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How much faster are the custom processor configured "Mid-2012" MacBook Air models than the stock models? Is the extra performance worth the extra cost?
For each of the stock "Mid-2012" MacBook Air models -- the MacBook Air "Core i5" 1.7 11-Inch and MacBook Air "Core i5" 1.8 13-Inch -- Apple offers a 2.0 GHz Core i7 (I7-3667U) processor as a "configure-to-order" upgrade. For convenience, EveryMac.com also lists these CTO configurations as their own models.
Photo Credit: Apple, Inc. (Left - 11" MacBook Air, Right - 13" MacBook Air)
To custom configure the 11-Inch MD224LL/A MacBook Air configuration -- which has 128 GB of flash storage by default -- or the 13-Inch MD232LL/A configuration -- which has 256 GB of flash storage by default -- with the faster Core i7 processor costs an additional US$150 or US$100, respectively.
General Performance & Value Overview
In percentage terms, upgrading the processor costs an additional 13.6% and an additional 6.7%, respectively, for the 11-Inch and 13-Inch models.
For a solid general overview of the performance differences between these custom configured models and the stock ones, as well as other Macs, EveryMac.com's own Ultimate Mac Comparison makes it quick to compare side-by-side 32-bit and 64-bit Geekbench benchmark averages with all other G3 and later Macs for thousands of possible performance comparisons.
The Geekbench benchmark shows that when custom configured with the Core i7 processor, the 11-Inch and 13-Inch models are roughly 21% and 11% faster than their respective stock models.
However, one important caveat with these numbers from a price-to-performance perspective is that the vast majority of users who submitted benchmarks for their custom-configured models also upgraded the RAM from the stock 4 GB to 8 GB. One would expect those who submit benchmarks to a crowd sourced data site to be more concerned about performance than price. As a result, these average Geekbench numbers include the advantage of more RAM as well.
As the RAM cannot be upgraded later, EveryMac.com would strongly encourage you to upgrade the RAM at the time of purchase to both improve performance and prolong the usable life of the notebook. However, as the RAM costs an additional US$100, this amount needs to be considered, too. Including both the Core i7 processor upgrade and the RAM upgrade means the total cost difference is roughly 23% more for the 11-Inch model and 13% more for the 13-Inch model.
Consequently, a quick calculation would conclude that the Core i7 processor and RAM upgrade together are of marginal value. The 11-Inch model is 21% faster, but costs 23% more and the 13-Inch model likewise boosts performance by 11%, but costs 13% more. As tempting as it is to "trick out" the MacBook Air and add both the processor and RAM upgrades, the RAM upgrade alone is a better investment.
Real-World Test Results
Geekbench always is helpful for a convenient overview of performance, but other tests can be beneficial, too.
MacWorld custom configured the "Mid-2012" MacBook Air models with the Core i7 processor and 8 GB of RAM and came up with essentially identical overall numbers in their own Speedmark 7 benchmark tests -- 21% more performance for the 11-Inch model and 11% more performance for the 13-Inch model.
The highest-end 2012 machine certainly performs well on all tests, but the numbers are only about 20 percent (give or take) higher than what you could get out of the low-end 2012 machine or the high-end machine from 2011.
ArsTechnica also wisely noted "anecdotally, we have heard from people who bought those [upgrades] that the RAM in particular is a life-changer."
Performance & Value Summary
Those with basic needs or a tight budget likely will be satisfied with the stock configurations of the "Mid-2012" MacBook Air, at least for now. What is a minor amount of money to one person may be substantial to another and whether or not an upgrade is "worth it" may be a decision based on personal finances and priorities.
Ultimately, though, only those interested in the absolute maximum performance really should consider the processor upgrade as the price-to-performance ratio is not a great value. As also noted in the comparison, however, EveryMac.com would strongly encourage one to upgrade the RAM at the time of purchase as it cannot be upgraded later. More RAM will make a noticeable difference in performance immediately and significantly prolong the working life of the computer, as well.
How fast are the "Mid-2012" MacBook Air models compared to one another and to earlier MacBook Air models? How fast are these models compared to the 13-Inch "Mid-2012" MacBook Pro?