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M3 MacBook Air vs. M2 MacBook Air: Which Apple laptop should you buy?

Apple's newest MacBook Air is here, and ZDNET has reviewed both the 13- and 15-inch sizes. Here's how they fare against the M2 models.
Written by Artie Beaty, Contributing Writer
Apple MacBook Air M3
Kerry Wan/ZDNET

It was late last year when the MacBook Pro got the M3 chip upgrade, and now it's the MacBook Air's turn. Apple has announced a version of the MacBook Air with its M3 chip, which it claims is up to 60 percent faster than the M1 chip version.

You may be wondering if it's time to upgrade, and the answer here isn't as clear as it may usually be. 

Also: M3 MacBook Air review: Apple's AI computer for the masses has arrived

In many cases with Apple, if you own the previous generation, it's often not worth an upgrade, but it is if you're skipping a generation or entering the ecosystem for the first time. With the MacBook Air M3 though, there are a few major additions that might warrant a leap from the M2. And if you have an M1 or older, you have even more reasons to upgrade.

Want a little help deciding? Here's a breakdown of the biggest differences between the M3 MacBook Air and the M2 MacBook Air, plus a few key reasons to buy each one.


MacBook Air M3

MacBook Air M2

Display size13-inch and 15-inch13-inch and 15-inch




CPU and GPU8-core CPU and 10-core GPU
8-core CPU and 8-core GPU

Unified memory

Up to 24GB 

Up to 24GB   

Storage256GB SSD configurable to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB  
256GB SSD configurable to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB


Two Thunderbolt / USB 4  

Two Thunderbolt / USB 4

BatteryUp to 18 hours  
Up to 18 hours   
Camera1080p FaceTime HD camera  
1080p FaceTime HD camera  
PriceStarting at $1,099 Starting at $999

You should buy the M3 MacBook Air if...

Apple MacBook Air M3
Jason Hiner/ZDNET

1. You want the fastest Wi-Fi support available

If you find yourself doing a lot of downloading for work or you're a gamer, the MacBook Air with M3 features the new Wi-Fi 6e standard that provides much faster download speeds and much lower latency -- provided you're accessing a Wi-Fi 6e router, of course. While you might not notice much of a difference for everyday tasks, if you do Wi-Fi-intensive tasks where latency can make or break, you'll quickly appreciate the upgrade. 

2. You use more than one monitor

One of the biggest advantages of the M3, aside from the purely technical upgrades, is dual monitor support. While there are workarounds to use two monitors on the M2, they have some drawbacks and don't increase the actual number of display outputs supported by the hardware. 

Also: I went hands-on with Apple's M3 MacBook Air and 3 features stood out the most

The M3 MacBook Air will have full connectivity for two external monitors, so if you frequently work with more than one monitor, it's certainly worth upgrading. There is a small catch in that you can only use two external monitors while the laptop lid is closed. So you don't get your laptop's display and two monitors; you just get the monitors.

3. You want the absolute best performance

The biggest difference between the M2 and M3 models is in the chip that runs the laptops. And if you want the very best performance, especially for AI applications (both on the cloud and on-device), look to the M3. There are several versions of the M3 chip, and while the Air laptops only come with the base version, it's a very large upgrade over the M1 or an older Intel-powered Air. 

If you do intensive work like video editing or graphic design and find your older machine bogging down often, you'll likely notice the difference in rendering and boot-up speed immediately. The increase over the M2 isn't as significant, but if you're someone who wants or needs the very best laptop available for the money, it's enough to consider.  

You should buy the M2 MacBook Air if...

MacBook Air M2
Cliff Joseph/ZDNET

1. The $100 price difference means a lot

You don't get too many chances to save money on Apple products, but you have one here by opting for the M2 version of the MacBook Air. With the release of the M3 version. Apple has dropped the M2 MacBook Air's starting price to $999, but that price will almost certainly drop later in the year, opening the door for bigger savings. Even though the M2 is slightly older, it's still a perfectly capable laptop that will work fine for most people.   

2. You don't need the latest and greatest features

Will you be mainly using your laptop for web surfing, streaming, listening to music, or working a remote job? If so, then you probably don't need the power -- and price tag -- of the M3 MacBook Air. For most users, the M2 is a more than reliable machine. It was ZDNET's 2022 product of the year!

Also: MacBook Air M2 review: One of the most impressive laptops ever made

3. You're expecting the M3 to be a bigger upgrade

If you were expecting a radical redesign with the latest MacBook, you won't get it from the M3 Air. It looks nearly identical to the M2, and aside from the anodization seal on the midnight color that reduces fingerprints, even the colors aren't anything new. The real changes are on the inside, so if you want something that simply looks like it's the latest thing, you won't get any benefit from picking the M3 over the M2. 

Alternatives to consider

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