Help me decide between a MacBook Air and MacBook Pro

It’s time to upgrade my 2018 MacBook Pro, and I need help deciding between a MacBook Air or Pro.

I’m a writer. 99% of what I do is extremely do-able on a MBA. However:

  • I’d like to have the option to run generative AI locally. I guess that means I need to install an LLM? I don’t know what I’m doing here–that’s a major reason I want to install this software locally—I want to learn! Do I need to have a MBP to do that, or will the software run fine on a MacBook Air?
  • I’d like to have the option to run multi-monitors. As I understand it, that’s not officially supported with the MBA, however I’ve seen workarounds online that look pretty simple to accomplish, with the help of a Thunderbolt hub costing several hundred dollars–a price I’m willing to pay. Are these workarounds reliable?

If I go with the MBA, I’ll wait until the new models ship, which seems likely to happen in a few weeks

Thanks!

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I don’t have experience with running an LLM locally yet but I assume that would require more RAM so you’d be looking at a 16 GB machine.

The problem with the Air (especially the 15” one) is that once you upgrade the configuration to 16 gigs of memory then the 14” M3 Pro with 18 gigs of RAM and a much nicer mini LED display (and a number of other upgrades) is not that much more expensive, plus it supports multiple displays natively.

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I absolutely love my MBA 15 inch. I got the 8GB ram version initially, because it was available off the shelf (and the closest Apple Store is 3000km away), and it was great for everything I needed to do … except some video stuff. I upgraded to an identical looking MBA, but bumped the memory up to 24GB, which is probably overkill, but it is now just the most beautiful machine I’ve ever owned.

I also have an M1 16 inch MBP, and it feels soooooo heavy by comparison.

I too am a writer.

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I’m in a similar situation with my 2017 MBP. For my purposes I’m likely to benefit more from the larger 15" screen on the Air over the better screen tech on the 14" MBP, plus it’s a lot thinner and a bit lighter.

But like you if I go with the Air I’m waiting for the M3.

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You’ll find both of those items challenging if you buy the MBA. You really want north of 32GB RAM to run local models plus your usual stuff. They are just going to keep getting bigger and the smaller ones more specialized (so multiple running at once.)

If you don’t already have the hardware to split the single display signal, especially, I’d put that money towards the extra cost of the Pro.

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I can’t speak to the LLMs, but I have a M1 MBA that I used to use DisplayLink with. It wasn’t the best experience at all. It works, but it eats CPU cycles and depending on the adapter you can have bandwidth issues with the USB bus. I would run into scenarios where the 2nd display would cut out because it couldn’t send enough data through the USB connection. If you know you need more than the laptop screen + 1 external I would definitely go with a Pro.

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I know almost nothing about AI, but I would want to learn the basics first so I would be able to make an informed hardware purchase. I’m playing with CoPilot on my 2020 iPP so it would probably run OK on your existing hardware. Just don’t tell your AI girlfriend all of your deep dark secrets. :wink:

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My 2019 MBA may be close to toes up. I looked at both and figured (after threatening it with my hardware savvy husband and his tools) that since it finally decided to reboot normally I’ll wait a while longer. I was leaning towards MBP though. I like and use external monitors with my MBA and it’s a case of dongles that fail rather frequently.

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My experience of running Stable Diffusion image generation and Whisper transcription on an M1 MacBook Pro (that’s the slowest ever M chip) with only 16 GB of RAM suggests it is eminently doable. Slower than it could be? Probably. But the only thing that routinely stresses my system is video transcode.

Also, I have done both of those AI-driven tasks without closing any of my usual apps, so there would have been multiple tabs in Safari, Slack, Ivory, MimeStream and more.

The real kicker is multi-monitor support. I believe it’s doable with some USB trickery, but I don’t know the ins and outs of that.

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If you can avoid a kludge with some kind of dongle, do. Even good add ons are never as good as system hardware.

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My thoughts are that with AI, you want to do your best to future-proof the expense. Apple will heighten the neural engine speed and capabilities for sure. But, that is always the situation (heighten neural, chip, and ram) for each generation. I will go MacBook Pro for your case, plus you get all the bonus features of the Pro. What you “can” do with the Air will have much less fiction (and remorse) with the Pro.

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I recently saw a first hand reaction from someone who uses a piece of photographic software that heavily utilises the Neural Engine. They upgraded from an M1 Max Mac Studio to an M3 Pro MacBook Pro and were worried about relative performance with the CPU step down…

That’s the 60% advance in Neural Engine core speed for you. You still have to buy a very high end Mac (with Ultra) to get any more than the 16 cores I got with my 1st generation M1 ‘amatuer’, but boy howdy, have they boosted those cores.

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Well, that’s me satisfied. I’m trying to cull my tech as well as make a purchase to future proof myself.
I have an M1 MacBook Air (8/512) and a Mac Mini (16/512).

I think I’d be better off with one device so will sell/trade those and get a MacBook Pro with “as much RAM as I can afford.”.

This is one of the better rationalizations I’ve ever read for spending a bunch of money on an upgrade! Way to go! :rofl:

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Aaaaaaand that’s done.

15-inch MacBook Air with M3 chip - Space Gray

  • 2TB SSD storage
  • 24GB unified memory

Arrives March 29-April 2. Seems like a long time to wait!

I was trying to put it off a while longer but it seems like I’m at the point with my 2018 MacBook Pro (my only computer) where it could fail any minute now, leaving me possibly unable to finish work on a deadline. Better to do it now while the timing is under my control. And besides with the MacBook Airs recently upgraded, now seems like the best time to buy for the next year or two!

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I’m jealous. Going from a 2018 MBP to an M3 MacBook Air is like time traveling 100 years into the future.

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I replaced my 2014 iMac with a fully specced M1 MacBook Pro when they came out, and this is my ‘desktop’ machine. However its too heavy for a travel machine and my 2015 12" MacBook was running like treacle on a recent trip, so I have gone for a new M3 13" MacBook Air and am loving it so far. It should cope well with Lightroom on photo trips

For 30 years as a tech journalist, I went to a lot of conferences, and spent a lot of time on my feet with a computer bag slung over my shoulder. My trick for lightening up my load when traveling was to actually pack more — in my final months of frequent business travel, in late 2019, I started packing an iPad with keyboard on trips, in addition to the MacBook Pro. I’d leave the MBP in the hotel room and use the iPad with keyboard all day. It was an excellent solution!

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New MacBook Air arrived today. I have been using it for about 10 minutes:

  • Holy cow, this thing is fast compared with my 2018 MacBook Pro. I did a thing where I open 30+ tabs simultaneously. Took a couple of minutes on the MBP, but is virtually instantaneous on the MBA.
    The Migration Assistant seems to have worked flawlessly. I had to authenticate and give permission for a few things, but that only took about a minute.
  • Unexpected benefit: With a 15" built-in display, I now have a usable second display for my desk. Previously, the 13" display wasn’t usable when on my desktop, except under limited circumstances. I hadn’t considered that when I decided on 15".
  • Hmmm… I hope this thing fits into my favorite computer bag. If not—MOAR shopping!
  • I can switch back to Safari from Vivaldi now, but I don’t know if I will. I’ve come to like Vivaldi.
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Explain? I thought the only difference was screen size and resolution.

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