Review: Apple MacBook Air 13 inch (2015)

Now that there’s a new Intel chip out in the world, you can bet that Apple is ready with an update to its popular MacBook Air computer, and here we are with one that does away with the fan and makes a truly silent Apple laptop.

Features

Apple’s “MacBook Air” range has predominantly been about laptops that kept things simple, with a basic design — silver with a black keyboard — and not too many choices when it came to customisation. Essentially, it’s a system that works, and is light, thin, and easy to get your head around.

This year, Apple hasn’t changed the formula too much, if at all, updating what’s inside and really leaving everything else in place.

Case in point, you’ll find the same 11 (11.6) and 13 (13.3) inch screen choices here, the 11 inch running the same 1366×768 display as previous models, and the 13 inch sticking with the same 1440×900 screen from previous Air units.

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Both machines (11 and 13) come with pretty much the same stock spec out of the box, with the difference in price points coming down to storage options, though you can, of course, customise this if you so choose.

As such, expect Intel’s fifth-generation Core i5 processor out of the box, a chip that is set to 1.6GHz, though this can be switched out for a different processor, the 2.2GHz Core i7 for an added cost.

Memory arrives at 4GB standard out of the box, and can be upgraded to 8GB for a cost, and storage arrives in several options, with 128GB and 256GB the standard sizes, though 512GB can be selected if you need more. There are no more 64GB MacBook Air models anymore.

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Beyond these bits, you’ll find graphics powered by Intel’s HD 6000 graphical processing, network connections handled by 802.11a/b/g/n and even 802.11ac WiFi, Bluetooth 4.0, and a 720p FaceTime HD camera sitting above the screen.

Ports are fairly standard for Apple, with two USB 3.0 ports, one Thunderbolt 2 port, the 3.5mm headset jack, and Apple’s proprietary MagSafe power connector on each, though an SDXC card slot is also present on the 13 inch model.

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Apple’s Mac OS X 10.10 “Yosemite” arrives on the MacBook Air out of the box.

The review model used for this review is the 13 inch base model, with the Intel Core i5 processor set to 1.6GHz, 4GB RAM, and 128GB storage.

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Performance

If there’s one thing we know, it’s that Apple’s MacBook Air has been one of its more successful laptop-based products. Since the design first turned up in 2008, we have seen other companies try their hardest to make their own versions of it, and the whole Ultrabook movement seems like a target for the MacBook Air.

Over the years, Apple has improved the design, changed the spec, and overall come up with a machine that makes it a starting point for anyone looking for something thin and light and very compelling.

But when it comes to changes, Apple tends to hold back, and here in the 2015 MacBook Air, we’re pretty much seeing evidence of that, beyond the chip inside the system.

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Yes, Intel is still inside (bing!), but this time there’s the latest generation Intel Core i5 dual-core processor, clocking in at 1.6GHz and delivering just enough performance to make the MacBook Air an ultra-light machine for people who like to work with minimal weight, while also bringing in some new power saving goodness.

The system is definitely optimised for power efficiency, and we think Apple has managed to scrape by without a fan in this system, because try as we might — and we did — we were never able to get the 2015 MacBook Air to switch a fan on and make some noise.

That’s great news for people who like to work with complete silence from their computer, and not worry about the machine spinning up and making a peep, with the Air being as quite as, well, air.

Heating also seems to be something under control, because while it can get a little warm, we never felt it get toasty, with a comfortable aluminium base not even providing a bump in heat that would startle us.

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Performance is reasonable from this machine, as it is an ultra-light and made for productivity. As such, you’ll get by with writing, office work, social networking, web surfing, and a little more, possibly a game or two, but the specs aren’t high enough for any major productivity, and Apple would probably point you to its recently updated MacBook Pro instead.

We did find a few slowdowns here and there as we used the Air, mostly when we ran multiple tabs in Google Chrome, kept Evernote in its own space, and ran Photoshop and Mail alongside it.

The machine tolerates our working it a little harder than the average customer, and only occasionally pops up with a little bit of a slowdown here and there depending on what we’re doing.

That’s not a huge shock, and we suspect it would probably go away if the memory was upgraded to 8GB instead of the 4GB the stock MacBook Air (and our review model ships with. Most people won’t run into this, however, so it likely won’t pop up until you start finding a reason to make your Air work a little harder.

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