MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: What’s different in the new model?

MacBook Air M2 vs MacBook Air M1: What’s different in the new model?

During its WWDC 2022 keynote on June 6th, Apple introduced a new version of the MacBook Air, powered by the brand-new Apple M2 chip. In addition to the new processor promising even more performance, the new MacBook Air has a brand-new design, it’s available in new colors, and it has a few other improvements. If you’re interested in learning exactly what’s new in the M2-powered MacBook Air, we’re going to compare it to the M1 model so you can see how much has changed.

It’s worth noting here that the M1 MacBook Air is still going to be available to buy alongside the M2 model, but there are some changes to the configurations you can get. The M1 model is only available in its cheapest configuration with a 7-core GPU. The M2 model is replacing the M1 variants that had an 8-core GPU, which is why it also has a higher starting price. Let’s get into it.

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MacBook Air M2 vs M1: Specs

MacBook Air M2 MacBook Air M1
CPU
  • Apple M2 (8 cores, unknown speeds)
  • Apple M1 (8 cores, up to 3.2GHz)
Graphics
  • 8-core GPU
  • 10-core GPU
  • 7-core GPU
  • 8-core GPU
Display
  • 13.6-inch IPS, 2560 x 1664, 500 nits, True Tone, P3 Wide Color
  • 13.3-inch IPS 16:10 (2560 x 1600), 400 nits, True Tone, P3 Wide Color
Storage
  • 256GB SSD
  • 512GB SSD
  • 1TB SSD
  • 2TB SSD
  • 256GB SSD
  • 512GB SSD
  • 1TB SSD
  • 2TB SSD
RAM
  • 8GB unified memory
  • 16GB unified memory
  • 24GB unified memory
  • 8GB unified memory
  • 16GB unified memory
Battery
  • 52.6Whr battery
    • Up to 67W USB-C power adapter
  • 49.9Whr battery
    • 30W USB-C charger
Ports
  • 2 x USB4 / Thunderbolt (USB-C)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
  • MagSafe 3
  • 2 x USB 4 / Thunderbolt (USB-C)
  • 3.5mm headphone jack
Audio
  • Quad-speaker audio system with Dolby Atmos
  • 3-microphone array
  • Stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos support
  • 3-microphone array
Camera
  • 1080p FaceTime HD camera
  • 720p FaceTime HD camera
Biometric authentication
  • Touch ID in power button
  • Touch ID in power button
Connectivity
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5
  • Wi-Fi 6
  • Bluetooth 5
Color
  • Silver
  • Space Gray
  • Starlight
  • Midnight
  • Silver
  • Space Gray
  • Gold
Size (WxDxH)
  • 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 in (304.1 x 215 x 11.3 mm)
  • 11.97 × 8.36 × 0.63 in (304.1 × 212.4 × 16.1 mm)
Dimensions
  • Starts at 2.7 lbs (1.24 kg)
  • Starts at 2.8 lbs (1.29 kg)
Price Starting at $1,199 Starting at $999

Performance: The Apple M2 is a big upgrade for the MacBook Air

One of the biggest changes in the new MacBook Air is its heart – the new Apple M2 chipset. This is the beginning of the next generation of Apple Silicon, and compared to the M1 chip inside the previous MacBook Air, it’s quite an upgrade. We don’t have real-life benchmarks yet, but Apple did provide plenty of comparisons between the M2 and M1, so let’s take a look at what you can expect.

For starters, the M2 has 20 billion transistors, a 25% increase over the Apple M1. On the CPU side, this results in an 18% increase in performance over the Apple M1, even though it has the same number of cores. As for the GPU, it now goes up to 10 cores instead of 8, which helps deliver even better performance. Apple promises up to 35% more performance at peak power for the M2, but to be fair, the Apple M2 can use more power than the M1. However, even at the same power level, Apple promises up to 25% more performance in the M2.

To be fair, the base configuration of the Apple M2 only has 8 GPU cores, too, but you should still be able to expect a performance uplift over the previous model. And if you’re trying to buy a laptop now, Apple is only selling the original M1 model with a 7-core GPU, which gives the M2 more of an advantage.

The Apple M2 also features improvements in regards to the unified memory (RAM) built into the chip. Apple has increased the memory bandwidth up to 100GB/s (50% higher than with the Apple M1) and you can configure the new chip with up to 24GB of unified memory – up from 16GB in the previous model. All of this means the M2-powered MacBook Air should be able to handle more demanding and complex workloads with more assets loaded onto the unified memory.

The M2 MacBook Air can be almost 40% faster than the M1 when editing video timelines in Final Cut Pro.

In real-life performance comparisons, Apple says the new MacBook Air can be nearly 40% faster when editing complex video timelines in Final Cut Pro, or up to 20% faster when applying filters in apps like Photoshop. Those are sizeable upgrades, especially if you work with large assets. On top of all this, Apple also claims the Neural Engine inside the Apple M2 is up to 40% faster than the M1, making it even better for AI-related workloads. All of those upgrades will be more noticeable if you’re using apps optimized for Apple Silicon.

One thing that hasn’t changed with the new model is storage, which still ranges between 256GB and 2TB.

Display and sound: The new model is taller and brighter

The new MacBook Air also comes with some notable changes to the display, though they may not be as big as they appear at first. The M2-powered MacBook Air comes with a 13.6-inch display, compared to the 13.3-inch display of the M1 model. Part of that increase has to do with the fact that the screen is taller now, and it stretches closer to the edges of the chassis. That’s also why the resolution is now 2560 x 1664, instead of 2560 x 1600. There are 64 additional lines of pixels to fill in the extra vertical space, but the resolution is pretty much the same.

One upgrade that’s definitely worth noting is the brightness of the screen. Apple has upgraded the display to reach up to 500 nits of brightness, a 25% increase over the panel on the M1 MacBook Air. This should make the display more visible outdoors, and it now matches the 13-inch MacBook Pro. It’s certainly a welcome upgrade if you want to get work done on the go. Of course, features like P3 wide color and True Tone support are also still here.

There’s one potential downside with this new display, though. In order to stretch the display up and keep the webcam above the display, Apple has gone with a notched display for the new MacBook Air. To be fair, the notch will rarely cut into the content on your screen, but if you’re bothered by the notch on the latest iPhone models, you probably won’t like it here either.

Close-up of the MacBook Air M2's display showing the notch and webcam

On the other hand, the webcam itself has also received a very welcome upgrade. Instead of 720p resolution, the MacBook Air now has a 1080p FaceTime HD camera, while also benefitting from the advanced image signal processor inside the Apple M2. This should mean you’re going to look great during video calls and meetings on the MacBook Air, and it could make this one of the best laptops with a 1080p webcam.

The M2 MacBook Air upgrades to a quad-speaker stereo setup, instead of the dual speakers of past models.

There’s even more good news on the audio front, too. Instead of a dual-speaker setup, Apple has upgraded the M2 MacBook Air to a quad-speaker setup, resulting in more powerful and immersive sound. Apple’s highér-end MacBook Pro models have typically had some of the best speakers on any laptop, and if some of that is now inside the MacBook Air, this could be one of the best speaker setups on a laptop of this size.

Design: It’s lighter and (kind of) thinner now

For the first time since 2018, the MacBook Air has also received a big redesign with the new M2 model. Apple has done away with the “wedge” design we’ve gotten used to, which means the laptop is now a flat unibody chassis, with the same thickness throughout the entire body. Specifically, it measures 11.3mm in thickness, and if you compare that to the thickest point of the M1 model, which measures 16.1mm, it’s much thinner. Of course, the old wedge design makes this a tough comparison, because the old model was thinner at its thinnest point. At the end of the day, though, the new model is very thin, especially considering it’s made from aluminum.

Side view of the M1 MacBook Air (on top) and the M2 MacBook Air (at the bottom) showing the difference between the wedge and flat design of each model.

M1 MacBook Air in Silver (top) and M2 MacBook Air in Midnight (bottom)

Not only that, but the new MacBook Air is also slightly lighter now. The difference is very small, but the M2 model starts at 2.7lbs or 1.24 kilograms, which is a slight reduction from the 2.8lbs/1.29kg of the previous model. Considering it packs many hardware upgrades, that’s pretty impressive.

Something else that’s changed in terms of design is the color options available. The M1 model of the MacBook Air came in Silver, Space Grey, or Gold colorways, but the M2 model only keeps the first two. Instead, there are two brand-new options replacing the previous gold. First, there’s Starlight, a much softer and more elegant shade of gold (taking inspiration from the latest iPad Air). Then, there’s Midnight, a nearly-black option for those who thought Space Grey wasn’t dark enough.

All four color options for the M2 MacBook Air

Color options for the M2 MacBook Air

Ports: MagSafe is back

Finally, let’s touch on ports. The biggest news here is potentially the return of MagSafe, with the M2 MacBook Air adopting the new MagSafe 3 connector for charging, complete with support for 67W fast charging with the appropriate power adapter. If you’re not familiar with it, MagSafe is a magnetic connector, which makes it easier to plug in a charger, but also makes it easier to disconnect. What that means is that if you trip on the charging cable, you won’t drag your laptop to the floor and damage it, it’ll just disconnect the charging cable and leave the laptop intact.

Unfortunately, that’s the only change this year. The MacBook Air still has two USB4/Thunderbolt ports and a headphone jack, and that’s it. And the reason we say “unfortunately” is that Apple hasn’t addressed the biggest limitation with the MacBook Air, which is the number of displays you can connect at the same time. Just like the M1, the Apple M2 only supports one external display via Thunderbolt, which makes it tricky to connect more external displays. That makes Thunderbolt support a lot less meaningful.

Ports on the MacBook Air 2022 in Starlight

Final thoughts: Is the M2 MacBook Air worth the price tag?

After all of this, it’s evident that the M2 MacBook Air is better than the M1 model in just about every way, but is it worth the higher asking price? The M1 MacBook Air starts at $999 with an 8-core CPU and 7-core GPU, while the M2 model starts at $1,199 with its 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU. Both models start with the same RAM and storage, but you can upgrade from there.

Whether the upgrades are worth $200 is up to you, but you’re getting a lot of improvements with the M2 model: a brighter display, a better webcam, a more powerful audio system, a thinner and lighter design, a MagSafe port, and, of course, more performance. If you want to get the most performance possible, you’ll need to spend even more, since the 10-core GPU and 24GB of unified memory cost extra, but even without that, the M2 model is certainly going to perform better, and it has other benefits to boot.

MacBook Air front view in Starlight

But the M1-powered MacBook Air is still a powerful machine, and there’s a reason Apple is keeping it around. You can still get a lot done with this older design, and compared to many Windows laptops, it still offers a great balance of performance and efficiency. Depending on how much you’re willing to spend, both of these are potentially among the best laptops you can buy right now.

If you can comfortably spend the extra money on the MacBook Air with the M2 chip, we’d say it’s worth the upgrade, but if you’re trying to buy something for a slightly lower price, then you’ll still have a great experience with the M1 model. Regardless of your choice, you can buy either of the models using the links below. Otherwise, you can always check out the best Macs you can buy right now if you’re looking for something even more powerful.

    The new M2 MacBook Air comes with a lighter design, a taller display, more performance, plus it brings back MagSafe to the MacBook Air.
    The M1 MacBook Air is Apple's most affordable laptop, but it still delivers solid performance in a very power-efficient package.

About author

João Carrasqueira
João Carrasqueira

Editor at XDA Computing. I've been covering the world of technology since 2018, but I've loved the field for a lot longer. And I have a weird affinity for Nintendo videogames, which I'm always happy to talk about.

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