Apple MacBook Air M3 13- and 15-inch (2024) review
13 mins read

Apple MacBook Air M3 13- and 15-inch (2024) review

The MacBook lineup is stuck in an identity crisis. The new MacBook Air M3 is a straight improvement over its predecessor, with the same sleek, Pro-like design, tuck-away speakers, and four-color options. The trackpad is still as smooth as a Zambonied ice rink. The experience has become more refined, with some new quality of life features.

But the MacBook lineup is more crowded than ever, with the 13-inch Air, 15-inch Air and base model 14-inch Pro fighting for space. And the base models, which start at $1,099 for the 13-inch and $1,299 for the 15-inch, still don't come with enough memory or storage for the price. This makes it easy to engage in a complex series of upgrades that can cost you hundreds of dollars. So even though the MacBook Air is better than ever, it's the hardest thing ever to figure out which MacBook you should buy.

How we evaluate and review products
How we evaluate and review products

The Air M3s are nearly identical to the still-fantastic Air M2s, which are on sale for $100 less. They have similar chassis, displays, batteries, speakers, webcams, ports, and configuration options – and the midnight color still collects so many fingerprints that it may even become a hobby. But some key upgrades make the new model easily worth the extra $100: the M3 processor is slightly faster, the microphone and Wi-Fi are better, and most importantly, Apple Storage speed doubled on 256GB versionA major flaw in the base M2 Air is being fixed.

The most exciting new feature for some is that the MacBook Air M3 can now power two external monitors with the lid closed, whereas the M2 and M1 could only power one. I don't think I'll be able to match the level of excitement some people have about this new feature, but I do like how quickly the main display switches from the MacBook Air to the second monitor once the lid is closed. I tested this new feature with two 27-inch studio displays, and yes – worked seamlessly. In every multi-monitor Windows setup I've seen, including my own, it takes longer to register when the new display is connected.

The Air is available in both 13-inch and 15-inch models; Apart from the display size, the differences are minor. The speakers on the 15-inch Air M3 are quite loud, with a wide frequency response at the low end. destroyed Rob Zombie's Dragula The sound of the same song playing on my partner's MacBook Pro 14 M2 Max while I was frying onions in my kitchen was almost different. The 15-inch also has a larger battery (66.5 Whr vs. 52.6 Whr) to accommodate its larger display, but it lasts about the same as the 13-inch from sunrise to the time I go to bed. Their displays are identical except for size, and the rest of their configuration options are identical, except for the low-end eight-core CPU/eight-core GPU combo that's only on the $1,099 configuration of the 13-inch Air M3 (or), as That's what I like to call the base-base version).

Same port option.
Photo by Amelia Holovaty Cralls/The Verge

Apple sent me both MacBook Air sizes, each with 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage, and an eight-core CPU/10-core GPU. The Air M3s are 16 to 18 percent faster in single and multicore processing than the M2s with the same CPU and GPU core count. So, anything you can do on the base MacBook Pro, you can also do on the MacBook Air. The base MacBook Pro M3 with the same processor has slightly better multicore performance than the 13-inch Air, possibly due to its active cooling, but it's actually outclassed by the 15-inch Air, possibly due to the Air's larger, Due to inactive heatsink. However, none of these machines are designed for heavy, multicore workloads. That's the Pro area, where the M3 has more cores and more memory for more money.

Loading and editing Illustrator files was just as fast as doing it on a MacBook Pro M2 Max, eliminating the usual doom scrolling, browser tab hoarding and other things that both increase your productivity and take it away. I was surprised by the gaming performance shadow of the tomb raider And death stranding, although the graphics will need to be at their lowest settings to get close to 60 FPS. The highest settings limited performance to an average of 25 fps.

Some benchmarks have changed since we tested the M3 MacBook Pro and M2 MacBook Air. For the sake of clarity we have decided not to include those older results.

The Starlight colorway really pops.
Photo by Chris Welch/The Verge

Apple is making a big deal about hardware-accelerated ray tracing coming to the MacBook Air for the first time via its M3 chip. But there aren't any ray-traced games available to play natively on macOS – and even if there were, it wouldn't make much sense on base M3 chips because they don't have enough GPU cores or memory to render those effects. Is . Apple uses integrated memory in its processors, so the CPU and GPU cores are borrowing from the same pool. If you try to render a complex 3D scene with lots of light sources and detailed textures, like Blender's barbershop path tracing demo, the machine will run out of available GPU memory before it's finished. (I tried it on both M3 Airs, and the same thing happened, even with 16GB of memory.) And because the MacBook Air cools passively, it's protected from throttling the processor when it gets too hot. There is nothing to stop.

I'm not the first person to say this the verge, but just because Apple's M-series processors have integrated memory doesn't mean they can do more with less. Placing a computer's memory on the same chip as the processor and integrated graphics reduces the communication distance between those components. The amount of data being transferred doesn't change, and that's why it's troubling that Apple is still configuring its base Air model with only 8GB of memory and is still charging exorbitant prices to add more. Is.

All of the M3's small but nice upgrades are worth the extra $100 over the M2 Air, especially on the base model for faster storage. But this is where you start to enter Apple's upgrade funnel: 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage still isn't enough for a modern laptop that you can't upgrade. If you plan to keep your computer for more than a few years, you'll want to spend the extra $400 to double the memory and storage — and thus turn a $1,099 MacBook Air into a $1,499 MacBook Air. I'm still angry that Apple is asking $200 to expand the storage to 512GB, when its speed is equivalent to a five-year-old off-the-shelf M.2 PCIe 3.0 SSD that costs about $80.

When you look at the entire MacBook ecosystem, the more you upgrade to the Air, the easier it is to justify spending a little more on something more powerful. For example, the price of the 15-inch Air starts at $1,299. Upgrading to 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage (my recommended configuration) brings this to $1,699. But for just $100 more, you can get the MacBook Pro 14 M3, which costs $1,799 for the same hardware configuration with a smaller display, but with more quality-of-life features: a higher-quality, higher-refresh-rate display, plus an SDXC card reader and HDMI port, and the same speaker system. Not to mention the cooling fan which will help keep the M3 thermals under control.

Well, wait a second. If you're looking to shell out $1,799 for a MacBook Pro with the base M3 chip, you can also buy the M3 Pro version for $1,999. This is the best value for your money…right? But 16 GB memory does not seem enough for the Pro. You'd be better off spending another $200 to upgrade to 24GB. See – once Apple's upselling strategy is implemented, it becomes very easy to spend more on a laptop than you really need to.

Blot Blot Blot Blot.
Photo by Chris Welch/The Verge

There are people like my mom for whom the base 13- or 15-inch MacBook Air M3 will be just fine. She mostly writes emails and watches movies with her current MacBook, but since the memory can't be upgraded later, it's worth spending the extra $200 to extend its usable lifetime by several years. Most high school students and humanities majors can also make do with that, but again: anything less than 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage is not ideal, especially in the long term.

The MacBook Air is still one of the best laptops you can buy for general-purpose use, and since you can't completely avoid Apple's upgrade funnel, it's worth spending the extra $100 to get the M3 instead of the M2. There is very little to do. The upgrade funnel can take you. If you have an M1 Air or an earlier model and are able to give up the wedge shape, as long as you upgrade the memory, you'll have a great time with the M3 Air. And maybe storage. Or maybe spend even more to get a Pro instead.

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