Last updated: 1 day ago
It has been over a decade since Steve Jobs revealed the original MacBook Air, a laptop so thin he introduced it by pulling it out of an envelope. Apple's smallest laptop continues to fight for an ideal balance between size, performance, and price. Along with the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, this is the first Apple notebook running Apple Silicon.
● Apple Silicon M1 chip
● Up to 16GB of RAM
● Up to 2TB of flash storage
● Two USB 4/Thunderbolt 3 ports
● True Tone Retina Display
● Magic Keyboard
● 15 to 18 hour battery life
● Starting at $999
The MacBook Air is Apple's most popular laptop with its blend of performance, low entry price, and portability. The latest update in late 2020 gave it 3.5x the processing power with up to six hours of extra battery life.
MacBook Air Features
Apple's custom processors have powered the iPhone and iPad for years, and now Apple Silicon has made it to the Mac. The new M1 processor pushes the MacBook Air to new heights, making it outperform most existing Intel Macs, even the 16-inch MacBook Pro.
Apple says the new MacBook Air is up to 3.5x faster with 5x faster graphics than its predecessor. Early benchmarks show this to be the case with single core performance competing with Apple's high-end Mac Pro, and the multi-core out scoring all Macs except for those with more than 8 cores.
The M1 chip's balance of power and efficiency allows the new MacBook Air to be fanless, offering silent performance. The big-little layout of the 8-core processor make it easy on power consumption, but able to kick in those performance cores when necessary. The efficiency cores by themselves outperform the Intel Core-i3 processor.
The late-2020 model has a 13.3-inch Retina Display with True Tone and P3 wide color gamut and 400 nits max brightness.
External displays and other peripherals are connected with two 40 gigabits per second Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of the slower USB 3.2 type C found on Windows laptops. This allows users to connect any USB peripheral.
The new Macs with Apple Silicon can even connect to 6K displays, including the Pro Display XDR. External display support is limited to one monitor regardless of resolution, however.
The 2020 models of MacBook Air now include the new Magic Keyboard first introduced in the 16-inch MacBook Pro. A redesigned scissor mechanism with 1mm of travel means no more sticky keys from previous generations. The new keyboard also included the inverted-T arrow keys.
The previous generation housed a butterfly keyboard, which had multiple updates and changes to attempt to address reliability issues. The butterfly switch was prone to stuck keys or broken mechanisms, which had a higher failure rate than previous scissor-switch designs.
Apple had implemented keyboard repair programs for the butterfly keyboard, but the introduction of the new keyboard seems to be a final admission that there was some issue at hand. Even the latest iPad Pro keyboard uses the new Magic Keyboard design.
The late-2020 model with M1 chip offers improved video-chat capabilities. While the laptop still has a 720p webcam, the M1 chip uses Apple’s newest image signal processor, for improved image quality. The new ISP adds greater dynamic range, better noise reduction, and superior auto white balance and machine-learning-enhanced face detection to make you look clearer in FaceTime or Zoom calls.
The 2018 revision incorporated a Touch ID sensor that can be used for biometric identification instead of entering a password. Touch ID has been retained on the 2019 refresh.
The T2 security chip is a separate piece of custom Apple Silicon that, for some aspects of operation, sits between whichever main Intel processor your Mac has, and macOS. Beyond hosting the Secure Enclave for Touch ID and providing encryption services to macOS, the T2 chip provides a secure boot, which means that the only things that can run at startup are trusted, approved macOS software.
MacBook Air History
The late-2020 MacBook Air added the M1 chip for much-improved performance and battery life. It also removed fans, allowing for silent operation. The early-2020 update had included faster Intel processors compared to its 2019 predecessor, Magic Keyboard, and return to the lower $999 starting price.
This model also introduced the thinner 15.6mm chassis with three color choices in silver, space gray, and gold. There was only one screen size of 13.3-inches available.
In 2010, Apple released the second-generation MacBook Air with a tapered case and solid-state storage. There were two sizes, an 11-inch and 13-inch model.
This generation was well received and pushed the ultra-book design mainstream, with most competitors introducing near clones to the Air line.
Through each update, more internal memory and faster processors were added. This was the last generation to feature non-retina displays and a MagSafe port.
The 11-inch model was discontinued in 2017.
In 2008 Steve Jobs pulled a MacBook from a small envelope to the delight and astonishment of those watching. It had a 13.3-inch display and was 1.9cm thin.
The lack of a CD-drive was both controversial and revolutionary. It was sacrificed for thinness, and may have been the beginning of Apple's removal of popular I/O for the sake of design and lightness.
Common MacBook Air Questions
Does the MacBook Air have USB ports?
Yes, it has two USB 4/Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports on the left side of the notebook.
Is the MacBook Air good for college?
With its combination of macOS, solid horsepower, and sleek build, the MacBook Air is the best choice for most college students. The possible exception would be anyone doing heavy video editing or other highly resource-intensive tasks.
Does the MacBook Air have a touchscreen?
No, Apple hasn't included touchscreens on any Macs.
How much does the MacBook Air cost?
MacBook Air prices start at $999. Apple offers custom configurations ranging up to $2,249.
MacBook Air Pricing
The late-2020 MacBook Air with M1 chip starts at $999. This model has 8GB of RAM and 256GB storage. For $1249, you get an M1 chip with an additional active GPU core and 512GB storage.
A maxed-out model with 16GB of RAM and 2TB SSD costs $2,049.