MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: The battle of Apple’s 13-inch notebooks

By Kenny Yeo - 1 May 2015

Performance Benchmarking

Performance Benchmarking

We have installed Windows 8 on both machines and will be testing them using our usual suite of benchmarks. This will allow us to peg its performances against comparable Windows notebooks that we have reviewed. At this point it is worth mentioning that the latest 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro notebooks will drop Bootcamp support for Windows 7 and will only support Windows 8. We have also included results from the recently reviewed Dell XPS 13 and other comparable notebooks such as the ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi and Microsoft Surface Pro 3.

  • PCMark 8
  • 3DMark 2013
  • Tomb Raider
  • Far Cry 2

Here is a quick overview of how the two 13-inch Apple notebooks matches up against each other and also other comparable Windows notebooks.

Test Notebooks Compared
  Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Early 2015) Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (Early 2015) Dell XPS 13 (2015) ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Microsoft Surface Pro 3
  Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (Early 2015) Apple MacBook Pro 13-inch with Retina display (Early 2015) Dell XPS 13 (2015) ASUS Transformer Book T300 Chi Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro Microsoft Surface Pro 3
Processor and Chipset
  • Intel Core i5-5250U (1.6GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
  • Intel Core i5-5257U (2.7GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
  • Intel Core i7-5500U (2.4GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
  • Intel Core M-5Y71 Processor (1.2GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
  • Intel Core M-5Y70 (1.1GHz, 4MB L3 cache)
  • Intel Core i5-4300U (1.9GHz, 3MB L3 cache)
Operating System
  • Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite
  • Mac OS X 10.10 Yosemite
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1
  • Windows 8.1
  • Window 8.1
System Memory
  • 4GB 1600MHz LPDDR3
  • 8GB 1866MHz LPDDR3
  • 8GB
  • 8GB
  • 8GB
  • 4GB
Video & Display
  • 13.3-inch (1440 x 900 pixels)
  • Intel HD Graphics 6000
  • 13.3-inch Retina display (2560 x 1600 pixels)
  • Intel Iris Graphics 6100
  • 13.3-inch (3200 x 1800 pixels) touchscreen
  • Intel HD Graphics 5500
  • 12.5-inch WQHD display (2560 x 1440 pixels)
  • Intel HD Graphics 5300
  • 13.3-inch 3200 x 1800 pixels resolution
  • Intel HD Graphics 5300
  • 12-inch ClearType display
  • 2160 x 1440 pixels resolution
  • 256GB PCIe SSD
  • 256GB PCIe-based SSD
  • 256GB SSD
  • 128GB SSD
  • 256GB / 512GB
  • 128GB SSD
  • MicroSD expansion (Up to 64GB)
Optical Drive
  • None
  • None
  • None
  • None
  • None
  • 802.11ac/b/g/n (2x2)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11 ac/b/g/n (3x3)
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11ac/b/g/n/ (2x2)
  • Bluetooth
  • 802.11b/g/n/a
  • Bluetooth
  • Wireless-AC
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • 802.11 ac/a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Stereo speakers
  • Dual microphones
  • Stereo speakers
  • Dual microphones
  • Built-in speakers
  • Built-in speakers
  • Integrated JBL speakers
  • Stereo speakers with Dolby Audio-enhanced sound
I/O Ports
  • 2 x USB 3.0 port
  • 1 x Thunderbolt 2.0 port
  • 1 x SDXC card slot
  • 1 x audio jack
  • 2 x USB 3.0 ports
  • 2 x Thunderbolt 2.0 ports
  • 1 x HDMI port
  • 1 x headphone jack
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x Mini-DisplayPort
  • SD card reader
  • 1 x micro-USB 3.0
  • 1 x SD card reader
  • 1 x micro-HDMI
  • 1 x Bluetooth On/Off Switch
  • 1 x COMBO audio jack
  • 2 x USB 3.0
  • 4-in-1 card reader
  • Headphones jack
  • Micro-HDMI out
  • 1 x USB 3.0
  • 1 x MicroSD
  • 1 x Mini-DisplayPort
  • 1 x Headphones jack
Battery Type
  • 54wH lithium-ion battery
  • 74.9wH lithium-ion battery
  • 52Whr lithium-ion
  • 32Wh battery
  • 44wH non-removable
  • Integrated 42.2wH
  • 325 x 227 x 3 ~ 17mm
  • 314 x 219 x 18mm
  • 304 x 200 x 9~15mm
  • 317.8 x 191.6 x 7.6 ~ 16.5 mm
  • 330 mm x 228 mm x 12.8 mm
  • 292 x 201 x 9.1mm
  • 1.35kg
  • 1.58kg
  • 1.26kg
  • 1.43kg (with keyboard dock)
  • 700g (tablet alone)
  • 1.19kg
  • 800g
  • Force Touch trackpad
  • Includes pen input


PCMark 8

Bearing in mind that the MacBook Pro has a faster processor, speedier and more RAM than the MacBook Air, is it any wonder that its scores on PCMark 8 was consistently better? The gulf in performance varies across the different workloads, but it was most noticeable on the two “Apps” workloads. When running Microsoft Office, the MacBook Pro’s scores were about 15% greater; and on Adobe, its performance advantage increased to an even greater 31%. In fact, the MacBook Pro’s scores are only matched by the Acer Aspire R13, which has very high specifications, including a high-end Core i7-4510U processor and a storage system that is made up of two PCIe-based SSDs in a RAID 0 configuration.


3DMark 2013

We had high hopes of the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro because they were using Intel’s latest integrated graphics solutions and they did not disappoint. The MacBook Air’s scores were significantly better than the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and also the Acer Aspire R13, both of which are equipped with older Intel HD Graphics 4400 integrated GPUs. However, the undisputed leader here is the MacBook Pro and its new Intel Iris Graphics 6100 integrated GPU. On average, its scores were about 13% greater than the MacBook Air’s. Also note that it's about 25% better than the Intel HD Graphics 5500 (also a new generation integrated graphics engine) that's found the new Dell XPS 13 ultraportable.


Far Cry 2

Moving on to real-world gaming benchmarks, it is encouraging to see that both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro could comfortably achieve playable frame rates on Far Cry 2 at a respectable Full-HD resolution even if it is only at “Medium” graphics settings. Looking at the results of the other notebooks, you can see that it was previously not possible with Intel’s integrated GPUs. The MacBook Pro was about 17% faster overall than the MacBook Air. The other result worth noting comes from the Dell XPS 13, which also managed above 30 frames per second. It is powered by the new Intel Core i7-5500U, which has the new Intel HD Graphics 5500 integrated GPU.


Tomb Raider

Despite the encouraging performance on Far Cry 2, it looks like it will still be some time before Intel’s integrated GPUs can handle modern games at Full-HD resolutions. Though the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro achieved double digit frame rates, they were far from playable. On the bright side, the improvement in performance over Haswell’s Intel HD Graphics integrated GPUs is very significant. For example, the MacBook Pro was about 50% faster than the Acer Aspire R13, and even the less powerful MacBook Air was about 30% faster.


Battery Life & Power Consumption

The MacBook Air and MacBook Pro recorded the longest battery lives of any notebook of its class that we have tested. Coincidentally, both machines came in at 323 minutes or five hours and 23 minutes, which is very impressive considering our battery test regime consists of a wide range of tasks including video editing and gaming. That said, it's worth noting also that the two machines also have very large battery capacities. The MacBook Air’s 54Wh is surpassed only by the Acer Aspire R13’s 61Wh battery unit, whereas the MacBook Pro’s whopping 74.9Wh battery rivals those found in larger 15 and 17-inch notebooks.

Still, a large battery alone is not going to cut it and Apple’s latest notebooks are truly power efficient. The MacBook Air power consumption works out to just over 10W, which is comparable to the Core M-powered Lenovo Yoga 3 Pro. On the other hand, the MacBook Pro’s figure of 13.91W is even lower than the Dell XPS 13 and substantially lower than Acer Aspire R13. Clearly, the new Broadwell processors have delivered on Intel's claims of improved power efficiency.


Portability Index

Our Portability Index factors in battery life, weight and volume so you can see which notebook is the most worthwhile to carry around. Even though the MacBook Air has been surpassed by thinner and lighter notebooks, its outstanding battery life allowed it achieve a respectable ratio of 3.18 on our Portability Index. This means it is just about as portable as the Microsoft Surface Pro 3 and only very slightly behind the extremely compact Dell XPS 13. The MacBook Pro fared well too thanks to its long battery life, and its score of 2.753 is miles ahead of the Acer Aspire R13, which is its closest rival in terms of performance.

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