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Teardowns reveal some surprises in new MacBook Air model

updated 10:53 pm EDT, Tue June 11, 2013

Bigger-capacity battery, dual mics, Samsung-provided storage

Two initial teardowns of the latest MacBook Air model by Mac specialists OWC and iFixit have revealed a number of small changes but mostly similarities between the latest revision and the current model. Overall, no huge changes were made to the interior layout of the 11-inch device, apart from a completely redesigned Airport card and other minor tweaks. The investigation did turn up that the battery in the unit features a 6.7 percent capacity increase in the same space, aiding the dramatically increased battery life.

Still, the majority of the increase in battery life (now up to nine hours from a previous five hours on the 11-inch model, and up to 12 hours from a previous seven hours for the 13-inch version) is mostly due to efficiencies gained from the use of Intel's power-sipping Haswell processor, which adds little in terms of raw CPU but manages processor use far more efficiently, resulting in substantial increases in battery life. When combined with the forthcoming OS X Mavericks upgrade, there should be some additional power-management efficiencies that may further increase user battery life.

The battery pack, which takes up a substantial portion of the interior, has increased to 7.6V and 7150mAh from its previous 7.3V, 6700mAh configuration in the same space. Repair and instruction site iFixit notes that the PCIe controller and flash storage modules used in the new model are provided by Samsung, and noticeably smaller than the previous version (making them incompatible with previous models of MacBook Air). Using PCIe rather than SATA has wrung a major upgrade (up to 45 percent) in response times out of the existing flash technology, and the MBA is the first Mac model to use the technique.

The company, which took apart a 13-inch version of the new MBA, noted that the only exterior change was the switch from one gridded microphone port to two, reflecting the dual mics the unit now uses for noise-cancellation. Also new in these models is a switch to the Intel HD Graphics 5000 video chipset and LPDDR3 RAM (up to 8GB) alongside 802.11ac compatibility. The unit still uses pentalobe screws on its exterior housing.

Further noted by iFixit was the lack of a separate platform controller hub, along with a new heat sink clamp. Also, the speaker cable connector now faces the opposite was as it did in the 2012 version. As previously suspected, the new Airport card uses a Broadcom BCM4360 chip to provide the 802.11ac functionality as well as Bluetooth 4.0. The Magsafe 2 board inside the unit no longer has a socket for the iSight camera cable, and the new heat sink design covers two distinct chips, though one in the unit iFixit disassembled didn't have any thermal compound on it, but it is unknown if that was intentional or a production error on that particular unit.

The company has given the MacBook Air 13-inch 2013 model a preliminary repairability rating of four out of 10 (10 being the easiest to repair), largely due to the use of pentalobe screws and other obstacles that would stop most consumers from attempting any repairs. To be fair, the MacBook Air models have thus far been shown to be quite hardy and in need of little in the way of repairs over their normal, useful life (barring accidents or liquid contact, etc).

The iFixit analysts noted in a tweet on the teardown that "Apple makes it easy to ruin your MB Air keys with a heat gun if you're replacing the microphone #oops." A picture of the result of that mistake is below.

By Electronista Staff


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