AMITIAE - Tuesday 25 June 2013

Cassandra: AnandTech on the New 13" MacBook Air

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By Graham K. Rogers


Much of the reporting coming immediately after a major Apple announcement, needs to be sifted carefully. Those rushing to put out articles on the new toys sometimes miss valuable points; others make assumptions based on the outward appearances of the devices. A particular example of such knee-jerk reactions was the announcement of the iPhone 4S a couple of years back; and the iPhone 5 suffered some of the same. A more careful examination gives a different story.

After any Apple release, I wait until I can download a video of the announcements, then go over that fairly slowly, repeating some product presentations several times. I tend to scan many of the reviews that come out early as the purpose of these is usually just to outline the new device.

A first serious examination, in more than one sense of the expression, is the tear-down that iFixit does within a short time. Their examination of the latest MacBook Air became available a day after its announcement. They are so keen to start work that they have even been known to make trips abroad to buy a product before it is on sale in the USA.

One of the best reviews - always worth waiting for - is from AnandTech. The technical examination in a full product context allows the reader to balance the device under review. Another useful point is that there is no agenda here. The product is examined for what it is, not what marketing and advertising say it is.

MacBook Air

The review of the latest version of the MacBook Air by Anand Lal Shimpi is now available and at 12 pages, needs some time. The review covers CPUs, CPU performance, the GPU (Haswell GT3), more GPU performance numbers, "Absolutely insane battery life", A custom form factor PCIe SSD, PCie SSD performance, 802.11 ac 533 MBPS wifi, Real world 802.11ac performance under OS X, and display, as well as Introduction and Final words sections.

The testing was done on a standard 13" i5 equipped machine, but he is hoping to acquire an i7-equipped MacBook Air soon, particularly to discover what effect on battery life the faster processor might have. With the i5 chip, it is not a stunning performer, but the 1.3 GHz processor does produce some respectable results in the context of other Macs that have been benchmarked.

Apple used to quote its battery life using 50% brightness, but has now upped this to a more realistic 75%. Anandtech uses 81.5% (200 NITS) on the MacBook Air. With light workload, the battery lasted for 11.3 hours, medium load 8.3 hours, and heavy workload gives 5.53 hours. The tests showed a 65% increase in battery life over the previous model. However, the review did add that "when doing a lot of work (tons of Flash tabs open, compiling a project in the background and heavy multitasking) I could kill the 13-inch MBA in under 4 hours."

Using the 802.11ac wifi (he had another ac-equipped machine) the MacBook Air was able to consistently transmit at 533 MBPS speeds, perhaps rivalling wired Gigabit Ethernet, over short distances. Moving the source further away would see a drop off in performance. He also found a performance issue with the use of the current OS X (10.8) noting that the same problem existed in the current developer previews of Mavericks (OS X 10.9). He has passed on the comments to Apple.

One slight disappointment came with the display, and while installing the Retina display in the MacBook Air would add some cost, it is just better and this "really defines whether or not this notebook is for you", adding, "If you don't need the resolution though, the MBA's weight/size really can't be beat."

Or the battery life: on which he is enthusiastic, using the term, "intoxicating".

Overall this is a positive review for the MacBook Pro, with some reservations on the display and on some shortcomings with OS X. The pages of this review are littered with graphs and charts that enable someone trying to decide on a new computer to examine performance and output in the context of other Macs. A lot of hard work has gone into this fine examination by Anand Lal Shimpi.

Graham K. Rogers teaches at the Faculty of Engineering, Mahidol University in Thailand where he is also Assistant Dean. He wrote in the Bangkok Post, Database supplement on IT subjects. For the last seven years of Database he wrote a column on Apple and Macs.



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