What to buy: MacBook Air M2 or MacBook M1 Pro?
August 26, 2022 6:42 PM   Subscribe

I am trying to decide whether to replace my previously asked about 2017 iMac with a maxed out MBA M2 or a 14" MBP M1 with similar specs. Which of the following options would you go with? More inside.

I ordered and returned a MBA M2 a few weeks ago because I got the wrong color and didn't like the form factor, but now I have an MacBook M1 Pro for work and I'm slowly getting used to the absence of the wedge. I appreciate having MagSafe, and the pizza box shape doesn't annoy me quite as much as it used to.

I am a designer who plays multiple games and will likely need to use Parallels at some point to run some Windows-only stuff. My current M1 MBA runs everything swimmingly (except Parallels, which I haven't tried yet) but I don't have enough space because I cheaped out and got a tiny, mutinous hard drive last year when I bought it. Now I really want to completely retire my iMac and am ready to use this as an opportunity to invest in something new.

Here's the price/spec breakdown for what I think are my three options:


MBA M1 (Current laptop, bigger drive)

• Apple M1 chip with 8‑core CPU, 7‑core GPU, 16‑core Neural Engine
• 16GB unified memory
• 2TB SSD storage

== $1,972.02 ($116.58/mo) with $400 MBA M1 trade in

• Apple M2 chip with 8‑core CPU, 10‑core GPU, 16‑core Neural Engine
• 24GB unified memory
• 2TB SSD storage

== $2523.27 ($158.25/mo) with MBA M1 trade in

• Apple M1 Pro with 8-core CPU, 14-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine
• 32GB unified memory
• 2TB SSD storage

== $3019.40 (~$195/mo) with MBA M1 trade in

What's the most forward-thinking choice here? I'd totally spring for the M2 MBP if it didn't have the damn Touchbar. I could theoretically make do with an upgraded MBA M1 if it would make sense. Finding pretty cases for both the new MBA and the MBP has been a huge pain. The MBP M1 also just feels really expensive, plus it's a 14" and I think I prefer the 13" screen.

What would you do? Thanks!

I asked this same question on Reddit so if you hang out in /macbookair this will look familiar
posted by The Adventure Begins to Computers & Internet (14 answers total)
For me, the top strike against the Macbook Air is that it has no internal fan. It can get really hot. I often type with the laptop literally lap-top, and it drove me nuts how hot it felt on my lap.
posted by dum spiro spero at 7:21 PM on August 26, 2022

If I understand this question correctly, you like your current M1 MacBook Air, but just need more disk space?

In this situation, what I've done is spend $207 on a 2T Samsung T7 SSD, $7 on some velcro tape, and attached the drive to the lid of my laptop. With USB3, I haven't had any issues at all with data access speeds, and have even run Parallels VMs that are stored on the external SSD.

Given your identification as a designer and concern about case color/aesthetics, I'm guessing this might be a non-starter for you, but it could save you $$$ / give you a bit of time to see if Apple gets rid of the MBP touchbar in future updates.
posted by Metasyntactic at 7:28 PM on August 26, 2022

dum spiro spero, do you have an Apple Silicon MacBook Air, or an Intel model? I've read elsewhere that heat wasn't a problem with the Apple Silicon models.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 7:45 PM on August 26, 2022 [2 favorites]

I've seen tests that show that the M2 isn't faster than the M1 at some tasks, so I wouldn't let the newness of the M2 sway you. (plus, the m1 processors are so fast that unless you have a specific task that requires high speed (like all you do all day is encode videos) that it really doesn't matter. More memory is always better, but I'm a designer and have a first generation Mac Mini with 16 gigs of RAM and have had no problems running InDesign, Photoshop, and Illustrator (and more) simultaneously.

Personally, I'd save some money and not go for a 2 TB drive. 500gb would be fine. Keep your files on an external SSD. I have a mix of WD SSDs and NVMEs that I've put in inexpensive enclosures and they all work great.

I'm not coming up with the same prices as you. You're showing $2523 with the trade in for the MacBook Air, and I'm getting $2499. Anyway, unless you have a specific need for 32 gigs of RAM or higher performance, all of your choices will do the job incredible well. (and, the ability to find "pretty cases" really shouldn't factor in the decision at all, especially if it puts you into a more expensive computer.)

Why is not having the touchbar a requirement?

If you're a designer and you're going to retire your iMac, are you budgeting for an external monitor?
posted by jonathanhughes at 7:47 PM on August 26, 2022 [1 favorite]

The M1 Pro and M1 Max laptops are just...really pleasant and useful. If you're buying to hold for ~5 years, and you truly are okay with the form factor, I'd go that route. I'd also wait to see what Apple announces in the next several weeks at this point, though.

Also, if you're coming from a desktop, you might consider the Studio. It gets you more power than the M1 Pro laptop, and just as much RAM, for $2k. You can just plug in external storage permanently rather than pay Apple for it. I would think you'd need an external monitor, for your job or your side work, whether going desktop or laptop, so I'm not counting a display for the Studio as an extra cost.
posted by michaelh at 7:51 PM on August 26, 2022

You've picked options that offer different functionalities at different price points. I'm not sure why you need greater than 16GB; I guess if you fire up VMs it would help, but really 16GB should be enough for even that in most cases. But it doesn't hurt to buy up if you're not terribly cost constrained, so forget the 16GB Air.

Of the two remaining, they're both suitable for a wide range of tasks. You might get better performance out of the MBPro in heavy load, maybe it would show up in games? But most likely it won't be a big difference. You'd probably be happy with either option, so it's a matter of preference on form factor and display.
posted by doomsey at 7:53 PM on August 26, 2022

Best answer: I currently have an M1 MBA. It has only 8GB of RAM and a 512GB SSD. The only time it gets hot is if a program goes rogue. Even now, running the Ventura Beta, it rarely breaks 100 degree F. I would buy another fanless MacBook in a heartbeat. Best laptop I've ever had, in nearly 30 years of using laptops.
posted by lhauser at 9:40 PM on August 26, 2022

Best answer: Remember, the MacBook Pro M2 refresh (and possible redesign) is less than two months away. This will offer you more options on new models, and likely price drops on older ones.
posted by fairmettle at 12:38 AM on August 27, 2022

Response by poster: @fairmettle I thought the MacBook Pro M2 was brand new?

All prices are Education discount + tax.
posted by The Adventure Begins at 1:53 AM on August 27, 2022

Get the MBP 14", or wait a few months if you're able for the M2 Pro 14" or lower prices on the M1 Pros. As stated above, the air has no fan, which doesn't necessarily mean that it will get physically hotter - rather, it means that it'll thermally throttle itself over sustained periods of activity. In addition, the M1 Pro chip is still better than the M2 as it exists now (no pro, max, etc models yet).

As for the 13" MBP with the M2 ... it's still the base M2, and everything else is a very old design at this point. Pretty sure these exist for corporate customers to replace their aging fleets with a refreshed model.

The displays on the 14" and 16" MBPs are amazing and if you do anything with graphics, design, or video you'll really appreciate it.
posted by destructive cactus at 2:23 AM on August 27, 2022

Do you need to drive more than one external display? If so, go for the MBP.
posted by vitout at 4:54 AM on August 27, 2022

For me, the top strike against the Macbook Air is that it has no internal fan. It can get really hot. I often type with the laptop literally lap-top, and it drove me nuts how hot it felt on my lap.

In my experience, this is absolutely not true. I've had my M1 Air for just about a year and use it on my lap or on my bed all the time. It hasn't gotten hot once.
posted by dobbs at 6:10 PM on August 27, 2022

Response by poster: I've decided to go with the 2TB MBA M1 and hold off on a big purchase until more info comes out about the next round of MBPs. It's such a good laptop, and doesn't get hot even when I'm doing a lot of intense multitasking.

Thank you all for your insight. :)
posted by The Adventure Begins at 10:17 PM on August 27, 2022

John Gruber thinks most people should get the MacBook Air. He spends a good portion of this review addressing concerns about overheating and throttling and says they just don't happen with this machine.
Thermals are where people seem spooked. People are just so scarred from their experience with x86-based laptops (Apple’s or otherwise) over the last decade or so, as Intel lost the performance-per-watt plot, that they just can’t bring themselves to believe that a thin, high-performance, long-lasting, cool-running laptop with no fan...is possible, let alone available at consumer-level prices. I’m here to reassure you: the new M2 MacBook Air is thin, high-performance, long-lasting, cool-running, and has no fan.
posted by Winnie the Proust at 12:26 PM on August 28, 2022

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