Head-To-Head: Apple MacBook Air Vs. Microsoft Surface Laptop

The Portability Factor

Apple initiated the era of highly portable laptops with the introduction of the MacBook Air in 2008. And even after countless Windows ultrabooks -- and with Apple mostly pushing the MacBook and MacBook Pro -- the MacBook Air hangs on. Apple gave the laptop its latest update in June, presumably in response to continued interest from buyers.

In 2017, however, worthy new challengers to the MacBook Air have appeared. One notable arrival is the Surface Laptop -- which Microsoft executives have said is aimed squarely at the MacBook Air. Which of the two laptops is a better fit for you? In the following slides, the CRN Test Center compares Microsoft's Surface Laptop vs. Apple's MacBook Air on specs and price.

Thickness & Weight

As mentioned, Apple has been focusing more of its attention on updating the MacBook and MacBook Pro in recent years, and so the MacBook Air hasn't kept pace in terms of portability improvements. That's a key part of why Microsoft executives are looking to pounce with the Surface Laptop. The Surface Laptop measures 0.57 of an inch thick, compared to 0.68 of an inch thick of the MacBook Air. And, the Surface Laptop wins on lightness, with a weight of 2.76 pounds, versus the 2.98-pound MacBook Air.


The MacBook Air display also feels a bit dated with a resolution of 1,440 by 900. The Surface Laptop has a significantly higher resolution at 2,256 x 1,504. It also uses Microsoft's colorful, bright PixelSense technology, whereas the MacBook Air goes with a standard LCD (and doesn't get the benefit of using Apple's Retina display technology, like other Mac laptops). The Surface Laptop display is also slightly larger at 13.5 inches versus the 13.3 inches of the MacBook Air display. And perhaps most importantly in terms of differences, the Surface Laptop display is a touch screen, unlike the MacBook Air.


Apple's update to the MacBook Air in June was focused on the processor. But rather than updating to the latest generation of Intel processors, Apple just included a faster processor from the same fifth-generation line of chips that the MacBook Air has used for several years. The standard MacBook Air now sports a 1.8GHz Core i5 processor from Intel's fifth generation, rather than the previous 1.6GHz Core i5 chip. Apple also lets you configure the MacBook Air with a 2.2GHz Core i7 processor from the fifth generation.

By contrast, the Surface Laptop leverages Intel's latest processor series -- the seventh-generation Core processors. Buyers can choose between Core i5 or Core i7. Each has a base clock speed of 2.5GHz, well above the horsepower of the MacBook Air.

Battery Life

A long battery life has been a chief advantage of the MacBook Air over the years, and its promised 12 hours on a charge is still pretty good compared to many laptops on the market. Microsoft has bigger promises to offer with the Surface Laptop, however; the company pledges that the laptop can achieve up to 14.5 hours of battery life per charge.

Memory & Storage

Another element that assists the performance of the Surface Laptop is the ability to configure it with up to 16GB of RAM. There is no such option for the MacBook Air, which is stuck with 8GB of RAM in all configurations. The Surface Laptop has a total of three configuration options for RAM -- 4GB, 8GB or 16GB.

Both laptops come with PCIe solid-state storage. And, both have three options for the amount of storage included -- 128GB, 256GB or 512GB. (Microsoft initially said the Surface Laptop would offer up to 1TB of storage, but there hasn't been a 1TB option available so far.)


While Apple has gone all-out with USB-C on the MacBook and MacBook Pro, the MacBook Air doesn't offer any USB-C ports. Neither does the Surface Laptop. Instead, both laptops stick with USB-A; the MacBook Air has two USB-A ports, while the Surface Laptop has one. The Surface Laptop also has a Mini DisplayPort and two Surface Connect ports (for power and docking), while the MacBook Air has an SDXC card slot and a Thunderbolt 2 port.

Operating System

Microsoft's strategy with the Surface Laptop is partly about rivaling the MacBook Air and other Apple laptops, and partly about serving as a showcase for a new version of its Windows operating system. The Surface Laptop runs the new education-focused version of the Windows operating system, Windows 10 S. The biggest difference is that Windows 10 S will only run apps that are downloadable from the Windows Store. Surface Laptop owners do have the option to pay for an upgrade to Windows 10 Pro if they like, though. The MacBook Air, meanwhile, runs the latest version of Apple's macOS, Sierra.


Microsoft likely factored the MacBook Air into its pricing for the Surface Laptop: The laptops have an identical starting price, of $999. That price gets you a 4GB RAM model of the Surface Laptop and the standard MacBook Air with 8GB of RAM. For a Surface Laptop with a comparable 8GB of RAM, the price goes up to $1,299.

Configurations with additional storage and the Core i7 processor are available for the MacBook Air at higher prices. The Surface Laptop, meanwhile, has numerous settings based on memory, storage, and processor.

Which of the two laptops is the better value for you will depend on questions such as how much you like macOS vs. Windows 10 S (or Windows 10); how much you value a high-res touch screen (which only the Surface Laptop has); and also the issues of portability and processor speed (the Surface Laptop wins on both). Ultimately, a strong case can be made that the Surface Laptop is the better value for most laptop users in 2017, despite it having a higher price than a comparable MacBook Air.