Apple announced a new MacBook Air – the second of the year – at its
One More Thing event on 10 November. But this isn’t a cosmetic update: there are significant upgrades under the hood.
Most notably the Intel processor has been replaced. Apple started its event by claiming this is the first Mac to get access to the company’s new ARM-based Apple Silicon processors – specifically the M1 chip, which was unveiled tonight. But that seems a bit of a stretch because a new Mac mini and MacBook Pro were also announced at the same event and also feature the M1. It’s one of the first ARM-based Macs.
In this article we’ve got all the information you need to know about the new Silicon-equipped MacBook Air for late 2020, including its release date, full pricing and tech specs.
The new MacBook Air starts at £999/$999 for most consumers, although education buyers can get a special starting price of £899/$899.
Here’s the price list for the default configurations:
MacBook Air 13in (late 2020), M1 with 7‑Core GPU, 256GB: £999/$999
MacBook Air 13in (late 2020), M1 with 8‑Core GPU, 512GB: £1,249/$1,249
You can also, as in the past, upgrade the RAM and/or storage further in the build-to-order section. The basic allocation is 8GB of RAM for both configs; upgrading to 16GB will set you back an extra £200/$200.
Boosting storage to 1TB costs an extra £200/$200 on top of the price of the 512GB model above. If you want the maximum 2TB, that’s an extra £600/$600.
Before we move onto the details about the design and specs for the new MacBook Air, we’ll discuss any problems we learn of.
The most obvious change is the processor, but there are significant upgrades throughout the specs list. Let’s look at these one at a time.
Apple Silicon M1 processor
Apple calls the Air’s processor “stunningly capable”, and with apparently good reason. It’s made using the 5nm production process, and promises many improvements on the previous generation.
The M1 has 8 cores (compared to a maximum of 4 on the previous model): 4 are what Apple calls “high-performance cores” and the remaining 4 are “high-efficiency”. This should in theory allow the Air to devote its full power when tackling demanding tasks, but focus on prolonging battery life when this isn’t necessary. There’s also an 8-core GPU.
Looking at power first, Apple says the new Air offers 3.5x faster CPU operation than the previous generation, and 5x faster graphics. It’s faster than 98% of PC laptops, the company claims, and offers the “world’s best CPU performance per watt”.
We always knew the processor switch would offer Apple a choice: go for processor speed, go for battery life, or go for a mixture of the two. Sensibly the company seems to have plumped for the compromise approach.
The new MacBook Air has a claimed/estimated battery life of 15 hours of wireless web use, or 18 hours of video playback. That’s the longest ever battery life in a MacBook Air, the company says, and indeed these are huge (claimed) improvements on the previous generation, which was estimated at 11 hours of wireless web and “Up to 12 hours Apple TV app film playback”.
Again, we’ll test these claims in the lab. Apple has historically been accurate with its battery estimates, though.
This one comes hand in hand with the energy efficiency of the M1 processor. The MacBook Air no longer has a fan, which means it can offer silent operation.
The previous Air had a fan, of course, and it wasn’t at all popular: customers complained of
noise and overheating.
The display size is the same as in the previous generation – 13.3in – and has the same resolution of 2560×1600, but Apple says it’s now more vibrant. That’s not just a subjective assessment: it now supports the P3 wide colour gamut. The previous model was limited to sRGB.
RAM and storage
No change here, at least in terms of quantity: as in the previous generation, the base configurations offer a choice of 256GB or 512GB, with upgrade options up to 2TB, and both offer 8GB of RAM, upgradable to 16GB.
The SSDs are said to be twice as fast, however, even if they cannot store any more.
There are a few more less glamorous changes. The Air has been upgraded from 802.11ac Wi‑Fi to 802.11ax – also known as
Wi-Fi 6. The two ports have also been upgraded from Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) to Thunderbolt/USB 4.
The Air’s camera is
specced the same (720p) but promises better performance thanks to the improved image signal processor in the M1. This will, Apple claims, lead to noise reduction, greater dynamic range, and automatically optimised white balance during video calls thanks to face detection and machine learning.
In terms of software, the new MacBook Air models will arrive with
macOS Big Sur installed. Apple’s latest version of its desktop operating system will be fully compatible with the new hardware.
Demonstrations at WWDC indicated that, thanks to the Mac Catalyst development software, iOS and iPadOS apps can be easily converted and optimised for macOS thanks to the shared underlying processor technology.
David has loved the iPhone since covering the original 2007 launch; later his obsession expanded to include the iPad and Apple Watch. He offers advice to owners (and prospective owners) of these devices.