Apple MacBook Air buying guide

Want Apple's super-slim MacBook Air? Here's what to know before you buy

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. Instead, the company say 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. Intel has confirmed the processor is actually the Core i5-8210Y.

The i5-8210Y is not a powerful chip. It has only two cores with four threads, while many competitors have moved on to Core i5 processors with four cores and eight threads. It also has a relatively low base clock of 1.6GHz. While the Air should prove plenty quick for most day-to-day tasks, it won’t plow through intensive apps.

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 The older model is still available for $1,000, but its fifth-generation Core i5 processor is woefully out of date, and we don’t recommend it – even though it’s $200 less.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

The rest

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.

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