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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  • airmantharp - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    I'd prove that LG makes a better screen than Samsung- but it's already been proven. Reply
  • Malih - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The laptop focuses on being lightweight, thus thin, thus limited battery capacity,
    and limited battery capacity doesn't play well with high res display,

    They could choose to increase resolution with haswell and keep the same battery life, but seeing as they chose battery shows where they are focusing with Air.

    That means if you want high res display, then get Retina MBP instead.
    Reply
  • airmantharp - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Your iPhone would like to have a talk with you. Reply
  • seapeople - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    And tell you about what? It's similar display resolution? Reply
  • abazigal - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    You can always pay more to have the air ship with more ram. Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Or faster procs or more sad. Reply
  • Strulf - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Yep, 8 GB are possible. In the generation before already. Reply
  • MatthiasP - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    The resolution is quite OK if you consider the battery life and weight you get. Also both displays still offer a higher DPI than what you can get on the best desktop displays. What is really disappointing is the lack of an IPS panel. There is no excuse for that on a mobile device. Reply
  • Exelius - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    8gb is available as a BTO option. I have a 11" 2012 MBP with an i7-3667U and 8gb RAM and it's more than enough for running a VM and even for doing some database work. Honestly, the machine is still mostly bound by the speed of the SSD for every workload I use it for. I love the size of the 11".

    The only complaint I have is that the GPU is a bit anemic, which the Haswell update seems to have addressed. I find that the 2012 Air has some noticeable jerkiness driving a 1080p display in OS X, which I suspect is a large part of the reason that the Airs haven't had a larger display. Hopefully, with that limitation removed, Apple can start to put some higher resolution displays in these machines over the next year or two.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Read the article you are commenting on. 1400 X 900.
    You can get this laptop with 8 GB of you want.
    1600 X 900 is to high for a 13 inch for most people. Tiny icons and text. Thats why Apple goes all the way to retina display on their higher end laptops instead of some half measure that won't satisfy anyone.
    Dell makes junk and fails to support it. People looking at Mac's aren't going to consider a Dell with Microsoft's latest mediocrity of an OS.
    This is of course a premium product in build quality, quality control, service and support, custom components like the ssd and battery. Not some plastic Dell with the cheapest possible parts they could get out of China this week.
    Despite that retail starts at $1099 and they can be found cheaper online. Show me a PC laptop even close to this price, build, customizations and certainly service and support. How about a PC laptop with a working trackpad...
    If you want a higher res screen and 8 GB out of the box thats the 13" retina. A new version of it is coming shortly and will be thinner and lighter than the current model.
    Reply

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