Apple introduces two new thin and light laptops with 13.3 inch Retina Display, Apple M1 processors, and support for up to 16GB of RAM and up to 2TB of storage this week.

Wait… are you sure that the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro aren’t the same laptop?

They’re pretty similar in a lot of ways. But there are a few key differences. The biggest is that the MacBook Air is fanless, which means you get silent performance, while the new MacBook Pro has a fan for active cooling, which means you can expect better sustained performance.

But is it worth spending $300 or more to get the model with the fan? It turns out that’s not all you get.

Left: MacBook Air (M1) / Right: MacBook Pro (M1)

Here’s a run-down of specs for Apple’s first two laptops with Apple silicon under the hood:

MacBook Air (M1)MacBook Pro (M1)
Display13.3 inch
2560 x 1600
400 nits brightness
Wide color (P3)
True Tone
13.3 inch
2560 x 1600
500 nits brightness
Wide Color (P3)
True Tone
CPU8-Core Apple M1
4 x performance cores
4 x efficiency cores
8-Core Apple M1
4 x performance cores
4 x efficiency cores
GPU7-core GPU (base config)
8-core GPU (higher-priced configs)
8-core GPU (standard)
RAM8GB / 16GB8GB / 16GB
Storage256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB SSD
Ports2 x USB 4
1 x 3.5mm audio
2 x USB 4
1 x 3.5mm audio
AudioStereo speakers
3-mic array
3.5mm audio jack
Stereo speakers w/ high dynamic range
3-mic array
3.5mm audio jack
Keyboard78 key US or 79 key (ISO)
12 function keys
Touch ID sensor
65 keys (US) or 66 keys (ISO)
Touch Bar
Touch ID sensor
WirelessWiFi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
WiFi 6
Bluetooth 5.0
Camera720p FaceTime HD camera720p FaceTime HD camera
Battery & charging49.9Wh battery
Up to 15 hours web browsing
Up to 18 hours video playback
30W USB-C power adapter
58.2Wh battery
Up to 17 hours web browsing
Up to 20 hours video playback
61W USB-C power adapter
Dimensions11.97″ x 8.36″ x 0.63″
(304.1mm x 212.4mm x 16.1mm)
11.97″ x 8.36″ x 0.61″
(304.1mm x 212.4mm x 15.6mm)
Weight2.8 pounds (1.29kg)3 pounds (1.4kg)
Starting Price$999$1299

Overall, it seems like the two notebooks are a close match in most respects. Casual users probably won’t notice much difference between the two. But folks who spend a little extra on the Pro model should get longer battery life, a brighter screen, and a boost in CPU and graphics performance.

If you’re thinking you can sacrificed a little integrated graphics performance because you can always connect an external GPU, then think again – it turns out that while the notebooks’ USB 4 ports support the Thunderbolt 3 standard, the Apple M1 processor doesn’t support eGPUs. So an external graphics dock won’t be much use.

It’s also interesting to note that only the Pro model has Apple’s Touch Bar above the keyboard, which may be a pro or a con, depending on whether you’d prefer physical Fn keys or a strip of touchscreen.

Apple’s new MacBook Pro is also a tiny bit thinner than the MacBook Air at its thickest point, but the notebook does weigh a little more.

Both new laptops are available for purchase now, and they should begin shipping November 17, 2020.

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9 replies on “What’s the difference between the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro with M1 chips?”

  1. Gonna wait for the benchmarks and reviews but so far I’m not a big fan of these. I think they gonna be a colossal pain in the arse in corporate networks to deal with. In fact I’m thinking about telling my users that while the bring-your-own-device policy is not changing, we won’t support any of the in-house management environments on these machines for the foreseeable future. It used to be we’d just give a paralells desktop licence to mac users and they can run the same apps as everybody else. Now it seems cheaper to give out a 3 years old Thinkpad with the software preloaded rather than develop new a one. Parallels is working on compatibility, we’ll see when and how good that’ll be.

  2. Wait…. the new Pro is THINNER than the Air?? Wow that’s interesting.

  3. It’s amazing how similar these two machines are. I would have expected a much larger weight difference with the Pro’s chunkier body, but I’m guessing that’s pretty much just the larger battery in the Pro adding the extra 0.2 lbs.

  4. Pay extra to take away my function keys? No thank you!

    Actually, I’m sure these new machines (and Apple hardware in general) will be great for some people. I’m just not one of them.

    Also, does anyone else remember the Apple keynotes talking about the fact that they used PowerPC chips because they were WAY better than anything Intel had? Then they switched to Intel because they were WAY better than anything PowerPC had? And now they’re switching to ARM because it’s WAY better than anything Intel has. Again. I’m sure all of those decisions were the right ones at the time, u just wish the Apple marketing machine didn’t assert quite so adamantly that whatever Apple is doing right now is the only right decision that has ever been made or could ever be made by anyone.

    1. But doesn’t the Touch Bar on the Pro more than make up for the missing function keys? Doesn’t the Touch Bar bring MORE function because it can be configured by the user?

  5. eGPU’s on Apple have always sucked anyway. They only support Radeon unless you jump through a ton of hoops and even then it can be finicky.

  6. They also do not support multiple external monitors (M1 only supports two display channels; in the case of the MacBooks, one of those channels is consumed by the internal display). Meanwhile, virtualization is… complicated. The first step for getting virtualization to work with Linux and instantiating Apple hardware is not going to be without sparks and friction since the Linux maintainers LOATHE closed-source drivers.

  7. You know what else costs $999?
    The system76 Galago Pro. Just something to think about.

Comments are closed.