M1 vs M2 MacBook Air: A Comprehensive Comparison for 2023

M1 vs M2 MacBook Air: A Comprehensive Comparison for 2023

Part 1: Introduction

The comparison between the new M2 MacBook Air and the previous M1 MacBook Air is an insightful one.

I am going to go with the M1 MacBook Air again, the latest M2 model, and I suggest you do too (in fact, for most people). Throughout this multi-part blog post, I will summarise the key points, give my analysis on certain aspects, and, as I go through my views, provide you with some of our own commentary and recommendations throughout. So, whether you think you need to buy an M1 vs. M2 Macbook in 2023 or if you are just curious about the comparisons, this article is for you.

 

Key areas to discuss:

  • Pricing, configurations, and value proposition
  • Performance benchmarks and real-world speed
  • Display quality testing
  • Battery life
  • Thermals and cooling
  • Ports and connectivity
  • Audio quality
  • Who should (or shouldn’t) buy the M2 Air

 

Estimated reading time: 6 minutes, 2 seconds. Contains 1208 words

 

TL;DR:

  • M2 model costs $200+ more than M1 with diminishing returns on value
  • Real-world speed very similar for most tasks; M2 only 15-25% faster
  • Displays comparable despite specs; subtle improvements
  • Battery life identical in testing (17+ hours video playback)
  • M2 runs hotter, more prone to thermal throttling
  • Same 2 ports and dongle life persists on both
  • M2 has improved 1080p webcam, speakers, mics
  • M1 remains faster performer per dollar spent
  • M2 best for those needing max power in creative apps
  • M1 better overall choice for most buyers still

 

Part 2: Pricing, Configurations, and Value

M2 MacBook Air pricing, configuration, value

The M2 MacBook Air starts at $1,199 for an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, and 256GB SSD configuration. Stepping up to the M1 MacBook Air with those same specs would cost $999. So there’s a $200 premium for the latest model. However, there’s more value to be had in the M1 Air when you look at higher configurations. An M1 Air with 16GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD retails for $1,249.

The closest M2 model with those specs costs $1,499 and that’s a $250 price jump for what turns out to be very little performance gain in most real-world usage. The M2 definitely provides some upgrades over the M1 but dollar for dollar, the M1 Air still offers better value, especially if you spec it out with 16GB of RAM and 512GB+ of storage. The M2 tax simply doesn’t justify itself for many buyers.

 

Part 3: Performance Benchmarks

In testing, the M2 Air scored around 15–25% higher than the M1 Air in benchmarks like Geekbench. That roughly aligns with Apple’s 20% CPU performance claims. However, I found very little difference in real-world application tests. Exporting a 4K video in Adobe Premiere took just one minute faster on the M2 and there was no time savings for tasks like exporting 100 raw photos from Lightroom, applying filters in Photoshop, or transcoding a video file in Handbrake.

For most everyday workflows, you’d likely never notice the speed boost from M2 unless running intensive creative pro apps. And even then, we’re only talking about occasional seconds saved here and there during exports or batch operations. It is still not exactly a compelling reason for most to upgrade from M1.

 

Part 4: Display Comparisons

The M2 Air touts a new 13.6″ Liquid Retina display with 500 nits peak brightness, P3 wide colour, and True Tone support. On paper, it seems far superior to the M1 Air’s older 227 PPI Retina panel, rated for just 400 nits of brightness. However, in actual comparative testing, I found differences to be surprisingly subtle. Side-by-side, the new display reproduced slightly more vivid and accurate colors, but the improvements were nowhere near as dramatic as the specs would suggest. Text sharpness, white points, gamma, and other metrics were also very similar between the two screens.

While the new display outperforms the last generation, it’s not a meaningful upgrade for most general users.

 

Part 5: Battery Life

Apple quotes identical 18-hour video playback battery life for both models and my testing aligns with those claims. Streaming video over WiFi at 200 nits brightness, the M2 Air lasted 17 hours, 34 minutes vs. 17 hours, 37 minutes for the M1 model. Under more intensive Basemark browser benchmark testing, the M2 fared slightly better at 10 hours vs. 9.5 hours on the M1 model.

All in all, real-world battery life is essentially a wash between the two generations. You can expect very comparable runtimes for typical mixed usage. M2 retains efficiency gains despite the brighter screen and power gains.

 

Part 6: Thermals

Here’s an area where the M2 Air falls short of its predecessor. In the 10-minute CPU stress test, the M2 model reached a peak temperature of 100 °C. That’s the maximum junction temperature for Apple’s M2 silicon before potential thermal throttling kicks in.

By comparison, the M1 Air peaked at just 90 °C in the same test. The higher peak temperature suggests the M2 design is more thermally constrained and prone to throttling under heavy loads. Indeed, in the Premiere export test, he recorded up to a 25% drop in CPU clock speeds on the M2 Air. No throttling was evident on the M1 Air in the same test.

While not a concern for lighter tasks, thermal limitations could impact the M2 Air’s performance in sustained workloads. This is not an ideal regression compared to M1.

 

Part 7: Ports & Connectivity

The M2 Air matches the M1 model with two Thunderbolt and USB 4 ports so no changes there. Both support fast 40Gbps Thunderbolt speeds and USB 3.1 Gen 2 transfers up to 10Gbps. One advantage of the M2 is Bluetooth 5.0 support vs. Bluetooth 4.2 on the M1 Air. You also get WiFi 6 instead of WiFi 5 so there are some modest wireless upgrades. But for wired connectivity, it’s no change as two ports remain limited for power users. Dongle life is still very real on both of these ultraportables.

 

Part 8: Audio, Webcam & Mics

The M2 Air finally ditches the infamous “notch” with a return to a classic top bezel housing an 1080p webcam. Image quality is slightly improved over the M1’s 720p camera and you also get a 4-speaker sound system with Dolby Atmos support. The audio is definitely louder and fuller than the M1’s basic stereo drivers. But it still remains tinny with weak bass response by premium laptop standards. A three-mic array with directional beamforming does provide solid clarity on video calls but overall, the upgrades here are nice rather than essential.

 

Conclusion: Who Should (Or Shouldn’t) Buy the M2 Air?

the latest M2 MacBook Air does push performance modestly ahead of M1

So in closing, while the latest M2 MacBook Air does push performance modestly ahead of M1, many other areas see little to no change. And worse thermals plus a higher starting price make it less well-rounded overall.

The M2 Air is best suited for shoppers who:

  • Need every last drop of CPU/GPU speed in creative workloads
  • Want the new design with slimmer bezels
  • Appreciate the minor display, audio, and wireless enhancements

 

For everyone else focused on value, however, the M1 Air remains a better buy in 2023 as you get 90% the speed at 80% the price with M1. Unless you specifically need the upgrades highlighted above, save your money and go with the previous model.

So in summary, the M1 MacBook Air still reigns as the best all-rounder for most buyers but the M2 variant makes sense for some prosumer use cases where future-proof performance matters above all else. Hopefully this detailed breakdown gives you the information you need to decide which way to go with your next MacBook purchase! Let us know if you have any other questions.

 

Resources:

[1] https://reviewed.usatoday.com/laptops/features/apple-macbook-air-m1-vs-macbook-air-m2

[2] https://www.theverge.com/23219298/m2-macbook-pro-air-how-to

[3] https://www.apple.com/MacBook-air-13-and-15-m2/compare/

[4] https://www.apple.com/macbook-air-m1/compare/

https://www.digitaltrends.com/computing/m2-macbook-air-vs-m1-macbook-air/

MacBook Air M1 vs M2 which is truly better
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