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October 30, 2018

Apple MacBook Air buying guide

by John_A

It’s finally happened. Apple’s MacBook Air, the company’s least expensive laptop, has received an update. It’s still a 13-inch machine with a thin frame, but it now has a Retina display, Touch ID security, and a butterfly keyboard like other new MacBooks.

There’s a good chance you’re eyeing this slick new machine, but if so, what model should you buy. Is the least expensive version fine, or should you spend more?

Processor

As usual, Apple doesn’t list the exact processors found in the MacBook Air. We do know, however, that it’s an eighth-generation Intel Core i5 dual-core with a base clock speed of 1.6GHz and a maximum clock of 3.6GHz. It also has Intel UHD Graphics 617.

That last point is interesting. Intel doesn’t list any processor with UHD Graphics 617. It has only appeared once, in an August leak of a Core i7-8510Y processor. As mentioned, though, the Air has a Core i5 processor, not a Core i7. Whatever the model number, which we’ll know once it ships to owners, the processor is clearly a compromise to reduce the Air’s size. Most competitors have an Intel Core i5 quad-core processor.

The new MacBook Air does not offer an alternative processor. The older model is still available for $1,000, but its older fifth-generation Core i5 processor is woefully out of date, and we don’t recommend it – even though it’s $200 less.

Hard drive

The base model of the new MacBook Air comes with 128GB of solid-state storage. Remember that MacOS and default apps take up some space, so it’ll effectively have closer to 100GB of storage. That’s not much.

Upgrades are expensive. Most users will at least want the 256GB storage option, a $200 upgrade that bumps the final price to $1,400. Strangely, there’s no 1TB SSD available, but a 1.5TB SSD will be sold – if you’re willing to spend an extra $1,200 for it.

We think the 256GB drive is the best value for most people.

RAM

Apple ships the new MacBook Air with 8GB of memory, upgradable to 16GB for $200.

Most people won’t have need to spend the extra cash. While there’s certainly reasons why you might want more RAM in a MacBook, the Air’s relatively slow processor means it’s a poor fit for people who want to run demanding apps.

Stick with 8GB. If you think you need 16GB, frankly, you’re likely to need a MacBook Pro. We have a hard time imaging a scenario where 16GB of RAM is useful, yet a faster quad-core processor (like that in the Pro) wouldn’t help.

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Apple Macbook Air

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Apple Macbook Air

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

new macbook air 2018 retina 1

new macbook air 2018 retina 2

new macbook air 2018 retina 3

new macbook air 2018 retina 4

Apple Macbook Air

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Apple Macbook Air

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Apple Macbook Air

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

The MacBook Air has few options. There’s just one processor available, so you can only change the storage and RAM. That means buying it is simple, but there’s a few other specifications you may want to know.

First, the new Air has a Retina display. That means 2,560 x 1,600 resolution or 227 pixels per inch, which is identical to the MacBook Pro. Given the Air’s lower price, the display is a nice feature.

The new Air weights 2.75 pounds and is a maximum of 0.61 inches thick. These specifications are solid but not remarkable. Competitors like the Dell XPS 13 and Asus ZenBook UX331UA are just as thin and light.

You should also know Apple has switched to the butterfly keyboard found in the MacBook and MacBook Pro. It’s been a controversial design because of the keyboard’s low travel and poor tactile feel. There’s no Touch Bar option. That’s still reserved for the Pro.

Buy the new Air. Not the old Air.

As a reminder, don’t buy the old MacBook Air. Apple still has it listed for sale, but it’s an antiquated model with a processor that’s several years out of date and a terrible display. It’s the least expensive option at $1,000, but we don’t think you’d like it.

If you think the MacBook Air isn’t the right Mac for you after all, no worries. Our complete MacBook buying guide will point you to the right machine.

Editors’ Recommendations

  • Apple MacBook Air (2018) vs. Apple MacBook
  • Surface Laptop 2 vs. MacBook Pro
  • It’s finally here. Apple’s new MacBook Air has Touch ID and Retina for $1,199
  • Apple could announce a new MacBook this week. Here’s what we want to see
  • Score a professionally refurbished MacBook Air for less than 300 bucks



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