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I traded in my MacBook Air and all I got was this Core i7 Surface Pro 3

Okay, that headline is a tad misleading as trading in a MacBook Air for a Surface Pro 3, especially one with the coveted Core i7 processor, is far from 1:1 value. Still, I did bring in my MacBook Air (2011) to see how the process went, and I managed to pick up that Core i7 Surface Pro 3 with 256 GB of storage.

Here is how it all went.

Why I had a MacBook Air

Even though it is tangential to this article, I am sure a few of you are wondering why I even have a MacBook Air laying around. The story goes ex-CrackBerry editor in chief Kevin Michaluk gave me his old one back in 2012, mostly because he was upset that I was running this site from a then underpowered Windows Netbook (remember those?). Being interested in technology and never owning a Mac laptop or computer, I figured this would be an excellent chance to see what Apple can do.

Long story short, I learned OSX a bit but within a few months those Windows 8 Ultrabooks hit the scene and to the shelf went to the MBA. I last time turned on the MacBook Air in December 2012, so I had little use for it in 2014. Although the MBA is nice in terms of hardware, OSX provided no advantages over Windows that I could discern. Since then, I have owned five different Ultrabooks.

Microsoft's trade-in program

Let us be clear: trade in programs are rarely about maximizing value. They are about one thing: convenience. 'I have this old thing; I want a new thing, and I want to keep it simple.' Because of this, the idea that you are "only" getting a particular value should be a secondary concern. If you want the most for your old wares, sell it yourself and hope you find some rube with some cash. It is like when a car dealer offers to take your old car. You are not going to get squat for it, but hey, at least you do not have to list and sell it yourself, which could take weeks.

Microsoft's MacBook Air trade in program advertises that you can get "up to $650" in store credit. However, as should be expected, the devil is in the details and Microsoft determines the maximum value of your old MacBook Air. I was never under the impression that a 2011 MBA would fetch that maximum $650 mark – after all, what would happen if you brought in a brand new edition?

As expected, Microsoft has a rolling chart based on year, model and configuration that determines the trade in value. My 2011 Core i7 MacBook Air with a 256 GB SSD drive procured $337.50 in Store credit for a $1,549 Surface Pro 3.

I cannot say I was disappointed. You may have a differing opinion. All I know is when compared to modern hardware, the 2011 MBA is slow, sluggish and not really up to my standards in 2014. Microsoft did me a favor by taking it off my hands.

Overall though, the process was quick, efficient and fun.

Microsoft's MacBook Air trade in program is valid until November 2, and the store credit can only be applied to a Surface Pro 3. More information can be found on their site (opens in new tab).

Surface Pro 3 with a Core i7

For my review, I used the Surface Pro 3 with a Core i5 (1.9 – 2.5 GHz) and 256 GB of storage versus the newer Core i7 (1.7 – 2.3 GHz). There are two main differences between the two. One of them is Turbo mode, where the i5 maxes out at 2.9 GHz; the Core i7 goes up to a higher 3.3 GHz. The additional difference lies in the built-in graphics chipset, as the Core i5 is an Intel HD4400; the Core i7 features a faster Intel HD5000. Roughly speaking, you are looking at a 20% difference in CPU performance and some estimates put the graphics chipset with a 13% advantage for the Core i7.

Neither system should impress gamers, but then again if you are a gamer I am not sure why you are looking at a Surface Pro 3. Instead, the Core i7 is ideal for professionals who need that extra oomph for substantial applications. For gamers, I suggest you look at the new Razer laptops.

There is also a small – and in my opinion overblown – controversy that has to do with thermal-throttling. The gist is the Surface Pro 3 on a Core i5 ramps down to 1 GHz when it hits a certain internal temperature. This reduction is typical on PCs and laptops, but the Surface Pro 3's threshold is lower than that of the Surface Pro 2. The reason? The Surface Pro 3 is stupid thin, so less heat dissipation. The result is when playing intensive PC games for extended duration the Surface Pro 3 can get choppy due to the speed reduction. Your mileage may vary; I have never seen it myself, so maybe I'm 'computering' wrong.

Initial feedback via Reddit about the Core i7 version is that it does not throttle as much as the Core i5, resulting in less frequent lowering of processor speed. From user's experience, including my own, these situations appear to be rare instances anyway where high-performance gaming is being attempted. For people who do not play high-end PC games for an extended period, this is a non-issue.

Do you need a Core i7?

Probably not. The Core i5 is more than enough for everyday tasks, Modern games and running PC apps like Photoshop. In fact, the Core i3 version is also ideal for those who use Modern apps the majority of the time. If I had to break it down, it would be like this:

  • Core i3 – You need a tablet that can act like a PC. You spend 70% in Modern apps, 30% running desktop apps
  • Core i5 – You want the best of both worlds. 50/50 between Modern and desktop apps, but you occasionally need that extra horsepower
  • Core i7 – You need a desktop replacement. You are a future docking station owner. You are a professional engineer, artist, architect or programmer who needs this device every day to perform at peak performance. Alternatively, you have money and just want the best out there.

Do I need a Core i7?

Absolutely not, but for the sake of this site and your curiosity, I am making the supreme sacrifice!

So, uh, how is it?

It seems faster.

You saw that coming from a mile away; I know. Seriously though, it screams. Between loading apps, downloading them over Wi-Fi and app switching, the Core i7 is a beast. Sure, it can get warm with the occasional graphic-intensive game, but nothing out of the ordinary. As I mentioned above, the Core i7's base speed is clocked lower than the Core i5, so in theory with Modern apps the Core i7 should get near the same battery life as the Core i5 – in fact that is what Microsoft claims.

I need a few days really to see the differences between the two. I am not sure if specific benchmarks are on the horizon though I may consider doing some basic ones. Instead, I prefer to re-review the Core i7 variant as a Joe-schmoe computer owner just trying to use it for work, life and fun.

As a side note, my Core i7 did have a single dead pixel on the display. With that display resolution, you have to look for it, and it is barely noticeable. However, the Microsoft Store though took it back without any hesitation, and replaced it with a brand new one, which I inspected before leaving the Store. So far, no other complaints. Although being able to shop at a physical Microsoft Store is not possible for many of you, if it is an option, always shop there as you cannot beat their service.

Anecdotally, the fine folks at the Microsoft Store told me the Surface Pro 3 is selling very well, with most people opting for the Core i5 or Core i7 256 GB versions, which makes sense.

Do you have questions about the Core i7 version or are you on the fence about which to get? Sound off in comments or jump into our Surface Pro 3 forums and let us know. I can try to answer a few questions if you have them.

Daniel Rubino
Executive Editor

Daniel Rubino is the Executive Editor of Windows Central, head reviewer, podcast co-host, and analyst. He has been covering Microsoft here since 2007, back when this site was called WMExperts (and later Windows Phone Central). His interests include Windows, Microsoft Surface, laptops, next-gen computing, and arguing with people on the internet.

  • All you got?
  • Whoosh. Right over his head. < golf clap > Instead of posting 15 seconds after my posting, and just reacting to the tongue-in-cheek title, reading the actual article can help! :)
  • Read the article? What is this some kind of 12th dimension you're in?.... You mean you expect us to actually download the app AND read the content within??...... Crazy Daniel Rubino... Just wow❗❗❗
    Anyways, this should've spawned another contest to give Rodney a chance to win a SP3...
  • How has your period key not exploded?
  • By the grace of god............
  • Ha Posted via Windows Phone Central App
  • :)
  • "It seems faster." - First time I ever read that & laughed...
  • Ugh Daniel Rubino, you are truly the man. +920
  • Love the article but I do not agree with most of it. Getting less than $350 for your 2011 Macbook air is akin to robbery. With a 256gb SSD, an i7, and (probably) 8GBs of RAM, you should be able to flip it for nearly double the price on eBay or through Amazon Fulfillment. Macs hold their value a lot better than any Windows PC, even the Surface Pro. Second issue I have with the article are you processor recommendations. I have never used an i3 before, but you made it sound like its on par with an atom processor. Meanwhile, I strongly believe that an i5 processor should be enough for most users, if you need more power than what an i5 can deliver you should probably look at a difference computer because the difference between the i5 vs the i7 is miniscule. The main reason to get an i7 is to get that extra hard drive, RAM, and a little extra graphics power. My biggest problem with the Surface Pro is that MS dropped the ball when picking the correct processor. Right now it sits between the Macbook Air and the Macbook Pro in terms of processor power, but its behind both of them in terms of graphics.  MS should have gone with the same i5 processors that the Airs use, and kept the same i7 that they are using right now. This combination would give around a 20% speed boost on the i5's graphics, and would make the processing difference worth the upgrade.
  • How can it be robbery when nobody is forcing you to do it at gunpoint?!!! Sorry but didn't read the rest of your comment, just not interested.
  • Why didn't I do the same as you? Just stop reading his bias based nonsense!
  • it's a turn of phrase mate...and quite applicable here
  •  difference between the i5 vs the i7 is miniscule.
    Have to disagree here, hyperthreading etc. as well as being the 'U' versions, any upgrade is significant.  
    but its behind both of them in terms of graphics.  MS should have gone with the same i5 processors that the Airs use, and kept the same i7 that they are using right now.
    No idea what you meant here. Also SP3 has much higher resolution that the Macbook Air, not sure why you suddenly divert to talking about the Macbook Pro.  
    combination would give around a 20% speed boost on the i5's graphics, and would make the processing difference worth the upgrade.
    Boost in graphics has nothing to do with CPU processing performance.  
  • Macbook airs use the intel HD5000 for their i5 models, while the Surface Pro uses an intel HD4400. The difference between the two approaches is that Apple delivers better graphics at the cost of lower processing power.   This is a worth while tradeoff because the graphics card will likely be the bottleneck for most people going for an i5 processor.
  • No it won't be a bottle neck because 'most' users don't use professional intensive graphics on the most portable Laptops! For that they get an ultrabook!
  • You must be joking about speed of between ipad and mba. An ipad is 8 times slower then a Intel CPU.
  • I never mentioned the iPad. I said that the Surface 3's processor sits between the MBA and the MBP (its faster than the MBA but slower than the MBP), however the i5 version has worse graphics (SP3 has the intel HD4400, MBA has the HD5000, MBP has the HD5100).
  • Duh... slower than a MBP is like saying SP3 is slower than a top Ultrabook Mr. Obvious! Yet SP3 is thinner than Mac Barbie Air, so indirectly you admit SP3 blows MBA & MBP, with almost the size of an iPad! Thanks.
  • I imagine that being a purchaser of apple merchandise would mean that you were already well versed in dropping your pants.
  • Now that is funny
  • He said in the article that he wasn't very concerned about how much he got for his Mac. If he wanted maximum value for it, he would've put it up for sale somewhere. He wanted it to be an easy process that gives him at least a little value, and that's exactly what he got.
  • This guy doesn't understand how trade-in programs work, even though it was explained in the article above. If you want maximum value for your old devices: sell them yourself.
  • Exactly, you put it up on ebay or craigslist, you wait for while. You deal with goofy questions, some lame ebay users that never pays, or meet some sketchy dude in a parking lot one night. A month later, you get an extra $100 by selling it yourself. This is for people who want to walk in and walk out with a new thing and not deal with all that crap. 
  • Don't forget Daniel's Mac Barbie Air was inherited too! For the benefits of an SP3, getting rid of Air and get 350 discount was great deal!
  • Yea I thought his opinion was well thought out and conveyed. I did buy the i7 today anyways :)
  • What got me was the Windows Netbook.  Talk about "roughing it". Man oh man.That thing was why disk clean up was created. lol.
  • Exactly what I was thinking.
  • Nice retort Daniel :-)  
  • LOL
  • Ha
  • Now that's an upgrade!
  • :-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(:-(
  • Daniel - typo in a section title 'Due I need one' Nice write up btw
  • Thanks, fixed! Long day.
  • Yes. I due need one, do to the slowness of my i3 laptop now ;)
  • Its fast like :)
  • lol, nice. And yes, it's just like that.
  • Yesss!
  • I got an i5 device last fall. It's good, but now I regret not spending the few extra hundred for the i7. This article reaffirms that. I didn't realize how big of a performane gap that was. I thought it was just going to be a performance gap of 2, but it seems to be much more than that. Misleading labels by Intel. I'm going with AMD next time because of this nonsense. Intel doesn't even know how to properly name their chips.
  • I'd love to know what a performance gap of 2 means in your head.
  • Maybe i5 to i7 :P?
  • "I'd love to know what a performance gap of 2 means in your head."
    This is why I read comments sections... Good form Sir... 
  • I was being facetious, playing on the i7 - i5.
  • Great write up!
  • Is there a MacBook pro trade in program? I have a '11 MBP running 8.1, but its running at a crawl and isn't really useable...
  • Reboot, hit Command + R, wipe it. Now connect to the internet and reinstall OSX. Drive to the Store and drop it off. Alternatively, the MS Store will wipe it for you.
  • According to apple, it is an issue with the logic board which is causing it to perform as it is on battery (random freezes, lag during games, etc etc). Not that simple, however I wish it was.
  • Ah lame. And no, I don't think you can trade in a Pro. Not yet, at least.
  • You got ripped off, Dani boy.
  • I have estimates above $650 on my MPB, same year, and the process is just as simple. MS would have to beat that for me to get rid of it. I agree, it is a bit of a ripoff.
  • Like I said though, if you think trade in programs are about value, you don't get it. So I find this discussion kind of moot. Trade ins are never about getting the maximum value, it's about convenience.
  • Yep, convenience. I'll be throwing my mint ATIV SE onto the trade in pile when the new HTC gets here barring a release announcement on the 1525 unicorn.
  • Amusingly this tradin value thing has been repeated a few times... some people I guess will never get it. Explains the cult of mac. Wait till they try to sell their first car daddy gave them.
  • Wasn't my money, so I don't see how this could be true.
  • Should have sold out on eBay and donated the change to a homeless shelter poured contributed to my iPhone 6 trust fund.
  • Eh, I can still donate money to a homeless shelter, regardless of this situation. Also, that's a much less interesting article.
  • No need to respond to stuff like this Daniel... You stated that it was convenience... Or you could get more and spend more time and take a risk meeting someone etc... Sometimes time is worth so much more than money...
  • IPhone 6?!!! More of the same on a bigger screen, and probably for more money too so NO THANKS!
  • Lol!!
  • Maybe Daniel should have gotten a bonus just for getting rid of MACrap!
  • Actually, when you think about it he did not. The MBA was given to him for free, so there was no loss experienced. It had no value to him, therefore his realized value was zero. The $337.50 he dd get was actually free money he was able to put toward his SP3. The difference of what he "could" have received for the MBA could jsut be considered a convienence fee. A trade in value of anythign will always be less thna selling direct. Its a choice many peole make, think of taking your car to a dealer vs selling direct... oh yeah he already said that. I have a box of old routers and WAPS that I got for free from upgradign clients. If I get $1 each for them, I still come out ahead. Yeah I could ebay them but my time is wirth far more than that. BTW nice article, and you are spot on about the service quality at the Microsoft Store. Theyre the best.  
  • Well said...realized value is something that others aren't quite seeing. Also, the opportunity cost of selling it through other means. Oh and nevermind that Daniel writes for a tech blog and wanted to be able to comment on the trade-in program from first hand experience. Daniel keep up the good work!
  • Soo... What're you doing with that i5 one now..? I'm saying, I could use it ...
  • LOL! Now that you've mentioned it...
  • I'm very interested to see how the i3 performs relative to the original RT if anyone can help me out?
  • The difference should be night and day.
  • Original RT? The i3 will beat it, no doubt. The Surface 2...probably similar, as that one is much faster.
  • I don't think you can compare the i3 and the RT. Oranges and apples. The i3 will be outperforming the RT even with modern ui apps only.
  • You want to compare a core proceessor to an ARM processor? The I3 will obviously run circles around the ARM processor.
  • Exactly, a Core i3 is designed for performance not battery life. If you want to compare the RT to the i3 then compare them on battery life, the RT will run circles around the i3.
  • But you said the i3 is designed for performance not battery life. Conversely, the ARM processor is designed for battery life not performance. Thus you can't compare the two. It all comes down to the weightings of his needs in terms of performance and battery life.
  • That was the point I was trying to make so I don't see what you're trying to say!!?!
  • Funny
  • Visit anandtech.  
  • Mother of all upgrades, bet you are stoked Daniel
  • I'd love a Surface Pro 3, unfortunately out of my price range.
  • Not if you get the 5FD.... You can afford one with that... Anyone could.
  • Naa, ill go with my Razer Edge Pro for games. And Surface 2 Pro for everything else. I'm not 4:3 resolution fan.
  • What's the lowest price on that bad boy?
  • Razer Edge Pro? 1399 for 256 GB I7 or 1199 for 128Gb i7.
  • So better specs than SP3 for less?
  • Depends what you are looking for. It has i7 8gb Ram 256 GB ssd. Ssd and ram could be upgraded easily. It also has Geforce Nvidia 640m LE. It is not the looker, and it weights 3.2 pounds. It wont turn heads...but it is the tablet,with decent battery life, several accessories (controller+extended battery, docking station,laptop attachment+extended battery). But most importantly I could play Anything on it, all the latest PC titles...Wolfenstein, Dishonored, Bioshock name it. And support is exceptional, no kidding, those guys on the other end of the line, actually know what they are talking about...
  • Thx
  • Welcome
  • WAIT...  I'm not getting into an arguement, I like the Razer Edge Pro, it is nice (though I was always slightly disappointed with it), I like Razer products, but...  The negatives to consider against the postives vladfrenkel mentioned are: It doesn't have full HD, being only 1366x768 native resolution. The Surface Pro 2 was full HD 1080p resolution. The Surface Pro 3 is beyond full HD and actually 2K resolution too.  The i7 processor in the Razer is 3rd Generation i7, whereas the SP3 is 4th Generation. Whilst it has a discrete Nvidia GPU, it is otherwise using a much older Intel 4000 GPU, so likely for non-gaming activities it is using that (unless you can set the Nvidia to be used all the time?). The battery life tests when the Razer Edge Pro came out came behind the original Surface Pro.  Can't overlook that the original SP got slammed again and agian in the press for poor battery life.  The SP 2 imrpoved on that greatly and the i7 SP3 is said to best the SP3 i5 which imrpoved on the SP2. The Razer I don't believe has bluetooth? Double checked the spec sheet and can't see it there. The Razer is substancially heavier than the SP3. The Razer has a 10.1 screen so is smaller.  The SP3 screen is not only better visual-real-estate wise, but also the 3:2 aspect ratio is the ratio professional photography is typically shot at. I'm a photographer and whilst I love games, ultimately I get little time to play the graphic intensive games and should I find myself in that position, I'd be pretty convinced I'd run a PS4, Xbox One or under TV gaming PC. I've had a SP2 since launch (256GB/8GB model) and have the SP3 i7 512GB on order. Not only does the SP3 resolution and performance work massively in my favour as a photographer, the Surface Pen on my SP2 has been incredible for my digital photo developing and editing. The weight saving whilst increasing the screen size on the SP3 is also WOW for me as again, I find myself developing my photos in Lightroom with my Surface Pen in one hand and the SP3 in the other.  I rip the Surface type cover off and it truly is a wonderful way to work.  I also look forward to the relocation of the Windows bezel button as I have been midway through a touch up and caught that with my thumb. I'm glad the Razer Edge Pro exists, has a customer base and plays games you mention well, but for me the Surface Pro 2 won hands down and now the Surface Pro 3 has gone to an all new level.
  • Definitely a better combo.
  • Haha pretty sure on that :D
  • The resolution is 3:2
  • I think you mean aspect ratio. :P
  • Correct. It is better for Word docs I do understand, but for movies/books I do prefer something like 16x9/10 a little less Ipad like.
  • And I thought Microsoft's offer of only giving my amazing condition and less than a year old SP2 offer of $500 was bad. Then again, my SP2 is newer. This is why I like to sell it to other people rather than companies that try and give you a dime for trade ins, like Gamestop. :P
  • I don't even want to think how much GameStop would give you for an original Wii. $20?
  • Less probably.
  • You have to pay them to take it off your hands.
  • They tried to give me like $35 for my 360 steathbox. I promptly walked my ass out of that store.
  • Game stops trade in program doesn't even compare to what Microsoft give you..... Games stop should be ashamed of themselves for string arming innocent people
  • Error 404. Surface not available in Indonesia
  • Neither is a microsoft store. So, no trade up offers for you.
  • Get on a plane go to SF spend the weekend and go home with a new surface.
  • And Daniel, I've had my SP2 since launch, but I'm considering switching back to Mac OS X (I originally owned a mac), and putting windows on it for some programs. I'm thinking of the 13 inch MBP retina. What do you think?
  • It's all relative. I think the Samsung or Dell XPS laptops are as good if not better than a MBA, especially for higher resolution and a touch display. But if you really like the MBA hardware, go for it.
  • Thanks for the reply, but I was thinking of the 13" MBP retina, not the MBA.
  • Even then, you can get Win machines with higher resolution.
  • There is only so much the eye can see on a display of that size. The retina on the 13" MBP is pretty good, although not the highest resolution compared to others. Another question, do you know how windows 8.1 update 1 (newest) runs on Mac? Or is it still very not friendly for non -touch?
  • Simple question. I have a MacBook Pro (13") as well as a Lenovo T440