In 2022, Apple updated the MacBook Air with a complete redesign and the M2 chip, followed by an all-new 15-inch version this year, so how do the two product lines compare to its latest MacBook Pro models with M3 chips?
Despite now being similar in appearance, the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro are very different machines, so should you consider purchasing the 13- or 15-inch MacBook Air, which start at $1,099, to save money, or do you need one of the higher-end 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro models, which cost at least $500 more? Our guide helps to answer the question of how to decide which of these two popular Apple silicon machines is best for you.
|13.6- or 15.3-inch display||14.2- or 16.2-inch display|
|LCD Liquid Retina display||Mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR display|
|60hz refresh rate||ProMotion for refresh rates up to 120Hz|
|500 nits brightness||Up to 1,000 nits sustained (full-screen) brightness and 1,600 nits peak brightness|
|Apple M2 chip||Apple M3, M3 Pro, or M3 Max chip|
|Enhanced 5nm node (N5P)
Based on A15 Bionic chip from iPhone 13 (2021)
|3nm node (N3B)
Based on A17 Pro chip from iPhone 15 Pro (2023)
|3.49 GHz CPU clock speed||4.05 GHz CPU clock speed|
|8-core CPU with with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores||M3: 8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores
M3 Pro: Up to 12-core CPU with 6 performance cores and 6 efficiency cores
M3 Max: Up to 16-core CPU with 12 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores
|Up to 10-core GPU||M3: 10-core GPU
M3 Pro: Up to 18-core GPU
M3 Max: Up to 40-core GPU
|100GB/s memory bandwidth||M3: 100GB/s memory bandwidth
M3 Pro: 150GB/s memory bandwidth
M3 Max: 300GB/s or 400GB/s memory bandwidth
|8GB, 16GB, or 24GB unified memory||M3: 8GB, 16GB, or 24GB unified memory
M3 Pro: 18GB or 36GB unified memory
M3 Max: 36GB, 48GB, 64GB, 96GB, 128GB unified memory
|New GPU architecture|
|Hardware-accelerated ray tracing|
|Hardware-accelerated mesh shading|
|Support for AV1 decode|
|Neural Engine||15% faster Neural Engine|
|256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB of storage||M3: 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB storage
M3 Pro or M3 Max: 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, or 8TB storage
|Passive cooling||Active cooling|
|Wi-Fi 6||Wi-Fi 6E|
|Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports||M3: Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 (USB-C) ports
M3 Pro or M3 Max: Three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports
|HDMI 2.1 port with support for multichannel audio output|
|SDXC card slot|
|13-Inch: Four-speaker sound system
15-Inch: Six-speaker sound system with force-cancelling woofers
|High-fidelity six-speaker sound system with force-cancelling woofers|
|Three-mic array with directional beamforming||Studio-quality three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming|
|Support for one external display||M3: Support for one external display
M3 Pro: Support for up to two external displays
M3 Max: Support for up to four external displays
|13-Inch: 52.6-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
15-Inch: 66.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
|M3 14-Inch: 70-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
M3 Pro or M3 Max 14-Inch: 72.4-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
16-Inch: 100-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
|18-hour battery life||M3 14-Inch: 22-hour battery life
M3 Pro or M3 Max 14-Inch: 18-hour battery life
16-Inch: 22-hour battery life
|30W, 35W, or 67W USB-C Power Adapter||67W, 96W, or 140W USB-C Power Adapter|
|Silver, Space Gray, Starlight, or Midnight color options||M3: Silver or Space Gray color options
M3 Pro or M3 Max: Silver or Space Black color options
|13-Inch: Starts at $1,099
15-Inch: Starts at $1,299
|M3 14-Inch: Starts at $1,599
M3 Pro 14-Inch: Starts at $1,999
M3 Pro 16-Inch: Starts at $2,499
Both the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro share the same basic design with a flat top and rounded edges on the bottom, but they do have several minor details that differ. For example, while both MacBooks have displays with a “notch” at the top to facilitate the built-in webcam, the MacBook Pro’s bezels are noticeably slimmer. The keyboard area of the high-end MacBook Pro is also all-black.
The MacBook Air and M3 version of the MacBook Pro are available in Silver and Space Gray, but the MacBook Air is also offered in Starlight and Midnight color options, so if you are looking for a particular aesthetic with one of these finishes, you will need to get the MacBook Air. Space Black is exclusive to the MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips.
|0.44 inches (1.13 cm)||0.45 inch (1.15 cm)||0.61 inches (1.55 cm)||0.66 inch (1.68 cm)|
|11.97 inches (30.41 cm)||13.40 inches (34.04 cm)||12.31 inches (31.26 cm)||14.01 inches (35.57 cm)|
|8.46 inches (21.5 cm)||9.35 inches (23.76 cm)||8.71 inches (22.12 cm)||9.77 inches (24.81 cm)|
|2.7 pounds (1.24 kg)||3.3 pounds (1.51 kg)||3.5 pounds (1.61 kg)||4.8 pounds (2.15 kg)|
Dimensions are also a key area of difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is considerably larger and heavier than the 15-inch MacBook Air, but it is important to not understate the difference between the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 13-inch MacBook Air. While the 14-inch MacBook Pro offers a larger display than the MacBook Air, its marginally larger footprint, added thickness, and an additional 0.8 pounds of weight do make for a noticeably less portable machine if you prefer to travel light.
Even so, the 14-inch MacBook Pro offers a very good balance of portability and performance, so if you need its added capabilities, its size and weight should not hold you back. The 15-inch MacBook Air also provides a good balance of portability and display area, but users wary of its size should opt for the 13-inch model.
Ports and Connectivity
The selection of ports is an area of major difference between the two machines. The MacBook Air features just two Thunderbolt ports, while the M3 version of the MacBook Pro adds an HDMI 2.1 port and SDXC card slot. When configured with the M3 Pro or M3 Max, the MacBook Pro has a total of three Thunderbolt 4 ports, in addition to its HDMI 2.1 port and SDXC card slot. Both machines feature a 3.5mm headphone jack with support for high-impedance headphones.
All in all, the MacBook Pro is much more versatile in terms of connectivity, even possessing newer Bluetooth and Wi-Fi specifications, offering useful features for professionals who use SDXC cards from digital cameras or even simply more USB peripherals.
The smaller MacBook Air’s display is 13.6 inches in size, which is a little smaller than the 14.2-inch MacBook Pro, and markedly smaller than the 16.2-inch MacBook Pro. 13.6 inches is still bigger than the largest iPad Pro model, which comes in at 12.9 inches, and even all of the previous MacBook Air and smaller MacBook Pro models, meaning that it should be adequate for most users. The 14.2-inch MacBook Pro simply offers a little bit more screen real estate to those who need high-end capabilities.
The 15.3-inch MacBook Air and 16.2-inch MacBook Pro’s displays will be better replacements for a desktop machine and provide much more screen space to arrange multiple windows and use professional applications that benefit from additional display area.
The display technologies of both machines are significantly different. Like most MacBooks in recent years, the MacBook Air has an LCD panel, but owing to its slim bezels and rounded corners, Apple calls it a Liquid Retina display. The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models feature Apple’s more advanced mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR technology for deeper blacks, better dynamic range, and improved color accuracy.
The XDR display can get much brighter, reaching as high as 1,600 nits of brightness at its peak when showing HDR content. The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models also have ProMotion displays, allowing them to vary their refresh rate up to 120Hz. The MacBook Air does not have a display with a variable refresh rate.
It will be worth getting the high-end MacBook Pro models for viewing and editing HDR content, as well as watching high-framerate video such as sports. The display of the MacBook Air is sufficient for most users and some may not even notice a drastic difference. The MacBook Pro’s deeper blacks and smoother on-screen motion simply offer a slightly better experience.
The MacBook Air contains the M2 chip, while MacBook Pro customers can choose between the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips. The M3 Pro and M3 Max are scaled-up versions of the M3 chip that offer additional CPU and GPU cores. See the M2, M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max’s Geekbench 5 Benchmark scores below:
The M3 Pro and M3 Max provide CPUs with up to eight additional cores and GPUs with up to 30 additional cores. The M2 chip in the MacBook Air is only slightly less powerful than the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max in single-core tasks, but the M3 chips, and particularly the Pro and Max versions, are considerably better in multi-core and graphics tasks.
With significantly more transistors, performance CPU cores, and GPU cores, the M3 Pro and M3 Max are powerful chips designed for professionals with demanding workflows. The M2 and M3, on the other hand, are more consumer-oriented chips focused on delivering surprisingly impressive performance and excellent efficiency to keep temperatures down and prolong battery life.
It is also worth noting that the MacBook Air is passively cooled and contains no fan, which can slightly constrain peak performance compared to the MacBook Pro, since the high-end machines have large fans to actively cool the system and push the chips harder.
The limitations of the M2 and M3 also mean that MacBook Air and MacBook Pro devices configured with these chips support only one external display, whereas M3 Pro and M3 Max machines support up to two and four external displays, respectively.
Memory and Storage
The MacBook Air can be configured with up to 24GB of unified memory and up to 2TB of storage, which should be more than enough for the vast majority of users. For those who need even more memory and storage, the MacBook Pro can be configured with significantly more memory and storage than the top-spec MacBook Air.
The M3 Pro and M3 Max chips in the MacBook Pro also provide up to 150GB/s and 400GB/s memory bandwidth respectively – an enormous increase over the 100GB/s memory bandwidth with the M2 chip in the MacBook Air.
Buyers should also be aware that the 256GB MacBook Air base models have up to 50 percent slower SSDs than configurations with more storage. This is because the base models only have a single SSD module inside, whereas models with larger amounts of storage have two SSD chips, significantly increasing the overall speed of the machine’s storage.
Speakers and Microphones
The MacBook Air has a four-speaker sound system that is surprisingly full and balanced for such a small, slim device. The MacBook Pro takes things to the next level with a high-fidelity six-speaker sound system with force-cancelling woofers for dramatically bigger and deeper audio – something that may be invaluable to users who work in professional audio production or simply listen to a lot of music out-loud.
The MacBook Air has a three-mic array with directional beamforming that is perfect for activities like video calls and voice notes. The MacBook Pro has what Apple calls a “studio-quality” three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming. While they are not as good as a dedicated microphone, the MacBook Pro’s microphones are impressive and, at a push, are suitable for production purposes like podcasting.
The MacBook Air has an 18-hour battery life, offering the same battery life as the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro or M3 Max chips, and four hours less than the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 chip and the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Other MacBook Options
If you are looking for a more affordable Apple silicon MacBook, there is the M1 MacBook Air, which sports a 13.3-inch Retina display, Touch ID, two Thunderbolt ports, and more, for prices starting at $999. For users on a strict budget, the M1 MacBook Air is still a good option.
Overall, the MacBook Air is the best option for casual users, offering an excellent balance of features and performance in a highly portable design. The MacBook Air’s $1,099 starting price is much more affordable compared to the MacBook Pro, and with an education discount or an offer from our Apple Deals Roundup, it is possible to get that price down by at least $100. The additional $500 to get the MacBook Pro likely is not worth it for most ordinary users, and on the contrary, many will prefer the slimmer, lighter design of the MacBook Air and perhaps even its additional color options.
Professionals who require larger and more accurate displays, additional ports, more memory and storage, and a very high level of performance should look to the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips, and the higher price points of these machines reflects this. The high-end MacBook Pro models are not targeted at everyday consumers, being clearly tailored to creatives and professionals who rely heavily on the capabilities of their machines. As such, these high-end models should only be a go-to option if you are a power-user or professional who can make use of its advanced features. The 16-inch MacBook Pro, in particular, is also potentially a good desktop replacement machine due to its large display.
- 13-Inch vs. 15-Inch M2 MacBook Air Buyer’s Guide
- Late 2023 MacBook Pro Buyer’s Guide: 14-Inch and 16-Inch Models Compared
Alternatively, if you are already considering the $1,299 15-inch MacBook Air, it may be worth paying more to get the M3 MacBook Pro. For just $200 more, the M3 MacBook Pro offers a considerably better Liquid Retina XDR display with ProMotion, a more powerful chip with active cooling, four extra hours of battery life, better speakers and microphones, an HDMI port and SDXC card slot, and more. In fact, if you configure the 15-inch MacBook Air with 512GB of storage to match the M3 MacBook Pro, there is only a $100 between the two machines, so in this instance it is almost always worth getting the more powerful machine, unless maximizing screen size is your only priority.Related Roundups: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 14 & 16″ Buyer’s Guide: 15″ MacBook Air (Neutral), 14″ & 16″ MacBook Pro (Buy Now), 13″ MacBook Air (Don’t Buy)Related Forums: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro
This article, “MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro Buyer’s Guide” first appeared on MacRumors.com
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