Apple MacBook Air 13 (Ivy Bridge) vs Ultrabooks

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Introduction & Specifications

So here it is, the mid-2012 refresh of Apple's trend setting MacBook Air line. It's been four long years since Apple first introduced the MacBook Air to the world, which at the time was almost considered a luxury item, with a comparatively steep price tag versus other ultralight machines. That changed a couple of years later, and in the process of making the MacBook Air more affordable, Apple helped shift the mobile market away from chunky desktop replacements, to a trend where competent computing power exists within thin and light profiles. In all likelihood, the MacBook Air inspired Intel's Ultrabook specification, created so that Windows users would have access to the same overall experience on their platform of choice.

The MacBook Air is the real McCoy, so to speak, and though technically not an Ultrabook, the newest models cross over to Intel's 3rd generation Ivy Bridge Core processor microarchitecture. In fact, Ivy Bridge is at the heart of Apple's mid-2012 refresh, bringing with it not only greater processing power, but a graphics speed bump from Intel HD Graphics 3000 to Intel HD Graphics 4000, topped off with DX11 compatibility and improved power efficiency to boot. Simply put, Intel obviously benefits by remaining platform agnostic, so long as both platforms buy their weapons from the Santa Clara chip maker.  Apple left the Power PC architecture what seems like an eternity ago for X86 and they're obviously not looking back, at least on the desktop and mobile side of the house.

Ivy Bridge isn't the only new addition to the latest generation MacBook Air line. System memory is doubled to 4GB (configurable up to 8GB), SuperSpeed USB 3.0 finally makes a debut, Apple upgraded the power connector to MagSafe 2, the FaceTime camera is now 720p, flash storage is supposedly twice as fast as the previous generation, and Thunderbolt makes its inevitable appearance. None of these upgrades are particularly groundbreaking, though collectively, it's an enticing assortment of enhancements, all of which are packed into the same thin and light frame as before. But how does the new MacBook Air compete versus the current crop of Ultrabooks and is it enough to warrant an upgrade?

MacBook Air 13-inch Laptop
Specifications & Features (as tested)

  • Mac OS X 10.8.2
  • 1.8GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 2.8GHz) with 3MB shared L3 cache
  • 4GB of 1,600MHz DDR3L SDRAM
  • 128GB of Flash storage
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit glossy widescreen, TN display
  • 1440x900 native resolution (16:10)
  • No optical drive
  • 802.11n Wi-Fi (IEEE 802.11a/b/g compatible)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • No Ethernet Port
  • Two USB 3.0 ports (up to 5Gbps)
  • Thunderbolt port (up to 10Gbps)
  • MagSafe 2 power port
  • SD card slot
  • Mini DisplayPort video output
  • DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter (sold separately)
  • VGA output using Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter (sold separately)
  • Dual-Link DVI output using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (sold separately)
  • HDMI audio and video output using third-party Mini DisplayPort to HDMI Adapter (sold separately)
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
  • Built-in stereo speakers
  • Internal omnidirectional microphone
  • Headphone port
  • Support for Apple iPhone headset with remote and microphone
  • Full-size backlit keyboard with 78 (U.S.) or 79 (ISO) keys
  • Multi-Touch trackpad with support for Multi-Touch gestures
  • Built-in 50-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
  • 45W MagSafe Power Adapter with cable management system
  • 0.11-0.68 x 12.8 x 8.94 inches (HxWxD)
  • 2.96 pounds
Direct Price: $1,199 (as tested)

For all that Apple upgraded in the current refresh, there are some notable omissions to point out, some of which comes with the territory of an ultra-portable system. The MacBook Air still doesn't -- and probably never will -- have an optical drive, a component that's often disregarded in this class of laptop. It's also missing an Ethernet port, but perhaps the most disappointing feature exclusion is that of a Retina Display upgrade. The 11.6-inch MacBook Air is capped at a pedestrian 1366x768 (16:9), and the 13.3-inch model reviewed here features a 1440x900 (16:10) native resolution. The only notebooks that receive a Retina Display upgrade are Apple's 15-inch MacBook Pro systems.  Still, for a 13-inch platform, the new Air's 1440X900 resolution is respectable, with only higher-end Ultrabooks offering 1600X900 native resolution displays.

If you're a Windows considering a transition to Apple, be prepared to play with less ports than you're probably used to. Whereas most Ultrabook models sport three or four USB ports, the MacBook Air has two. It does have a Thunderbolt connector, but if you want to hook the MacBook Air up to your HDTV's HDMI port, you'll need to purchase an adapter for its DisplayPort.

Trade-offs aside, the MacBook Air is reasonably well fleshed out, and though it's not the thinnest or lightest notebook on the market currently, it's not far from it, either.

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