M3 MacBook Air Review: Redefining Best Portable Performance

The M2 MacBook Air, which will be released in July 2022, will upgrade the 13-inch laptop’s design for the Apple Silicon age, after the M1 Air’s secure external design. And the first-ever 15-inch MacBook Air, which was released more than a year later, was an intriguing option for those who wanted a larger screen but didn’t require the added power or cost of the MacBook Pro. They were a comprehensive rethinking of Apple’s approach to consumer laptops, inspired by the equally significant Apple Silicon MacBook Pro redesigns.

The M3 MacBook Air do not do any of it. They’re laptop designs we’ve seen before, wrapped around processors we’ve seen. However, they may be more essential than the M2 Airs due to the timing of their arrival—as the last of the Intel Macs slowly age and break and Apple discontinues software support for them (if not in this year’s macOS release, virtually probably next year’s). Because of the faster chip and a few other feature enhancements, the new machines may be the first to be worth considering for M1 Air early adopters looking for an upgrade.

Apple gave us just 48 hours to examine and utilize this laptop, but here’s what we’ve discovered so far.

Does the design hold up?

The M1 MacBook Air is still the one I use the most, and anyone who has previously owned an Intel MacBook Air from 2018 to 2020 would recognize the design. So, despite being more than two years old, the M2/M3-era MacBook Air design continues to wow me.

Overall, I believe the updated design holds up fairly well; I don’t mind the lack of a taper, even if it makes the laptop appear a little more boxy and less sleek. The full-height function row and modified keyboard are both fantastic, and I don’t have any trackpad palm rejection difficulties with either the 13- or 15-inch variants. It’s good to have MagSafe back, but in the end, I nearly always charge the Air with one of the numerous USB-C chargers I’ve strategically placed in most places of the house.

SCREEN13.6-inch 2560×1664 IPS LCD15.3-inch 2880×1864
OSmacOS 14.4 Sonoma
CPUApple M3 (4 E-cores, 4 P-cores)
RAM16GB unified memory
GPUApple M3 (10 GPU cores)
STORAGE512GB soldered SSD
BATTERY52.6 WHr66.5 WHr
NETWORKINGWi-Fi 6E (802.11ax), Bluetooth 5.3
PORTS2x Thunderbolt/USB4, MagSafe 3, headphones
SIZE11.97×8.46×0.44 inches (304.1×215×113 mm)13.40×9.35×0.45 inches (340.4×237.6×115 mm)
WEIGHT2.7 lbs (1.24 kg)3.3 lbs (1.51 kg)
OTHER PERKS1080p webcam, TouchID

I’m also reminded of how much I like the 15-inch MacBook Air, as someone who like a large screen but doesn’t use a laptop for much gaming or anything other than Photoshop and Lightroom. The mix of size and weight is nearly perfect, and while the 15-inch Air is noticeably larger and heavier than the 13-inch model, the difference isn’t so significant in daily use that I spend a lot of time thinking about it. The upgraded speaker configuration is particularly useful for playing music or watching videos on the larger screen.

The display notch continues to be the design’s most significant disadvantage. As we and others have repeatedly stated, you get used to it, and in normal desktop use (particularly in dark mode and with a dark wallpaper), you may often forget it’s there. However, in the absence of FaceID or another significant functional innovation, it appears to take up a lot of space for little user-visible advantage.

While it’s true that a 1080p webcam is preferable than a 720p one, given the option, I would always choose for a screen without a notch that offers more useful space. (If you want the screen strips on either side of the notch to not be completely wasted when in full-screen mode, go to the Control Center section of the Settings and adjust “automatically hide and show the Menu Bar” to “Never”). The only thing that can really be displayed on these strips of screen is the macOS menu bar.

Apple has emphasized a new coating for the Midnight (blue-tinted black) edition of the Air that is intended to lessen its fingerprint-iness as one design update for the M3 Airs. When it came to the MacBook M3, Apple took the same approach as from the MacBook Pro last year.

In comparison to the previous Midnight coating, the new finish appears somewhat lighter and does exhibit slightly less fingerprints. However, “less” is not “none,” as my Air was instantly, noticeably skin-oily and fingerprint-y, on the lid as well as in the palm rest area. It’s still more apparent than on my M1 Air’s space gray finish or the 13-inch M3 Air’s Starlight finish. Make an appropriate choice for your color finish.

M3 MacBook Air: Release date

On Monday, March 4, 2024 (no event planned), Apple released a press release announcing that the M3 processor is now available for the 13-inch or 15-inch MacBook Pro.

Preorders for the M3 MacBook Air variants are open now, and they will go on sale on Friday, March 8.

M3 MacBook Air: Price

Apple has expanded its lineup to include a 13-inch MacBook Air M3 model including 16GB of RAM. This implies that the top-of-the-line 13-inch model is now marginally more expensive, but the mid-range model is now significantly more affordable than it was because of a $100/£150 price reduction.

  • 13-inch, M3 chip (8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD): $1,099/£1,149
  • 13-inch, M3 chip (8-core CPU/10-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD): $1,299/£1,299 (was $1,399/£1,449)
  • 13-inch, M3 chip (8-core CPU/10-core GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD): $1,499/£1,499

Similar to this, Apple upgraded the top-of-the-line 15-inch MacBook Air model with 16GB of RAM. In this case, the price of both models drops by £100 in the UK but stays the same in the US.

  • 15-inch, M3 chip (8-core CPU/10-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD): $1,299/£1,299 (was $1,299/£1,399)
  • 15-inch, M3 chip (8-core CPU/10-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD): $1,499/£1,499 (was $1,499/£1,599)
  • 15-inch, M3 chip (8-core CPU/10-core GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB SSD): $1,699/£1,699

Apple will keep charging less for the 13-inch MacBook Air equipped with the M2 chip. The following are the costs and details of the standard configurations of the M2 13-inch MacBook Air:

  • 13-inch, M2 chip (8-core CPU/8-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD): $999/£999 (was $1,099/£1,149)
  • 13-inch, M2 chip (8-core CPU/10-core GPU, 8GB RAM, 512GB SSD): $1,199/£1,199 (was $1,399/£1,449)

Apple (except from the Refurbished Store U.S. and Refurbished Store U.K.) will no longer sell the M1 MacBook Air.

The M3 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air will be sold through the standard retail channels, including Amazon, Apple Store, and other well-known merchants.

M3 MacBook Air: Design and dimensions

The M3 MacBook Air is still available in the same four color options—midnight, starlight, space gray, and silver—and has the same exterior design. There are a few modifications, though.

According to Apple, the MacBook Air is “the first Apple product to be made with 50 percent recycled content, including 100 percent recycled rare earth elements in all magnets, 100 percent recycled aluminum in the enclosure, and, in another first for Apple, 100 percent recycled copper in the main logic board.”

It should come as no surprise that the design has remained the same since Apple completely redesigned the M2 MacBook Air, doing away with the tapered shape and replacing it with a style more akin to the 14-inch MacBook Pro.

The weight and measurements are identical to those of the preceding generation:

  • 15-inch MacBook Air: 13.40 x 9.35 x 0.45in (34.04 x 23.76 x 1.15cm), 3.3 pounds (1.51kg)
  • 13-inch MacBook Air: 11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44in (30.41 x 21.5 x 1.13cm), 2.7 pounds (1.24kg)

M3 MacBook Air: Display

The exhibit hasn’t evolved with the passing of time. Apple continues to employ a 13.6-inch Liquid Retina display for the 13-inch MacBook Air, which has P3 color support, True Tone, a maximum brightness of 500 nits, and a resolution of 2,560-by-1,664 pixels. The display of the 15-inch variant is still 2,880-by-1,864 pixels with 500 nits, P3, and True Tone.

The major modification, though, is to accommodate more monitors. Airs with a standard M1 or M2 processor—including the M3 MacBook Pro models that will be available in the fall of 2023—cannot natively connect more than one external monitor, as we detailed in our post about using multiple external monitors with an M-series Mac.

The good news is that Apple will upgrade the M3 MacBook Pro with a software update, and the M3 MacBook Air models will allow two external monitors with the laptop lid closed. One of the screens will turn off when the lid is opened.

The M3 MacBook Air maintains the 1080p FaceTime camera notch at the top of the display, which doesn’t affect the screen area below it’s 16:10 aspect ratio. Although we hope to see Face ID on MacBooks in the near future, it is unlikely to materialize.

M3 MacBook Air: Multi-Monitor Support

Another unique feature of the M3 MacBook Air that caused some attention upon its announcement is that it is the first Apple Silicon MacBook Air to enable two external monitors instead of just one.

The catch is that there are currently only two approved monitors, therefore the laptop’s lid must be closed. However, whether the internal display was closed or not, it always contributed to the total for the M1 and M2 Air, the M1 and M2 MacBook Pro, and (for the past four months, at least) the M3 MacBook Pro.

That is inferior to the ability to handle more external displays, which is currently limited to Apple’s Pro, Max, and Ultra CPUs. However, if you wish to connect your laptop to many external monitors at your desk, that extra piece of versatility will be just enough to make the M3 Air more practical.

The length of time it took Apple to provide this functionality is a little annoying. After a software update, the M3 MacBook Pro will be able to accomplish this, but since the hardware was already competent, why not support it right away?

Take a look at this much more confusing message from the Asahi Linux team’s Hector Martin. The Asahi Linux project is progressing to the point that it is beginning to enable functionality on Apple devices that Apple does not permit. Martin notes that Apple could potentially add the same two-monitors-with-the-lid-closed feature to the M2 Air with the right firmware. (The M1’s two display outputs are functionally linked to the built-in screen, thus its display output options are more constrained.)

Better late than never, the M3 Air’s support for more customizable display configurations is appreciated; if Apple won’t allow more displays on its base CPUs, at least you can choose which pair of screens to use. For owners of M2 Air and M2 MacBook Pro models, or for those who upgraded to a Pro/Max/Ultra chip particularly for improved support for external displays, it’s just too bad.

M3 MacBook Air: Performance

The M3 made its debut in the most recent 24-inch iMac and a $1,599 entry-level MacBook Pro around the end of 2023, so it is just a few months old at this point. Its effectiveness is not a secret. But like the M1 and M2 Airs before them, the M3 Airs use passive heatsinks without cooling fans. Thus, this is our first opportunity to witness the M3 functioning in a thermally more restricted setting where it must accelerate its speed reduction to prevent overheating.

Whether or whether they had active cooling fans, the M1 and M2 generally functioned the same way for light to medium-sized jobs, and the M3 follows suit.

A fully enabled M3 with eight CPU cores and ten GPU cores running some common benchmarks performs between 45 and 65 percent better in graphics performance, 35 to 40 percent faster in single-core CPU performance, and roughly 25 to 30 percent faster in multi-core CPU performance when compared to the M1. With about 20 percent greater single- and multi-core CPU and GPU performance—which was also about 20 percent quicker in the 3DMark test but between 5 and 8 percent faster in most other tests—the improvements over the M2 are still noticeable but more subdued.

Since most Air owners would notice these brief performance spurts most often in daily use, the M3’s ability to deliver them is by far the most crucial feature. Having said that, enhanced CPU and GPU designs as well as faster clock speeds account for the majority of the M3’s performance gains. In contrast, Apple’s M3 Max can take advantage of those factors in addition to having more CPU and GPU cores, which makes it simpler to record superior generation-over-generation increases.

In our Handbrake video encoding test, the M3 does throttle fairly quickly in the passively cooled Air design, reaching its maximum power of 20–22 W for only a few seconds. Over the course of the next minute and a half, it gradually drops to around 11–12 W, and after nine minutes of operation, it drops even further into the 9 W range. When the test was over, the M3 was using 9 W (the encode took about 13 minutes to finish, however there might be more swings for even longer workloads).

The stats, however, speak for themselves: an M3 with passive cooling throttles faster than an M1 or M2, and it performs admirably in comparison to contemporary laptops with active cooling that contain CPUs from AMD and Intel. However, in comparison to the identical chip in the $1,599 MacBook Pro, you’re likely losing out on some of the M3’s performance if you frequently put demand on the CPU and GPU.

Whichever size you choose, the M3 MacBook Air comes highly recommended. In case you’re planning to replace your earlier MacBook Air, the M2 or M3 models will offer a noteworthy enhancement. Since Apple has discontinued the 15-inch M2 Air, the 13-inch M2 MacBook Air is now the entry-level model, priced at $999. As a result, you may likely find some excellent offers on that model right now. But, the M3 is a superior option and you should acquire at least 16GB of memory if you intend to use your MacBook Air for STEM, design, rendering video, or raw photo editing.

Geekbench 6 (multicore)

Device NameScore
Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024)12128
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024)12063
Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023)12049
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024)12034
Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch, 2023)9859
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 13-inch, 2020)8710
Apple MacBook Pro (Intel, 16-inch, 2019)5342
NOTE: Longer bars indicate better performance

JetStream2 (JavaScript and WebAssembly benchmark) in Chrome

Device NameScore
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024)345.887
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024)344.316
Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023)336.076
Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024)291.115
Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch, 2023)264.984
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 13-inch, 2020)248.222
Apple MacBook Pro (Intel, 16-inch, 2019)173.313
NOTE: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench 2024 CPU (multicore)

Device NameScore
Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023)710
Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024)628
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024)591
Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch, 2023)552
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024)541
Apple MacBook Air (M1, 13-inch, 2020)449
Apple MacBook Pro (Intel, 16-inch, 2019)384
NOTE: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark WIld Life Extreme Unlimited

Device NameScore
Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023)8288
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024)8253
Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024)8252
Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch 2023)6876
Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024)4851
Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, M1, 2020)4530
NOTE: Longer bars indicate better performance

M3 MacBook Air: Camera and mic

Since the release of the M2 model, the 1080p FaceTime HD camera has remained same, however the microphone has been enhanced.

Apple claims that the M3 MacBook Air has speech Isolation, Wide Spectrum microphone settings, and improved speech clarity for both audio and video chats.

M3 MacBook Air: Battery and charging

While the 15-inch model delivers the same 66.5-watt-hour battery as the previous generation, the M3 13-inch MacBook Air uses the same 52.6-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery as the M2 model. Not surprisingly, Apple claims that battery life hasn’t altered and is still up to 15 hours for wifi web browsing and up to 18 hours for watching movies.

With one of the 70W USB-C Power Adapters on our list of the best MacBook Air chargers, or another, the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air allow fast charging as well.

M3 MacBook Air: Power Use

Note that we are tracking CPU power utilization in Apple laptops using the built-in macOS powermetrics command-line tool. It is possible to assess energy use slightly differently across different chip generations. We utilize HWInfo for Windows laptops, although the same disclaimer applies when comparing processors from other manufacturers.

Despite this possible imprecision, the M3’s power consumption results in our Handbrake encoding test compare favorably to those of the M1 and M2 in MacBook Airs from the previous generation. The M3 chip is significantly more efficient than the M1 chip due to its CPU, which consumes roughly the same amount of power but completes demanding tasks much faster. The M2 Air’s somewhat increased power consumption countered its performance gain, making it somewhat less efficient.

We’ve only used both of these laptops’ batteries for 48 hours altogether, which is hardly enough time to thoroughly test their performance. However, it took around two hours of constant mixed browsing and productivity use on the 15-inch Air for the battery to decline from 93 percent to 83 percent.

Similar to what it said about the M1 and M2 MacBook Airs, Apple claims that the 13-inch Air will last 15 hours when browsing the Internet or 18 hours when playing video. Similar to past Apple Silicon MacBook Airs, the majority of users should be able to go at least a day or two without thinking about charging, and that’s before you choose to Low Power Mode, which limits how much power the M3 can use.

Ain’t broke, don’t fix

The M1 Air launched the Apple Silicon era, while the M2 Air saw a significant redesign. The M3 MacBook Air is the laptop’s first “boring” update in a number of years. The 13- and 15-inch versions of the Air are added to the M3 version’s update schedule, but other than that, it’s not a big deal.

However, since it’s a decent boat that doesn’t require rocking, that’s okay. The M3 is a good performer even without active cooling; it easily outperforms the M1 and M2 models that use passive cooling while consuming somewhat less power. Under high load, the chip does throttle somewhat quickly, but not unnecessarily; this is to be expected in a passively cooled design. Although it’s convenient to know that the Air may be used for heavy-duty tasks when needed, it’s not meant for such demands.

The M3 model is the greatest one yet for anyone with an outdated 12-inch MacBook or Intel MacBook Air, and you’ll notice an instant improvement in performance and battery life. It’s simpler to defend upgrading to the M3 than it was to the M2, especially if your M1 Air is getting a little worn out.

Additionally, improved multi-monitor functionality makes docking your laptop at your desk more enjoyable, even if the overall number of screens stays the same and there’s no obvious technical reason why the M2 couldn’t accomplish the same task.

Apple’s base 8GB/256GB combinations are still somewhat limited, and it costs far more to upgrade one or both of those features. Unless you’re a light user of email and social media, you should get used to paying an extra $200–$400 for the base price of any Air device. It’s unlikely that Apple will change its approach in this area very soon.

Overall though, this is a really good update. even though it should come as no surprise.

The Positive

  • Excellent performance in a fanless, silent package
  • Good displays, yet not the best available
  • excellent trackpad and keyboard
  • incredibly power-efficient and long-lasting battery
  • Compared to older, pre-M2 Air designs, one extra port
  • Unlike the M1 or M2 Airs, it supports two external displays while the lid is closed.

The Negative

  • Still not as many ports as the MacBook Pro or many other laptops from PC
  • Even after midnight, the display still has a fingerprint-like appearance.
  • Nine months have passed since the release of the 15-inch M2 Air; ideally, the M3 Air has everything you desire.

The Nasty

  • As usual, Apple’s base specifications and costs for RAM and storage upgrades are far from satisfactory.