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MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel): Should you upgrade?

Apple held yet another major event this week, this time marking the announcement of its new M1 chip. The MacBook Air is one of the first laptops to be powered by Apple Silicon, but how does it compare to this year’s Intel-run Air?

The new MacBook Air, along with the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the Mac mini, are the first three laptops in Apple’s two year transition to its own Arm-based chips. The Mac lineup has been powered by Intel for over a decade now, so the switch is bound to bring some exciting changes to the MacBook Air.

That said, it’s still early days for Apple Silicon. It might be tough to decide whether the M1 is worth rushing out for an upgrade, especially considering how impressive the current Air is. We gave the MacBook Air with Intel four out of five stars in our review.

Read on to find out how the MacBook Air with Apple Silicon compares to this year’s Intel-powered Air.

Related: Apple Silicon

MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel) – Release date

Apple released its most recent Intel-powered MacBook Air just eight months ago in March, so the laptop is hardly outdated.

The MacBook Air with the M1 chip will be available from selected Apple Store locations and through Apple Authorised Resellers from November 17, with pre-orders open right now.

MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel) – Price

The MacBook Air and the Air with M1 are priced at a similar level, meaning you won’t have to pay too much extra for the new chip.

Prices for the Intel-kitted MacBook began at £999/$999 at launch. The ultrabook is no longer available from the Apple Store, but many retailers continue to stock it. Very, John Lewis and Currys PC World all currently offer around £50 off the Air with 256GB of storage and 8GB of RAM.

The price of the MacBook Air with M1 varies depending on your specs, but prices start at £999/$999.

The base model will get you the M1 chip with an eight-core CPU, seven-core GPU and 256GB of storage. There’s also the option to upgrade to the eight-core CPU, with an eight-core GPU and 512GB of storage for £1249/$1249.

While both laptops launched at the same price, the MacBook Air with Intel currently seems to be the cheaper of the two, albeit not by much.

Read our review of the MacBook Air 13 2020

MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel) – Specs

Like the price, the specs for the two MacBook Airs are near identical. The most obvious difference is the processor and what that entails for the ultrabook’s performance and battery life.

You can see all the specs at a glance in the comparison table below:

MacBook Air with M1 MacBook Air with Intel
Price From £999 From £999
Display 13.3-inch, 2560×1600 13.3-inch, 2560×1600
Processor Apple M1 Up to 10th Gen Intel Core i7
GPU Apple M1 Intel Iris Plus Graphics
RAM Up to 16GB Up to 16GB
Storage Up to 2TB SSD Up to 2TB SSD
Dimensions 304 x 212 x 16.1 mm 304 x 212 x 16.1 mm
Weight 1.29kg 1.29 kg
Colour options Gold, Space Grey and Silver Gold, Space Grey and Silver

March’s MacBook Air came with the 10th Gen Intel Core i3 at its base model, with the option to upgrade up to the Core i7. The newer Air comes fitted with the new Apple M1.

The i7 processor includes four cores, while the M1 packs eight – four performance cores and four efficiency cores. The M1 also includes up to an eight-core GPU, whereas the older MacBook takes advantage of Intel’s Iris Plus Graphics.

You can discover more about what this means for the Air’s performance in the next section of this guide.

Related: MacBook Air M1

MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel) – Performance

It’s difficult to compare the performance without testing out the MacBook Air with M1 ourselves. Luckily, we’ve had plenty of time with the Intel-powered MacBook Air 2020.

You can read all about the Air’s performance in our in-depth review, but we were impressed with the laptop’s performance. The base i3 model had no issues keeping up with 30 plus Chrome tabs, video calls and chat notifications, as well as RAW photo editing and light gaming. The Intel Iris Plus isn’t designed to handle heavy workloads, but for everyday use this laptop performs very well.

According to Apple, it only gets better from here. The new MacBook Air’s CPU is said to be three and a half times faster than the laptop’s predecessor. The M1 also allows for five times faster graphics and nine times faster machine learning.

SSD performance is twice the speed for lightning fast file imports, and the battery life is the longest ever recorded on a MacBook Air. The Air with M1 offers up to 15 hours of browsing or 18 hours of Apple TV playback compared to the Intel-powered Air’s 11 hours of browsing or 12 hours of Apple TV playback. That’s a four to six hour improvement thanks to the Arm architecture.

We’ll have to wait until we get our hands on the new Air to put these figures to the test, but it looks like the Air has been given a pretty big performance boost from the M1 chip.

MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel) – Keyboard

Apple ditched its controversial butterfly keyboard earlier this year, meaning both the Intel and the M1-powered Air feature the improved Magic Keyboard.

Both keyboards are backlit and include the Touch ID sensor and the Force Touch trackpad to support Multi-Touch gestures. Neither comes with a Touch Bar, with Apple reserving that feature for its Pro model.

MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel) – Design and features

The design of the Air doesn’t appear to have changed at all, with the biggest differences taking place under the hood.

Both laptops boast the same super-slim dimensions and weigh a measly 1.29kg. Both also come in Silver, Gold and Space Grey colours.

The port layout is slightly different, with the new Air packing two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, while the Intel-based Air has stuck with Thunderbolt 3/USB-C. Both include 3.5mm headphone jacks and the 720p FaceTime HD camera.

Related: Best MacBook

MacBook Air (M1 chip) vs MacBook Air (Intel) – Early verdict

Apple doesn’t appear to have changed a lot in the eight months since it launched the MacBook Air 13 with Intel. The biggest change is the introduction of the M1 processor, which appears to offer a substantial boost in performance.

Everything is faster with Apple Silicon, from the CPU to the GPU to the SSD. The battery life is significantly longer, too. The design, on the other hand, has seen little to no change.

If you’re just on the hunt for a 2020 MacBook Air and like the sound of saving a bit of cash, look toward the Intel-powered Air. Otherwise, the new MacBook with M1 is gearing up to be well worth the upgrade. Keep an eye out for our upcoming review for an even more in-depth analysis.

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