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In this report

The MacBook Air packs big performance into a small frame

When it first launched, the MacBook Air line was known more for its svelte frame than its processing chops, but Apple's ultraportable laptop has slowly added more power -- and with it, expert recommendations -- over the years. The 2011 model was widely praised as a near-perfect blend of performance and portability, and the 2012 update, while fairly incremental, added slightly more powerful Intel Ivy Bridge processors with vastly improved graphical capabilities, faster USB 3.0 ports and lower price points across the line. The newest 2013 versions up the ante by incorporating Intel's fourth-generation Haswell Core processors, leading to nearly unbelievable battery life.

In many ways, the latest MacBook Air laptops look and act just like their predecessors -- and that's a very good thing. Those who want high performance in an Apple laptop continue to be better served by going with a 15-inch MacBook Pro -- with or without the Retina display. But for most everyday computing, the MacBook Air provides plenty of punch. The component lineup features an Intel Core i5 Haswell processor, a 128 GB flash drive and 4 GB of RAM. Integrated graphics are your only option, so the MacBook Air is only suitable for casual gaming, though Intel HD Graphics 5000 provide a modest boost over the Intel 4000 graphics offered in last year's Ivy Bridge processors -- which themselves provided a nice leap forward over earlier integrated-graphics solutions.

The 11 inches - MacBook Air (*Est. $1,000 and up) and 13 inches (Est. $1,100 and up) . Both wedge-shaped models are just 0.68 inches at their thickest and a barely-there 0.11 inches at their thinnest, with each weighing less than 3 pounds. Both offer similar component lineups, so performance will be similar.

As with the MacBook Pro, the backlit keyboard and glass trackpad are widely considered to be best in class. Where things get interesting is battery life; Haswell technology has pushed the MacBook Air to the head of the class in that regard. Apple estimates around 12 -- yes, 12 -- hours between charges. Reviewers accuse Apple of modesty --, for example, reports 15 hours in its tests. That, coupled with the Air's light weight and thin profile, makes this the ideal laptop, it would seem, for life on the road.

Apple Laptops and Desktops Runners Up:

13-inch MacBook Pro Est. $1,200 and up

5 picks including:,…

15-inch MacBook Pro Est. $1,800 and up

4 picks including:,…

21-inch iMac Est. $1,300 and up

2 picks including:,…

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