With the launch of the 2013 version of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, which have Intel’s power-sipping 4th generation Core processor inside, many have asked us if they should purchase an MacBook Air 13-inch or the 2013 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. The former laptop offers epic battery life in the same sleek design we’ve come to know and love from the Air, while the latter boasts one of the sharpest and richest screens ever to grace a notebook. We’ve broken it down to help you determine which MacBook is best for your needs.
Weighing 3 pounds and measuring 12.8 x 9 x 0.11 – 0.68 inches, the Air is essentially unchanged in dimensions and design since last year. However, the Pro is slimming down. At 0.71 inches, it’s barely thicker, and has a smaller footprint than the Air (12.35 x 8.62 inches). At 3.46 pounds–0.29 pounds lighter than the 2012 version–the Pro weighs more than the Air but is still easy to carry. Both notebooks follow the familiar Apple aesthetic: a solid aluminum body with a black keyboard and excellent touchpad.
Winner: MacBook Air. The Air wins this round because it’s thinner and lighter. You barely notice it when this laptop is in your bag.
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No contest here: At 2560 x 1600 pixels, the Pro’s Retina display blows the Air’s 1440 x 900-pixel panel out of the water. Text looks a lot sharper on the Retina Pro, whether you’re looking at app icons or text on websites that have been optimized. Plus, there are more than 250 apps in the Mac App Store that take advantage of the Retina display, including Photoshop CS6, “Diablo III” and Google Chrome.
At 340 lux, the Pro’s display was also brighter than the Air’s, which measured 263 lux.
Winner: MacBook Pro. A sharper, brighter and richer screen helps the 2013 MacBook Pro win this round easily.
The Air has the same port spread as last year, with two USB 3.0 ports, one Thunderbolt port and an SDXC card slot. By comparison, the 13-inch Pro with Retina has two USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, an HDMI port and an SDXC card slot.
Winner: MacBook Pro. Apple’s beefier 13-incher has a wider selection of ports, and can support up to two displays at 2560 x 1600 pixels.
The latest MacBook Air comes with a 1.3-GHz Intel Haswell ULT processor, 4GB of RAM and new flash storage (based on PCI Express). Although the clock speed is ostensibly slower versus its predecessor (1.8 GHz), Haswell can get more work done per clock cycle. Plus, the new Air offers 45 percent faster flash memory and 40 percent greater graphics performance via the new Intel HD 5000 GPU.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro comes with a full-voltage, fourth-generation 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, 256GB of PCIe flash storage, and Intel Iris graphics, which outperforms all other integrated GPUs.
The Air’s score of 5,116 on Geekbench 3 topped the category average of 4,496, but was more than 1,000 points below the MacBook Pro (6,294).
Similarly, on our OpenOffice test, where we task a notebook with pairing 20,000 names and addresses, the MacBook Pro took 5 minutes and 2 seconds, which was about 40 seconds faster than the Air (5:45). When it came to duplicating 5GB of multimedia files, the Air’s PCIe flash storage also trailed the Pro, 242 MBps to 299 MBps.
But how does Intel’s HD Graphics 5000 GPU compare to its Iris Graphics chip? Yes, but not by as much as you might think. On the Cinebench OpenGL test, the Pro’s score of 20.98 edged out the Air’s score of 20.53.
In “World of Warcraft,” the Air averaged 27 fps at maximum settings, with resolution set at 1440 x 900. The Pro, with its display also set to 1440 x 900, also averaged 27 fps at these settings. However, when we turned the graphics down to Good, the Pro averaged 51 fps to the Air’s 43 fps.
Winner: MacBook Pro. With Intel’s Haswell chip, this notebook beats or ties the Air on every test.
One of the benefits of Intel’s Haswell 4th generation Core processors is that they offer greater battery life than the previous generation. Not only that, but OS X Mavericks also delivers some additional efficiencies, which adds about an hour of endurance as well.
Coupled with a larger battery, the 13-inch Air lasted 12 hours and 50 minutes on the LAPTOP Battery Test (Web surfing via Wi-Fi). The Pro lasted 9 hours and 31 minutes, which is more than 3 hours longer than the category average, but 3 hours less than the Air.
Winner: MacBook Air. At nearly 13 hours, the Air blows past the Pro’s not-insignificant endurance level.
The least expensive version of the 13-inch Air costs $1,099 and comes with a 1.3-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, Intel HD Graphics 5000, 4GB of RAM and 128GB of flash storage. The Pro with Retina display starts at $1,299 and includes a 2.4-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, 128GB of flash storage and Intel Iris graphics.
The more expensive version of the Air costs $1,299 and has the same processor and RAM as the starting version, but comes with 256GB of storage. The $1,799 model of the Pro has a 2.6-GHz Intel Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and 512GB of flash storage.
Winner: MacBook Air. Although the starting price of the Pro is now just $200 more than the Air–half that of last year–the Air is still a great value.
With both models of the Air, you can upgrade to a 1.4-GHz Intel Core i7 for $150 and 8GB of RAM for $100. On the $1,299 configuration, you can also upgrade to 512GB of storage for $300.
Apple lets you customize the Pro a bit more. If you select the starting or the mid-tier model, you can upgrade to a dual-core 2.8-GHz Intel Core i7 processor for $300 and boost the RAM to 8GB ($100) or 16GB ($300). If you purchase the most expensive configuration, you can upgrade the CPU to a 2.8-GHz Core i7 processor ($200) the RAM to 16GB ($200), and the storage to 1TB ($500).
Winner: MacBook Pro. While pricey, more options make the MacBook Pro a laptop you can better customize to suit your needs.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display wins four rounds to the Air’s three,
The Air has plenty of things going for it,