Apple MacBook Air buying guide

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

    After a long, long wait, the MacBook Air was finally updated in 2018. 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.

    Storage

    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. There are also options for a 512GB or 1TB SSD. On the base model those options add $400 and $600 to the price; on the high-end MacBook Air they add $200 and $400, owing to this model coming with a 256GB SSD by default.

    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 need to spend the extra cash. While there are 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 are a few other specifications you may want to know about.

    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 MacBook Pro), but you do get a Touch ID button for logging in and verifying purchases.

    So, what Air configuration should you buy?

    Apple has decided to keep things simple with the MacBook Air, and there are only a few things you can configure before buying it. We’d definitely recommend you go for a minimum of 256GB of SSD storage, as 128GB isn’t really enough these days. There’s not much point upgrading to 16GB of memory, though, as the processor is still fairly run-of-the-mill. If you’re looking for a more powerful machine where 16GB of memory will be put to better use, consider getting a MacBook Pro. Make sure to check out our MacBook deals page if you’re looking to buy one.

    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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