Zit Seng's Blog

A Singaporean's technology and lifestyle blog

The Mid-2012 MacBook Air 13″ Review

One of the most spectacular product announcements I’ve seen happened at Macworld in 2008. Steve Jobs was delivering his keynote when, at one point, he walked to the podium, picked up a manila envelope, and from within, pulled out what was unveiled as the MacBook Air. It was stunning. It was the beginning of the Ultrabook era, a concept that Intel would not officially define until 2011.

Back in 2008, the MacBook Air was extraordinary for it’s ultra-thin and ultra-light body, yet still packing somewhat mainstream specifications within. When the dust settled, people realized that its 1.6 GHz or 1.8 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo wasn’t powerful enough. You had to compromise and choose between ultra-thin/ultra-light and raw horsepower.

Fast forward to June 2012. At the WWDC keynote, Apple announced the immediate availability of the mid-2012 MacBook Air. Exteriorly, the new MacBook Air hasn’t changed much. It still weighs in at 1.34 kg (13.3″ model) and measures just 3 mm to 17 mm thick. It’s a winning svelte looking notebook that continues to be a design favourite.

But the features and performance packed into the new MacBook Air makes it a no-brainer replacement for at least one of its larger sibling, the MacBook Pro 13″. The MacBook Air has a powerful processor, fast storage, cutting-edge connectivity options, and long-lasting battery life. It doesn’t even cost much more than the MacBook Pro 13″. The MacBook Air has become a mainstream Mac notebook.

New Features

The hardware highlight at this year’s WWDC may be on the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display, but the rest of the Mac notebook family, which received an upgrade to the Intel Ivy Bridge platform, was not forgotten.

The MacBook Air 13″ model now packs the third generation Intel Core i5 or i7 processor running at 1.8 GHz or 2.0 GHz (custom option), and up to 8 GB of 1600 MHz low-voltage DDR3 RAM. The processors are dual-core with hyper-threading, and can Turbo Boost up to 2.8 GHz (3.2 GHz for the 2.0 GHz Core i7 custom option).

We all love comparing benchmarks, so I’m pleased to observe that the new MacBook Air with 1.8 GHz Core i5 scores pretty well against the mid-2011 MacBook Air with 1.7 GHz Core i5.

Geekbench Geekbench 64-bit PCMark Vantage 3D Mark06
Mid-2012 MacBook Air 13″ (1.8 Hz Core i5) 6174 (+14.9) 6757(+13.5%) 13469 (+42%) 5827 (+38%)
Mid-2011 MacBook Air 13″ (1.7 GHz Core i5) 5372 5952 9484 4223

The custom build 2.0 GHz Core i7 is only a marginal improvement over the standard 1.8 GHz Core i5, so I think the upgrade may not be very worthwhile unless you really demand the last ounce of CPU performance.

The new MacBook Air also gets faster SATA3 flash storage, available either in 128 GB or 256 GB capacities, and 512 GB capacities on custom build. I managed to get about 400 MB/s writes and 455 MB/s reads using Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. It’s probably about two times faster than the mid-2011 MacBook Airs.

The two USB ports on the MacBook Air are now both USB 3.0 and supports up to 5 Gbps transfer rate. Unlike most other hardware which had to mark one port blue to indicate the upgraded USB 3.0 speeds, there is no need to differentiate them on the MacBook Air since both ports are already USB 3.0.

The Thunderbolt port is the same as that in last year’s MacBook Air. It supports transfers up to 10 Gbps, and doubles as a Mini DisplayPort for connecting to an external monitor. If you had any Mini DisplayPort to VGA or DVI dongles, they are still perfectly usable on this Thunderbolt port.

The FaceTime or iSight camera on the new MacBook Air is now upgraded to HD720 resolution. This is the minimum resolution to qualify as HD, and considering how HD is getting so popular these days, I’m sure this will bring smiles to all the FaceTime users.

Apple tweaked the fan on the new MacBook Air (also on the new MacBook Pro 15″ with Retina Display). The fan blades are asymmetric, meaning the spacing between the fan blades are not all equal. Ordinary fans with equal spaced blades will produce sounds at a single frequency (the frequency, presumably, goes up as the fan spins faster). With asymmetric blades, the sounds are distributed across a wider range of frequencies, so that they are perceived as softer. You will end up with a fan that sounds quieter.


The MacBook Air is boxed up just like it had been before. There’s just one little change. The top of the box is now set in a white background. It was a black background in the previous year’s box.

If this is your first Mac notebook, you’ll find the packaging very minimalistic.

The actual MacBook Air sits at the top of the box, and once you remove it, you’ll see the new MagSafe 2 power adapter with a UK 3-pin power cord (or whichever plug type suitable for the country you bought your MacBook in), a separate standalone UK 3-pin plug, and a little box containing two small booklets and some Apple logo stickers.

Physical Design

Not much has changed, physically, in the mid-2012 MacBook Air from the mid-2011 MacBook Air. In fact, the current body design was introduced in October 2010. It’s still a very beautiful design, so Apple didn’t need to change or update it.

Here’s the front-view of the MacBook Air 13″. That’s the front edge at just 3 mm thick.

Moving over the the left side, you’ll see (from left) the new MagSafe 2 connector, a USB 3.0 port, a headphone socket, and a microphone. Notice that the MagSafe 2 is thinner but wider than the original MagSafe. I’m not sure why Apple had to change the connector. The MagSafe 2 is also introduced in the new MacBook Pro 15″ with Retina Display, and it too ought to accommodate the original MagSafe connector.

A quick way to differentiate the mid-2012 MacBook Air from its previous generation brethren, apart from the MagSafe 2 connection, is to look at where the icons are relative to their connectors. The icons are toward the front of the connector on the mid-2012 MacBook Air. On the older MacBook Airs, the icons are toward the back.

The back of the MacBook Air has no ports.

The right side of the MacBook Air has (from left) a SDXC slot, a second USB 3.0 port, and the Thunderbolt port. The Thunderbolt port also takes a Mini DisplayPort connection so that you can connect to an external monitor.

Opening up the lid reveals the LED backlit keyboard and a large multi-touch glass trackpad. The 13″ model features a 1440×900 resolution LED display (not IPS, unfortunately), and a FaceTime HD720 camera above it.

Powering Up

There are some simple setup steps to go through the first time you power up the MacBook Air. These are things like configuring your wireless network, registering your hardware, and migrating your old data. You can always do these steps later if you just want to dive right in to play with the MacBook Air.

If you’re coming over from another Mac notebook, migrating your data, applications and various settings is straight-forward using the Migration Assistant software. Migration Assistant can work with a Time Machine backup, transfer over ethernet or wireless, or transfer using Thunderbolt or Firewire cable with the source (old) computer booted up in Target Disk mode.

Migration on the Mac is a real breeze. I know it because I’ve done it many times. In the Windows world, it would have been such a pain to change notebooks, and you could easily loose a day of productivity trying to setup your new notebook.

On this MacBook Air, I got Migration Assistant to use my Time Machine backup on an external Western Digital USB 3.0 disk. I think the USB 3.0 might have helped speed things along. My 180 GB of “stuffs” was copied over in under 2 hours, possibly much less. I don’t know the real time because, well, I just let it run during my lunch break.

Usability Notes

Ultra-thin may look very nice. But combine it with ultra-light, the MacBook Air has just become a notebook that’s very easy to take around with you. I noticed that I’m taking the MacBook Air around a lot more than I used to with my previous MacBook Pro. The latter weighed 2.04 kg, and the 700 g reduction in weight felt very significant.

Beyond just carrying it around, I’m also finding myself using the MacBook Air more often, such as on the bus or train. The reason? Its lighter weight makes it easier to balance it on my lap, or bag. It also runs cooler than the MacBook Pro, so it’s also more comfortable to use the MacBook Air on my lap.

There is no slot for Kensington lock on the MacBook Air. There never was. I suppose Apple figured it’s so light you’d carry it everywhere you went, so there wasn’t much usefulness for the Kensington lock.

The Competition

What competition? Oh, if you’re looking for an ultra-slim and ultra-light Windows notebook, sure there are plenty of choices. Notably, the Asus Zenbook Primes look like rather attractive options, and they certainly are in terms of technical specifications. It’s dubios if 1920×1080 resolution would be


Is this the right time to upgrade? It’s never the right time. Something better will always be coming. Furthermore, truth be told, I think the mid-2011 MBA was a heftier upgrade than the current mid-2012 MBA is. But if you’re in the market to buy a Mac notebook right now, the mid-2012 MBA packs all the updates needed to keep the notebook current and future-proof until your next regular upgrade cycle.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

View Comment Policy