The M1 Macbook Air 2020 Review. It’s incredible, there are no issues with it, yes, you should buy, 8GB ram is fine, 7 core graphics doesn’t matter, it barely thermal throttles, it is stupid fast.
I absolutely loved the previous intel MacBook Air but it had a few issues and downsides which I’ll cover, but the biggest one was how hot it got even from basic tasks, and if you did something somewhat difficult the fan would scream, and it even at full speed it wouldn’t cool down until a few minutes after you quit the task.
Because of that, we recommended people to buy the dual-core i3 model with weak graphics because the quad cores would thermal throttle and slow down anyway, but even the i3 would be loud if you are web conferencing and watching a video at the same time.
That’s because intel’s CPUs run hot and Apple’s cooling solution sucked, but I still loved it and picked it up over the 13” MacBook Pro for normal use because I love the design. The classic wedge shape not only looks great but it’s also more comfortable for typing since the edges don’t dig into your wrists like on the boxy pro’s.
Now yes it is slower than the MacBook Pro, and I’ll show you exactly how much slower soon, but that’s no longer an issue. I know it’s no longer new, but the magic keyboard is fantastic to type on, and thankfully we have no reports of reliability issues.
The trackpad is also the best of the best, yes it’s slightly smaller than the MacBook Pro’s but I’ve never noticed a difference in usability when switching between them.
The speakers are also very good, better than pretty much all windows laptops and it’s actually louder than the M1 MacBook Pro, albeit slightly worse quality.
The webcam is still the same 720P module Apple has been using for years, but the M1 chip’s image signal processor does a better job at video processing.
I’m not sure if the mics were changed or just the audio processing but it sounds fantastic. Because of that, and the new fanless design with M1, I believe the MacBook Air is the best web conferencing laptop on this planet.
The SSDs were decent but slower than the MacBook Pro, now they are faster which helps open apps and with ram swap.
Another issue I had with the MacBook Air is the display. Now the resolution was always great with a retina rated 2560 by 1600 resolution which is a perfect blend of sharpness and battery life, compared to many Windows laptops where you have to choose between 1080P or 4K.
My complaints were the brightness and colors. When this design launched we had no truetone which adjusts white balance based on your lighting, but Apple added that later to match the MacBook Pros.
Next was brightness, it launched at 300 nits but was then updated to 400 nits which are still dimmer than the 500 of the MacBook Pro but not enough to matter for most.
The last thing was colors, the MacBook Pro supported DCI-P3 colors like iPhones and iPads which makes it the clear choice for those serious about photo or video editing, but thankfully Apple Finally added this to the MacBook Air.
And when you take to consider the 256GB of base storage at $999 compared to 128GB for $1200 when it launched in 2018, it’s an incredible value, and that’s without taking performance into account.
So let’s finally talk about it.
Compared to the 10th gen intel based 2020 MacBook Air, the new M1 chip absolutely smokes it, and the very best i7 model was a $250 upgrade.
the i5 quad-core which was a $100 upgrade, and finally the base model that the M1 chip replaces at the same price.
Where it becomes really comical is when we add in the very best i9 quad-core processor in the 16” Macbook Pro that you’ll spend at least $2700 on.
Of course, this doesn’t account for thermal throttling which we’ll cover in a sec, but here’s how this Air compares to the very best new 11th gen intel i7 in the top-spec XPS 13 that costs at least $1700.
But wait there’s more, that is with the XPS plugged in, when we unplug it the performance drops dramatically and that’s with windows and dell power settings set to maximum performance mode.
The M1 MacBook Air performs the same regardless and it’s completely silent.
For single-core it’s the highest I’ve ever seen, and because of this everyday tasks feel much snappier than my $15,000 Mac Pro.
Now I’m not going to get into crazy specifics like wattage, frequencies, and how the M1 is pulling this off, let’s just call it magic and
leave the details for our MacBook Pro Review.
As far as graphics it’s also impressive, smoking the intel MacBook Air, and once again that is the best i7, comparing it to the same price i3 model, it’s embarrassing, and this is the 7 core GPU, not 8 core.
Now of course these are benchmarks, not real-world tests, so video editing and exporting a 5min color graded 4K project.
The i7 MacBook Air took 19min and 40 seconds, and the M1 took 3 min and 6 seconds, I didn’t even want to test the i3.
The same project in Davinci resolve took 5min and 40 seconds, and the brand new most powerful XPS 13 takes 12min and 50 seconds with the fans screaming while the MacBook Air is silent.
Like I said at the start, this thing is stupid fast.
Now that we’ve proved the performance let’s answer the biggest questions most of you have, how much slower is the MacBook air than
the MacBook Pro since it’s fanless, and should you get the 8 core graphics option or 16GB of ram.
Yes the MacBook air does run hotter than the MacBook pro under sustained load, and the performance does drop over time as I found in cinebench with a total of about 15% loss once it fully heats up which takes about 7min, but after that, it performs consistently for hours.
Overall the same M1 chip in the Macbook pro is 20% more powerful under sustained 100% CPU loads but doing that is quite rare, so what does that mean for real-world performance?
As I mentioned I previously wouldn’t recommend the MacBook Air for Photo and video editing, but now it’s surprisingly capable so I decided to push it to its absolute limits, starting with exporting 542-megapixel raw images that have a bunch of color changes to fully test thermal throttling in the real world.
Our 13” MacBook Pro took 29min and 3 seconds which is shockingly fast as even desktop PCs struggle with these massive files, and the MacBook air took just 3.5 min longer even though it’s completely silent, and this is one of the few tasks where I can hear the MacBook Pro’s fan spin up. 3.5 min is nothing unless you do this each and every day, and with that, the actual photo editing smoothness is the same.
Next, I threw the toughest video editing test I have at the MacBook Air, graded 8K Red RAW which maxes out the 7 core GPU and uses a ton of CPU.
The MacBook Pro took 27min and 30 seconds to export and the MacBook air took just 2 and a half minutes longer.
I also tested this on my Mac Mini which has by far the best cooling out of the 3 M1 Macs and mine also has 16GB of RAM and that was only 3 and a half min faster.
So does thermal throttling matter with the MacBook air, no not really, I would not buy the MacBook Pro just because of its fan, and that’s how many of us were wrong.
We expected the MacBook Air to perform quite a bit worst than the MacBook Pro since it was fanless, and you can’t really blame us because that’s how it’s always been, that is until the M1 chip.
Because of that, and how well rosetta works to translate intel based apps like lightroom classic, and all of the improvements I already mentioned, the MacBook Air is the perfect laptop for almost everyone and 95% of people choose between buying a base air or base MacBook pro should get the MacBook Air.
And no I wouldn’t spend the extra for the 8 core graphics, and as far as ram, from our testing 8GB of the new unified ram seems to act like 16GB of regular ram so if you were fine with 16 before you should be good with 8, but if you want to see my real world ram stress test with the MacBook Pro that’s also relevant to the MacBook air.
The M1 MacBook Air is the first perfect laptop I’ve ever tested, at least as close to it as possible, and considering the price and form factor I have zero complaints.
Of course, you can’t yet run windows and it doesn’t support eGPU but they were worthless on the MacBook air anyway, but the overall product is shockingly good.
Oh and one last thing, I thought the always-on thing was gimmicky but after using this and going back to an intel mac, the 3-5 second startup after deep sleep frustrates the heck out of me now.
Also, the battery life is ridiculous, for normal use most people will only need to charge every 3 to 5 days.
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