So you want to buy a MacBook, but you’re not sure whether to go for Air or Pro. The most important question to ask yourself is: do you need extra power, or is portability more important to you?
The MacBook Pro is (generally) more powerful
If you need more power for more demanding tasks like video editing, 3D rendering, and data analysis, consider the MacBook Pro. While the base 13-inch MacBook Pro has the same M1 chips as the MacBook Air, it also has an active cooling solution. meaning it can stay under load for longer.
But if you want more CPU and GPU cores, for better multitasking and performance on multi-threaded apps, the 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models are for you. They feature the upgraded M1 Pro (10-core GPU, 16-core GPU) and M1 Max (10-core CPU, 32-core GPU) chips, and you can opt for even more powerful extras at checkout.
These enhanced M1 Pro and M1 Max chips include dedicated video encoding and decoding engines, a ProRes encoding and decoding engine, hardware-accelerated H.264, and HEVC capabilities. Higher memory bandwidth (200 GB/sec on the M1 Pro, twice as much on the M1 Max) gives the CPU access to data in less time than the base model M1.
Storage and RAM amounts will be capped on the top MacBook Air M1 models at 2TB and 16GB respectively. If you have the money, you can buy an 8TB SSD and 64GB of RAM in the higher-spec MacBook Pro. The 14-inch and 16-inch models also feature more Thunderbolt lanes for better connectivity.
However, this performance comes at a cost, and that is power consumption. The higher-spec MacBook Pro comes with power adapters that draw 140w of power, with 96w and 67w models also available. By comparison, the MacBook Air can only draw up to 30 watts. If you have a monitor with USB-PD (Power Delivery) that you want to use to power your laptop, keep this in mind.
The MacBook Air is smaller and more portable
The clue is in the name: The MacBook Air is lighter and more portable than its MacBook Pro counterpart. It’s also wedge-shaped, which means it’s probably the most comfortable laptop form factor Apple makes in terms of typing and general use.
The MacBook Pro adopts the traditional laptop “chunk” form factor. This means there’s more room for additional Thunderbolt ports, as well as an SD card slot and HDMI output on the 14-inch and 16-inch models.
At the time of this writing, the MacBook Air is limited to the 13-inch form factor, while the MacBook Pro is available in 13-, 14-, and 16-inch sizes. A larger chassis means there’s more room for a roomier keyboard, better bass response from the internal speakers (which shine on all models), and a larger trackpad for desktop navigation and gestures.
Weight is also a factor, with a 13-inch MacBook Pro weighing just 2.8 pounds (1.29 kg), while a 14-inch MacBook Pro weighs 3.5 pounds (1.6 kg), and the model 16-inch weighs 4.7 pounds (2.1 kg). This weight makes the MacBook Pro feel solid and heavy, which can be a desirable quality based on your expectations.
The MacBook Pro is more expensive
Since the MacBook Pro is a more powerful machine, it will cost you more than a MacBook Air. More aluminum is used in the construction, a better display, and an active cooling solution to push the price up on the MacBook Pro side.
To break it down, the cheapest 13-inch MacBook Pro is $1,299 while the MacBook Air starts at $999. Both machines feature the same M1 chip, but the MacBook Air uses passive cooling. The most powerful MacBook Pro models feature 512GB of base storage and more capable M1 Pro chips, starting at $1,999.
If you max out a MacBook Air, you’ll pay $2,049 for 2TB of storage and 16GB of RAM, while a MacBook Pro with all the trimmings will set you back $6,099 for 8TB of storage and 64GB of RAM. This should give you an idea of what market segment the MacBook Pro is targeting, as it can be a complete mobile desktop replacement for those who need that kind of power.
It’s up to you to decide if you need all that grunt. There may be a more cost-effective solution if you need a powerful Mac by opting for an M1 Max chip Mac Studio for $1,999 and then picking up a basic MacBook Air for when you’re away from your desk (or even an iPad). , if you can get away with it).
This type of setup may be right for you if you already have a multi-monitor setup at home and a set of peripherals you can use, especially if you do most of your work at the same desk. It also unlocks the potentially much more powerful M1 Ultra chip as an option, if you have the money to spend.
Some other differences
The 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro models come with some of the best displays ever seen on a laptop, with HDR peak brightness around 1600 nits. The laptop runs at around 500 nits under standard desktop conditions, which is more than enough for most conditions. It also has full-array local dimming, due to its mini-LED backlight solution.
It also features one of Apple’s most divisive design decisions: the notch. There’s a small rectangle at the top center of the screen that’s been cut out to house the webcam and ambient light sensor, though you can hide it with the right software tricks.
Inside the notch is an improved 1080p webcam, which offers a nice jump in quality over the previous 720p model (the same one Apple uses in the MacBook Air). They also feature the next generation of Apple’s popular MagSafe power adapter, which connects with a magnet so tripping over the power cord doesn’t cause the laptop to fall to the ground.
You also don’t have to use MagSafe all the time and you can charge via USB-C if you prefer (which is how the MacBook Air normally charges). While there are only two of these ports on the MacBook Air, there are at least three on the 14-inch MacBook Pro and four on the 16-inch model, plus the SDXC reader and an HDMI output that you won’t find on the Air.
Perhaps the least significant difference of all is the fact that the Air also comes in gold, while the Pro is limited to Apple’s entry-level Space Gray and Silver.
Updated models are coming soon
The MacBook Air was one of the first Apple laptops to get the Apple Silicon treatment in 2020 with the release of the ARM-based M1 chip. This makes it the hottest competitor for the M2 treatment.
The M2 will be an evolution of the M1, with potentially more cores, more Thunderbolt lanes (and thus more ports), and other iterative improvements over the original Apple Silicon chip.
However, if you can’t wait to make your purchase, you can learn more about which one you should go for by checking out our MacBook recommendations.