Hands on: The 2019 MacBook Air is a bargain, but SSD speeds fall

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited July 16
The new MacBook Air builds on the 2018 refresh, but packs in a few improvements and a price drop to boot. But, the savings do come at a cost.

2019 MacBook Air
2019 MacBook Air looks the same as the 2018 model


Most of the new MacBook Air stays the same. It retains the same form factor, color choices, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, and Touch ID. Even the specs are identical -- and largely, the performance.

The first change we noticed was the new keyboard.

The 2018 MacBook Air on the left and the updated keyboard on the right.
The 2018 MacBook Air on the left and the updated 2019 keyboard on the right


Apple is using its latest generation butterfly keyboard and when going back and forth between the 2018 and 2019 models the difference is easily apparent. The latest model feels indistinguishable from the latest MacBook Pros and is slightly softer and quieter than the 2018 MacBook Air.

None of this changes the elephant in the room, that we just don't yet know if the improvements make any difference on reliability.






The next change is the addition of True Tone.

True Tone is Apple's adaptive display technology that adjusts the color temperature display based on the ambient light in the room. It matches the temperature of the lights in the room to make the display easier on the eyes. Air users are going to appreciate this over long bouts of use.

Once change that wasn't welcomed however, was the SSD speeds.

SSD performance on the 2018 MacBook Air
SSD performance on the 2018 MacBook Air


The 2018 MacBook Air averaged around 500MB/s on the write speeds and above 1700MB/s on the read speeds. We repeated the test several times to average the results we were seeing with the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test.

SSD performance on the 2019 MacBook Air
SSD performance on the 2019 MacBook Air


When we ran the same test on the 2019 MacBook Air, the scores didn't hold. The write speeds were consistent, but read speeds are are at around 1200MB/s

This is disappointing to see, but the MacBook Air's core audience won't necessarily notice a difference until they start to push the machine to the limits. You don't buy the Air if you need a MacBook Pro, and vice versa.

The $1299 13-inch MacBook Pro with two Thunderbolt 3 ports confuses this equation a little, but we'll be talking about that, and other matters surrounding the new MacBook Air, in the coming days.

2019 MacBook Air
2019 MacBook Air

How to save on Apple's 2019 MacBook Air

Shoppers can already save on Apple's new MacBook Air, with coupon deals and no interest financing offers available to help spread out the payments over time.

Available savings on each configuration and finish can be found 24/7 in our 2019 MacBook Air Price Guide, so be sure to check it out before making a purchase.

Meanwhile, closeout savings are also in effect on 2018 13-inch MacBook Air models, saving shoppers hundreds of dollars on remaining inventory.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 35
    DuhSesameDuhSesame Posts: 605member
    My 2016 MacBook have 900/1100 MB/s in the BlackMagic test, that’s a 512GB drive.  Both the MacBook & the Air are using two PCIe lanes for the drive, so nothing surpass 2GB/s.

    That being said, the 128GB is really slow even in this regard, even SATA III drives can do 550MB/s at maximum.
    edited July 16 watto_cobra
  • Reply 2 of 35
    I wonder if the addition of the T2 chip affects this. Encryption on the fly could be the reason for the reduced write speeds.
  • Reply 3 of 35
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,763administrator
    I wonder if the addition of the T2 chip affects this. Encryption on the fly could be the reason for the reduced write speeds.
    The 2018 model also had the T2.
    1STnTENDERBITSgatorguywatto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 35
    M68000M68000 Posts: 86member
    Wow, that's a significant change in the SSD, like around 33% ?  Maybe the new keyboard style has something to do with space inside the unit and a different SSD was needed, just a guess.    I have the 2018 Air and I'm used to the keyboard so many "seem" to be complaining about.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 35
    jkichlinejkichline Posts: 1,336member
    M68000 said:
    Wow, that's a significant change in the SSD, like around 33% ?  Maybe the new keyboard style has something to do with space inside the unit and a different SSD was needed, just a guess.    I have the 2018 Air and I'm used to the keyboard so many "seem" to be complaining about.
    They brought the price down even lower. That’s got to come from somewhere and the SSD speed is an easy target. The Air shouldn’t be a Pro device and this better aligns it with the competition in terms of price and performance.
    randominternetpersonstompypscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 35
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,675member
    So the SSD is going from crazy fast, to really fast?  I'm not being an Apple apologist, but if you're hammering a Macbook Air where the SSD speeds make that much of a difference, you're using the wrong machine.  Seriously.
    macpluspluschasmelfig2012lkrupprandominternetpersonpscooter63watto_cobra
  • Reply 7 of 35
    MisterKitMisterKit Posts: 269member
    It is hard to imagine a spec going backwards.
  • Reply 8 of 35
    SoliSoli Posts: 9,186member
    Is this really a big deal for the entry-level MacBook Air user? I can't imagine any of them saying that the SSD on their lowest-cost, budget Mac notebook is too slow. How do other ultraportable in that config and price range compare?
    chasmelfig2012pscooter63
  • Reply 9 of 35
    MisterKitMisterKit Posts: 269member
    It may very well be that the average MacBook Air owner would not notice the difference with this reduction in SSD read speed. There are some people who might notice a difference. Maybe a person takes a new Air on the road and wants to edit/mix some Logic Pro projects. This person is going to hit the wall sooner. Maybe there is enough headroom. Maybe not. It is just a puzzling situation when a spec jumps backwards like this. 1700MB/s down to 1200MB/s is almost a one third reduction. It would be interesting to hear an explanation from Apple as to why this decision was made.
    elfig2012
  • Reply 10 of 35
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,025member
    First guess is Apple is using a different chip manufacturer for the new Air.  Likely, they switched from Samsung to Toshiba...

    Apple gives you a better screen & keyboard, but cheapens the SSD.  With the pricing for the upgrade from 128GB to the 256GB it makes you wonder.  We need a speed test of both models, the 256GB might be much faster...
    entropysrandominternetpersonMisterKit
  • Reply 11 of 35
    chasmchasm Posts: 1,643member
    MisterKit said:
    It may very well be that the average MacBook Air owner would not notice the difference with this reduction in SSD read speed. There are some people who might notice a difference. Maybe a person takes a new Air on the road and wants to edit/mix some Logic Pro projects. That person should have bought a PRO if he wanted to work with PRO apps. That person is a bit stupid to expect PRO performance from an AIR. It would be interesting to hear an explanation from Apple as to why this decision was made.
    I would have thought it obvious: slower SSDs cost less to use. My understanding is that SSDs are like RAM when it comes to pricing: all RAM of a given class is the same -- the price varies by how far they got before failing the higher-speed quality tests. It would seem to me (though I could be wrong) that this same principle applies to SSD chips.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 35
    seanismorrisseanismorris Posts: 1,025member
    chasm said:
    MisterKit said:
    It may very well be that the average MacBook Air owner would not notice the difference with this reduction in SSD read speed. There are some people who might notice a difference. Maybe a person takes a new Air on the road and wants to edit/mix some Logic Pro projects. That person should have bought a PRO if he wanted to work with PRO apps. That person is a bit stupid to expect PRO performance from an AIR. It would be interesting to hear an explanation from Apple as to why this decision was made.
    I would have thought it obvious: slower SSDs cost less to use. My understanding is that SSDs are like RAM when it comes to pricing: all RAM of a given class is the same -- the price varies by how far they got before failing the higher-speed quality tests. It would seem to me (though I could be wrong) that this same principle applies to SSD chips.
    Not all RAM and SSD’s are created equal, someone sold you some BS on that one... likely to give you a lesser product at the same price.

    Reliability/performance varies considerably between models and between manufacturers, that’s why everyone is addicted to speed tests.

    Apple made a decision with the Air, figuring SSD performance wasn’t as important.  They may also have put in a “less” reliable SSD figuring the Air would see a lower workload.  We obviously don’t have Apple's breakdown, but we can figure most SSD’s will fail outside of the warranty period/system life.  I’m going to assume the Air’s resell value will or should decline.  Having the SSD soldered on is...unfortunate.

    As for “slower SSD’s cost less to use” if it’s true, it’s not significant.  They’re not mechanical like in the old days, where they needed to spin up and down.  


  • Reply 13 of 35
    indiekidukindiekiduk Posts: 303member
    slower SSDs can sometimes be better, e.g. an MLC is better than a TLC with SLC cache.
  • Reply 14 of 35
    crowleycrowley Posts: 5,989member
    Hmm, I'd rather it were going in the other direction, but I'm not going to cancel my MBA order over it.
    macpluspluschia
  • Reply 15 of 35
    GeorgeBMacGeorgeBMac Posts: 4,953member
    New 2017 MacBook Air's are still available (for under $900) but are getting more scarce.
    The keyboard is better, the PCIe SSD is replaceable (although Apple will disapprove of it), it has MagSafe & USB-A ports,  and the processor is arguably better.

    To me, that's a better machine.
  • Reply 16 of 35
    rogifan_newrogifan_new Posts: 4,151member
    Why didn’t Apple just make the original retina Air so it could come in at $999 price point and then just update it with new processors when available. If it had this SSD to begin with nobody would have cared.
    MisterKit
  • Reply 17 of 35
    "None of this changes the elephant in the room, that we just don't yet know if the improvements make any difference on reliability."

    The other elephant in the room is that nobody can provide any numbers on what standard keyboard "reliability" consists of within the laptop industry as a whole. Not only do people not know what the overall repair numbers are for Apple with the butterfly mechanism, but there aren't any numbers for their competitors that use scissor mechanisms either. 
    lkrupprandominternetpersonchiawatto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 35
    matrix077matrix077 Posts: 728member
    chasm said:
    MisterKit said:
    It may very well be that the average MacBook Air owner would not notice the difference with this reduction in SSD read speed. There are some people who might notice a difference. Maybe a person takes a new Air on the road and wants to edit/mix some Logic Pro projects. That person should have bought a PRO if he wanted to work with PRO apps. That person is a bit stupid to expect PRO performance from an AIR. It would be interesting to hear an explanation from Apple as to why this decision was made.
    I would have thought it obvious: slower SSDs cost less to use. My understanding is that SSDs are like RAM when it comes to pricing: all RAM of a given class is the same -- the price varies by how far they got before failing the higher-speed quality tests. It would seem to me (though I could be wrong) that this same principle applies to SSD chips.

    Apple made a decision with the Air, figuring SSD performance wasn’t as important.  They may also have put in a “less” reliable SSD figuring the Air would see a lower workload.  We obviously don’t have Apple's breakdown, but we can figure most SSD’s will fail outside of the warranty period/system life.  I’m going to assume the Air’s resell value will or should decline.  Having the SSD soldered on is...unfortunate.


    Do you have any concrete proof of this? My 2011 MBA is still going strong and I haven’t experience noticeably SSD slow down.
  • Reply 19 of 35
    Why didn’t Apple just make the original retina Air so it could come in at $999 price point and then just update it with new processors when available. If it had this SSD to begin with nobody would have cared.
    Nobody cares anyway.  Except spec-obsessed nerds--who will buy a MBP.
  • Reply 20 of 35
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 7,162member
    "None of this changes the elephant in the room, that we just don't yet know if the improvements make any difference on reliability."

    The other elephant in the room is that nobody can provide any numbers on what standard keyboard "reliability" consists of within the laptop industry as a whole. Not only do people not know what the overall repair numbers are for Apple with the butterfly mechanism, but there aren't any numbers for their competitors that use scissor mechanisms either. 
    And this, dear readers, is how whispered rumors are turned into undeniable facts. The butterfly keyboard fails on every MacBook manufactured, so goes the whisper converted into fact. No numbers, no confirmation, no evidence, no test, no studies. Apple says the failure rate is small but the made up facts contradict Apple so no one believes Apple. Apple is lying, obviously.

    matrix077 said:
    chasm said:
    MisterKit said:
    It may very well be that the average MacBook Air owner would not notice the difference with this reduction in SSD read speed. There are some people who might notice a difference. Maybe a person takes a new Air on the road and wants to edit/mix some Logic Pro projects. That person should have bought a PRO if he wanted to work with PRO apps. That person is a bit stupid to expect PRO performance from an AIR. It would be interesting to hear an explanation from Apple as to why this decision was made.
    I would have thought it obvious: slower SSDs cost less to use. My understanding is that SSDs are like RAM when it comes to pricing: all RAM of a given class is the same -- the price varies by how far they got before failing the higher-speed quality tests. It would seem to me (though I could be wrong) that this same principle applies to SSD chips.

    Apple made a decision with the Air, figuring SSD performance wasn’t as important.  They may also have put in a “less” reliable SSD figuring the Air would see a lower workload.  We obviously don’t have Apple's breakdown, but we can figure most SSD’s will fail outside of the warranty period/system life.  I’m going to assume the Air’s resell value will or should decline.  Having the SSD soldered on is...unfortunate.


    Do you have any concrete proof of this? My 2011 MBA is still going strong and I haven’t experience noticeably SSD slow down.
    No, the poster does not have any kind of proof for his/her claim. He just pulled it out of his rear end because he read something somewhere. My late 2013 27” iMac has a 1TB Fusion drive with a 128GB SSD as part of it and six years later, long out of warranty, it’s still functioning just fine. 
    watto_cobra
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