13-inch Broadwell MacBook showdown: Should you go Pro or get an Air?

The 13-inch MacBook Pro and the 13-inch MacBook Air were once very different computers that served very different needs. One was bulkier but pretty fast and user-serviceable, while the other was thin-and-light to a fault, arriving with anemic low-power CPUs and GPUs, slow hard drives, and no easy means to upgrade.

In the last two-to-three years, that gap has narrowed substantially. The Air has become more powerful and less compromised, while the Pro has slimmed down and dumped features like user-replaceable RAM and its Ethernet jack. Both use Thunderbolt 2. Both use modern dual-core CPUs with some of Intel’s better integrated GPUs. They’re even priced in the same ballpark. What was once an easy recommendation has gotten more difficult.

Last year as part of our review process, we took a good long look at both laptops, picked the best and worst things about each, and made purchasing recommendations based on what you need in your 13-inch Mac laptop. We’ll post similar individual reviews soon to better consider how each computer stacks up compared to the wider PC market, but this piece serves a very specific purpose.

If you’re interested in a new Mac laptop but shy away from the extremes (the extreme power of a 15-inch Pro, the extreme portability of an 11-inch Air), which new 13-inch offering do you buy?

Specs at a glance: 13-inch 2015 Apple MacBook Air 13-inch 2015 Apple Retina MacBook Pro

Screen 1440×900 at 13.3″ (128 PPI) 2560×1600 at 13.3″ (227 PPI)

OS OS X 10.10.2 Yosemite OS X 10.10.2 Yosemite

CPU 1.6GHz Intel Core i5-5250U (Turbo up to 2.7GHz) 2.7GHz Intel Core i5-5257U (Turbo up to 3.3GHz)

RAM 4GB 1600MHz LPDDR3 (soldered, upgradeable to 8GB at purchase) 8GB 1866MHz LPDDR3 (soldered, upgradeable to 16GB at purchase)

GPU Intel HD Graphics 6000 (integrated) Intel Iris 6100 (integrated)

HDD 128GB PCIe 2.0 x4 solid-state drive (upgradeable to 256GB or 512GB) 128GB PCIe 2.0 x4 solid-state drive (upgradeable to 256GB, 512GB, or 1TB)

Networking 867Mbps 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0 1.3Gbps 802.11a/b/g/n/ac, Bluetooth 4.0

Ports 2x USB 3.0, Thunderbolt 2, card reader, headphones 2x USB 3.0, 2x Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, card reader, headphones

Size 12.8″ × 8.94″ × 0.11-0.68″ (325 mm × 227 mm × 3-17 mm) 12.35″ × 8.62″ × 0.71″ (314 mm × 219 mm × 18 mm)

Weight 2.96 lbs (1.35 kg) 3.48 lbs (1.58 kg)

Battery 54Whr 74.9Whr

Warranty 1 year 1 year

Starting price $999.99 $1,299.99

Price as reviewed $999.99 $1,299.99

Other perks Webcam, backlit keyboard, dual integrated mics Webcam, backlit keyboard, dual integrated mics

External changes

Winner: N/A

Read More: 13-inch Broadwell MacBook showdown: Should you go Pro or get an Air? | Ars Technica.