The MacBook Air Was a Fine Laptop hasn’t changed significantly in the new Year. Every technology gets a minor spec bump but otherwise looks and performs pretty similar to the one before it. The latest MacBook Air is not a radical departure for laptop design, but within the hood, this thing is wildly different from every other MacBook Air. It even outpaces Windows laptops that could cost far more.
Thanks to Apple’s M1 chip, the performance boost comes from the first system-on-chip designed by Apple for its Mac lineup. To quickly summarize: The M1 is founded on 5-nanometer chip architecture, sports an 8-core CPU, an 8-core GPU (unless you’re buying the base model MacBook Air, by which case you get a 7-core GPU instead), and a 16-core Neural Engine capable of 11 trillion operations per second. This means apps and tasks that rely on machine learning are even faster than before.
The M1 is undoubtedly impressive: It easily keeps up with top-of-the-line laptop chips from Intel and AMD, and the MacBook Air may be much cheaper than machines that use those CPUs—if you do not upgrade the RAM or storage.
And while we’ll be fishing into the M1 in much-increased detail in reports forward, I wish to target what it does for the MacBook Air, a currently great laptop that the M1 has raised to greatness.
Let’s start with the technical material: I examined a MacBook Air with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 16GB of good storage, and 1TB of storage, bringing the complete total due to this machine to $1,650. That’s pricier than the $1,000 foundation product, which activities a 7-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage.
Ongoing in the vein of total loyalty, I admit that benchmarking a MacBook Air has hardly ever really been that exciting—till now.
Let’s begin with the technical stuff: I reviewed a MacBook Air with an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, 16GB of unified memory, and 1TB of storage, bringing the total because of this machine to $1,650. That’spricier compared to the $1,000 bottom product, which activities a 7-core GPU, 8GB of RAM, and 256GB of storage.
Continuing in the vein of the whole credibility, I acknowledge that benchmarking a MacBook Air has never really been that exciting—until now.
You know a Mac is remarkable when it dazzles a die-hard PC user. WITH FOUR CORES DEDICATED TO PERFORMANCE AND FOUR TO EFFICIENCY, the M1’s 8-core CPU, with four cores dedicated to performance and four to efficiency, is something, even compared to competing for 8-core chips. On Geekbench 5, a simple test of overall system performance, the MacBook Air’s 1712 single-core and 7441 multi-core scores quickly blazed after dark new Dell XPS 13, which sports Intel’s top-of-the-line Core i7-1165G7 processor and starts at $1,500 (the configuration we tested is $1,600). The Dell notched 1214 single-core and 3833 multi-core scores. We also stacked the Air with M1 against a similar machine built on among AMD’s best laptop chips, the Ryzen 7 4800U, which has eight cores/16 threads and is founded on 7nm chip architecture. The Lenovo IdeaPad 7 Slim’s single-core (1129) and multi-core (5478) scores were also no match for the M1.
On Cinebench R23, which resembles Geekbench but more time-intensive and therefore a potentially more thorough gauge of CPU and GPU performance, the Air’s single-core (1490) and multi-core (6931) scores again bested the Dell XPS 13 with 11th-gen Intel chip and 16GB of RAM, which notched single-core and multi-core scores of 1420 and 4207, respectively. Lenovo’s AMD chip scored 1061 (single-core) and 7225 (multi-core) on Cinebench, which chip the edge within the M1. That’s not surprising because AMD is usually the champion as it pertains to multi-core benchmarks and intensive tasks.
In Handbrake, which tests the speed of the GPU when converting a 4K video file to 1080p, the Air completed the duty in 8 minutes and 52 seconds. The Dell (17:24) was no match, and even Lenovo (9:04) lagged. Rendering a 3D image in Blender, the Air took 6:24, having its CPU, and 7:54 having its GPU. Again, those times easily beat the XPS 13 (9:47 for CPU and 10:50 for GPU) and the IdeaPad (9:37 for CPU and 9:09 for GPU) with their competitive chips. This is impressive because Blender isn’t optimized for the M1, which means it was running on Rosetta 2, Apple’s emulation software that supports Intel-based Mac apps. That told the MacBook Air wasn’t just exceptionally faster than its competitors in Blender, but it achieved it while also running an emulation layer.
However, regardless of the MacBook Air’s impressive showing in synthetic benchmarks and typical tasks, it faces a few of the same challenges that machines with integrated graphics usually do: Frame rates in real-world game benchmarks were less than in devices with discrete graphics cards. There was a noticeable stutter when I benchmarked Shadow the Tomb Raider, though I’m not sure if that’s because the overall game itself isn’t optimized for M1 or since the M1 might struggle with an increase of graphic-intensive games. Still, in the benchmark for Shadow of the Tomb Raider, it managed a passable 32 frames per second at a decision of 1080p and on High settings.
I saw no lag when benchmarking Civilization VI, and games downloaded directly from the Mac App Store played smooth as butter. Civ the Air turned out a 13.1 ms turn time, which is a little more than most gaming laptops but beats the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s 19.2 ms turn time. The MacBook Air is not a gaming laptop, and I’m not going to examine it, therefore, but I will be curious to see the way the M1 fares in a high-end MacBook Pro or an iMac where thermals aren’t quite as limiting a factor as in the fan-free Air. (Stay tuned for more gaming-focused coverage of the M1 once we take more time with the brand new Macs.)
Just what exactly do most of these performance metrics translate to in actual life? Plenty of small things that add up. The MacBook instantly wakes once you open it, filled with the old-school Apple chime (2020 has turned me into a person nostalgic for the tiniest, most everyday things, and yes, this chime is among them). The fan-less design manages to stay calm even when running back-to-back processor-intensive benchmarking tests. The warmest the Air got was 111 degrees Fahrenheit (as measured with a handy infrared thermometer) on the bottom chassis, and that has been after churning through Shadow of the Tomb Raider. My 13-inch MacBook Pro sounds like a freakin’tank roaring down the streets of LA if I have too many Chrome tabs open, so the Air’s ability to help keep cool without making a sound is a blessing to me, an easily irritated person.
Apple’s in-house apps launch instantly, and third-party apps which can be already optimized for M1 do too—opening Pixelate Pro and loading up photos to edit requires a split second. It’ll take a while for each developer