In reviewing the 2013 MacBook Air, I spent a lot of time thinking about how I'd recommend the various notebooks in Apple's lineup. By the end of this year, once Apple has updated (almost) all of its lines to Haswell, it will have one of the strongest Mac lineups in Apple history. The problem of course is deciding what configuration to buy. Today's review helps understand and explain what's going on with the new MacBook Air, but I wanted to do a separate post with recommendations depending on usage types. The table below is what I'd recommend today according to usage model. This is by no means comprehensive, but in most cases offers a cost optimized look at the current Mac notebook lineup:

Apple Mac Laptop Recommendations - June 2013
  Budget Writer's Aid Mobile Workhorse Desktop Replacement Desktop Replacement
Model 11-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2013) 13-inch MacBook Air (Mid 2013) 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro 15-inch Retina MacBook Pro
CPU 1.3GHz Core i5 1.3GHz Core i5 2.6GHz Core i5 2.4GHz Core i7 2.7GHz Core i7
GPU Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 5000 Intel HD 4000 Intel HD 4000 + NV GT650M Intel HD 4000 + NV GT650M
SSD 128GB 256GB 256GB 256GB 512GB
Buy or Wait Buy Buy Wait (~3 months) Wait (~3 months) Wait (~3 months)
Total Price $999 $1399 $1599 $2079 $2629

We'll start at the bottom. On a budget, the 11-inch MacBook Air is really your best bet to getting into a notebook that ships with OS X. The base configuration isn't terrible either. I've been using the 2013 13-inch MBA with only 4GB of RAM for the past couple of weeks and generally don't have any issues with the memory size. OS X Mavericks should have some more accommodations for limited amounts of DRAM, which will likely give the 4GB configuration some more legroom. I wouldn't upgrade the CPU or SSD either as both can add considerable cost. If our goal here is to remain cheap, then we've got to stay committed. If you need a larger display, I'd simply opt for the base 13-inch model at $1099.

Next up is the writer's aid configuration, an upgraded 13-inch MacBook Air. Once again I'd stick with the base CPU, but mostly to optimize for battery life than anything else. The faster CPU would be nice, but I'd only consider the upgrade if you need a mobile workhorse and for whatever reason won't consider the 13-inch rMBP. I threw in the larger SSD simply because I believe 256GB is really the minimum for all of the applications I'd typically install as someone who regularly has to produce content (Photoshop, Dreamweaver, Lightroom, iWork, Office, Boot Camp partition). You're going to need some form of external storage for photos, videos and music though. I could go either way on the memory capacity, but at only $100 for the upgrade it might make sense to give the machine a bit more longevity.

Both of the MBA configurations I'm fine with recommending today. It'll take us some time to get to Broadwell, so there won't be an issue with early obsolesence with any of these. The next three configurations are a different story however.

MacBook Pro Recommendations

As I alluded to in this morning's MacBook Air review, the most interesting configuration for me is the 13-inch MacBook Pro with Retina Display. Unfortunately, the current model still ships with a 35W Ivy Bridge part. All current indications point to the next-gen model using a 28W Haswell-ULT part, which should have a tremendous impact on battery life (similar to the MBAs). That shift alone makes this one worth waiting for. If you have to have one today though, this is the configuration I'd opt for. Amazon has a deal on the upgraded configuration, with a 256GB SSD and 2.6GHz processor for $1599. That's probably what I'd recommend. The cost of the upgrade to a 512GB SSD is a bit too high on the entry level model ($500) and on the upgraded system it'll put your total cost right at $2000. If you need the space, go for it, but if you can make 256GB work it might make sense to go that route and rely on external storage for the rest of your needs. Do keep in mind that you'll want to keep around 10 - 20% of the drive free to keep it performing nicely. The CPU upgrade isn't necessary, but it's a part of Amazon's deal so why not. I've been pretty happy with 8GB of memory in this configuration as well.

The last two configurations are also due for Haswell upgrades, although here the upgrades may not be as significant on the battery life front as Apple will be using standard voltage Haswell M parts. The big gains in battery life will come if Apple indeed decides to use Iris Pro, you won't have to worry about babysitting your dGPU all the time. The lower end configuration is pretty much stock. The reason I threw this one in here is because otherwise you get dangerously close to $3000, which is tough to stomach any way you look at it.

The higher end DTR configuration is really the reasonable shoot-for-the-moon option. Here I finally cave in to the larger SSD, double the amount of memory and opt for the upgraded CPU. The total price ends up at $2629 if you snag the latest deal from Amazon.

My Personal Choices

For me personally, I'd wait for the 13-inch rMBP upgrade (Mobile Workhorse option) as that'd be a great combination of display and battery life (if it gets a 28W Haswell ULT). I like the 15-inch model but that's a bit too large of a machine to comfortably use in coach on most US domestic airlines (where I spend a lot of my time). If I didn't travel as much, I'd opt for the 15-inch rMBP. If you're running a dual-system configuration (perhaps 2013 Mac Pro + a notebook), then I might go lighter end on the notebook side and opt for the 13-inch MBA (Writer's Aid configuration).

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  • lukarak - Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - link

    Why shouldn't they share the love? It's not fanboyism, it's just an article explaining their (or his) view for people looking to buy Apple. You should really get it into your head that not everybody that loves Apple products and thinks they are the best out there is a fanboy.
  • GotThumbs - Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - link

    "share the love"? how about that fact that this site is supposed to be independent and unbiased in its analysis of products. Let the readers make the choice without the insertion of personal bias.

    Personally I don't really see the real point (other than an Apple placement) of this "Article" when you're limiting your selection to one companies very limited product line. Apple does have a great business system though. The company keeps it's hardware range/selection to a minimum, so designing an OS around the limited hardware/drivers reduces instability. Windows does not have the luxury to design an OS around a product line of say 10-12 system configurations that internally are not that much different. MS designs their OS for millions of combinations of hardware/drivers. Chromebooks are a more simplistic approach than Apple, but it will meet most users needs...especially with more online apps becoming available. The use of Citrix Receiver allows you to run software withing a window without installing the software.

    Think of the thousands of combinations of hardware/software that MS deals with. If they adopted (win8) are more restricted OS development that was legally only allowed to run on their own systems ...well it would be a no brainer as far as OS stability and company profits matching/exceeding Apples. Apple's OS license specifies it must only be used on Apple hardware. That is why you no longer see companies selling hackintoshes.

    Buying/using Apple products is like being trapped under a dome IMO. You perceive that you're safe from outside threats, but you're also restricted and not truly free.
  • Arbee - Wednesday, June 26, 2013 - link

    "Not truly free" on a machine where the OS kernel is open source, the default OS install includes all of the classic Unix tools, and GCC/Python/etc are a free download away? Plus it boots directly to the desktop by default, and the equivalent of the start menu isn't going anywhere. I liked Win 7 a lot, but vs. Win 8 I have to give the nod to OS X.
  • darwinosx - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    What an idiot. Do you eve read this site? Are you such a tool that you come to troll an Apple article that you didn't even read? Pathetic.
    You are not restricted at all on Apple laptops. Another moronic statement.
  • darwinosx - Thursday, June 27, 2013 - link

    Aww poor thing. Does it make you fell bad?
  • jdvorak - Monday, July 1, 2013 - link

    I think it was a mistake to discontinue the 17" MBP series.
    The 15" model is only halfway of a desktop replacement.
  • Spunjji - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Agreed entirely. There's no good reason to exclude that size from the line-up, especially given how much more they could do with it with newer hardware.
  • Sushisamurai - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I think they should tier their basic offerings a little more, instead of the current emphasis on BTO's. I'd rather them tier it, as it allows for resellers to generate more sales (sometimes I see better deals or killer deals elsewhere, but not the hardware I want!) as opposed to trafficking everyone to apple's own stores. Take Asia for example, BTO is non-existent - I can only buy an apple product to my specs q6 (every) months!
  • jack daniels esq - Wednesday, July 3, 2013 - link

    I guess the 17 incher is either a POS or toast - pity - possible replacement for my Sony
  • Spunjji - Thursday, July 4, 2013 - link

    Mmm, puffilicious.

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