MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Pro M3

Once again I’m weighing up a potential buying decision, comparing

  • MacBook Air, M2, 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 24GB RAM, 2TB SSD
  • MacBook Pro, M3, 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 36GB RAM, 2TB SSD, XDR, +£400
  • MacBook Pro, M3 Pro, 11-core CPU, 14-core GPU, 36GB RAM, 2TB SSD, XDR, +£250 (+£650 over the Air)

The Air has better battery life, most likely due to display in the Pro, with higher resolution XDR LCD and a mini-LED backlight.

In my buying decision I’m omitting the M3 “non-Pro Pro” middle option, with the same 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU setup as the Air, albeit on the newer M3 class SoC. This is because if I’m going for a Pro then over the lifetime of this laptop I’ll probably never care about shelling out a further £250 for more CPU, 2nd monitor support and an additional USB-C port.

The higher spec CPU and XDR display of the real Pro push the cost up a further £650 over the cost of the Air.

So my real questions are

  1. What are my use cases, and what demands will they place on the hardware?
  2. Is the additional CPU and XDR worth the cost of weight and battery life?
  3. Do I really need to be spending further £650 on a laptop that I won’t use for work?

Unfortunately I can only answer the firat of these.

My use cases and demands are simple. The most complex is some occasional video editing, but this is so infrequent that the only requirement is that the task is completed reliably. The time taken is inconsequential.

There is nothing unique in this deliberation. However I’ve not been able to reach decision, and it’s now been almosg 12 months.

As always I’m interested in the thoughts and opinions of this community.

All said, with respect, I do not have a sense that your decision is anything other than daydreaming. Perhaps help further with answers to these questions.

  • What system do you have now?
  • Where and why specifically is it inadequate to achieve what you need?
  • What specifically constitutes “simple” as far as your cases and demands?

Which, based on what I see, is simply because you are not asking yourself the right questions.


JJW

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I saw a rumor that the Airs are getting the M3 by the end of March. Nothing firm yet, but the M2 is almost two years old now, so it seems about due. IMO the speed bump is going to be less important than how long it’s going to be supported with macOS updates.

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Hi JJW

Good point.

My current system is a late 2015 MacBook Pro (8Gb/128Gb). An ex-work machine I acquired as a “temporary” and portable machine when in 2022, ahead of a move in 2023. I’ve held onto it for the last 6 months as the house was priority.

As you’d expect the battery health is poor and I’ll get an hour between charges. However most of its use is at my desk, swapped out for my work-issued PC laptop. This is also where I plug in an external 27” display and a
USB hub with multiple external SSD and HDD extending the MacBook’s 128Gb of storage.

Battery life also dictates non-use, where I favour shut down and re-boot over sleep as the battery can’t sustain power for long periods of sleep. This also helps to clear the cruft from the meagre 8Gb of RAM.

I’m still not clear on the last question. By example …

  • Do you do CAD work with some occasional email and Web browsing OR
  • Do you do Word processing with lots of email OR
  • Do you watch Video productions with lots of note taking OR

The dead battery issue could just as well be handled by replacing the battery. Why bother with a new computer system? I want one is not a valid answer.

Or, put another way … Suppose that you current system had a perfect battery, what else is limiting your productivity (that makes you yearn for a new system)?

If nothing else limits your productivity, then start at the low end (the Air). What exactly will you loose if you do not go to the next higher (more expensive) system? Are the losses mission critical to your productivity? If not, you have your answer. If so, repeat to the next higher system.

EDIT: Another consideration is portability. By example, absent an iPad, some one who is a regular commuter on a long distance public transit might appreciate the Air over the MBP. You seem not to be in this category though.


JJW

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Back when people asked me what Windows system to buy my answer was always what can you afford and then buy the one that you can afford. So unless you only plan to use the MacBook for web surfing and email go for the one you have money for and if that is the full blown MBP Pro M3 with all the trimmings why not. The M3 will have a EOL long after the M2.

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I use DEVONthink 3 heavily and connect to academic journals, sites and papers online. I have some online lectures stored and listen to podcasts. I had an over specced Mac Book Pro 16 inch intel 2019 which I traded in for a Basic Mac book Air M2 with 8GB and I am doing everything I need and frankly to date I haven’t noticed any difference in performance or any bottlenecks.
I don’t do any heavy lifting with video editing so I can’t comment on that.

Do you really need a laptop? When I switched to the M1 I decided to go with an iMac. Almost all my portable computing is easily handled by my iPad. I still have a 2015 MacBook Air that is synced with my iMac that I can use on trips but really haven’t needed it.

I did look into a replacement battery but this doesn’t resolve the other pain points in available RAM and SSD size.

My most intensive task is occasional video editing but I also want to future proof where possible.

Additional pain points are software related: I’m running 10.14; is largely unusable so I use Firefox; limited Notes; no Reminders etc etc.

I really don’t like the current iMacs, limited to the M1 16Gb and 24” display. But I also already have a PC laptop + monitor for work and no space for 2nd desktop. Instead I swap laptops to use the bigger display but I’m largely tied to the set of external drives with my music (still called iTunes) and Photo library

I do edit videos. Not as much as a daily YouTuber but at least once every couple weeks. I have a M1 Air with 16GB RAM and it’s completely useable and fast. It might take a little longer to render but I just get up from my desk for 5 min** and then it’s done.

I heard someone say once, “if you don’t know that you need a MacBook Pro get a MacBook Air.” I think that advice is sound. If you are worried about performance I wouldn’t be. The Air’s are quite adept and performant. I have a 2023 G14 as well with the latest AMD Ryzen 9 and a 4060 GPU and the M1 feels as fast if not faster than this machine.*** And the battery life on my 3 year old M1 is still fantastic. I did two hours of photo editing last night and only used 20% of the battery.

** I was able to use a MacBook Pro M1 Max to test render a 12 min interview video I was working on last year. The M1 rendered it in 8 min and the M1 Max did it in 3. And as far as actual editing goes, I notice some longer pre-renders when clipping footage but nothing so abhorrent as to require an additional $2,000.

*** A lot of this has to do with macOS though and not the machine’s performance. macOS is a more fluid operating system. Windows doesn’t prioritize the feeling of fluid-ness in their OS even though it’s equally as capable.

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I have to say the battery life is fantastic and really, though I do use it mostly in the house and my study, I like that. Sometimes I only need to charge once in two days.

Do you really need a laptop? Would a Mac Mini work? Perhaps you don’t exactly need the mobility if you have an iPad for occasional “on the go” activities. This is important because with a Mini you are not paying for the laptop battery and screen, which of course is a nice to have, but is a potential corner to be cut.

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Completely agree about how wonderful my M1 MacBook Air has been.

However, if I were buying today with an M2 Air available, I would definitely get 24 GB of memory, as running multi-gigabyte-using software like Adobe Lightroom Classic pushes me past the 16GB of memory I currently have into swap space on the internal SSD.

I don’t run an external monitor, but if I did, I understand that it would steal some of the unified memory on the Apple Silicon chip. Wanting to run external monitor(s) might push me towards a MacBook Pro model with 36 GB.

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As just noted by @karlnyhus and others, you should compare the performance hit for the Air versus the MBP when running with a second monitor attached.

An internal SSD can be supplemented with an external SSD (and I imagine your original posting meant 2TB SSD not 200TB SSD). I’ve been quite comfortable with 1TB, especially by culling content that is infrequently used and/or closed and moving it to an external SSD.

If 10 years is your nominal life-time investment in a computer, I suspect that anything you get in your proposed line up will be “future proof”.


JJW

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I also like the idea of waiting for the M3 Air since you’re not in a hurry, and it sounds like you only need to drive one display and would like the form factor.

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I would prefer the laptop form factor over a desktop. I work from that desk so I’d like to be on the Mac there or anywhere else for a change of scenery.

A macbook Air M3 might be of interest, and save me money, but my view is that with an active producy line there is always going to be a new product being developed, and you can’t just wait for the next one each time.

(And yes, 2TB not 200TB. Doh!)

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In my case, I went with the XDR screen so I got the M3. I think you will be happy with any of your three choices. IMO, if you are going to keep it for 5’ish years, get the M3 even if you wait for the Air version. 24 or 36 will be more than adequate. Then, get the machine that you can afford and that you will be satisfied. When I brought the M1 Pro it meet all my need but I had a deep seated regret that I did not get the MAX at the time.

In general that’s true, but I sometimes find it worth being strategic when a significant update is very close and I still have a functioning device.

In this case, the M2 processor is nearly two years old and the M3 Air is rumored to be coming by the end of next month. IMO the best reason to wait isn’t just that it’s likely to be faster and have a bit better battery life. It’s that it’s going to be supported with macOS security and version updates for at least a year or two longer.

That’s just a better investment.

For the same reason, I like to keep an older but still functional iPhone around in case something happens to my current one, especially in the summer when I know the new iPhones are coming in September.

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