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Haswell MacBook Air speeds up with faster graphics, flash storage

Apple on Monday updated the MacBook Air with Intel's fouth generation Core processors, code named Haswell. Macworld Lab has the new MacBook Air and the results are interesting, to say the least--the 2012 and 2013 13-inch models received the same overall system performance score in Speedmark 8, but individual tests tell a different story.

There are four standard models of the MacBook Air, but all four share many of the same internal parts. Each MacBook Air comes with a 1.3GHz dual-core fourth generation Core i5 processor, capable of reaching speeds of 2.6GHz using Turbo Boost. Not mentioned in the marketing materials is that Hyper-Threading is supported on these i5 processors, allowing multi-threaded applications to address four virtual processing cores on these dual core systems. All of the standard MacBook Airs ship with 4GB of 1600MHz LPDDR memory and use Intel's new HD Graphics 5000 integrated graphics.

As you'd expect, the new 11-inch and 13-inch MacBook Airs' performance was practically identical. Just one Speedmark point separated the 13-inch and 11-inch models and the individual test results between them were similarly similar.

The new 11-inch MacBook Air was 9 percent faster overall than last year's 11-inch 1.7GHz Core i5 Ivy Bridge model. The individual application tests (listed at the end of this story) show that many results were very close, with seven tests (including Photoshop and Aperture) within 3 percent of each other. The biggest differences were in graphics and storage tests. The Intel HD Graphics 5000 in the new system pushed 24 percent more frames per second in Cinebench's Open GL test and produced an 8 percent higher frame rate in Portal 2. The faster flash storage in the new MacBook Air lived up to the hype, transferring 6GB of files and folders 51 percent faster than last year's Air. We ran Black Magic's Disk Speed Test on the two systems and found the read speeds for the new 11-inch model were 667.7 MBps, versus 141.1 MBps on the 2012 11-inch Air's 64GB of flash storage. Write speeds on the new 11-inch model hit 726.8 MBps, compared to 393.7 MBps on the 2012 Air.

Comparing the 13-inch models, the new 1.3GHz Core i5 Haswell model and last year's 1.8GHz Ivy Bridge model got identical overall Speedmark scores, but that belies the true back and forth battle that the individual test results show. The older system was faster in eight of the 15 tests, including our iMovie export, which was 34 percent faster on the older 13-inch. The new 13-inch model was faster in seven of the tests, with 30 percent faster frame rates in Cinebench's Open GL test and a 28 percent faster file copy result.

Matching up the new 13-inch MacBook Air with the current 13-inch 2.6GHz core i5 dual core Ivy Bridge Retina MacBook Pro, the Pro earned a 14 percent faster Speedmark score. In the individual application tests, the Retina MacBook Pro was faster across the board--with the exception of graphics and storage speeds. The new 13-inch MacBook Air's Intel HD Graphics 5000 was 31 percent faster in the Cinebench OpenGL test and 14 percent faster in Portal 2 than the Intel Graphics 4000 in the 13-inch MacBook Pro. The new Air was also 24 percent faster in our file copy test.


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