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Apple MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Which M1 Laptop Is Better?

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Jun 17, 2022• Proven solutions

It's never been difficult to choose among the rivals of the M1 MacBook Air vs. the M1 MacBook Pro before now.

Even though both laptops operate on the M1 processor that Apple launched in late 2020, the introduction of the new chip is a significant gain in performance and battery life to Apple's most portable laptops, leading a big step forward for the Mac.

Choosing between the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro can be pretty hard since they come in similar storage and memory configurations. But, there are specific critical differences to consider while choosing between the two, especially regarding the overall performance and battery life.

Conclusively, we've tested both, and here's how they stack up.

Part 1. M1 MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Key Specs & Features

Due to certain factors, the M1-powered MacBook Air is a better value than the Pro since it provides similar features, configuration options, and performance at a beginning lower price of $300.

Those seeking a general-system laptop equipped for browsing the web, watching videos, writing papers, and some photo and video editing will find lots of wonders in the MacBook Air.

Also, there are still some reasons to opt for the MacBook Pro instead, while the MacBook Air is ideal for most guys. The MacBook Pro is available with a few extras that could make it a better choice for professionals with specific needs, such as higher-quality microphones, longer battery life, and, most important, internal cooling fans.

However, you may not fully understand the concern unless you go technical and explore their respective specifications.

Specifications

Here’s the detailed specifications comparison table explaining the M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro!

M1 MacBook Air

M1 MacBook Pro (13-inch)

Price

Starts at $999

Starts at $1,299

Storage

256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB

256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB

Memory

8GB or 16GB

8GB or 16GB

Processor

Apple M1 with 8-core CPU and 7 or 8-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Apple M1 with 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine

Display Size

13.3 inches

13.3 inches

Display Resolution & Brightness

2560 x 1600, 400 nits

2560 x 1600, 500 nits

Estimated Battery Life

15 hours wireless web browsing

17 hours wireless web browsing

Ports

2 Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports

2 Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports

Webcam

720p with Apple's image signal processor

720p with Apple's image signal processor

Weight

2.8 lbs

3 lbs

Speakers

Stereo speakers

Stereo speakers with high dynamic range

Keyboard

Magic Keyboard

Magic Keyboard with Touch Bar

Authentication

Touch ID

Touch ID

Designs and Features: Similar, But Different

Now, let's first talk about the design and features of the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

In both the MacBooks, you get a similar metal design as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, which is the MacBook brand's hallmark. Its display panels are also ubiquitous. Each is a 13.3-inch IPS screen with the exact native resolution (2,560 by 1,600 pixels) and is compatible with the P3 color gamut.

Both the laptops are around the Magic Keyboard of Apple, which may be prone to malfunction when dust or debris gets under the keycaps, disabling specific keys. However, this keyboard provides a much more traditional, satisfying typing experience on both models. It has a different Touch Bar, a touch-enabled OLED strip above the keyboard, only present on the MacBook Pro.

A scissor mechanism with a rubber-dome spring back delivers more feedback and feels more stable while typing.

Both laptops only have USB Type-C ports and a headphone jack. This is common for super-slim laptops, as there isn't room for more extensive, standard USB Type-A ports.

Mentioning these similarities are specific key differences intended to put the MacBook Pro a "pro" and make the price worth it.

Though they are of the same size and resolution, the screen of the MacBook Pro is 20% brighter than the display of the MacBook Air. This could make a significant difference if you frequently work in brightly lit offices.

Performance

Now, it's time to discuss the performance of the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

The M1 MacBook Air and the M1 MacBook Pro run on Apple's M1 system-on-a-chip which features a 16-core Neural Engine and an eight-core central processing unit.

The base model has a seven-core graphics processing unit with the MacBook Air, while the MacBook Pro consists of an eight-core GPU in its entry-level configuration. That must offer the base MacBook Pro a bit more kick while running graphics-heavy programs and games.

Another essential difference of features found on the MacBook Pro that the MacBook Air doesn't have is a cooling fan. The fanless design of MacBook Air is a godsend for anyone who's dealt with whirring, noisy fans that make your laptop feel like a jet engine once it's under a bit of pressure. But the MacBook Pro's fan most probably means it's excellent to sustain high performance for a longer duration since it won't have to throttle performance to cool off.

Overall, the M1 MacBook Pro feels more potent than the Air in graphics-oriented workloads but is generally the same for daily tasks.

In our entire experience, the MacBook Pro can also encode videos a few minutes quicker than the MacBook Air. For example, it encoded a 10-minute 4K video to 1080p using the Handbrake program within five minutes faster than the MacBook Air. That's why the MacBook Pro is said to be an ideal choice when it comes to gaming.

Still, the M1 chip offers a lot of boost to the MacBook Air, making it much more performance-oriented than its Intel-powered predecessor. For example, Apple says the M1-equipped MacBook Air has 3.5 times as much computing power, nine times the machine learning capabilities, five times the graphics performance compared with the Intel-powered Air.

Component Considerations Concerning M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro

Plenty of shoppers are initially concerned with each laptop's physical features, making those elements a natural beginning milestone for comparison. Still, we must also consider their respective specs as already discussed.

The MacBook Air is specifically for less demanding users at a lower price point, and portability tops out with less powerful component options. Apple smartly provides a broader range of prices and power with the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro.

The MacBook Air comes with an M1 processor, 8GB of memory, and a 256GB SSD. The $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro also begins with an M1 processor, a 256GB SSD, and an 8GB of memory.

The other significant difference between the beginner-composition Pro and beginner-composition Air is the quantity of graphics cores, which renders 3D imagery and sends it to the laptop screen.

The MacBook Air contains seven cores, while the M1 versions of the Pro and top-end Air have eight. It's a slight difference that most users won't notice while doing word processing or browsing the web, but it might be worth the upgrade for graphics professionals.

M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Battery Life and Features

Both machines offer excellent battery life. The users can get more than 12 hours out of the MacBook Air and, the MacBook Pro also offers an impressively long battery life.

Apple claims that the Pro should last slightly longer, offering around 17 hours of extended battery life than the MacBook Air's 15 hours.

Another significant difference that we'd love to count is that the Pro involves the Touch Bar. Apple launched the Touch Bar in 2016 to expand Mac's user interface by providing practical, touch-friendly shortcuts above the keyboard.

The 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air contains a lot of similarities otherwise. These laptops are available with two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, Apple's new and enhanced Magic Keyboard, a 720p webcam in Apple's chipset, storage options that begin with 256 GB and top out at 2 TB, and Touch ID.

But, when it comes to the microphones and speakers, there are subtle differences to count among. For example, the MacBook Pro's speakers support a highly dynamic range, unlike the MacBook Air's, which should enable the Pro to maintain clear audio at both the lowest and loudest levels.

Apple describes the microphones of MacBook Pro as better studio-quality microphones with a high signal-to-noise ratio, which the Air lacks.

So, here we'd like to conclude the MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro M1 regarding their technical specifications, including design.

Part 2. M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro: Pros & Cons

Let’s compare MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro M1 based on their pros and cons as listed below!

Apple M1 MacBook Air Apple M1 MacBook Pro (13-inch)
Pros
  • Good value
  • Enhanced performance with the new M1 processor
  • Exceptional battery life
  • Sleek, portable metal design
  • High-quality keyboard, touchpad, and display
  • Multiple color options
  • Long battery life
  • Speedy performance from Apple M1 chip
  • Brilliant Retina display
  • Excellent build quality
  • Comfortable keyboard and trackpad
  • Improved webcam
Cons
  • Limited port selection to two USB Type-C connections
  • Still no touch-screen option
  • Only two USB-C ports
  • Stingy standard 256GB SSD, 8GB RAM
  • No touch screen

Part 3. M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro for Programming

Should you select between a MacBook Pro over the Air for programming, and if so, why? Now, let's check out the M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro for programming.

Always keep in mind that the MacBook Air is adequate for most programming tasks; the MacBook Pro is, of course, recommended if you're looking to program as a professional or want a rapid machine without hassles for years to come.

However, the MacBook Air also worked perfectly for programming as it met all the requirements and is modern, sleek, and highly humorous to use.

While a MacBook Air is ideal for programming, the MacBook Pro offers a more powerful performance while assisting the programmers in handling multiple external monitors effectively without stutter or lag.

The Mac Pro displays an enhanced GPU and overall enhanced performance on the tech spec side compared to the MacBook Air.

Suppose there is one reason programmers should go for a MacBook Air. In that case, its ability to handle Java, Linux, intuitive design, display versatility, and compile code adequately.

While the MacBook Air is relevant for all your programming requirements, the MacBook Pro is just an overall more powerful machine, though slightly bulkier compared to the MacBook Air. Programmers may desire a more sleek machine, but you can also go for a somewhat more bulky one which is a powerful model worth considering.

M1 MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: RAM

A MacBook Air adequately handles programming in Ruby, working on web development and utilizing javascript, the performance of MacBook pro is still better.

This is significantly true for both iOS and Android development since these tasks require more powerful tech specs.

The RAM you will need is based on how you work and what you are operating on. For example, if you are writing gaming-related code, working on projects with graphics, or compiling onsite, the available amount of RAM at any time will matter. But if you consider the cloud largely (e.g., cloud computing, cloud storage, cloud compiling), you can easily fetch more with less and cheaper RAM, i.e., the MacBook Air.

Part 4. M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro in Video Editing

With its robust M1 Pro or M1 Max chip or stunning 16-inch screen, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro launched in October 2021 is the best laptop period, not to mention the best laptop for the heavy processing of video editing. It's at least twice as quick as the 2020 MacBook Pro and a lot faster than the MacBook Air, of course.

Both chips can support editing multiple streams of 8K video in real-time without rendering. They feature a ProRes accelerator in the media engine (two in Pro Max's case), which is great to speed up pro-video workflows.

The best part is that the MacBook Pro can be configured with up to a whopping 8TB storage, as can the smaller MacBook Pro 14.

On the other hand, MacBook Air also has a tremendous amount of power under its hood. It can edit 4K video in Final Cut Pro or other video editing tools without breaking a sweat.

The latest model of MacBook Air supports the P3 color gamut, which means the screen can display accurate colors, a consideration that is incredibly important for video editors.

Part 5. M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro in Gaming

After considering all the significant factors, let's understand the M1 MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro on the gaming side.

An Experiment: M1 MacBook Pro Is a Gaming Laptop

It is possible to run the GTA 5 and Battlefield 3 on the M1 MacBook Pro.

After testing the M1 MacBook Pro for gaming, we have encountered no problems so far. The system suggests 4x Anisotropic Filtering in the menu and SSAO - Screen Space Ambient Occlusion and 1,920x1,080 for medium details.

It's not the most graphics-oriented ambient occlusion technology. However, Battlefield 3 still looks great on the MacBook's Retina display: the whipping rain seems along with the Sharp textures, are just as better over this gaming laptop with a high-end card. The gameplay operates well in 45 FPS. However, a MacBook is not an ultra-high-end gaming PC, but, especially in the single-player mode, everything over 40 FPS is well playable.

On the 13-inch screen, the game performs very well. We have also synced the M1 MacBook Pro to a 27in monitor and a 60 in the TV screen. However, it appears less crispy on a very large 4K display 1080p than on the Retina screen, which is internal.

At 1.4kg, the current 13in M1 models are light and pleasant. The 8-core CPU is a system-on-a-chip, a merger of GPU, CPU, DDR4 memory, Thunderbolt controller on the one chip, I/O chip, and like those found in smartphones.

We have the same experience with Call of Duty: Black Ops 3, which performs 1080p with 47 FPS of high settings. This is notable because most 8GB RAM Windows 10 laptops are not suitable for playing this at all -the minimum requirement is 16GB for Windows 10 and 11.

Gaming on the M1 MacBook Air

Alright, so we finally picked up an M1 MacBook Air (base model 8GB of RAM and 256GB SSD) for studying the MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro M1 gaming scenario. First off, it's crucial to note that many games we'll be testing were made for the x86 platform and haven't yet been ported to Apple Silicon, so the performance won't be at its theoretical best.

The second big issue is the fanless design of the MacBook Air. Its chip will throttle under load a lot earlier than the MacBook Pro when we do the MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro M1 chip scenario.

Without any further ado, let's see how the MacBook Air does.

The experiment was on League of Legends. And, here are the outcomes: League of legends played perfectly on the M1.

Set at the default medium preset settings of 1650 x 1050, overall, the game looked excellent, and the FPS was in the 100+ mark, which for a 60Hz display is more than adequate.

Turning the resolution up to native and the quality to high, the FPS drops to 70 FPS on average (you'll notice small dips when a lot of animations occur onscreen at the same time, but nothing too wrong).

After playing two complete games (about an hour and a half in total), there were no stutters, and the temperature stayed at a consistent level. It's good even when the laptop is fanless.

Overall this game worked surprisingly well on the MacBook Air.

CSGO (Counter-Strike Global Offense) is not an explicitly demanding game by any means, and it's probably one of the best shooters, along with its Mac compatibility.

There are problems right after starting the game.

Considering the outcomes, they seem decent enough, but there were many issues. We could get CSGO to run at 60 FPS in native resolution; however, framerate drops and stutters were standard.

Moreover, the system's temperature was pretty warm at 90 - 95 degrees.

The computer didn't feel that hot; that said, it was hot to the touch but didn't feel abnormal at all. Thus, it's possible that the metrics aren't entirely reliable.

Macs aren't usually ideal for games concerning their small library, and although the Air was not to be your next gaming laptop, it does anyway and with very few complaints.

Conclusion

Overall, the M1 MacBook Air is of significant value, specifically for those looking for a general-purpose laptop. Even though this laptop is $300 cheaper, it doesn't make immense sacrifices for configuration or performance options except for a few ones that we've mentioned above.

But, there are still some factors: the M1 MacBook Pro may be the ideal fit. Since it has an extra core in its GPU and a fan-based cooling system at the base level, it might be a perfect selection for those who need to execute strenuous tasks for longer durations and still want a lightweight laptop. The Pro also has quality perks and slightly longer battery life, like good-quality speakers and microphones.

All told, hopefully, you have got our technical and display points on the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro above. Now, it's up to which one to go with after analyzing our suggestions.

author avatar
Max Wales
Max Wales is a writer and a lover of all things video.
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