was nothing that really slowed the machine down to a point where I could tell.
     

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