Last full update was on March 9, 2015.
At a Glance
- Apple's 11- and 13-inch ultra-portable notebook computers received an update on March 9, 2015 with Intel Broadwell processors, improved graphics, and Thunderbolt 2 connectivity. On April 19, 2016, the base 13-inch model was updated with 8GB RAM as a standard option.
- 11" and 13" screen sizes
- 1.6 or 2.2 GHz Broadwell processor
- Intel HD Graphics 6000
- 128, 256, or 512 GB SSD
- Base 8 GB RAM for 13-inch model
- Base 4GB RAM for 11-inch model (upgrade available)
- Starts at $899
11.6-inch with 1366 x 768 Display:
-$899: 1.6 GHz Core i5 & 128 GB storage
-$1,099: 1.6 GHz Core i5 & 256 GB storage
13.3-inch with 1440 x 900 Display:
-$999: 1.6 GHz Core i5 & 128 GB storage
-$1,199: 1.6 GHz Core i5 & 256 GB storage
The MacBook Air
Apple's MacBook Air is best known for its compact size, portability, and affordable price. With prices starting at $899, the MacBook Air is Apple's most affordable MacBook line.
Apple's MacBook Air notebooks last saw a redesign in 2010. They weigh in at 2.38 pounds and 2.96 pounds for the 11-inch and 13-inch models, respectively, and come in 11 and 13-inch sizes.
The MacBook Air hasn't seen a full update since March 9, 2015, but in April of 2016, Apple updated all 13-inch MacBook Air models to include 8GB of RAM as a standard option, an upgrade over the base 4GB of RAM the 13-inch MacBook Air used to ship with. The 11-inch MacBook Air continues to ship with 4GB of RAM, but it can be upgraded to 8GB for an additional $100 fee.
On March 9, 2015, the MacBook Air received an internal-only update featuring Intel's Broadwell processors with Intel HD Graphics 6000 and an upgrade to Thunderbolt 2 connectivity. The 13-inch model was also upgraded with faster flash storage.
With Broadwell processors, MacBook Air battery life has improved. The 11-inch model offers 9 hours of wireless web browsing and 10 hours of iTunes movie playback, while the 13-inch model offers 12 hours of wireless web browsing and 12 hours of iTunes movie playback.
Neither MacBook Air features a Retina display. The 11-inch MacBook Air has a resolution of 1366 x 768, while the 13-inch MacBook Air has a resolution of 1440 x 900. Both of Apple's more expensive notebook lines, the MacBook and the MacBook Pro, feature Retina displays.
Prices for the MacBook Air are the lowest in Apple's notebook lineup. The entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air is priced at $899 and the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Air is priced at $999.
Other MacBook Air specs include 802.11ac Wi-Fi, super fast PCIe-based flash storage, and integrated Intel HD Graphics 6000, with the ability to drive 4K displays at 60Hz. The MacBook Air also features Mini DisplayPort output, a Thunderbolt 2 port, two USB 3.0 ports, and an SDXC card slot (13-inch model only). It has stereo speakers, a headphone jack, dual microphones, and a full-size backlit keyboard.
Both of the 2015 MacBook Air models use 1.6GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processors, with Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz. A 2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz is available on build-to-order models for an additional fee.
Geekbench benchmarks of the 2015 MacBook Air models suggest decent improvements over the previous-generation early 2014 and mid 2013 models, with score improvements generally in the 6-7 percent range. The high-end Core i7 chip does, however, demonstrate a nice 14 percent boost in multi-score benchmarks, making it a nice upgrade option for some customers.
The fact that processor performance improvements are generally modest is not a surprise, as Intel's Broadwell and Haswell processors have largely focused on improving battery life and efficiency. Though processor speeds are only moderately improved, graphics performance has seen a greater jump with Intel HD Graphics 6000.
Both of the two upgraded MacBook Air models come with up to 512GB of super fast PCIe-based flash storage, but according to Apple, the new 13-inch model has flash storage that's twice as fast as the flash in the 11-inch model.
An SSD test using Black Magic's Disk Speed Test revealed average read/write speeds of 315MB/s and 668MB/s for the 2015 11-inch MacBook Air, while the 2015 13-inch MacBook Air saw read/write speeds of 629.9MB/s and 1285.4MB/s.
A teardown of the two MacBooks revealed that the 13-inch MacBook Air uses Samsung flash storage with a Samsung controller, while the 11-inch MacBook Air uses SanDisk flash storage with a Marvell controller.
In addition to being two times faster than the 11-inch MacBook Air, the flash storage in the 2015 13-inch MacBook Air is also twice as fast as the storage in the 2014 model.
The entry-level 11-inch MacBook Air can be upgraded with a 2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor ($150) and 4GB of RAM ($100). The more expensive 11-inch model has the same upgrade options, along with 512 GB of flash storage ($300).
The entry-level 13-inch MacBook Air can be upgraded with a 2.2GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 processor ($150). The more expensive 13-inch model has the same upgrade option, along with 512 GB of flash storage $300).
How to Buy
The MacBook Air can be purchased from the online Apple Store, from an Apple retail location, or from select Apple Authorized Resellers. All base models of the MacBook Air are listed as "In Stock" and ship within 24 hours. Custom builds ship out in one to three business days.
Apple's plans for the MacBook Air are unclear, given the similarities between the new Retina MacBook and the MacBook Air. It's possible Apple will phase out the MacBook Air line as technology improves and allows the price of the Retina MacBook to come down.
The fact that the 13-inch MacBook Air was upgraded with 8GB of base RAM in April of 2016 does not bode well for additional updates later in the year. The minor spec bump suggests Apple will not be introducing further MacBook Air changes, perhaps signaling the end of the MacBook Air lineup.
According to KGI Securities analyst Ming-Chi Kuo, Apple is replacing the MacBook Air with the Retina MacBook. Apple will keep the MacBook Air around as a low-cost Apple notebook option, but will not introduce further updates.
Should Apple continue with the MacBook Air line and introduce an additional update, it will likely include Apple's Skylake processors. Skylake processors appropriate for the MacBook Air became available in early 2016.
Skylake processors would bring significant upgrades to Apple's MacBook Air lineup. According to leaked Intel slides the U-Series chips appropriate for the MacBook Air would offer 10 percent faster CPU performance, 34 percent faster Intel HD graphics, and 1.4 hours of longer battery life compared to the equivalent Broadwell chips.
Whether or not Apple will continue on with the MacBook Air line remains to be seen. Due to the similarities between the Retina MacBook and the MacBook Air, the latter may be obsolete when prices for the Retina MacBook can be lowered. At the current time, the MacBook Air is Apple's most affordable machine, suggesting the existing iteration will be around until MacBook prices come down.