Apple 13-inch MacBook Air (2012) review
Apple might have the smaller ultra-portable market all but sewn up with the 11-inch MacBook Air, but there are far more alternatives once screen size jumps up to 13 inches. Without a gorgeous MacBook Pro-style Retina display, it’s up to Intel’s Ivy Bridge processor and Thunderbolt technology to set this latest Air apart from the competition.
If you’re already familiar with the MacBook Air, it could be difficult to spot the differences between the existing model and this new version. Both have the same unibody aluminium chassis, black Chiclet-style keyboard and oversized glass touchpad, although there are a few minor changes to spot.
Apple has reduced the size of the MagSafe adaptor and replaced the old USB ports with faster USB3 variants, although it hasn’t coloured them blue to avoid spoiling the generic grey look it’s been using for the past five years. It also has a Thunderbolt port instead of a Mini DisplayPort connector - Apple is still the only manufacturer fitting its laptops with Thunderbolt. With compatible hardware, you can get significantly faster file transfer speeds than over USB2 or even USB3. Thunderbolt can also be used to drive Apple’s £900 Thunderbolt display. An SDXC card reader, 3.5mm headset audio jack, Bluetooth and Wi-Fi round off the specification. The headset jack means you don’t get separate microphone and headphone sockets, so you'll need to use a headset with the correct three-pin plug.
Underneath the all-aluminium chassis it’s a different story, however. The old Sandy Bridge processor has been replaced with one of Intel’s latest low-voltage Ivy Bridge chips. The Core i5-3427U normally runs at 1.8GHz, but can use Turbo Boost to reach a much snappier 2.8GHz when temperatures allow. Apple has also upgraded the old SATA2 SSD with a faster SATA3 model, which should help reduce boot and application loading times, as well as speed up file transfers. Paired with 4GB of RAM, this makes the Air incredibly quick for such a portable laptop. It managed to complete our multimedia benchmarks with an overall score of 61, meaning you’ll have no trouble performing everyday tasks such as web browsing or image editing, and will even be able to dabble in editing videos.
The upgrade to Ivy Bridge also brings improved graphics capabilities. Intel’s HD 4000 integrated graphics are a welcome step up from the previous generation, speeding up GPU-accelerated applications and letting you play more modern games without having to drop down to lower resolutions. We couldn’t run our Windows-only Dirt 3 benchmark, but an average frame rate of 26.9fps in our Call of Duty 4 test is reasonable for an ultra-portable laptop with integrated graphics. It’s almost twice as fast as last year’s MacBook Air, and you’ll also get much better results once you disable anti-aliasing.
Despite receiving a significant performance upgrade, Apple has managed to keep the Air’s battery life at the same level as last year’s model. In our light-use test, which disables Wi-Fi, it achieved almost twelve hours away from the mains – we’ve yet to see a laptop last longer. Even with Wi-Fi enabled and videos streaming from YouTube, you’ll still get over nine hours of use from a single charge. If you’re going to be working on the move, you should have few concerns about running out of power.
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