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The New M3 MacBook Air 2024

If you’re wondering which MacBook you should buy, the answer is almost certainly the new M3 MacBook Air.

  • The new M3 MacBook Air is just like the M2 Air but with all-new chips.
  • Unless you do some very specific high-end work, the Air is more than capable.
  • But the M3 MacBook Pro does have a much nicer screen, better speakers, and more ports.

Performance-wise, there’s almost nothing that the high-end MacBook Pro can do that the new M3 Air cannot. Which is to say, the only folks who should be buying a MacBook Pro these days are the people who already have a good reason for the step up. The differences aren’t subtle, but these entry-level models are so good that raw performance is not going to be a problem for pretty much anyone.

“The M3 MacBook Air is like the superhero of laptops—stylish, powerful, and ready for action! If you’re into video editing or gaming, you might be looking for a little something extra. It’s all about what fits your tech boat,” IT consultant Kristoffer Thun told Lifewire via email.

The M3 MacBook Air
The only real difference between the M2 and M3 MacBook Air is the M3 system-on-a-chip (SoC). But what a difference. It’s faster in almost every regard and enables a few new hardware capabilities. And as we shall see in a moment, it’s also really good at AI—whatever that actually means.

The biggest of the hardware changes is that the new M3 MacBook Air can power two external monitors instead of just one. Previously, you could hook up an external USB-C or Thunderbolt display and use the internal display simultaneously, and that was it. If you preferred to use two large monitors at work, docking your MacBook with its lid closed to keep it out of the way, you were out of luck.

One argument went that this was very much a pro feature, which is probably true. On the other hand, Apple seems to have listened to the calls for better external monitor support and has added it to the new SoC. If you need more than two monitors, then you’re still going to need a higher-end machine, but that really is a pro requirement.

“The M3 Pro 14-inch MacBook Pro offers more performance, a third screen, and a built-in keyboard and trackpad, but it costs a lot more and would require me to modify my standing desk to hold it,” writes veteran Mac journalist Adam Engst on his TidBits blog.

MacBook Pro or No?
Performance-wise, even the M1 MacBook Air is probably enough for most people. Apple Silicon was such a leap over the then-current Intel processors that even the cheapest portable Macs rivaled desktop workstations of the previous generation. The only reason to opt for the more expensive machine is if you will constantly be pushing the machine to its limits.

For musicians, designers, and even some video editors, the MacBook Air is perfectly capable, especially now it comes with a larger 15-inch screen option. But if your video editing involves multiple 4K or 8k streams, or you’re a software developer compiling large projects all day long, then you should go for the MacBook Pro. The performance is better, and the fans in those models mean that they can keep going at peak performance for much longer.

For the rest of us, the silent, fanless design and the lower weight are more of an advantage.

There are other reasons to get the Pro machines, though, and those are the screen, the extra ports, and the speakers. The speakers in the MacBook Pro are just incredible, easily good enough for son-the-go music creation (although not for final mixing). The screen is equally great. It’s bright, sharp, and has a beautiful depth of color. One tip: if you’re planning on buying the Air, DO NOT look at it next to the Pro. The Air’s screen is great, but the Pro’s is a lot better.

And then there are the ports. The MacBook Air keeps dual Thunderbolt ports and the MagSafe charger. The Pro adds an extra Thunderbolt port, plus an SD card slot and an HDMI port.

And what about that AI? Apple has jumped on the AI hype bandwagon, with a whole section of the press release titled “World’s Best Consumer Laptop for AI.” This boils down to the M3’s improved 16-core Neural Engine, which is the chip that Apple has been using since AI was still called ‘machine learning.’ The Neural Engine powers such features as text-to-speech, translations, person-recognition in the photos app, and that fun Photos feature that insists that your mongrel mutt is, in fact, a wolf corgi. Yes, wolf corgis are a thing.

Still, it’s the same M3 Neural Engine you’ll find on the current MacBook Pro, so it need not sway your decision.

Let’s look at one final specification, shall we? The weight. The M3 15-inch MacBook Air weighs 3.3 pounds (1.51 kg), whereas the lightest M3 16-inch MacBook Pro is 4.7 pounds (2.14 kg). There’s a similar difference in heft for the smaller models.

So the question is, lighter, no fan, and far less money, vs heavier, better screen and speakers, more ports. You decide.

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