Comparing M3 MacBook Air to M2 MacBook Air: Which Apple laptop is the better choice?

While Apple’s M3 chip offers a respectable performance boost, the M2 MacBook Air still represents an excellent value.

Credit: Apple

Apple’s new M3-equipped MacBook Airs may not surprise us much. The 13-inch M2 model, which debuted in 2022, represented the first significant redesign of Apple’s beloved notebook lineup in over a decade. Last year, Apple delighted its enthusiasts with a 15-inch MacBook Air, expanding the ultraportable notebook’s screen size. Now, we find ourselves with these familiar companions, sporting slightly faster chips. Yet, they didn’t receive the grand stage of an Apple event; instead, a quiet Monday morning press release sufficed. Visually, they remain unchanged, albeit a tad swifter than their predecessors. But what more can we really say?

Don’t get me wrong; these are still excellent computers. However, our expectations have been elevated by Apple’s laptops in recent years. The M3 MacBook Air signifies the inevitable leveling off of innovation for the company, following the meteoric ascent of its mobile chips and a comprehensive overhaul of its laptop and desktop offerings. It’s akin to reaching cruising altitude after the exhilaration of takeoff—things are steady and comfortable for both Apple and its consumers.

Credit: Apple

M3 MacBook Air

The newest MacBook Air from Apple retains the sleek and lightweight design we admired in the M2 version while introducing enhanced performance courtesy of the M3 chip

Pros

  • Fast performance courtesy of its M3 chip
  • The M3 MacBook Air boasts a sturdy and sleek design
  • Excellent keyboard and trackpad
  •  Solid quad-speaker array

Cons

  • Charging and USB-C ports are only on one side

Available on Amazon

Top Pick

M3 MacBook Air

Liquid Retina Display
8.5Our Score
$1299

Considering the MacBook Air M3, several significant enhancements could justify an upgrade from the M2.

M3 MacBook Air vs M2 MacBook Air

Despite their identical appearance, the M3 MacBook Air models harbor a few hidden enhancements. Notably, they now support dual external displays, albeit only when their lids are closed. Interestingly, this feature was absent even in the M3-equipped 14-inch MacBook Pro at launch, but Apple promises to introduce it via a future software update. Dual screen support proves particularly advantageous for office workers who occasionally set up their laptops on temporary desks. Creatives with multiple monitors at home can also benefit. However, if you require your laptop to display alongside two or more external monitors, you’ll need to opt for a MacBook Pro equipped with an M3 Pro or Max chip.

Additionally, both new MacBook Air models embrace Wi-Fi 6E—an upgrade from the previous Wi-Fi 6 standard. This enhancement promises faster speeds and significantly reduced latency. To fully experience these benefits, you’ll need a Wi-Fi 6E router. Intel’s explanation highlights Wi-Fi 6E’s ability to tap into seven 160MHz channels, effectively avoiding the congested Wi-Fi 6 spectrum. In practical terms, you might finally witness gigabit speeds more consistently. (For context, my AT&T gigabit fiber connection and Wi-Fi 6 gateway yielded download speeds of around 350 Mbps and uploads ranging from 220 Mbps to 320 Mbps in my basement office. When on the same floor as the gateway, both upload and download speeds surged to 700 Mbps.

Credit: Apple

Weight and Design

Two years after the debut of the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air, the M3 follow-up maintains the same sleek and attractive design. It appears impossibly thin for a notebook, measuring a mere 0.44 inches in thickness, and weighs in at a fairly light 2.7 pounds. While ultraportables like LG’s Gram and the ZenBook S13 OLED manage to be even lighter and thinner than Apple’s hardware, the MacBook Air still exudes a sense of premium quality. Its unibody aluminum case feels as smooth as a river stone yet as sturdy as a boulder. It’s a computer I simply adore touching.

Credit: Apple

The 15-inch M3 MacBook Air shares a similar thin profile but weighs half a pound more at 3.2 pounds. While still relatively light for its size, the additional bulk gives it a slightly unwieldy feel compared to the 13-inch model. I can effortlessly slip either MacBook Air into a tote bag when rushing to pick up my kids from school, but the larger model’s length makes it a tad more cumbersome to carry.

However, for certain users, the extra heft is justified. The larger MacBook Air boasts a 15.3-inch Liquid Retina screen with a sharp 2,880 by 1,864 resolution (224 pixels per inch). This makes it ideal for multitasking across multiple windows or working with media editing apps. It’s also better suited for older or visually impaired users who may need to scale up their displays for readability. (I’ve observed this while shopping for computers for my parents and other older relatives—13-inch laptops can become challenging to work on unless you’re always wearing bifocals.)

Despite Apple finally offering a large, consumer-focused laptop, I lean toward the 13-inch MacBook Air. My daily tasks—writing, Slacking with colleagues, photo editing, and video conferencing—are all comfortably handled on a smaller screen. However, if I were directly editing more episodes of the Sixty Degree or working on video projects, I’d consider upgrading to the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M3 Pro chip. Even then, I couldn’t find much need for a significantly larger display.

Credit: Apple

While it’s understandable that Apple wouldn’t want to make significant design changes to the Air, considering its recent overhaul a few years ago, I personally wish they’d add a USB-C port on the right side. Such a placement would simplify charging from any angle. On a positive note, I’m relieved that Apple hasn’t done away with the headphone jack—a trend we’ve unfortunately seen too often in new 13-inch notebooks, like the XPS 13.

Hardware

For our testing, Apple provided the ‘midnight’ 13-inch MacBook Air (which boasts an almost jet-black hue and features a genuinely effective fingerprint-resistant coating) alongside the silver 15-inch model. Both computers were equipped with an M3 chip, a 10-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and a 512GB SSD. While the base models start at $1,099 and $1,299, respectively, the configurations we tested cost an additional $400. Keep this in mind when interpreting our benchmarks, as the figures may differ for the entry-level models. (The most affordable 13-inch variant includes 8GB of RAM, a 256GB SSD, and an 8-core GPU, while the introductory 15-inch unit shares the same RAM and storage but features a 10-core GPU.)

Geekbench 6 CPUGeekbench 6 GPUCinebench R233DMark Wildlife Extreme
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (M3, 2024)3,190/12,10230,5611,894/9,0378,310
Apple MacBook Air 15-inch (M3, 2024)3,187/12,03330,5561,901/9,7338,253
Apple MacBook Air 13-inch (M2, 2022)2,570/9,65025,2951,576/7,3726,761
Apple MacBook Pro 14-inch (M3, 2023)3,142/11,90230,4621,932/10,1598,139
Hardware comparison

M3 Chip Performance

While I didn’t anticipate a significant performance leap in either MacBook Air, our benchmarks managed to surprise me. Both laptops achieved scores approximately 300 points higher in the Cinebench R23 single-core test compared to the M2 MacBook Air. In the more demanding multi-core CPU test, the 13-inch M3 Air outpaced its predecessor by around 1,700 points, while the 15-inch model surged ahead by approximately 2,400 points. (Given that both machines lack fans, the larger case of the 15-inch Air likely contributes to slightly better performance under load.)

Geekbench 6 revealed an even more noticeable difference, with the M3 models clocking in around 40 percent faster than before. Apple’s claims of modest improvements over the M2 chips include 17 percent faster single-core performance, 21 percent speedier multi-core workloads, and 15 percent better GPU performance. It’s refreshing to witness areas where performance has genuinely improved. However, it’s essential to recognize that these machines aren’t intended to replace M2 systems. Instead, the more relevant comparisons lie in how they stack up against nearly four-year-old M1 Macs or even older Intel models. While Apple asserts that the M3 chip is up to 60 percent faster than the M1, my testing revealed a more conservative 35 percent speed boost in Cinebench’s R23 multi-core test.

Credit: Apple

In terms of real-world performance, I didn’t observe a significant difference between the M3-equipped MacBook Air and the M2 model I’ve been using for the past few years. Apps load just as swiftly, multitasking remains consistent (thanks to the 16GB of RAM), and even photo editing doesn’t show a substantial speed boost. It’s worth noting that the M2 MacBook Air is still an excellent machine, and now it’s an even better deal with its reduced $999 starting price. As we’ve mentioned, the most significant benefit of the M3 Airs’ existence is that they’ve driven down the cost of M2 models. Shoppers can expect enticing deals from stores clearing out older stock, refurbished units, and existing owners selling their M2 machines.

Gaming and productivity work

The M3 MacBook Airs deserve credit for their noticeable gaming performance boost. I successfully ran Lies of P at 1080p+ (1,920 by 1,200) with high graphics settings, maintaining a smooth 60fps most of the time. Occasionally, it dipped into the low-50fps range, but overall, gameplay remained unaffected. The director’s cut of Death Stranding also played seamlessly at that resolution, as long as I didn’t push the graphics settings too far. It’s refreshing to have serious gaming options on Macs for once. And if you crave more variety, consider streaming high-end games via Xbox’s cloud streaming or NVIDIA’s GeForce Now.

Beyond gaming, the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Airs offer an enjoyable overall experience. Their 500-nit screens support HDR and remain visible outdoors in sunlight. While not as dazzling as the ProMotion MiniLED displays on the MacBook Pros, they get the job done for most users. Apple’s quad and six-speaker arrays deliver top-notch audio quality, and the 1080p webcams excel in video conferencing (especially when combined with Apple’s camera enhancements for brightness and background blurring). Lastly, I can’t praise the MacBook Air’s responsive keyboard and smooth trackpad enough—I wish every laptop adopted them.

Credit: Apple

Battery

Certainly! Based on the provided information, the MacBook Airs are expected to last up to 43 hours on a single charge. This estimation considers playing a 4K fullscreen video at full brightness for over 10 hours, Apple’s claim of up to 18 hours for Apple TV video playback, and up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing. Notably, my previous experience with the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air allowed me to go three days without needing to charge it. Given this context, I anticipate similar performance from the M3 models

Credit: Amazon

At the End

While the 13-inch and 15-inch M3 MacBook Airs don’t spring any major surprises, this is hardly unexpected after years of consistent upgrades. These computers shine with excellent performance, stunning screens, and remarkable battery life. And the icing on the cake? Their arrival has driven down the prices of the already impressive M2 models, making them an even more enticing deal.

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