The MacBook Air killer is here: the new Apple MacBook Air

With the new M2 SoC and a host of new features, the new MBA is a real handful for its competitors.

by Justin Choo

It’s no exaggeration by this point that every time Apple announces a new chip, everyone breathes a little harder. Either in anticipation, if you are a consumer looking to buy a laptop later in the year, or with dread if you are the competition.

The new M2 is, to be expected, more incremental than revolutionary, but that alone itself points to the fact there’s catching up to do once again.

M2 in a nutshell

M2 is built on second-generation 5-nanometer technology that features 25 per cent more transistors (20 billion) than M1. It features an 8-core CPU and a 10-core GPU. With its larger cache, the CPU is 18 per cent faster than the M1 in multithreaded performance.

Apple claims that their latest 10-core GPU (two more than M1) is twice as powerful than the latest equivalent 10-core PC laptop chip and with just a quarter of the power draw. Compared to a 12-core PC laptop chip, the M2 falls 10 per cent short of matching, but it uses just a quarter of the power to do so.

Versus the M1 GPU, the M2 GPU is said to deliver 25 per cent more performance at the same power level and up to 35 per cent more when maxed out. Apple is claiming 2.3x faster performance at the same power level with the latest integrated graphics on a PC laptop chip while being able to match the competition’s peak performance using a fifth of the power.

Personally, having used an M1 Macbook Pro for a year, I find it hard to use something else that gets significantly warmer – and I suspect this is a big draw for many as well.

In addition, the Neural Engine is 40 per cent faster, and the memory controller delivers 50 per cent more memory bandwidth (100GB/s) over M1 and supports up to 24GB of fast unified memory.

In real-world examples, the M2 enables the new MacBook Pro to be almost 40 per cent quicker than its M1 sibling when working with RAW images in apps like Affinity Photo. Meanwhile, games like Baldur’s Gate 3 are almost 40 per cent quicker.

On the MBA, Final Cut Pro performance is claimed to be nearly 40 per cent faster and applying filters and effects in apps like Adobe Photoshop is up to 20 per cent faster than the previous generation. For Intel-based MBA users, this represents up to 15 times and up to 5 times faster respectively.

Here’s the tale of the (rest of the) tape:

  • Neural Engine processes up to 15.8 trillion operations per second (> 40 per cent more than M1)
  • Higher-bandwidth video decoder that supports 8K H.264 and HEVC video
  • Playback up to 11 streams of 4K and up to two streams of 8K ProRes video, convert to ProRes nearly three times faster than before
  • Updated Secure Enclave for security
  • New image signal processor (ISP) for better image noise reduction

What’s notable is Apple’s attention to video workflow performance, making the M2-based MacBooks a more viable platform for video editing, even on a less powerful device like a MacBook Air.

MacBook Air

For those who have been bravely holding off their laptop upgrades, your blind faith has been rewarded. The basic MacBook Pro looks far more competent with the new M2 chip, which can also deliver up to 20 hours of video playback.

But I think it is without a doubt that the new, redesigned MacBook Air might just be the de facto daily MacBook of choice. And it’s also available in four finishes — silver, space grey, midnight, and starlight.

The only thing that the MBP has going for it is the active cooling system for sustained periods of high performance and the LED-backlit IPS display. In almost every other department, the MBA has the more attractive-looking feature set on paper.

It has so much going for it: a new thin design, a larger 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display, a 1080p HD camera, ab improved 4-speaker array, and MagSafe charging; not to mention the new M2 SoC. With a rated battery life of up to 18 hours, the MBA trails the MBP slightly, but not by much.

The new MBA even has a display that’s larger than the one on the new MBP, measuring 13.6" vs 13.3". The Liquid Retina display on paper matches the Retina display of the MBP with 500 nits of brightness and supports 1 billion colours as well as DCI-P3 coverage.

Further upgrades come in the form of a 1080p FaceTime HD camera with a larger image sensor that Apple says will give you twice the resolution and low-light performance, and the M2 will clean up the images. The MBA also features a four-speaker sound system integrated between the keyboard and display that also supports immersive Spatial Audio as well as the Dolby Atmos standard.

Fast Charging in a MacBook Air??!

Yes, you read that right – the new MBA supports fast charging, but not with the stock 35W power adapter. You need the optional 67W power adapter that charges your device up to 50 per cent in half an hour. The stock power adapter ain’t bad either, as it has two USB-C ports so you can charge two devices at once.

Last but not least, a very welcome ‘relic’ is back – MagSafe returns and offers users a dedicated charging port that unplugs quickly if the cable is tugged, saving your laptop from a potentially expensive accident.

Prices for the MacBook Air
start from $1,699 and the updated 13-inch MacBook Pro
start from $1,879. The new MBP will be available next month while the MBA’s availability will be updated in due course.

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