Apple typically offers three different CPU upgrades in its portable Macs: the base CPU, one that comes with the upgraded SKU and a third BTO option that's even faster. In the case of the 2013 MacBook Air, Apple only offered two: a standard SKU (Core i5-4250U) and a BTO-only upgrade (Core i7-4650U). As we found in our initial review of the 2013 MacBook Air, the default Core i5 option ranged between substantially slower than last year's model to a hair quicker. The explanation was simple: with a lower base clock (1.3GHz), a lower TDP (15W vs. 17W) and more components sharing that TDP (CPU/GPU/PCH vs. just CPU/GPU), the default Core i5 CPU couldn't always keep up with last year's CPU.

For most users upgrading from an older machine the regression won't matter. The 2013 MBA includes a much faster SSD, better graphics, and better CPU performance compared to older MBAs as well. For those users who are either trying to make an ultraportable more of a workhorse, or who otherwise need more performance than last year's MBA can offer there is one solution. The BTO upgrade increases the base clock to 1.7GHz, adds an extra 1MB of L3 cache and includes much higher turbo frequencies:

Apple 2013 MacBook Air CPU Comparison
  1.3GHz dual-core 1.7GHz dual-core
Standard On 11 & 13-inch MBA Optional on Both
Intel Model Core i5-4250U Core i7-4650U
Base Clock Speed 1.3GHz 1.7GHz
Max SC Turbo 2.6GHz 3.3GHz
Max DC Turbo 2.3GHz 2.9GHz
L3 Cache 3MB 4MB
TSX-NI No Yes
TXT No Yes
AES-NI Yes Yes
VT-x/VT-x EPT Yes Yes
VT-d Yes Yes
TDP 15W 15W
Processor Graphics Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 5000
GPU Clock (Base/Max) 200/1000MHz 200/1100MHz

Careful binning makes all of this possible within the same TDP and cooling solution as the standard configuration.

The CPU upgrade comes at a fairly reasonable cost: $150 regardless of configuration. The max clocks increase by almost 30%, as does the size of the L3 cache. The obvious questions are how all of this impacts performance, battery life and thermals. Finally equipped with a 13-inch MBA with the i7-4650U upgrade, I can now answer those questions. The two systems are configured almost identically, although the i7-4650U configuration includes 8GB of memory instead of 4GB. Thankfully none of my tests show substantial scaling with memory capacity beyond 4GB so that shouldn't be a huge deal. Both SSDs are the same Samsung PCIe based solution. Let's start with performance.

CPU Performance
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  • lilo777 - Saturday, July 06, 2013 - link

    MBA will soon be the only laptop in its class that still uses TN panel. And for a "best computer" it has a lauphably low resolution. Lack of 4G is annoying. Lack of touch screen option is inexcusable. In short, MBA is a solid mid-range laptop. More importantly OP made a very valid observation that lately AT stated giving Apple products way more credit than they deserve. Reply
  • vFunct - Sunday, July 07, 2013 - link

    No the MBA is perfect. Nobody wants a retina screen at that size, since the only people that use them are photographers and they have MBPros. No one wants 4g either since they tether anyways. And touch-screens are completely useless, so no one wants them either.

    Again, Apple makes the best laptops in the industry. They are perfect for their target audiences.
    Reply
  • lilo777 - Sunday, July 07, 2013 - link

    So the photographers want "retina" displays on the phones , iPads and MBPs but not MBAs. interesting. Also, what kind of photographers prefer TN panels to IPS panels? Reply
  • vFunct - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    Photographers use iPhones, iPads, and MacBook Pros. They DON'T use MacBook Airs.

    The people that buy MacBook Airs use them for email, office apps, and surfing the web. Those users have never wanted or cared about retina displays.

    So, this Retina display complaint is a non-complaint, since no one that would want a MacBook Air is going to complain about it.

    You guys need to learn the purpose of what you use a computer for.

    You don't buy a computer to own tech specs. You buy a computer as a tool to do what you want, and the people that want the MacBook Airs do not want a Retina display.
    Reply
  • icoltsfan94 - Tuesday, August 13, 2013 - link

    I disagree in the fact that MacBook Air potential buyers would not want a retina display. I personally have considered a MBA and one of the biggest turn-offs has been its 1366x768 display, even an upgrade to a 1920x1080 display would be an amazing upgrade, after all, the prevalence of HD content on the internet has significantly increased since the incarnation of the MBA, which has that same 1366x768 resolution at its release. Not to mention the ability to have multiple web pages open at the same time on one screen. Even then, if you have no desire for any of these items, having a higher resolution in the same screen size would allow for better rendered fonts and images in web pages even in just general web browsing. I would love to see an honest argument against having a higher resolution display in the MBA. Reply
  • bji - Sunday, July 07, 2013 - link

    Is "no touch screen option" actually a valid complaint about any laptop? Reply
  • gentux - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Well the best display is useless if it has no juice left. Even Sony Vaio Pro has not that much battery power in it yet it's more expensive. Speaking of 4G you know how many different bands and providers there are in the world? And how that changes in the next 3 years a typical notebook is supposed to be used? It's better to keep that separate so you can use some tethering solutions abroad. Reply
  • GotThumbs - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    It's not hard when you (Apple) controls every aspect of its ecosystem. Software, OS, Hardware and marketplace are owned and controlled by Apple. You cannot load Apples OS onto any other hardware (Legally anyway), so they control/limit the hardware configuration and thus the number of drivers you need to have a stable system. Google Chrome Books actually are a similar option (IMO) and with more companies moving to cloud based software.....there is less need to actually install programs on your desktop/laptop.

    If MS decided to regulate Windows on systems of thier own design, you would have very stable systems from MS as well. Just simply think of the number of combinations of PC systems /components currently available. It's in the millions. How many models does Apple have? What are the differences between each one?

    Jobs was very smart, but I have as much respect for him as I do a sleazy car salesmen IMO. (Google: Steve Jobs, Wozniak, Breakout) . While I will never own an IProduct, I give the company credit for how much money they have raked in while offering very limited product lines and controlling the content market where the REAL money is to be made. Apple has made billions selling one phone with incremental improvements to its fan base. What other company wouldn't want to follow that kind of success? Thats why I believe MS has initiated mandatory accounts to load apps onto Win8. All businesses exist to make money for the investors/owners. Apple is NOT any different IMO.

    Best wishes,
    Reply
  • gentux - Friday, July 26, 2013 - link

    Actually Microsoft has a logo program that doesn't help make PCs any more stable. Just as PlaysForSure stood for something that's a joke since the failed Zune. Sorry but Microsoft wasn't good at anything. Nobody really cared about Windows until they forced you to buy it. Then everyone hated it until Apple had their systems and except for bigger companies and people who think they need to be other than everyone else are moving to OS X.

    If you ask people who used both they will stay with OS X that's the success Apple did.

    If that's not a big of a point why there's no one else?
    Reply
  • ESC2000 - Monday, August 12, 2013 - link

    If that was true - that people who have used both windows and OSX always stick with apple - apple's marketshare would be way higher. In the computer space its marketshare is puny even though it offers lower cost laptops than it used to. I count myself as one of the people who stuck with Windows. I had to use my sister's macbook pro for a semester in college after I spilled on my VAIO. That was a miserable semester for me computer-wise... couldn't wait to get back to windows. I am far from the only person who prefers windows. I see it when i look around the classroom and see way more windows computers (mostly high-end so people who could have bought the air at least) and I see it in every company/firm that I have ever worked for or even visited -literally none used OSX. So good try there.

    I get this shtick all the time on these tech sites: 'anybody who has ever used [insert iproduct here] will prefer it over other options and never go back to anything else.' We all know logically that absolutist statements like that cannot be true (saw another one a page back claiming that apple makes the best computers period). All one need do to disprove it is if course provide one example to the contrary.

    I know most of these statements are meant somewhat hyperbolically (although I also think people are apt to project their own experience onto every other person in the world). to the extent that they merely mean the trend is toward people abandoning windows for OSX, all I can say is it is not what I observe - whether computers, tablets (v. Android), or phones (again v. Android). But of course we see what we want to see and what we are looking for, so without hard numbers it is hard to know.
    Reply

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