The Apple MacBook Pro with Retina display grabbed all the limelight when it launched this June. At the same launch event though its lightweight compadre the MacBook Air benefitted from a quiet refresh. And a most useful one at that.

See: more reviews of Apple MacBook computers.

Two updates help to keep the Air one of the fastest ultrabooks around, while another two make it even more comfortable to use.

When Intel released the mobile versions of its third-generation Core series chips, the MacBook’s were among the first to benefit. In the case of the 2012 Apple MacBook Air we see the low-voltage editions again being pressed into service – this time the Intel Core i5-3427U, specified at 1.8GHz. 

Aside from the slight lift in application performance we see with the more efficient processor architecture, shrunk from 32nm down to 22nm, Intel poured more go-faster magic into the chip’s integrated graphics system. We’ve already seen how this has paid off with a healthy boost in graphics and gaming performance.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2012): Performance

Where last year’s Sandy Bridge models were seeing around 17fps in our standard FEAR game test, Ivy Bridge laptops typically get at least a 60% increase in video framerate. In the case of the Apple MacBook Air here, we recorded an impressive 29fps at Maximum settings, indicating that the Air can take on light gaming again as well as the 2010 model with dedicated nVidia graphics.

The MBA’s memory is attached to the main logic board and cannot be upgraded. Fortunately Apple has now made 4GB the standard quota for both 11in and 13in machines. For the 13in model you can build-to-order with 8GB at time of purchase for an extra £80.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2012): Other options

And that memory is faster too, moving from 1333MHz to 1600MHz. The processor and memory upgrades let this model score 132 points in WorldBench 6. That’s plenty quick for any ultraportable, and ten points – or around 8% – faster than last year’s Air.

And while in Windows we also ran Futuremark PCMark 7 to measure overall system performance. We don’t have an archive of scores to compare to yet, but the MBA scored 4497 points for overall suite results. In specialised tests, it hit 4380 in the Lightweight test, 3781 in Productivity, 3392 in Entertainment and 7572 in Creativity. Computation score was 11,234.

Geekbench showed an average score of 7903 points, a substantial 34% increase over last year’s 5860 point score.

We were also pleased to see an extension in battery life. The MBA has the same 50Wh lithium battery as the last two models, but MobileMark 2007 Productivity now showed us a result of well over 8 hours (500 mins). That’s the kind of upgrade we find even more useful than a lift in application performance.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2012): Features

Looking around the sculpted one-piece aluminium casework, and there are no material differences from the previous model. Except for the revision to MagSafe 2 for the power connector, and the movement of port legends from the left to the right.

MagSafe 2 is electrically (and magnetically) the same as the original safety cable that keeps the charging plug held in place by magnets. But Mk II is very slightly smaller, designed with even slimmer notebooks in mind, so the move to the newer design here is probably as much about unifying the revision across the MacBook line in the coming years.

Not so visible is an upgrade of the webcam built into the screen bezel. This is now listed as a FaceTime HD camera, and it allows calls over Skype or Apple’s video conferencing system to be made at 1280 x 720-pixel size – subject to your internet connection having sufficient speed.

The final tweak we could find on 2012’s MacBook Air is to the cooling fan. Just like the Retina MacBook Pro, the Air now has an asymmetric-blade fan inside to reduce resonance. In use, we can vouch for the extremely quiet operation of the MacBook Air. It’s probably the quietest ultraportable you can find.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2012): Specs

  • 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U
  • 2.8GHz Turbo
  • 13.3in (1440 x 900) glossy LCD with glare-reduction coating
  • OS X 10.8
  • 256GB SSD
  • 4GB 1600MHz DDR3L RAM
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • Thunderbolt
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • SDXC card slot
  • FaceTime HD webcam
  • stereo speakers
  • mic
  • headset jack
  • Multi-Touch trackpad
  • MagSafe 2 power connector
  • 45W power adaptor
  • 50Wh lithium-polymer battery (non-removable)
  • Apple iLife software
  • 325 x 227 x 4.0-17.5mm
  • 1335g
  • 1.8GHz Intel Core i5-3427U
  • 2.8GHz Turbo
  • 13.3in (1440 x 900) glossy LCD with glare-reduction coating
  • OS X 10.8
  • 256GB SSD
  • 4GB 1600MHz DDR3L RAM
  • Intel HD Graphics 4000
  • Thunderbolt
  • 2x USB 3.0
  • 802.11a/b/g/n 2x2
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • SDXC card slot
  • FaceTime HD webcam
  • stereo speakers
  • mic
  • headset jack
  • Multi-Touch trackpad
  • MagSafe 2 power connector
  • 45W power adaptor
  • 50Wh lithium-polymer battery (non-removable)
  • Apple iLife software
  • 325 x 227 x 4.0-17.5mm
  • 1335g

OUR VERDICT

This revised 13in MacBook Air is a little bit faster in general speed, a lot faster in graphics speed – if only catching up with 2010’s Air – but with approaching an hour of extra battery life. We also appreciate the even quieter fan. This is the original ultrabook, and with extra details and quality touches it still beats all Ultrabooks we’ve seen so far.

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