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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  • arnavvdesai - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    Want to know from AT if Apple would be the system they would recommend for work but mainly in Windows or another Windows only system? Reply
  • Risas - Thursday, July 18, 2013 - link

    Just think about the 1300 $ you have to spend on a MAC and find out what you get for the same price on al Windows laptop ;) Reply
  • jaydee - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    For me, the 256GB 13" MBA is listed at $1299, not $1399. http://store.apple.com/us/browse/home/shop_mac/fam... Reply
  • teiglin - Monday, June 24, 2013 - link

    He also added in the 8GB RAM for another $100.

    I'd probably recommend the i7 upgrade to most people though, if for no other reason that it avoids feeling like Haswell has caused a performance regression. Of course, it'd be nice to see its impact on battery life first. (hint hint Anand)
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    OMG this is direct advertising for apple. Just too much of a coincidence this "review" pops up after apple stock dips below 400.

    non TLDR version of this "review"

    "buy any current gen 2013 apple model, dont buy anything from last year. Ignore the better displays, hardware and touch capabilities of Apple's competitors being released left and right."

    How f*ckin dumb do you think people are? Anand, how much money have you lost on apple stock?

    If you wanna be smart, you sell now and buy samsung and google, cuz it's over.
    Reply
  • p_giguere1 - Tuesday, June 25, 2013 - link

    Hardware is only one part of the puzzle, so even assuming it was true Macs had inferior laptop hardware (which is a stretch but let's assume), people have various reasons to like MacBooks like OS X and the way they integrate with other Apple hardware and services.

    Mac users are generally pretty loyal and it's usually not a minor technical difference like the screen resolution that will make them switch completely the OS and ecosystem they've become used to and like. So yes, to some extent, you can expect Mac users to ignore minor technicalities from competitors if they fail to deliver something they think can match/surpass the whole Mac experience in the big picture.

    You completely missing the point of the MacBooks' popularity (or pretending to) does not equal Anand trying to manipulate AAPL or whatever you're trying to claim to justify your hate of seeing anything Apple-related getting some attention. If you don't have anything relevant to add, please just leave.
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Friday, June 28, 2013 - link

    I own a 2012 BTO 11" MBA, two BTO Mac minis, an iPhone and an ipad.

    What I'm pissed about is that apple HAS stopped innovating, anandtech and the media is trying to ignore it, still sipping on the leftovers of jobs koolaid...there is only one reason, and it's financial.

    I mean seriously, we need a "review" to tell us not to buy last years models???????

    Where is the Samsung, or asus version of this guide? It is direct marketing for apple. Direct. Here an article about when and what you should buy. By anandtech. End of story.

    The "new" air is a sidegrade at best, it's still a nice laptop...in 2011, wheres the retina? Omg. 16gb of ram even... That would cost NOTHING to do from an engineering perspective.

    Only thing good cooking at apple right now is mavericks and the Mac Pro, but even mavericks is just finally catching up to windows in a lot of ways. iPhone 5s gonna be exact same. They are gonna release cheap plastic version now too. Yawn.

    Go watch the mavericks keynote everyone freaks out with applause that a full screen app doesn't kill the second screen now...I had that in win2k lol.

    I love OSX, it's better than windows in many ways but god... Try unplugging a disk without ejecting it first...woops i forgot when I was I a hurry. *%^# my disk is corrupted now!

    Windows resolved that problem almost a decade ago.. It's the fundamentals OSX is missing.

    Networking is slower, and slightly less dependable.

    Cut and paste is a PITA, screenshot...PITA..wanna "snap" windows and resize...need an app for that. Wanna hover and preview windows in the task bar?? Need an app for that. Wanna actually completely close an app in one click...need an app for that. Wanna maximize a window completely one click...need an app for that.

    List goes on an on.

    Love apple, love OSX but it's 2013 and their gear isn't worth the premium anymore... It's 2-3 year old designs now.
    Reply
  • tim851 - Saturday, June 29, 2013 - link

    I do agree that this "article" is a shameless Apple plug. However...

    1. I unplug disks without ejecting first ALL THE TIME, often accidentally (shitty external drive) and it has never resulted in data corruption.

    2. Cut and Paste is cmd+alt+v, one key more than cmd+v, hardly a PITA and in some ways even clever (you can decide whether to cut or copy at the time of insertion)

    3. There is no task bar and for preview OSX has Exposé. Different from Windows 7, but neither better nor worse.

    4. Not closing an app with the last window is decidedly Mac. I've made my peace with it and some apps (System Preferences for example) don't even respect it. It's been like this for 30 years, so why bitch about it now?!

    5. Maximizing windows also works their way. You seem to want OSX to work just like Windows. Why not use Windows then? Seems all your problems would be fixed.
    Reply
  • dsumanik - Monday, July 01, 2013 - link

    Download hyperdock and flexiglass it'll blow your mind how much functional OSX becomes and how much better productivity you have. It's like night and day.

    As far as corrupting a disk goes try popping your time machine backup in and out a few times it won't take long and all your backups will be gone lol, you'll have to reformat lol!
    Reply
  • Sushisamurai - Wednesday, July 03, 2013 - link

    Not closing an app with the last window is for people on HDD, keeps the app running in ram. So, for older hardware, Microsoft office doesn't take 30 seconds to open everytime you close the last window. If you wanted to close it, CMD+Q closes it all. There's also a short key for maximizing windows. I also believe finder or disk utility has an option on how to handle mountable drives for pulling drives without first ejecting. Use Alfred to quick eject, it's a much more efficient platform to run your comp via keyboard Reply

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