In reviewing the 2013 MacBook Air, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I'd recommend the various notebooks in Apple's lineup. By the end of this year, once Apple has updated (almost) all of its lines to Haswell, it will have one of the strongest Mac lineups in Apple history. The problem of course is deciding what configuration to buy. Today's review helps understand and explain what's going on with the new MacBook Air, but I wanted to do a separate post with recommendations depending on usage types. The table below is what I'd recommend today according to usage model. This is by no means comprehensive, but in most cases offers a cost optimized look at the current Mac notebook lineup:

Apple Mac Laptop Recommendations - June 2013
  Budget Writer's Aid Mobile Workhorse Desktop Replacement Desktop Replacement
Model 11-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2013) 13-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2013) 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro
CPU 1.3GHz Core i5 1.3GHz Core i5 2.6GHz Core i5 2.4GHz Core i7 2.7GHz Core i7
GPU Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 + NV GT650M Intel HD 4000 + NV GT650M
RAM 4GB 8GB 8GB 8GB 16GB
SSD 128GB 256GB 256GB 256GB 512GB
Buy or Wait Buy Buy Wait (~3 months) Wait (~3 months) Wait (~3 months)
Total Price $999 $1399 $1599 $2079 $2629

We'll start at the bottom. On a budget, the 11-inch MacBook Air is really your best bet to getting into a notebook that ships with OS X. The base configuration isn't terrible either. I've been using the 2013 13-inch MBA with only 4GB of RAM for the past couple of weeks and generally don't have any issues with the memory size. OS X Mavericks should have some more accommodations for limited amounts of DRAM, which will likely give the 4GB configuration some more legroom. I wouldn't upgrade the CPU or SSD either as both can add considerable cost. If our goal here is to remain cheap, then we've got to stay committed. If you need a larger display, I'd simply opt for the base 13-inch model at $1099.

Next up is the writer's aid configuration, an upgraded 13-inch MacBook Air. Once again I'd stick with the base CPU, but mostly to optimize for battery life than anything else. The faster CPU would be nice, but I'd only consider the upgrade if you need a mobile workhorse and for whatever reason won't consider the 13-inch rMBP. I threw in the larger SSD simply because I believe 256GB is really the minimum for all of the applications I'd typically install as someone who regularly has to produce content (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Lightroom, iWork, Office, Boot Camp partition). You're going to need some form of external storage for photos, videos and music though. I could go either way on the memory capacity, but at only $100 for the upgrade it might make sense to give the machine a bit more longevity.

Both of the MBA configurations I'm fine with recommending today. It'll take us some time to get to Broadwell, so there won't be an issue with early obsolesence with any of these. The next three configurations are a different story however.

MacBook Pro Recommendations

As I alluded to in this morning's MacBook Air review, the most interesting configuration for me is the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Unfortunately, the current model still ships with a 35W Ivy Bridge part. All current indications point to the next-gen model using a 28W Haswell-ULT part, which should have a tremendous impact on battery life (similar to the MBAs). That shift alone makes this one worth waiting for. If you have to have one today though, this is the configuration I'd opt for. Amazon has a deal on the upgraded configuration, with a 256GB SSD and 2.6GHz processor for $1599. That's probably what I'd recommend. The cost of the upgrade to a 512GB SSD is a bit too high on the entry level model ($500) and on the upgraded system it'll put your total cost right at $2000. If you need the space, go for it, but if you can make 256GB work it might make sense to go that route and rely on external storage for the rest of your needs. Do keep in mind that you'll want to keep around 10 - 20% of the drive free to keep it performing nicely. The CPU upgrade isn't necessary, but it's a part of Amazon's deal so why not. I've been pretty happy with 8GB of memory in this configuration as well.

The last two configurations are also due for Haswell upgrades, although here the upgrades may not be as significant on the battery life front as Apple will be using standard voltage Haswell M parts. The big gains in battery life will come if Apple indeed decides to use Iris Pro, you won't have to worry about babysitting your dGPU all the time. The lower end configuration is pretty much stock. The reason I threw this one in here is because otherwise you get dangerously close to $3000, which is tough to stomach any way you look at it.

The higher end DTR configuration is really the reasonable shoot-for-the-moon option. Here I finally cave in to the larger SSD, double the amount of memory and opt for the upgraded CPU. The total price ends up at $2629 if you snag the latest deal from Amazon.

My Personal Choices

For me personally, I'd wait for the 13-inch rMBP upgrade (Mobile Workhorse option) as that'd be a great combination of display and battery life (if it gets a 28W Haswell ULT). I like the 15-inch model but that's a bit too large of a machine to comfortably use in coach on most US domestic airlines (where I spend a lot of my time). If I didn't travel as much, I'd opt for the 15-inch rMBP. If you're running a dual-system configuration (perhaps 2013 Mac Pro + a notebook), then I might go lighter end on the notebook side and opt for the 13-inch MBA (Writer's Aid configuration).

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  • darwinosx - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    You know nothing at all. Troll. Reply
  • Sushisamurai - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    at the expense of battery life... I wish they didnt go 100% upgrade on battery life. I too would have liked a smaller bezel and different display design. But... If they did that, then ur looking at rMBP 13"... A better display on MBA's would only confuse the rMBP 13"'s target segment Reply
  • AFQ - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    @Anand
    Whats your every day system?
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Oh hes apple all the way bro, he wouldn't consider anything else.

    isn't it obvious?

    If I had to guess its a retina macbook book 13 inch.
    Reply
  • darwinosx - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    No it's not obvious at all if you actually read the site nor is it true. That you are so ignorant of this is pretty amazing. Reply
  • coreai - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Hello Anand, (if you are reading this)

    This is very interesting topic currently given that apple is not updating its entire line of macbooks at one event .. Also Haswell has shaken up things in the mobile world.

    This chart is basically perfect for American customers but if there are any Indian customers like me reading this please consider this if possible

    First of all the prices in India are usually a concern when it comes to apple products and also it takes about 50 days after apple officially launch a product to hit Indian markets. But this might be the time for cheapest macbooks in India for the next 2 months. The 13 inch retina is currently priced at 99900 Rs which is more than 1500$ converted to rupees at todays exchange rate .But Indian apple stores are offering a 12000Rs discount on it until Sept 22nd for students. This discount is normally 6% of the price but you can easly understand that they are doing this to boost sales before the refresh . at 89900Rs the retina macbook pro 13 inch is a steal for Indian customers.

    Let me explain this how according to my understanding. As far as i have observed the prices of Macbooks in the last few years here is something interesting : The price of a 1199$ 13 inchmacbook pro was 69900 when dollar was around 50-52 Rs .. When dollar climbed above 56-57 the price was changed to 82900 Rs . The current dollar price is around 59 . But dont expect apple to change prices just yet..

    The student discount are valid till 22nd Sept according to the sales rep at one of the stores and so its a no brainer that the macbooks will be refreshed after that.. you could add another 40 days to that to make the time frame 4.5-5 months to hit indian markets for the new macs ... Remember the dollar price will definitely be different after this time frame.. This will force apple to increase the prices of the macs as it will eat into their normal profits if they don't.. And the student discount will drop back to the normal 6% after that. So expect the macs to have a price increase of at least 10-15000 Rs from the current price after discount on both..

    The new mac airs are expected end of july with the old pricing and also 12% discount which makes the base model at 69900 (a real steal). The real problem is for macbook pro users .

    The wait will be 4-5 months and an additional 10-15k Rs . The up side ? Some really superb boost in battery and graphics . Some serious horse power in SSD too ..

    If you are thinking of buying a mac in India go ahead and get one.. Normally people dont change their macs for 2-3 years . But buying a generation old mac might sound a bad advice but right now its definitely not for Indian customers .. The prices are not aggressive in India on macs and this is great opportunity.

    I got myself a 13 rMBP (base model) yesterday for 89900Rs for normal workloads (also its my birthday tomorrow ). I had a mac mini before this . The thing is A mac is a mac .. Once you buy it and start using it , youll forget the specs.

    I hope this helps . Happy shopping
    Reply
  • coreai - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Price correction ... Its 87900 for 13 rMBP base model .. Sorry.. Reply
  • andrewlogan - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Keep in mind the retina models no longer include an optical drive :( Reply
  • darwinosx - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    Nobody cares. Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    people who use disks care. not all of us like carrying multiple add ons and adapters with our laptop. Reply

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