The 13in MacBook Air is ultimately the launchpad of this group test. When it launched in 2008 it was very much the first of its kind - the thinnest laptop ever, losing the optical drive, embracing solid-state storage and changing the notebook PC market forever. 

Imitators – such as the Samsung Series 9 notebook – came along, until eventually Intel decided to promote the Air specification under the name ‘Ultrabook’, spawning a flood of Microsoft-based lookalikes since late 2011. 

However, competing against the MacBook Air is no easy task. For a start, this particular specification - a build-to-order (BTO) option on Apple's website includes a startlingly quick processor in the 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M, a sizeable amount of RAM and a generously-proportioned 256GB SSD.

Where the 11in Air tested here is the most basic and affordable, this 13in ultraportable is the best money can buy.

The WorldBench 6 score of 130 is the highest of the bunch - even more impressive when you consider that the MacBook is designed to run Mac OS X rather than Windows - and the battery life is decent, lasting over six hours (380 mins) on a full charge. 

Like its little brother, though, the standout feature of the MacBook Air 13in is the display - it is far superior to any of the Windows-based competitors and given that it is the part of the computer that you will spend most of your time looking at. The importance of this cannot be understated. 

It looks gorgeous and will inspire envy from fellow commuters or coffee-shop customers. 

If we've one quibble (other than the price), it's the lack of USB 3.0 ports, with only the older USB 2.0 standard supported.

But it trumps USB 3.0 with the Thunderbolt port for super-fast connection to compatible peripherals. There is also a full-sized SD card port - not many other models on test, including the 11in MacBook Air, can boast this. 

Additionally, we like the idea of a laptop that can run a range of operating systems. Of course, you could take any of the Windows-based systems on test, partition the SSD and put a Linux installation on it, but only the MacBook Airs will let you run Windows 7 and Mac OS X.

Apple MacBook Air 13in (Mid-2011) 1.8GHz Core i7: Specs

  • 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M
  • 13.3in glossy LED-backlit
  • 1440 x 900
  • Mac OS X 10.7 Lion
  • 4GB DDR3-1333MHz
  • 256GB SSD Integrated Intel HD 3000
  • Thunderbolt
  • stereo speakers, headpset jack, mic
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • SD card reader
  • webcam
  • 50Wh lithium polymer non-removable battery
  • 325 x 227 x 17mm
  • 1.33kg
  • 1.8GHz Intel Core i7-2677M
  • 13.3in glossy LED-backlit
  • 1440 x 900
  • Mac OS X 10.7 Lion
  • 4GB DDR3-1333MHz
  • 256GB SSD Integrated Intel HD 3000
  • Thunderbolt
  • stereo speakers, headpset jack, mic
  • 2 x USB 2.0
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • SD card reader
  • webcam
  • 50Wh lithium polymer non-removable battery
  • 325 x 227 x 17mm
  • 1.33kg

OUR VERDICT

The most expensive of the thin and light laptops we've tested recently, the 13in Apple MacBook Air will set you back the best part of a grand and a half. This makes it a sizeable investment, but one you're unlikely to regret – the build quality is phenomenal and the components top-notch.

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