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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  • GotThumbs - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    @dsumanik: I feel your frustration and can see what your point is about. I've actually been coming to AnandTech since Anand was in HighSchool. I also have been disappointed in what I perceive as "Marketing spin" type reviews.
    Other than swapping in an updated CPU's and SSD's, what's the REAL effort/innovation for the 2013 line? Not much, but yet how many articles have been written and what is the overall feeling of each of those "reviews"?
    I've gotten to the point where I actually find it funny/amusing that so much "pomp and circumstance" has been put into recent Apple articles. When people ask me why I don't have an Iproduct, they are totally amazed when I tell them I'd never want an IProduct. I understand it goes against the common thinkers, but I'm not a follower and I choose to avoid systems where I'm not in contol. It's my choice and I respect others decision to chose what they want.

    As far at Anand's recent "Reviews", (no disrespect to Anand as an individual), but It's like a car salesman spinning the minor differences between the new years models and last years. "Less powerful engine, but hey you don't really need/want that"

    At the end of the day, everyone has their own choice to make and while I'll never own an Apple product, its due to the overpriced and closed ecosystem Apple's created. When you're (Apple) pushing a cult like community...they (Fanbois) willingly follow blindly IMO.

    You can try to explain your point forever.....but you must realize they will never even consider your point. It' would be akin to treason for them to even acknowledge your point of view.

    Best wishes to all and enjoy your choices,
    Reply
  • amdwilliam1985 - Monday, July 08, 2013 - link

    "...I choose to avoid systems where I'm not in contol."

    Kind of wish I've read your comment 2 years earlier. I've got the 2011 13" MBA, although the overall machine feels good, somehow I can never shake the feeling that it's Steve J's labtop and I'm not "in control" of it. I use my MBA as a glorifying web browsing machine and for everything else, I go to my windows 7 machine :)
    For the same reason(iTunes), I've dumped my beloved 3gs for Galaxy S2 and S3.
    I'm probably one of the few control freaks who needs to know that I'm in control of my pc/phone, instead of someone else.
    Reply
  • TheinsanegamerN - Thursday, July 04, 2013 - link

    two things. A. 1366x768 if just fine for a 11 inch screen. 1440x900 is great for a 13 inch screen, and i wish more oems would use 16:10 screens.
    B. why would apple change a design that works? getting 12 hours of battery life, or close too it, is downright amazing for a machine this size. although, id love to see what would happen if they took current tech and put it in an older design mac, the battery life would be epic. soo much battery.
    Reply
  • Spoony - Tuesday, July 09, 2013 - link

    No, those resolutions are not fine. Of course people want 2880x1800 on their 13" notebook. Of course they want 2560x1600 on their 11" notebook. However, the MBA is an ultra-mobile platform meaning battery life and size take priority over other traits. High DPI displays have a considerable power cost, and apparently Apple felt that trading off display resolution for battery life was the right call in this situation. At some point you just can't beat physics and you have to compromise.

    If you don't agree, don't buy their product. I'm not sure I agree, so I bought something else.
    Reply
  • kleos44 - Friday, July 12, 2013 - link

    I am tired of hearing this argument. Throwing out statements like "you just can't beat physics" is wrong. Educate yourself on the physics of IGZO displays. Significantly higher resolutions AND LESS power draw than traditional display technologies. Every high end laptop is going to use them this year including pretty much every other Apple product. Reply
  • TheeGooch - Thursday, November 28, 2013 - link

    Well said. I've slowly went from anti-Apple to being a fan over the last 7 years. 2014 will be when I buy my first Apple computer because the stability, quality, and ecosystem that comes with Apple products. The design choices they make to balance price, functionality, and quality just jive with my own idea of how those should be balanced. It's weird to think back to when I hated all things Apple on principle. Once I got my 1st Apple product( the ipod) , that began to change. Reply
  • ESC2000 - Monday, August 12, 2013 - link

    It is not fine when it is on a $1,000+ computer. That is a premium price, and the display, with its low resolution and TN panel, belongs on a low end machine. Apple always does this: either the device is way overpriced or some feature is skimped on.

    There is no reason that this machine, with its poor display and processing sometimes shower than last year's version, should cost as much or more than a similar windows machine even though apple does not have to pay for a software license. All that money is just going to apple's bottom line. I never understand when prior brag about how apple is the most profitable: all that means is you are being overcharged.
    Reply
  • zh.aung - Friday, July 05, 2013 - link

    If you hate apples, go and eat oranges. Don't waste your time writing this junk. Reply
  • KoolAidMan1 - Friday, July 05, 2013 - link

    Haha, how much angry spittle is on your monitor right now?

    Funniest post I've read in a LONG time, thanks for the laughs
    Reply
  • robco - Friday, July 05, 2013 - link

    If you're going to say pay back's a bitch, note the apostrophe. It is a contraction for payback is a bitch. Nobody will take you seriously if you can't even write a coherent sentence.

    As noted in the review, performance is on par with the previous generation, but with substantially better battery life. For many users, this is a huge bonus. For those wanting more performance, the i7 upgrade is reasonable, and will not adversely impact battery life to a great degree.

    Apple's design has been copied, unsuccessfully, by several other manufacturers. The MBA remains one of the few ultrabooks to have a decent display, keyboard, and touchpad.

    Plenty of other ultrabooks lack a celluar modem. There isn't a lot of free space.

    The CEO of Apple is Tim Cook. Do a little research.

    The next version of OS X, which purchasers of the MBA will receive gratis, may in fact fix some of the issues. Of course, you could look at the review of the Razer Blade, a new gaming Windows laptop that comes with neither 802.11ac or the ability to add gig-E, something the MBA can do by virtue of its (correctly leaving out the apostrophe here as it's possessive and not a contraction) Thunderbolt port.

    So yes, the fact remains that the MBA has great battery life, fast networking, a good (admittedly not great) display, solid keyboard, and great touchpad. OS X continues to provide far superior battery life than Windows. If you must pollute the internet with this sort of screed, learn to write properly and do you research.
    Reply

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