New MacBook Air Is a Compelling Upgrade in a Confusing Laptop Lineup


(Adam Engst) #1

Originally published at: https://tidbits.com/2018/10/30/new-macbook-air-is-a-compelling-upgrade-in-a-confusing-laptop-lineup/

Apple has at long last updated the popular MacBook Air with a Retina display, Touch ID, a higher RAM ceiling, and a pair of Thunderbolt 3 ports. But not much separates it from the non-Touch Bar 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the previous MacBook Air and 12-inch MacBook also remain for sale.


(Will M) #2

“I have to say, accuracy in key backlight levels is really low on my priority list.”

Well phrased, Adam!

…“it’s 14 mm thinner in the back and 11 mm thicker in the front”…

Are decimal points missing? Those dimensions are just over and just under a half inch each, which seems like an awful lot of change.


(Adam Engst) #3

Whoops! Yes, just moving too quickly. Fixed now.


(chilb) #4

Adam, does anything change for your recommendation after hearing that the new “Air” uses the Y-series processor that means it’s significantly lower performance than a current U-series processor that the real Airs have traditionally used?


(Adam Engst) #5

I talked a little about that with regard to Apple not saying that performance was better. I’d like to see some benchmarks to learn how the new model stacks up against various older ones. For instance, I have the 2 GHz Intel Core i7 from 2012 and I don’t have any idea how to compare that to the new chip.

Hopefully someone will get one and run benchmarks soon.


(chilb) #6

Yup, I will definitely wait for benchmarks from somewhere before buying. I have an older one and have been waiting for a new Air with competitive performance, not the minuscule speed bump of last time, so I need to see numbers first.


(Curtis Wilcox) #7

I think numbers from Geekbench are useful. Here are multicore numbers for the most relevant Macs:

9071 2.3GHz Core i5-7360U MacBook Pro (13-inch Mid 2017) lowest-end MBP still on sale
6882 2.2GHz Core i7-5650U MacBook Air (13-inch Early 2015) fastest MBA
6120 1.8GHz Core i5-5350U MacBook Air (Mid 2017) fastest i5 MBA
6974 1.3GHz Core i5-7Y75 MacBook (Mid 2017) fastest i5 12-inch MacBook

So the 7th gen. Core i5 “Y” processor in the little MacBook is slightly faster than the fastest processor ever put in a MacBook Air. I expect the 8th gen. 1.6GHz Core i5 “Y” processor in the new MacBook Air to be faster than any previous MBA or 12-inch MacBook but slower than the non-Touch bar MBP.

Geekbench has no reports of devices with the i5-8210Y used in the new MacBook Air but they do have one report of a Google device with an i5-8200Y, a 1.3GHz 8th gen. chip, scoring 8164 (note their non-Mac reports seem to misreport the burst frequency as the base frequency). That’s not much to go on but given there’s a chip generation change and the other information, a multicore score for the 1.6GHz Core i5-8210Y in the high seven-thousands seems plausible. That would put it in the middle of the pack of the various MacBook Pro 13-inch Late 2016 processor configurations.

Of course the lowest-end 8th gen. processor currently on the Mac benchmark chart crushes these numbers because it has 4 cores instead of 2:
16462 2.3GHz Core i5-8259U MacBook Pro (13-inch Mid 2018) slowest 8th gen. Mac on chart today


(Charles Bjorgen) #8

The new model starts at 8 GB and lets you upgrade to 16 GB for $200. Frankly, I recommend the 16 GB—you won’t regret it.

I’m curious about the above comment from the Tidbits article. I’ve had my little 11-inch Air with 4 GB of RAM since 2013, often wishing I had 8 GB but getting along anyway. I’m probably going to get the new Air and the additional 200 bucks on top of the already $200 increase makes me ask the question. I’m a retired photographer but frankly don’t do much with photos (Photoshop Elements) beyond basic color, contrast and tonal corrections. How will the additional RAM help me?


(Adam Engst) #9

It’s hard to give specific examples, but if you find your Mac slowing down or showing the spinning pizza of death, it’s possible that you’re RAM constrained. You can check the memory pressure graph in Activity Monitor to see.

I also see more RAM as future-proofing the Mac. If you want to keep it for a long time, it’s worth spending a bit more up front to ensure that memory-hungry apps of the future don’t bring it to its knees.


(Charles Bjorgen) #10

I think you’ve convinced me to go to the 16 GB, Adam. When I started with a Mac Plus back in about 1986, I was running Aldus PageMaker with two floppy discs. Everything has changed to bigger. I’m mainly an iPad user so this could easily be the last Mac I buy. Thanks for your reply, Adam.


#11

cbjorgen
Charles Bjorgen

    October 31

The new model starts at 8 GB and lets you upgrade to 16 GB for $200. Frankly, I recommend the 16 GB—you won’t regret it.

I’m curious about the above comment from the Tidbits article. I’ve had my little 11-inch Air with 4 GB of RAM since 2013, often wishing I had 8 GB but getting along anyway. I’m probably going to get the new Air and the additional 200 bucks on top of the already $200 increase makes me ask the question. I’m a retired photographer but frankly don’t do much with photos (Photoshop Elements) beyond basic color, contrast and tonal corrections. How will the additional RAM help me?

If your current Air doesn’t have an SSD you’ll be getting a speed boost with the new model. But in my experience Photoshop, or any Adobe app, seems to always be as piggy as it can possibly get and will gobble up whatever RAM it find. Even if you aren’t doing anything much and have a bunch of photos, pallets, etc., or will want to open or switch between apps, you will probably notice the difference, especially if your files are big. Photoshop files aren’t known to be small.

If you aren’t going to be using Photoshop much, then maybe you’ll be OK without extra RAM. But I’m awfully low in the patience department, and I’ll be spending more for RAM when I buy either a new Mini or Air even though I’m semi retired and won’t be using CS5 much anymore either.


(Adam Engst) #12

Initial benchmarks are showing a small performance improvement.


(Doug Miller) #13

It’s really looking like that, despite the name, the new MacBook Air is really an upgrade to the MacBook, with a larger display, newer gen 3 keyboard, and better ports (2 Thunderbolt rather than 1 USB-C) and a wedge shaped case to make it feel like an old Air. And priced more like the MacBook as well.


(Simon) #14

I think you’re right, Doug. I wonder if we’ll see an update to the MB at all. It could be morphed into a smaller MBA, kind of a remake of the 11" MBA. But I cannot see it remain wedged in between the new MBA and the non-TB MBP. That said, I’m not really sure what the future could be for the non-TB MBP either.


(Simon) #15

The new MBA looks quite nice to me. It leaves little reason to go for the MB, and it offers a less expensive alternative to the TouchBar 13" MBP.

I’d like to see some housekeeping in the portable Mac area. Maybe offer something cheaper that’s not totally out of date ($999 MBA) for education/entry-level—an 11" MB perhaps? Could be inexpensive, but 11" might not cut it. Hopefully next year with a refreshed MBA, the current MBA could be kept around at a low entry price point. And then get rid of the non-TB MBP. Not because I find the TouchBar so great, but simply because the MBP should be “Pro”. More than two TB3 ports and decent CPU horsepower is simply justified in that area and at those price points. Most importantly, now with an attractive MBA there is a less expensive alternative for the 13" crowd.


(Curtis Wilcox) #16

Yep, the Geekbench score is what I was guessing, high seven-thousands.

The case design is what defines the Air, the 12-inch MacBook’s case basically defines it as well. It makes no sense to me to say this is really a 12-inch MacBook but with a larger screen, more ports, a lower price, and a very different case design. It walks like an Air, it quacks like an Air, it’s an Air.

I’ll buy the Air when I need the cheapest laptop that’s not using 2015 hardware but the non-TouchBar MBP for only $100 more is still quite enticing; it’s 2017 hardware but its performance is still markedly better than this Air, the screen is better, it’s only slightly heavier, and I think it’s still slightly thinner.


(Nathan Duke) #17

I’m looking to update my 15" MBP (late-2013 retina display.) Is there any hint of new models on the horizon?

It looks like the current model (introduced late 2017?) is not available without a touch bar, which I am not interested in.

I plan to update from High Sierra to Mojave soon, but at that point I will have a 5-year old machine and future OS updates could begin to become problematic.

Thanks for any responses.


(Curtis Wilcox) #18

13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Pros with Touch Bars were updated in July 2018 with 8th gen. processors. Apple is still selling the 13-inch Mid-2017 MacBook Pro with no Touch Bar and only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, that’s the model that’s only $100 more than the new MacBook Air (all 15-inch models have the Touch Bar).

Now is a fine time to buy a MacBook Pro unless you want to wait a month to custom order a 15-inch model with a AMD Radeon Pro Vega card. It will ship with Mohave installed but because the hardware pre-dates it, I expect it’s still possible to replace it with High Sierra if some software compatibility problem was encountered.


(Simon) #19

Good points, Curtis. I didn’t realize the price difference was that small between the updated MBA and the not updated non-TB MBP. The MBP definitely has the brighter screen with wide color. The Air OTOH has better battery life and is still a quarter lb lighter.

But I guess to make it totally fair comparison, you’d have to factor in that at $100 price difference, the MBP would only come equipped with a 2.3 GHz 7th gen Core i5. In real world applications, I suppose that’s not going to be vastly better than the Air’s 1.6 GHz 8th gen Core i5. Their Geekbench scores appear to be very similar. The non-TB MBP could be equipped with a 2.5 GHz 7th gen Core i7, but then that price difference is already $400.


(Curtis Wilcox) #20

9071 for the MBP and 7828 for the new Air (multicore) is a fairly substantial difference, 16%. 4314 and 4248 (single core), respectively, are close, less than 2%, but even the base 13-inch MacBook Pro with Touch Bar single core is only 6% faster than the Air. The Air’s single core performance is quite impressive for a much slower clock speed.