Apple’s M3 MacBook Air might be the most well-rounded laptop ever

A much-needed GPU upgrade makes the M3 MacBook Air a very compelling do-it-all machine

There’s a new MacBook Air on the block with the impressive M3 chip and a few other improvements to step up Apple’s best-selling laptop.

While the majority of the changes are relatively subtle, the most impactful is the addition of the M3 chip. On average, it’s about 1.6 percent faster than the M1 and 13x faster than older Intel Macs, says Apple. The newer chip also features a larger neural engine and a more modern graphics processing unit (GPU). This allows speedier AI task completion and better graphics while gaming or rendering.

“The most notable upgrade for some will be that the new M3 Air models can connect to two large displays at once. However, there’s a catch: to make those work, you need to close the lid of your MacBook.”

When Apple announced the M3 in late October 2023 at its ‘Scary Fast’ event, the tech giant described the chips as the “biggest leap forward in graphics architecture ever for Apple silicone.” In reality, for most tasks, it still performs a lot like a regular M2 or even an M1 Air. When it comes to more intensive use cases, the M3 is more well-rounded, and this Air can game.

At the demo area, I was able to watch some live gameplay of Grid Legends, a racing game running at 1200 x 1080p settings with high graphics enabled. It looked great with fluid motions, decent sharpness, and no screen tearing or perceptible lag. Overall, the Air isn’t a graphical powerhouse, but the amount of gaming that you can do on a laptop without fans is fascinating, and rapidly catching up to consoles like the Xbox Series S. When my review device arrives, I can’t wait to throw Baldur’s Gate 3 at it and see how it compares to my M1 Pro which features a dedicated GPU.

During regular workloads, the MacBook Air should last around 18 hours, according to Apple, which is on par with the M2 version that came before it. The larger 15-inch model still claims 22 hours of battery life, matching its predecessor. In actual use, we expect these numbers to be a little lower than Apple’s estimates, but generally, M-series MacBooks have been phenomenal so far, and we expect the M3 units to be the same once we test them thoroughly.The most notable upgrade for some will be that the new M3 Air models can connect to two large displays at once. However, there’s a catch: to make those work, you need to close the lid of your MacBook. Apple has also announced that the base-model M3-equipped MacBook Pro will also gain this feature. However, it seems unlikely that the M2 Air will get a similar feature.

The final changes are more discreet, but the ‘Midnight’ blue option has the same anodization process as the ‘Space Black’ MacBook Pro from 2023, which, in theory, should reduce fingerprints on the shell. While I couldn’t handle the new blue model enough to test it, I still think your mileage will vary depending on how clammy your hands are. Something about the dark blue and how it reflects light makes them more apparent. If you care, I’d go gold or silver for the least noticeable fingerprints.Buying a MacBook Air has gotten a little easier in 2024 now that Apple has retired the older wedge shape design, leaving only three MacBook Air models to choose from this year. The excellent M2 MacBook Air dropped in price to $1299 and you can still upgrade the RAM or storage, but as usual, that raises the price. The new 13-inch M3 model starts at $1449, while the larger 15-inch is $1,749.

For most, the M2 is a better buy since it leaves you with more budget to upgrade your storage from the base 512GB option. If you want a large screen, the 15-inch M3 is a nice machine, and the extra battery life is always welcome. That leaves the 13-inch M3 Air in a weird spot, but if you want to dabble in video editing, gaming or see yourself getting into AI over the next few years, that M3 chip will likely be helpful to you.

The new MacBooks are up for online order starting today and will hit store shelves on Friday, March 8th.

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