MacBook Air Retina.
I sold my Retina MacBook Air after six months. Here’s why, what took its place, and how it fixed the problem.
[What follows is an update, which addresses the fix.]
Two things made the MBA Retina unusable for me in the long run:
Scenario 1: All of the laptops I use get hooked up to an an LG Ultrafine 5K monitor on a rotating basis depending on what laptop I’m using that day. (The LG Ultrafine 5K is designed specifically for the Mac though it works just fine with most of my new Windows laptops too.)
Typically, I have a dozen browser tabs active, a live news stream intermittently in the background, and some productivity applications running. My thin-and-light Windows laptops* that are comparable to the MBA do fine handling that modest load hooked up to the LG. The MacBook Air does (did) not. Eventually, tabs stop responding, application switching slows, and the fans whir.
Scenario 2: On a three-week road trip, the MBA Retina was the only laptop I was using every day, all day. Too often it struggled to handle what I threw at it (which, again, is pretty modest). In short, I would not take the current iteration of the MBA Retina on another long road trip.
Apple’s problem (as I see it): the current MacBook Air (mid-2019) is spec’d like a 2019 version of the 12-inch MacBook would be (if Apple had not discontinued it). The problem is, the MacBook Air is a lot bigger — wider and longer — than the 12-inch MacBook and deserves a faster processor.
To wit, the Retina MacBook Air’s dual-core Intel Amber Lake processor and its related subsystems (like the Intel UHD Graphic 617) don’t offer a whole lot more more performance than I was getting with the 12-inch MacBook (which I’ve also owned).
Apple could fix this by giving the MacBook Air — whose processor hasn’t been upgraded in more than a year — an Intel 10th Generation processor. Just like every other major thin-and-light laptop manufacturer on the planet is using right now.
How I solved my problem: I got an entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro mid-2019 with a 256GB SSD on sale for $1,199 from Best Buy, a discount of $300 off the list price of $1,499.
That made it the same price I paid for the MBA Retina (256GB) when I got it on sale earlier this year — not bad considering the mid-2019 entry-level MBP 13 now includes the Touch Bar standard.
And what a difference a processor upgrade makes.
For me, the ultimate stress test for my workload was hooking up my new MacBook Pro 13 to the LG Ultrafine 5K monitor: now there are no slowdowns like I experienced with the MacBook Air. The MBP 13 keeps up with all the open tabs and productivity stuff I run.
Conclusion: The Retina MacBook Air should offer performance closer to Windows thin-and-light quad-core laptops like the Dell XPS 13 2-in-1 and HP Spectre x360 13. If Dell and HP can design thin-and-light 13-inch laptops (comparable in weight and size to the MacBook Air) with decent quad-core performance, Apple certainly can.
*I always have a stable of a dozen or so new laptops that I test. In this case, for comparison I used Dell XPS 13 7390 and HP Spectre 13.
Heat caveat: my new mid-2019 MacBook Pro 13 can get hot around the palm rest when driving the LG Ultrafine 5K monitor, which comes and goes depending on what I’m doing.
MacBook Pro 13 (mid-2019).