The MacBook Air is better than ever before. Updated earlier this year, the new 13-inch model has a thinner, lighter design, and the display received the Retina treatment it desperately needed. Those two improvements make the 2018 MacBook Air an obvious choice over its stagnant predecessor.
Confusingly, Apple still sells the 2017 MacBook Air on its website for $999. But with ancient components, an antiquated design and a relatively high price tag, the older MacBook Air is a tough sell. Here is how it stacks up to the competition.
Updated Nov. 23 at 3:57 am ET: As part of its Black Friday Shopping Event, Apple is offering a $200 gift card (opens in new tab) with the purchase of the old, $999 MacBook Air (this deal doesn't apply to the new Air). For the latest laptop deals, check out our always-updated guide.
Old MacBook Air or New MacBook Air?
This year, the new MacBook Air received the minimum treatment it needed to stay relevant in a segment filled with excellent options. The star of the show is the Air's 2560 x 1600-pixel Retina display, which impressed us in both real-world testing and in our benchmarks. Compared to the new panel, the 13-inch, 1440 x 900-pixel display on the older MacBook Air is dull and not nearly as sharp.
When it comes to color output, the new MacBook Air covers 109 percent of the sRGB gamut, whereas the old model produces only 71 percent. However, it's worth noting that the 2017 panel gets much brighter than the new display, at 336 nits versus 234 nits.
Performance is another area where the new MacBook Air received a significant overhaul, even if Apple chose dual-core Y-series CPUs instead of the quad-core U-series variant found in its competitors.
The 2017 MacBook Air is still being sold with a painfully dated 5th Gen Intel Core CPU, which doesn't hold a candle to modern 8th Gen chips. The old MacBook Air (Core i5-5350U CPU) and its nearly four-year-old processor scored a 6,438 on the Geekbench 4 test, short of the 7,871 achieved by the new model (Core i5-8210Y).
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That's a respectable bump in performance, but it is the hard drive in the new machine that really puts the old laptop to shame. The 256GB SSD on the new MacBook Air transferred 4.97GB of mixed-media files at a breakneck rate of 2.1 gigabytes per second, which is 10 times the speed of the previous MacBook Air (212 megabytes per second).
Reasons to Buy the Old MacBook Air
The old MacBook Air does have a few advantages over the new model, though none of them are significant enough to warrant its purchase.
Because of its higher-resolution display and slimmer design, the new MacBook Air's battery life is about an hour shorter than its predecessor's (10:26). Still, with a respectable runtime of 9 hours and 32 minutes, the new MacBook Air will get you through a full workday before needing to be recharged.
One other advantage the old MacBook Air has over the new version is the option to connect to peripherals via USB Type-A. With only two Thunderbolt 3 ports, an adapter is required to connect a mouse, keyboard or other accessories to the new MacBook Air.
Then, of course, there's the price. At $999, the 2017 MacBook Air remains the least expensive laptop you can buy that runs MacOS. While the three-figure price tag may sound appealing, it is definitely worth spending a bit more for the base model 2018 MacBook Air.
But what about the 12-inch MacBook? After Apple's Mac launch event, my colleague, Henry Casey, wrote an op-ed on how the new MacBook Air makes the 12-inch MacBook redundant. While we'd recommend the 12-inch model over the old 13-inch Air to most people, you shouldn't choose it over the new Air.
MacBook Air (2017) vs. Windows Laptops
If you're not partial to MacOS, then there is even less reason to buy the old MacBook Air. Windows laptops offer much better performance across the board for even less money. Our favorite overall laptop, the Dell XPS 13, outdoes the new Air in most areas, including performance, display quality and keyboard comfort.
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The laptop's U-series processors crushed our performance tests and its beautiful 4K touch-screen display remains unrivaled. Not to mention, the XPS 13 is a full 0.3 pounds lighter than the old MacBook Air.
A range of other Windows machines selling for around $1,000 — including the Lenovo Yoga Book C930, Microsoft Surface Laptop 2 and HP Envy 13t — are also better options than last year's Air, with higher-resolution displays and more powerful processors than Apple's machine.
The old MacBook Air hasn't been competitive in years, and now with the launch of a new model, it's a wonder Apple still sells it. Unless you absolutely need a USB-A port or can't spend another $200 to upgrade to the new model, then there is no reason to purchase the $999 MacBook Air. Sure, you get decent performance and long battery life, but there are numerous other laptops that offer those same benefits and do them even better.
Apple should do us a favor by putting the 2017 MacBook Air out of its misery — and take the 12-inch MacBook along with it.
Credit: Laptop Mag