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)
Dimensions
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
RAM 4GB LPDDR3-1600
SSD 128GB PCIe SSD 256GB PCIe SSD 128GB PCIe SSD 256GB PCIe SSD
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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  • AKfaust - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    So I purchased one of the base units early this week and am very happy so far. The performance is great and surprisingly I can run Civ V, LOTRO, etc at some pretty decent settings without a hitch. Reply
  • custompc - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    XPS13 indeed a better option.
    http://custompcshop.net
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    No its cheap Dell junk with poor support and it run Windows. Reply
  • Blindsay - Tuesday, July 16, 2013 - link

    So i would say the only thing that dissapoints me about the screen are the viewing angles. I find the resolution of 1440x900 quite fine for a screen of this size but i am spoiled by the viewing angles of my IPS screens. Other than that i am quite happy with my MBA so far (i7 8GB, 256GB) Reply
  • Risas - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    Macs vs Macs... what a usefulness comparisons. Is the Mac from 2013 better than the one from 2011? I hope so!

    When will you compare the ultrabooks in stores now against the Macs? Some comparison like "what you get for that price"... Maybe some people could find some good ideas for spending their money... Not just Macs against Macs as there was no other option in the world... inbreeding?
    Reply
  • gentux - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Good review. One thing I noticed was that the speakers are much better than on the 2011 MacBook Air. I have no idea if this was already improved in 2012 but the 2013 really rocks and actually has a nice bass. I think they haven't been stereo in the past. Reply
  • lobisme11 - Tuesday, August 06, 2013 - link

    This computer is simply amazing if I could change on thing it would be to add retina display. However the screen resolution is still great! The battery dosen't last the 12 hours it is supposed to when editing movies/videos which is what I use it for. For typing/surfing the web the battery is great! Some times while editing a movie the computer freezes normally for about 30 seconds however it rarely ever has to be restarted when it freezes. Overall Simply Amazing! A definite Buy! Great phone support to. Buy a warranty Overall: 8.5/10 Reply
  • antonio22m - Saturday, August 10, 2013 - link

    Macbook Air is undoubtedly a very good notebook
    Price and lack of optical drive can affect a large number of users whose decision during the judgment can be negative so that they can decide to choose another manufacturer.
    Air is perfect and the best "second computer" that you can wish for.
    His task was not to be the main and only computer we can possess.
    If you want excellent laptop computer that will be able to carry it with you wherever you go, the Air is an excellent choice for perfectly reasonable size and more pronounced weight that barely exceeds one kilo.
    Take a look at this comparison at http://www.squidoo.com/apple-macbook-air-133 and You will see comparison to the another Apple laptops.Anyone considering purchasing this laptop needs to see the information in this chart.
    Reply
  • strafejumper - Tuesday, August 20, 2013 - link

    I went to the apple store to get this haswell macbook air but the tn panel - while good for a tn panel - looked bad next to all the iphones, mini ipads, and ipads all around it
    To me an ultrabook should not have a tn panel - i couldn't buy it
    The Macbook pro 13" was too heavy (and i cannot wait for the impending refresh)
    It's really tough though because the windows ultrabooks (only 2 out so far - Sony Pro and Asus S7) have half the battery life of the macbook air.
    Half! My guess is this is mostly due to Mac OS and Mavericks isn't even out yet!
    If the Macbook air had an IPS I think it would be a slam dunk -
    As it is I think i'm going to be stuck with a crappy 6hr Sony Vaio
    Reply
  • thinkpanda - Friday, September 13, 2013 - link

    Apple delivered an update of OS X (10.8.5) which claim to fix the file transfer speed with 802.11ac network. Would Anand update the test result with that path? Reply

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