MacBook Air vs. MacBook Pro Buyer's Guide: 30+ Differences Compared

Apple recently updated the MacBook Air by adding the M3 chip, so how do the new machines compare to its latest MacBook Pro models?

M2 MBA vs M2 MacBook Pro Buyers Guide Feature
Despite now being similar in appearance, the ‌MacBook Air‌ and the MacBook Pro are very different devices, so should you consider purchasing the 13- or 15-inch ‌MacBook Air‌, which start at $999, to save money, or do you need one of the higher-end 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro models, which cost at least $600 more? Our guide helps to answer the question of how to decide which of these two popular Apple silicon machines is best for you.

‌MacBook Air‌ MacBook Pro
M2: 13.6-inch display
M3: 13.6- or 15.3-inch display
14.2- or 16.2-inch display
LCD Liquid Retina display Mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR display
60hz refresh rate ProMotion for refresh rates up to 120Hz
500 nits brightness Up to 1,000 nits sustained (full-screen) brightness and 1,600 nits peak brightness
Apple M2 or M3 chip Apple M3, M3 Pro, or M3 Max chip
M2: Enhanced 5nm node (N5P) based on A15 Bionic chip from iPhone 13 (2021)
M3: 3nm node (N3B) based on A17 Pro chip from iPhone 15 Pro (2023)
‌3nm‌ node (N3B) based on A17 Pro chip from ‌iPhone 15 Pro‌ (2023)
M2: 3.49 GHz CPU clock speed
M3: 4.05 GHz CPU clock speed
4.05 GHz CPU clock speed
8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores M3: 8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores
M3 Pro: Up to 12-core CPU with 6 performance cores and 6 efficiency cores
M3 Max: Up to 16-core CPU with 12 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores
Up to 10-core GPU M3: 10-core GPU
M3 Pro: Up to 18-core GPU
M3 Max: Up to 40-core GPU
100GB/s memory bandwidth M3: 100GB/s memory bandwidth
M3 Pro: 150GB/s memory bandwidth
M3 Max: 300GB/s or 400GB/s memory bandwidth
8GB, 16GB, or 24GB unified memory M3: 8GB, 16GB, or 24GB unified memory
M3 Pro: 18GB or 36GB unified memory
M3 Max: 36GB, 48GB, 64GB, 96GB, 128GB unified memory
M3 models only:
New GPU architecture
Dynamic Caching
Hardware-accelerated ray tracing
Hardware-accelerated mesh shading
Support for AV1 decode
New GPU architecture
Dynamic Caching
Hardware-accelerated ray tracing
Hardware-accelerated mesh shading
Support for AV1 decode
M2: Neural Engine
M3: 15% faster Neural Engine
15% faster Neural Engine
256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB of storage M3: 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB storage
M3 Pro or M3 Max: 512GB, 1TB, 2TB, 4TB, or 8TB storage
Passive cooling Active cooling
M2: Wi-Fi 6
M3: Wi-Fi 6E
Wi-Fi 6E
Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports M3: Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 (USB-C) ports
M3 Pro or M3 Max: Three Thunderbolt 4 (USB-C) ports
HDMI 2.1 port with support for multichannel audio output
SDXC card slot
13-Inch: Four-speaker sound system
15-Inch: Six-speaker sound system with force-canceling woofers
High-fidelity six-speaker sound system with force-cancelling woofers
Three-mic array with directional beamforming Studio-quality three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming
M2: Support for one external display
M3: Support for up to two external displays when the lid is closed
M3: Support for up to two external displays when the lid is closed
M3 Pro: Support for up to two external displays
M3 Max: Support for up to four external displays
13-Inch: 52.6-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
15-Inch: 66.5-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
M3 14-Inch: 70-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
M3 Pro or M3 Max 14-Inch: 72.4-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
16-Inch: 100-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
18-hour battery life M3 14-Inch: 22-hour battery life
M3 Pro or M3 Max 14-Inch: 18-hour battery life
16-Inch: 22-hour battery life
30W, 35W, or 67W USB-C Power Adapter 67W, 96W, or 140W USB-C Power Adapter
Silver, Space Gray, Starlight, or Midnight color options M3: Silver or Space Gray color options
M3 Pro or M3 Max: Silver or Space Black color options
M2 13-Inch: Starts at $999
M3 13-Inch: Starts at $1,099
M3 15-Inch: Starts at $1,299
M3 14-Inch: Starts at $1,599
M3 Pro 14-Inch: Starts at $1,999
M3 Pro 16-Inch: Starts at $2,499

Design

Both the ‌MacBook Air‌ and MacBook Pro share the same basic design with a flat top and rounded edges on the bottom, but they do have several minor details that differ. For example, while both MacBooks have displays with a "notch" at the top to facilitate the built-in webcam, the MacBook Pro's bezels are noticeably slimmer. The keyboard area of the high-end MacBook Pro is also all-black.

macbook air design
The ‌MacBook Air‌ and M3 version of the MacBook Pro are available in Silver and Space Gray, but the ‌MacBook Air‌ is also offered in Starlight and Midnight color options, so if you are looking for a particular aesthetic with one of these finishes, you will need to get the ‌MacBook Air‌. Space Black is exclusive to the MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips.

‌MacBook Air‌ (13-Inch) ‌MacBook Air‌ (15-Inch) MacBook Pro (14-Inch) MacBook Pro (16-Inch)
Height 0.44 inches (1.13 cm) 0.45 inch (1.15 cm) 0.61 inches (1.55 cm) 0.66 inch (1.68 cm)
Width 11.97 inches (30.41 cm) 13.40 inches (34.04 cm) 12.31 inches (31.26 cm) 14.01 inches (35.57 cm)
Depth 8.46 inches (21.5 cm) 9.35 inches (23.76 cm) 8.71 inches (22.12 cm) 9.77 inches (24.81 cm)
Weight 2.7 pounds (1.24 kg) 3.3 pounds (1.51 kg) 3.5 pounds (1.61 kg) 4.8 pounds (2.15 kg)

Dimensions are also a key area of difference between the ‌MacBook Air‌ and MacBook Pro. The 16-inch MacBook Pro is considerably larger and heavier than the 15-inch ‌MacBook Air‌, but it is important to not understate the difference between the 14-inch MacBook Pro and the 13-inch ‌MacBook Air‌. While the 14-inch MacBook Pro offers a larger display than the ‌MacBook Air‌, its marginally larger footprint, added thickness, and an additional 0.8 pounds of weight do make for a noticeably less portable machine if you prefer to travel light.

Even so, the 14-inch MacBook Pro offers a very good balance of portability and performance, so if you need its added capabilities, its size and weight should not hold you back. The 15-inch ‌MacBook Air‌ also provides a good balance of portability and display area, but users wary of its size should opt for the 13-inch model.

Ports and Connectivity

The selection of ports is an area of major difference between the two machines. The ‌MacBook Air‌ features just two Thunderbolt ports, while the M3 version of the MacBook Pro adds an HDMI 2.1 port and SDXC card slot. When configured with the M3 Pro or M3 Max, the MacBook Pro has a total of three Thunderbolt 4 ports, in addition to its HDMI 2.1 port and SDXC card slot. Both machines feature a 3.5mm headphone jack with support for high-impedance headphones.

2021 macbook pro ports
All in all, the MacBook Pro is much more versatile in terms of physical connectivity, offering useful features for professionals who use SDXC cards from digital cameras or even simply more USB peripherals.

Display Size

The smaller ‌MacBook Air‌'s display is 13.6 inches in size, which is a little smaller than the 14.2-inch MacBook Pro, and markedly smaller than the 16.2-inch MacBook Pro. 13.6 inches is still bigger than the largest iPad Pro model, which comes in at 12.9 inches, and even all of the previous ‌MacBook Air‌ and smaller MacBook Pro models, meaning that it should be adequate for most users. The 14.2-inch MacBook Pro simply offers a little bit more screen real estate to those who need high-end capabilities.

The 15.3-inch ‌MacBook Air‌ and 16.2-inch MacBook Pro's displays will be better replacements for a desktop machine and provide much more screen space to arrange multiple windows and use professional applications that benefit from additional display area.

Display Technology

The display technologies of both machines are significantly different. Like most MacBooks in recent years, the ‌MacBook Air‌ has an LCD panel, but owing to its slim bezels and rounded corners, Apple calls it a Liquid Retina display. The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models feature Apple's more advanced mini-LED Liquid Retina XDR technology for deeper blacks, better dynamic range, and improved color accuracy.

macbook pro display
The XDR display can get much brighter, reaching as high as 1,600 nits of brightness at its peak when showing HDR content. The 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro models also have ProMotion displays, allowing them to vary their refresh rate up to 120Hz. The ‌MacBook Air‌ does not have a display with a variable refresh rate.

It will be worth getting the high-end MacBook Pro models for viewing and editing HDR content, as well as watching high-framerate video such as sports. The display of the ‌MacBook Air‌ is sufficient for most users and some may not even notice a drastic difference. The MacBook Pro's deeper blacks and smoother on-screen motion simply offer a slightly better experience.

Chips

The ‌MacBook Air‌ contains the ‌M2‌ or M3 chip, while MacBook Pro customers can choose between the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max chips. The M3 Pro and M3 Max are scaled-up versions of the M3 chip that offer additional CPU and GPU cores. See the ‌M2‌, M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max's Geekbench 5 Benchmark scores below:

‌M2‌ M3 M3 Pro M3 Max
Single-Core 2,570–2,630 3,010 3,120 3,120
Multi-Core 9,630–9,650 11,763 14,010–14,410 19,160–21,215
Metal (Graphics) 41,300–45,550 47,430 68,330–77,070 124,060–157,120

The M3 Pro and M3 Max provide CPUs with up to eight additional cores and GPUs with up to 30 additional cores. The entry-level ‌MacBook Air‌'s ‌M2‌ chip is only slightly less powerful than the M3, M3 Pro, and M3 Max in single-core tasks, but the M3 chips, and particularly the Pro and Max versions, are considerably better in multi-core and graphics tasks.

Apple M3 chip series architecture
With significantly more transistors, performance CPU cores, and GPU cores, the M3 Pro and M3 Max are powerful chips designed for professionals with demanding workflows. The ‌M2‌ and M3, on the other hand, are more consumer-oriented chips focused on delivering surprisingly impressive performance and excellent efficiency to keep temperatures down and prolong battery life.

It is also worth noting that the ‌MacBook Air‌ is passively cooled and contains no fan, which can slightly constrain peak performance compared to the MacBook Pro, since the high-end machines have large fans to actively cool the system and push the chips harder.

The ‌M2‌ ‌MacBook Air‌ only supports a single external display. The limitations of the M3 also mean that ‌MacBook Air‌ and MacBook Pro devices configured with this chip support up to two external displays when the lid is closed, whereas M3 Pro and M3 Max machines support up to two and four external displays, respectively.

Memory and Storage

The ‌MacBook Air‌ can be configured with up to 24GB of unified memory and up to 2TB of storage, which should be more than enough for the vast majority of users. For those who need even more memory and storage, the MacBook Pro can be configured with significantly more memory and storage than the top-spec ‌MacBook Air‌.

The M3 Pro and M3 Max chips in the MacBook Pro also provide up to 150GB/s and 400GB/s memory bandwidth respectively – an enormous increase over the 100GB/s memory bandwidth with the ‌M2‌ and M3 models.

Speakers and Microphones

The 13-inch ‌MacBook Air‌ has a four-speaker sound system that is surprisingly full and balanced for such a small, slim device. The 15-inch ‌MacBook Air‌ and all of the MacBook Pro models take things to the next level with a six-speaker sound system with force-cancelling woofers for dramatically bigger and deeper audio. Apple also describes the MacBook Pro's speaker system as "high-fidelity," which may be invaluable to users who work in professional audio production or simply listen to a lot of music out-loud.

macbook pro speakers
The ‌MacBook Air‌ has a three-mic array with directional beamforming that is perfect for activities like video calls and voice notes. The MacBook Pro has what Apple calls a "studio-quality" three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming. While they are not as good as a dedicated microphone, the MacBook Pro's microphones are impressive and, at a push, are suitable for production purposes like podcasting.

Battery Life

The ‌MacBook Air‌ has an 18-hour battery life, offering the same battery life as the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro or M3 Max chips, and four hours less than the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 chip and the 16-inch MacBook Pro.

Final Thoughts

Overall, the ‌MacBook Air‌ is the best option for casual users, offering an excellent balance of features and performance in a highly portable design. The ‌MacBook Air‌'s $999 starting price is much more affordable compared to the MacBook Pro, and with an education discount or an offer from our Apple Deals Roundup, it is possible to get that price down by at least $100. The additional $600 to get the MacBook Pro likely is not worth it for most ordinary users, and on the contrary, many will prefer the slimmer, lighter design of the ‌MacBook Air‌ and perhaps even its additional color options.

macbook pro sizes space gray
Professionals who require larger and more accurate displays, additional ports, more memory and storage, and a very high level of performance should look to the 14- and 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 Pro and M3 Max chips, and the higher price points of these machines reflects this. The high-end MacBook Pro models are not targeted at everyday consumers, being clearly tailored to creatives and professionals who rely heavily on the capabilities of their machines. As such, these high-end models should only be a go-to option if you are a power-user or professional who can make use of its advanced features. The 16-inch MacBook Pro, in particular, is also potentially a good desktop replacement machine due to its large display.

Alternatively, if you are considering the $1,299 15-inch ‌MacBook Air‌, it may be worth paying more to get the M3 MacBook Pro. For just $200 more, the M3 MacBook Pro offers a considerably better Liquid Retina XDR display with ProMotion, a more powerful chip with active cooling, four extra hours of battery life, better speakers and microphones, an HDMI port and SDXC card slot, and more. In fact, if you configure the 15-inch ‌MacBook Air‌ with 512GB of storage to match the M3 MacBook Pro, there is only a $100 between the two machines, so in this instance it is almost always worth getting the more powerful machine, unless maximizing screen size is your only priority.

Related Forums: MacBook Air, MacBook Pro

Top Rated Comments

riverfreak Avatar
16 months ago
These comparison articles are great, but the side-by-side bullet points never line up making it difficult to quickly scan each item.

For MacRumors editors, this is what I’m talking about with the bullet points.

Surely this deserves a table or some other evenly distributed CSS presentation?




At any rate, what about the keyboards? Are they the same between the air and the Pros?

Attachment Image
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Dydegu Avatar
11 months ago
The comments from January and February are confusing.

You guys should have just created an entirely new post.
Score: 22 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Cam Elppa Avatar
16 months ago

Do you think that this technology will be available on future MacBook Air’s at some point? I love the MacBook Pro’s but getting these amazing ProMotion MiniLED displays would be the only reason for me to buy one - I am not a power user (anymore).
Totally agree. Use to need a MacBook Pro to edit videos now and then and to export things like movies or photo shop. I have a MacBook Air M2 and OMG it flys!!! It is equivalent to a MacBook Pro of yesteryear and then some. Not till you use one do you realise how capable it is and don’t really need anything more powerful.
Score: 18 Votes (Like | Disagree)
3Gmatt Avatar
16 months ago
It’s a great shame the Air can’t drive two monitors.
Score: 16 Votes (Like | Disagree)
Leon Ze Professional Avatar
16 months ago
With regard to the analysis between the two laptops that Hartley described in this article. I can't help, but think, that things will be more interesting when Apple releases the 15 inch Macbook Air.
Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)
TheYayAreaLiving ?️ Avatar
16 months ago
I desperately want Apple to release a 15" - 16" MacBook Air. In addition, I also miss the old wedge design. There's something about it. The new MBA starts to look like MBP''s.

Score: 11 Votes (Like | Disagree)

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