M3 MacBook Air IS HERE – One config stands above the rest!

Apple has released the M3 MacBook Air in 13- and 15-inch sizes without an official event. Despite it being mainly a chip upgrade, there are several changes you should be aware of. We’ll go over the differences between the M3, M2, and M1 MacBook Airs so you can decide whether an upgrade is worth it, and I’ll explain why one configuration in particular is the one I would recommend.


The M3 MacBook Air is only an internal spec upgrade compared to the M2 Air (except Midnight color has “a breakthrough anodization seal to reduce fingerprints”), which introduced a body redesign from the M1 Air. When the M2 Air launched, Apple kept the M1 Air around and priced the M2 Air $200 higher, eventually lowering the 13-inch M2 Air to be just $100 higher when they introduced the 15-inch M2 Air.


Thankfully, Apple did NOT increase the price of the M3 MacBook Air like I predicted they might, although they DID stop selling the 15-inch Air with the M2 chip as I expected, likely to keep the 15-inch starting price higher.

That means the M3 Air starts at the same prices the M2 did previously — $1100 for the 13-inch and $1300 for the 15-inch. And the M2 Air now replaces the M1 Air at the $1000 price point.


For upgrade options, the chip on the 13-inch models still starts with 8 CPU and 8 GPU cores. Surprisingly, Apple has actually lowered the price of the 2 GPU core upgrade. I mean, it’s still $100 if you get it separately, but if you upgrade the memory or the storage, they actually throw it in for free now, on both the M3 and M2 Airs. The $20 power adapter upgrade is still only bundled in for 512GB of storage or higher and not memory upgrades, though.

The 15-inch starts with the 10-core GPU chip, so the $200 price difference is partially due to that $100 upgrade, including the $20 power adapter upgrade as well, and of course the larger body, display, and battery (but with the same estimated battery life).

So even though memory can still be upgraded to 16 or 24 GB at the cost of $200 per 8 GB, and storage can still be upgraded to 512 GB, 1 TB, or 2 TB at the insane price of $800 per TB for the first upgrade step, the fact that you also get the extra 2 GPU cores makes that initial upgrade cost more bearable, at least on the 13-inch model.

Performance and Chip

So what’s the actual performance difference between the 3 chips? Benchmarks show the M3 is about 17% faster than the M2 in single-core CPU, 21% faster in multi-core, and about 15% faster in GPU performance, not too different from Apple’s claimed numbers of 20% faster. Compared to the M1, the M3 is 35% faster in CPU and 60% faster in GPU.

Besides the raw speed differences, the M3 has a new GPU architecture that supports features like dynamic caching, and hardware accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading.

Neural engine performance has also increased with every generation, with the M3 being 15% faster than the M2 and 60% faster than the M1.

The M3 chip also adds AV1 decoding over the M2. AV1 is the newer format for high quality video streaming that is becoming more prevalent. Versus the M1, it also has the hardware accelerated ProRes encode and decode engine.

Display Support

On the display side, the M1’s old body design means the screen size on the M3 and M2 Air is 0.3” larger, and also 25% brighter. But the biggest difference here is in the M3’s external display support.

For the first time, the M3 MacBook Air can support 2 external displays, however only when the lid is closed so the built-in display isn’t active. On the M2 and M1 Airs, you can only hook up one external display. A single external display is limited to 6K resolution at 60Hz, while using a second display on the M3 is limited to 5K resolution.

Camera and Audio

The M3 and M2 Airs both have 1080p webcams, while the M1 Air’s is only 720p.

For audio, the M3 and M2 Airs have 4 speakers with spatial audio support, while the M1 Air has only 2. High-impedance headphones are also supported on the M3 and M2, but not on the M1.

The M3 Air’s unique audio features are voice isolation and wide spectrum mic modes, along with enhanced voice clarity in calls. Strangely, the mic modes have been in Macs for several years now, and even Apple’s support page says Macs from 2018 onwards should support it, so it’s unknown why Apple claims the M3 Air has this but the M2 Air does not. Maybe there’s some improvements here like being able to use it in any app instead of just supported apps like FaceTime, but that’ll have to be tested.

Wi-Fi and Bluetooth

Wireless connectivity is enhanced with each generation, with the latest M3 Air having Wi-Fi 6E, better than the M2 and M1 Airs’ Wi-Fi 6. For Bluetooth, the M3 and M2 Air are the same Bluetooth 5.3, while the M1 Air only has Bluetooth 5.

Value Comparison

So that’s all the significant differences. Now let’s summarize the value and see which model is best.

First, Apple is selling the M3 MacBook Air for $100 more than the M2 Air now. Paying $100 more for the M3 Air gets you:

  • More fingerprint resistant Midnight finish
  • 15-20% more CPU, GPU and neural engine performance
  • GPU tech like dynamic caching and hardware accelerated ray-tracing and mesh shading
  • AV1 decoding acceleration
  • Ability to use 2 external monitors if the lid is closed
  • Official support for voice isolation and wide spectrum mic modes, along with enhanced voice clarity in calls
  • And Wi-Fi 6E vs Wi-Fi 6

In my opinion, this $100 is worth it if you want the extra performance or want to use 2 monitors with the lid closed. But keep in mind that the M2 Air will probably have more sales now so the price difference could be greater, in which case it may not be worth it to get the M3 Air.

The M1 Air is no longer sold new by Apple, but you can get it refurbished or from other places, such as this $750 offer from Best Buy. Your price may vary, but the differences if you get the M3 Air over the M1 are:

  • New, sleeker body design with different color options
  • 0.3 inches larger and 25% brighter display
  • 35-60% faster CPU, GPU, and neural engine performance
  • GPU tech like dynamic caching and hardware accelerated ray-tracing and mesh shading
  • ProRes media engine and AV1 decoding acceleration
  • Ability to use 2 external monitors if the lid is closed
  • More and better speakers and audio tech
  • and Wi-Fi 6E and Bluetooth 5.3

This depends on what price you can find the M1 Air at, but if you aren’t on an extreme budget, I think the M3 Air’s newer design and faster internals is the way I would lean. But if you already have an M1 Air and it’s working well for you, then it’s not worth upgrading.

Speaking of upgrades, for anyone who is a bit of a power user or wants to ensure a smoother experience, I would recommend paying $200 more for the 16GB memory upgrade in the 13-inch M3 Air, especially now that it also comes with the 2-core GPU upgrade bundled in. And although the 10-core GPU is included on the base model of the 15-inch Air, which means the 16GB memory upgrade is full price there, the total cost is still $200 more than the 13-inch.

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