Apple's new M1-chip powered laptops are surprisingly similar
Apple this week announced new modes of MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, both running the company's new M1 processor.
Both laptops boast far greater performance than their Intel-powered predecessors, plus battery life of up to 20 hours. But they look almost identical to the previous models on the outside, and are surprisingly similar to each other on the inside, despite the connotations of their Air and Pro names, and differences in price.
Here is your guide to everything that is the same (and different) on the new M1-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Hardware and design
On the outside, the new Air and Pro look identical to their predecessors. This means the Air has its signature wedge shape where it is thicker at the front and much slimmer at the front, while the Pro has a squarer design that is the same thickness along its entire length.
Despite tapering to just 0.41 inches, the MacBook Air's thickest point of 0.63 inches is actually slightly larger than the constant thickness of the MacBook Pro (0.61 inches).
In all other dimensions, the two laptops are identical. They measure 11.97 inches wide (measured across the keyboard) and are 8.36 inches deep (the distance from the display hinge to the front of the laptop).
The MacBook Air retains its familiar tapered wedge shapeApple
The MacBook Air still lives up to its name when it comes to weight, but at 2.8 pounds it is only slightly lighter than the 3.0-pound Pro.
The two laptops also have the same type and number of ports, meaning two Thunderbolt / USB-C (Apple calls it USB 4.0) on one side for connecting power, displays and accessories, and a 3.5mm audio/headphone port on the opposite side.
Unlike some models of Intel-powered MacBook Pro, no M1-powered Mac is currently offered with more than two Thunderbolt ports. If you need to connect more than a power lead and an external monitor, then you'll need to buy a USB-C dock or dongle.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Display
Both the Air and Pro run Apple's new macOS Bug Sur operating systemApple
When it comes to their displays, the two laptops are almost identical. Both measure 13.3 inches and both use LED-backlit displays with IPS technology.
Apple refers to both as Retina displays, and both have a native resolution of 2560 x 1600, with P3 color gamut and Apple's adaptive True Tone technology, which adjusts the brightness and temperature to match ambient lighting.
The only difference between the two is how the Pro has 500 nits of brightness, compared to the 400 nits of the MacBook Air.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Camera
Above both displays sits a 720p camera. It's a shame that Apple still doesn't offer a 1080p Full HD webcam on its Macs, especially as so many more people are working from home and using video conferencing technology in 2020.
Given the iPhone can shoot incredibly high-quality 4K, HDR video with its front and rear cameras, we hoped Apple would add similar hardware to its Macs.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Speakers and microphones
Both the MacBook Air and Pro have a pair of stereo speakers beneath their keyboards, and both support Dolby Atmos audio. However, Apple uniquely describes the Pro's speakers as having "high dynamic range".
Both laptops have three microphones with directional beam-forming, but only the Pro's are described by Apple as being "studio quality". That said, we all know no one is going to use their MacBook Pro's microphones instead of a recording studio, given the choice.
As mentioned above, both laptops have a 3.5mm headphone jack.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Keyboard and trackpad
The MacBook Pro gets Apple's Touch Bar instead of function keysApple
Both laptops have the same trackpad and Touch ID fingerprint reader for unlocking and using Apple Pay. But their keyboards differ, as only the Pro has Apple's Touch Bar in place of the Air's physical function keys.
Some users will prefer the tactile feedback of the Air's function keys, while others will see a benefit in the adaptive touchscreen panel of the Pro.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: M1 chip
And now to the star of the show – Apple's all-new M1 processor. Related to the A-series chips used by the iPhone and iPad, and also designed by UK firm Arm, the M1 is claimed to be hugely more powerful and energy efficient than the Intel processors used by previous MacBooks.
Both the Air and Pro use the same M1 chip, with its 8-core CPU and 16-core Neural Engine. Both also start with 8GB of RAM, with 16GB for $200 the only additional option on both laptops
The only small difference here is how the entry-level $999 MacBook Air's M1 chip has a 7-core GPU, while the $1,299 Pro has an 8-core GPU. The $1,249 Air gets the same chip and the same number of cores as the Pro (as well as the same 8GB of RAM).
Apple's new M1 chip offers up to 20 hours of MacBook Pro battery lifeApple
So how can Apple claim the MacBook Pro is more powerful than the Air, when it has the same processor? It all boils down to how the laptops are cooled. Or in other words, how the Pro has a fan and the Air does not.
With that, the M1 chip can be made to work harder without overheating, and also results in extra battery life. For the Pro, Apple claims a 2.8x improvement in CPU performance over the last model, up to 5x graphics speed improvements, and 11x faster machine learning.
For the Air, the CPU is up to a claimed 3.5x faster, with a 5x GPU speed increase (with the pricier 8-core model) and 9x faster machine learning, all compared to the previous Air, which itself was less powerful than the MacBook Pro.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Battery life
The M1 provides a huge increase in battery life for both models of MacBook. Apple claims the Pro can last for up to 17 hours while browsing the web using Wi-Fi, or up to 20 hours when watching video saved on the Pro's internal storage. This is up to 100 percent more than the previous Pro.
The Pro's battery measures 58.2 watt-hours and the laptop comes with a 61W USB-C charger.
By contrast, Apple claims the new MacBook Air can browse the web for up to 15 hours and play video for up to 18 hours (50 percent more than the previous Air). The Air's battery is smaller than the Pro's, at 49.9 watt-hours, and the USB-C charger is less powerful, at 30W.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Upgrade options
As we mentioned earlier, both the Air and Pro come with 8GB of RAM as standard, which can be increased to 16GB for $200. There are no further RAM options for the M1 chip, compared ti the 32GB and 64GB possibilities with Intel-powered Macs.
The iPhone and iPad with their A-series chips have always required less RAM than the competition, so this shouldn't come as a surprise; no iPad currently has more than 6GB. But it will be interesting to see how these M1-powered Macs compare when it comes to RAM-intensive tasks like professional photo editing.
The Air and Pro both come with 256GB of SSD storage as standard, with the option to upgrade to 512GB, 1TB and 2TB. These are priced at $200, $400 and $800 respectively on both laptops.
Alternatively, both can be bought pre-configured to a higher specification. In the Air's case this means 512GB of storage (up from 256GB) and the M1 chip with an 8-core GPU (up from seven on the base model).
For the Pro, the second tier only changes the storage from 256GB to 512GB, as it already has the M1 chip with an 8-core GPU.
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Color options
The MacBook Air is offered in silver, gray and gold. The MacBook Pro is offered in gray and silver.
The MacBook Air is offered in gold, as well as the silver and gray options of the ProApple
New MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro differences: Price
The new MacBook Air is priced from $999. The more expensive model with the extra GPU core and twice the storage (512GB) is $1,249. If this model is selected and given the most RAM (16GB) and storage (2TB), the price is $2,049.
The new MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 for 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The more expensive model is $1,499 and doubles the storage to 512GB. Picking this model then adding the 16GB RAM and 2TB storage options takes the price to $2,299.
Essentially, no matter how you spec the two laptops the Pro is between $200 and $300 more than the Air. In summary, the Pro has these differences over the Air:
The key here is how much extra performance can be unlocked from the Pro's M1 chip with the fan keeping it cool. Hopefully that will become clear once the laptops beginning shipping to customers later in November.