Have you ever wanted a computer that you could flog all day long, and well into the night, without it ever whining once?
Look no further than Apple’s almost completely redesigned MacBook Air, an ultraportable laptop that we’ve been flogging the hell out of here in the Digital Life Labs, and from which we’re yet to hear a single whisper of complaint.
The MacBook Air, you see, is the laptop computer Apple has designed to be the most portable, and the most silent, of all its laptops.
It’s got the new Apple Silicon M2 processor that first appeared a couple of weeks ago inside the entry-level MacBook Pro. But where the MacBook Pro is designed to get the most performance out of the M2 processor, the MacBook Air is designed to give you the most portability, and the most silence, even if that means taking the edge off the performance of the M2.
The Air, you see, doesn’t have an internal cooling fan, which means three things: it allows it to be thinner and lighter than the MacBook Pro; it means it never makes a whining noise, even when it’s being flogged to death; and it means it will start to slow down pretty soon after you start flogging it with a heavy workload, to prevent the M2 processor from actually dying due to overheating.
In our tests, the M2 processor inside the MacBook Air started off performing more or less identically to the M2 processor inside the MacBook Pro (the Air benchmarked at 2 per cent slower of CPU performance and 2 per cent faster for graphics performance, both of which are well inside the natural variability to get in benchmark tests), but the silent, fanless design of the MacBook Air took the edge off the performance almost immediately.
Flogging the machine with artificial workloads that cause the processor to heat up, the processor slows down to prevent overheating within two minutes, at first by just an indiscernible 5 per cent, but eventually, after around 33 minutes of brutal punishment, by about 20 per cent for multi-core workloads, and 15 per cent for single-core workloads.
What does all that mean?
It means that, for most computer users, there is absolutely no reason to get the new MacBook Pro, if that’s the thing you’re hesitating about when you’re considering buying the new MacBook Air.
Losing 20 per cent performance only after you’ve flogged the thing to death for half an hour is a small price to pay in order to get a computer that’s thinner, lighter, has better charging options (the Air has a MagSafe charging port as well as USB-C charging), a slightly larger screen (13.6- versus 13.3-inch) and is cheaper than the MacBook Pro.
And that’s all the more true when you consider that the silent, fanless design only occasionally shaves 20 per cent off the performance of a processor that has more power than most users can make full use of anyway. Losing 20 per cent of something that was probably more than you needed isn’t much of a loss at all.
Likewise the battery life on the MacBook Air.
Our tests (which involve continually streaming YouTube videos till the battery dies) show the Air has a slightly short battery life (16 hours 35 minutes) than the MacBook Pro M2 (17 hours 15 minutes) but just look at those numbers. 16Sixteen hours! Seventeen hours!
Both laptops run longer on batteries than most people will ever need. Even on a long haul flight you can usually plug into USB power nowadays.
To us, the choice is an easy one. It’s the fanless, whine-free MacBook Air over the MacBook Pro every time.
But just because the MacBook Air never whines, doesn’t mean I won’t.
The MacBook Air might be close to the perfect ultraportable notebook computer, but the MacOS operating system that runs on it is still far from perfect.
It’s got any number of annoying features compared to Windows 11, not the least of which is a bug in its multi-factor authentication system that, when it rears its ugly head, means you have to enter your Apple ID and your MacBook passwords, plus a key sent to your iPhone or iPad, three or four times in a row before it’s satisfied you are who you say you are. It drives me crazy.
If only you could still run Windows on Apple Silicon MacBooks the way you could run it on Intel MacBooks, Apple would be killing it.
Likes: Long battery life. Great performance. Very portable.
Dislikes: MacOS can be a bit of a nag. Starting to get expensive.
Price: MacBook Air M2 starts at $1899. MacBook Pro M2 starts at $1990
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