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13-inch MacBook Air - what's the difference?

13-inch MacBook Air - what's the difference?

In the second part of our What’s the difference? series we are going to cover the MacBook Air. The most difficult question we get asked on a regular basis is what is the difference between the processors in different model years, for example how different are the Mid 2011 and Mid 2012 MacBook Air, or what is the difference between Sandy Bridge and Haswell chips? If you have no idea what on earth a sand covered bridge has to do with a small town in Colorado fear not, we will try and make things clear in the following post.

This post will show the differences in the 13-inch MacBook Air since 2011, if you want to check out the differences between the 13-inch MacBook Pro check out this post, comparisons of the 15-inch MacBook Pro and iMacs will be coming soon! 

Comparing Processors Through Model Years

Since the introduction of the Mid 2011 13-inch MacBook Air, Apple has incorporated Intel’s low power dual-core Core i5 and i7 processors, a significant upgrade over the older Core 2 Duo models. Approximately each year Intel releases a new generation of these Core i5 and i7 processors, with upgraded microarchitecture, that have codenames designated to them. As we saw previously with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, there is not a huge increase in processor performance between the Mid 2011 and the latest Early 2015 Air, 27% for the Core i5 model and 38% for the Core i7 model.

The difference between the Sandy Bridge and Ivy Bridge benchmarks are quite minimal, the main increases are found between the Core i7 models. Interestingly the Core i5 Haswell benchmarks are actually marginally lower than the Core i5 Ivy Bridge benchmarks, it looks like Apple sacrificed processor performance in favour of lower power chips to maximise battery life in these models. The small speed bump provided to the Early 2014 Core i5 model only gave a minuscule performance gain over the Mid 2013 Core i5 model, the Core i7 chips are actually identical. 

Graphics Performance

Processor performance aside there are some very significant increases in graphics performance, between the same models there is a 128% improvement in the 3DMark scores. If you run graphics intensive programs it may well be worthwhile investing in a newer model, however for less processor focused use it may not be worth the additional cost.

Benchmarks provided by 3DMark 2013 Ice Storm

Apple MacBook Air Processor and Graphics benchmark comparison 

Battery Life

Another factor to take into account when comparing MacBook Airs is that the battery life had a great improvement from the release of the Mid 2013 models. This is mainly due to the Haswell and Broadwell processors having a more efficient design that allows for lower power consumption. These figures are according to Apple's own stats, actual results may vary. 

MacBook Air Battery life comparison