The M2 MacBook Air is here, and like the M1, Apple has two options to choose from, one with an eight-core graphics processor and one with a 10-core graphics processor. We’ve tested both models here at Macworld, a bottom-up model starting at $1,499 (the one we tested and reviewed here has 1 TB of storage and 16 GB of RAM for $1,899), and the entry-level model with 256 GB of storage, which It costs $1199.
That’s a pretty big difference in price, which made us wonder what exactly you’ll get for the extra money. It turns out you get a lot.
With two fewer GPU cores, less RAM, and a seemingly suboptimal SSD configuration for read and write speeds, the cheaper MacBook Air faces several hurdles in trying to compete with its more expensive siblings. In some cases we were shocked at how poorly it performed, but there were some pleasant surprises as well.
Read on to find out how the higher and entry-level M2 Air hit our speed and performance benchmarks. Where possible, we’ve included equivalent scores for the 256GB version of the M1 MacBook Air released in 2020, and for the quad-core Intel i5 model introduced that same year.
M2 MacBook Air: Raw Processing Power
We started by looking at the processing power using the Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23 CPU benchmarks. We didn’t expect a huge difference here, given that the 2022 Airs has the same processor with the same number of CPU cores, even though the top model we tested had twice the RAM (16GB vs 8GB).
A promising start, with entry-level Air tracking close to its more expensive sibling in all four tests (it wasn’t more than 2.2 percent behind) and showed gains of up to 16.5 percent over the 2020 M1 Air. In fact, the 256GB Air scored just above the 1TB model. In the multi-core Cinebench component, although this was less than 1 percent and probably just an anomaly.
M2 MacBook Air: Real World Missions
CPU benchmarks give you an idea of how fast a machine is on paper, but we want to know how these Macs will behave in the real world. We set them our usual battery of installation, export and encoding tasks in iMovie and HandBrake 1.5.
There was little difference in the speed of the M2 Airs when exporting a 4K file at high settings, but in every other test we saw a significant loss of performance when using the cheaper model. Exporting in ProRes settings took 27.6 percent more. Meanwhile, an iMovie clip took 43% longer to install; We actually had to wait longer than when using the M1 from 2020 (which was also an entry-level unit and cost only $999).
In our HandBrake tests, the 256GB model was slower than the 1TB version by 27.2 percent and 20.4 percent, respectively. Either way, the speed was closer to the M1 than its brother.
M2 MacBook Air: Tweak Speeds
We test the read and write speeds of our Mac review with the Blackmagic Disk Speed Test. We were particularly keen to see how the Base Air entered this test, after reports that its SSD is up to 50 percent slower on read speeds and 30 percent on write speeds. (The explanation, based on device candies, is that Apple is using a single 256GB chip instead of two 128GB chips like last year.)
256 Giga Air was unable to refute this terrible speculation. Read speeds were 47.9 percent slower than the 1TB model on average, while write speeds were 50.2 percent slower, much worse than expected. Either way, the entry level is much slower than the 2020 model. You probably won’t notice the slowdown in normal daily use, but for $1,199, we’d expect a much stronger SSD performance.
M2 MacBook Air: Gaming Performance
Finally, we looked at the performance of Airs running a pair of challenging games: Rise of the Tomb Raider and Civilization VI. Both of these games include a benchmarking mode that allows you to measure frame rates without using any additional software.
This is one test where Apple’s publicly released specifications for the two devices led us to expect a significant difference. Simply put, the 1TB Air we tested has a 10-core GPU, while the 256GB model only has 8 cores, so the frame rate is expected to be lower.
The test results were a bit perplexing, though. Tomb Raider numbers were largely expected, with the Air-8 core lagging 43 percent on high settings and 26 percent on average. (Either way, the M2 entry-level tires were shorter than the M1 from 2020). MacBook Air with M2 on high settings and slightly better on medium.
The high-end Air is undoubtedly the best gaming machine, but the loss of two GPU cores doesn’t seem to deter the cheaper model as expected. Performance will likely vary from game to game, however, we advise caution if there is a graphic-requiring title that you plan to enjoy.
It’s no surprise to find that this year’s $1,199 MacBook Air performs less impressively than the top model. What is more worrying What is the price It’s slower when it comes to reading and writing disk speeds (about 50 percent in each, according to our tests) and in real-world stability, export, and encryption tasks.
It’s always tempting to choose the cheapest configuration for a new Apple product to enjoy the new design and processor at the lowest possible cost. However, with regards to the M2 MacBook Air, we advise against this, since testing suggests that you will get a machine that in some ways does not perform better than a cheaper model from 2020, and in a few cases is actually worse. Granted, you get a bigger and better screen, MagSafe, and a new design, but the M2’s performance boost isn’t there.
If you decide to buy the new Air — and we recommend paying the extra for the upgraded configuration — be sure to find the lowest price by browsing our guide to the best MacBook Air deals. Or just choose the M1 Air and save a few hundred dollars.