M1 MacBook Air vs Intel MacBook Air: What’s the Difference?

M1 MacBook Air

Apple yesterday announced the M1 Apple Silicon-powered MacBook Air. While the exterior design of the new MacBook Air is the same as the Intel-based model it replaces, there are some major under the hood changes which have led to a noticeable increase in performance and battery life. If you are considering buying the new M1 MacBook Air, check out our comparison below to know how it is different and better than the Intel-based MacBook Air.

There are a lot of differences between the 2020 MacBook Air and the M1 MacBook Air. The major heart change inside means the new M1 MacBook Air is better in almost every key department despite being available in the same form factor and design.

Read: The Best M1 Apple Silicon MacBook Pro and MacBook Air Features

MacBook Air vs M1 MacBook Air Comparison: What’s the Difference

Dimensions

  • MacBook Air: 0.16–0.63 inch x 11.97 inches x 8.36 inches, 1.29 kg
  • M1 MacBook Air: 0.16–0.63 inch x 11.97 inches x 8.36 inches, 1.29 kg

Despite the gut change, the M1 MacBook Air weighs the same as the 2020 MacBook Air. The dimensions of both machines are also the same meaning you still get a very sleek and ultraportable laptop which now offers better performance.

Display

  • MacBook Air: 13.3-inch Retina display, 2560 x 1600 pixels, 400 nits brightness, True Tone, Wide color
  • M1 MacBook Air: 13.3-inch Retina display, 2560 x 1600 pixels, 400 nits brightness, True Tone, Wide color

When it comes to the display, the new M1 MacBook Air is exactly the same as the Intel-based MacBook Air released in March 2020. This means you still get a 13.3-inch Retina Display with chunky bezels surrounding it.

Performance

  • MacBook Air: Base: 1.1GHz dual-core Intel Core i3; High-end: 1.2GHz quad-core Core i7
  • M1 MacBook Air: M1 chip, 8-core CPU, 7-core GPU in the base model, 8-core in high-end, 16-core Neural engine

With the Intel-based MacBook Air, Apple shipped the $999 MacBook Air with a dual-core Core i3 Intel CPU that was barely powerful enough for even moderate activity. There was a higher-end quad-core Core i7 model but that was more expensive and had overheating issues. In comparison, Apple is now only offering the M1 MacBook Air in two variants: one with 256GB storage and another with 512GB storage. Both models feature the same M1 chip albeit the one on the 512GB variant comes with an 8-core GPU.

When it comes to performance, the M1 MacBook Air is miles ahead of the Intel-based one. The performance leap is simply gigantic and it is something that one needs to experience themselves to understand just how big it is. Below are some performance improvements that Apple claims the new M1 MacBook Air offers:

  • Export a project for the web with iMovie up to 3x faster.
  • Integrate 3D effects into video in Final Cut Pro up to 5x faster.
  • For the first time, play back and edit multiple streams of full-quality, 4K ProRes video in Final Cut Pro without dropping a frame.
  • Export photos from Lightroom up to twice as fast.
  • Use ML-based features like Smart Conform in Final Cut Pro to intelligently frame a clip up to 4.3x faster.

Connectivity and Ports

  • MacBook Air: Wi-Fi ac, Bluetooth 5.0, 2x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports
  • M1 MacBook Air: Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, 2x Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports

The new M1 MacBook Air finally comes with Wi-Fi 6 which means it will offer better Wi-Fi connectivity and higher speeds than the existing Intel-based Air. However, you must already have a Wi-Fi 6-compatible router for this. Disappointingly, Apple is still sticking to two USB-C ports on the new MacBook Air, though they are now USB4 ports.

Another thing to note here is that despite the M1 MacBook Air coming with a 720p FaceTime camera, its quality is much better thanks to the inclusion of an ISP in the M1 chip. This means your video calls will look and sound much better on the new M1 MacBook Air. Apple even claims up to twice the battery life on the M1 MacBook Air on FaceTime or other video calls.

Battery Life

  • MacBook Air: 49.9 wh battery, Up to 11 hours of wireless web browsing, Up to 12 hours of Apple TV movie playback
  • M1 MacBook Air: 49.9wh battery, Up to 15 hours of wireless web browsing, Up to 18 hours of Apple TV movie playback

Apart from performance, the new M1 MacBook Air brings a massive leap in battery life as well. Apple claims an improvement of 4 hours in web browsing and a massive six hours while playing back videos. What’s impressive is that the new MacBook Air is delivering this improved battery life despite the battery capacity itself remaining unchanged.

Price

  • MacBook Air: Starts from $999
  • M1 MacBook Air: Starts from $999

Better performance and battery life and yet the same starting price. For students, the new MacBook Air is available for $899 which makes it an even better deal. Remember that the Intel-based MacBook Air shipped with a dual-core processor so the new M1 MacBook Air is actually offering more bang for the buck here.


The previous base MacBook Air made little sense since its dual-core CPU was too weak for any kind of medium to a heavy workload. With the new MacBook Air and its M1 chip, Apple has resolved all such issues and the machine is more than ideal for someone with light to medium photo and video-editing workloads.