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Long-term review: Apple's newest MacBook Air continues to impress

Michael deAgonia | July 22, 2013
If you're in the market for a great slim laptop, there's no real reason to purchase anything but a MacBook Air.

The megahertz wars are more or less over since chip speeds alone don't really reflect real-world performance. But to tell you the truth, after using the machine for a few days, I was pretty surprised that the Air was equipped with a basic 1.3GHz Core i5. This computer ran all of my apps without hesitation (in other words, there were no instances of the Spinning Beach Ball), including a virtual copy of Windows XP in Parallels running multiple apps. The processor is actually clocked at 500MHz lower than the original 2008 Air, yet, it performed admirably under stressful conditions, never hesitating or choking during use while delivering excellent battery life.

Mind. Blown.

Credit the MacBook Air's PCIe flash storage for faster write speeds than a Retina MacBook Pro and even faster disk read test results.

The reason ultrabooks and other slim computers are such hot commodities right now is because these systems promise the ultimate balance of power and portability. The MacBook Air delivers well on both promises in day-to-day use, though battery life varies greatly, depending on how you use it.

Battery life
As noted in my earlier look at the Air, I measured battery life by using this notebook the way I use any computer. I set the screen brightness to 80%, set the computer to sleep after 10 minutes of inactivity, and disabled Display dimming and Power Nap in the Energy Saver system preference. My Internet connection was through a corporate Wi-Fi network, and the back-lit keyboard was set to always stay on. I had a bus-powered external hard drive plugged into one of the USB 3.0 ports, and the Air was connected to an external 22-in. Dell display.

I ran Mail, which was checking for new email once a minute; Safari, which had multiple open tabs (though Flash was not installed); iCal; Terminal; Notes; Pages; Messages and Tweebot. I also had a virtual copy of Windows XP in Parallels 8: Microsoft System Center Service Manager, Lync, and LogMeIn were open and running, as were separate VNC sessions.

Under that configuration, the Air lasted just four hours and 38 minutes. The next day, I moved my files from the external drive to the Air's on-board storage and disconnected the USB drive. With everything else the same, I got five hours and 58 minutes of battery life.

Over the next couple of weeks, I used the Air in multiple configurations, each time noting the exact times the battery was used as the primary source of power. When used in the above configuration — that is, in a multi-monitor setup using software known for being resource-intensive — I was able to get a consistent six hours. On the days I wasn't using Parallels, I got nearly seven hours of battery life, even when using multiple monitors.

 

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