sign up log in
Want to go ad-free? Find out how, here.

Thin and lightweight MacBook Air a worthwhile upgrade

Technology / opinion
Thin and lightweight MacBook Air a worthwhile upgrade
MacBook Air M3
Apple's slim and lightweight MacBook Air M3. Photo: Juha Saarinen

The newly updated MacBook Air with Apple’s M3 system-on-a-chip (SoC) is the volume selling laptop for the hardware-oriented Californian tech giant, aimed at every-day general use. Overall, the laptop is a worthwhile upgrade on previous models, one that ticks the usual Apple quality boxes.

We received a 24 gigabyte memory MacBook Air M3 for review, with 2 terabytes of storage, priced at $4149 including GST. If you get the base model, with 8 GB memory and 256 GB of storage, you’re looking at $2049 including GST.

No matter the specification, the MacBook Air is a nicely built lightweight laptop (1.24 kg) that’s 11.3 mm thin; our review sample was in Midnight Blue, and there are three more case colours to choose from. Slim and light are the keywords for the MacBook M3 Air chassis which is designed with a fanless active cooling system thinness and lower weight.

The display is an excellent 13.6-inch LED-backlit Liquid Retina screen with 2560-by-1664 pixel native resolution and 500 nits brightness which can display a billion hues. There are no fancy display extras like a touch screen, or pen support; that is what iPads are for in Apple’s book.

Apple has banished the keyboard gremlins of the past and recent MacBooks this writer has tested have withstood copious amounts of typing; furthermore, the big Touch Pad for the cursor, with haptic feedback and no moving parts, is as great to use as before. 

You get two USB-C ports with the MacBook Air M3, plus a 3.5 mm headphone jack and a MagSafe 3 charging port. Speaking of the latter, Apple has started bundling MagSafe cables in the same colour as the case which looks great… but the charger (35 Watts supplied for the Air) is white. Ditto the USB-C plug at the end of the cable. 

Photo: Juha Saarinen

Call me picky, but it’s a little jarring, aesthetically. Funnily enough, the 35 W charger has two USB-C connectors which is handy for topping up devices’ batteries, but not so the 70 W one that’s also available.

Plenty of performance and all-day battery life

Despite being the entry level SoC in the range, Apple’s M3 is plenty fast. Here are some sample benchmarks:

BAPCo Crossmark Enterprise  
Overall score 1866
Productivity 1725
Creativity 2242
Responsiveness 1364
CineBench 2024 1.0  
GPU 3610
CPU 579
Blackmagic Disk Speed  
Write (MB/s) 3285
Read (MB/s) 3012
Geekbench 6 and ML  
CPU single core 3061
CPU multi core 12,075
GPU Metal 47,615
ML Neural Engine 8131

That is a lot of numbers, but benchmarks are software tests that aim to give you an idea of how fast the computer you’ve bought is doing different tasks because, err, it’s a bit tricky to tell that by just looking at the device.

In the above table, the Business Application Performance Corporation (BAPCo) Crossmark scores are set to be comparable across different operating systems, like Apple iOS and macOS, Microsoft Windows, and Android and the hardware architectures they run on.

BAPCo uses a Lenovo ThinkCentre M720q, with a Intel Core i5-8500T processor at 2.10 GHz speed, running Windows 10 as the calibration system, and it scores 1000 on the tests which typical day to day computing usage scenarios using applications.

The other tests, like CineBench, Blackmagic Disk Speed and Geekbench, measure particular computer hardware subsystems like the processor, the graphics unit, memory speed, and how quick the disk where you store files is. Yes it's all very very geeky.

Whereas Microsoft and Intel have gone in fully with AI, Apple’s hasn’t been banging that gong as loudly. The M3’s 16-core Neural Engine can perform 18 trillion operations per second. Geekbench ML (machine learning) figures suggest it’s a little slower than the equivalent part in a range-topping MacBook Pro M3 Max, but only about 12-15%.

As you run benchmarks like CineBench, the MacBook Air’s temperature sensors show readings of over 100 degrees C. The chassis heats up somewhat, but the MacBook Air never feels like it’ll fry your lap, although you see some throttling back on heavy graphics rendering tasks to control temperatures.

Battery life is a claimed 18 hours; in practice, it’s easy to go through a whole working day without charging and still have 60% to 70% battery left which is excellent.

Picking the right amount of memory and storage

Apple has used the Arm architecture processors it designs to great effect, and they are now energy-efficiently powering the entire range of devices from iPhones to iPads and Macs. Combining high-performance computing with miserly energy usage in a thin package is an engineering challenge though and there are design quirks in the M-series of Apple Silicon SoCs.

First, the M-series Apple Silicon uses Unified Memory (UM), which is shared between the central, graphics and neural processing units (CPU, GPU and Neural Engine, respectively), on the SoC. Normally, a GPU has its own dedicated video memory, just like the CPU has, and never shall the twain mix it up.

A fast UM implementation offers some compelling advantages like low latency and greater efficiency along with device thinness that’s very desirable for customers. This memory uses a low power design, in which the electric signals levels are kept low. This in turn means they don’t go that far. 

As a result, the memory chips are soldered onto the inside the M3 SoC board, next to the processors. The long and short of it is that you have to estimate how much memory you think you’ll need when you buy a MacBook as you can’t upgrade it afterwards.

The MacBook Air M3 range starts with just 8 gigabytes of UM, which Apple says is enough for light computing tasks like web browsing. It probably is too, with the fast solid state storage onto which the processor can offload items in memory being able to help.

For heavier duty applications, there’s a 16 GB option. This is the middle ground and most likely the sweet-spot to go for if you’re keeping the M3 Air for a while, as it gives more headroom for demanding software and tasks. 

Incidentally, the 24 GB our review machine has is the maximum a MacBook Air can be equipped with, due to the number of memory controllers on the M3, and size of the chips.

If you need more memory, you’ll have to head over to MacBook Pro land, with M3 Pro and M3 Max SoCs that support up to 128 GB and have higher bandwidth as well. 

Like the processor memory, the storage in the MacBook Air isn’t upgradable. Here, it’s worth thinking carefully about what to go for, and my take is that 256 GB isn’t enough. Moving up to 512 GB is a must, maybe even 1 TB if the budget allows. To a degree, you can work around lower storage capacities with external drives (and the M3 Air has very fast interfaces for that), or cloud storage. It does require another device at the end of a cable to lug around though, or a fast internet connection.

M2 Air or M3 Air? 15-inch screen? Or an M3 MacBook Pro?

Although they look similar on the outside, the M3 MacBook Air brings a number of upgrades over last year’s M2 equipped model. First, the M3 is built with a 3 nanometre process, whereas the M2 is 5 nanometres. This along with a 25 per cent increase in the number of transistors brings around a fifth better processing performance, and almost as much hike in graphics speed without sacrificing power efficiency.

Inside the M3, you’ll find an eight-core CPU, a 10-core GPU and a 16-core NPU. 

The M3 also has Dynamic Caching, hardware AV1 encoding and ray tracing support that bump up graphics performance for games and video work, again while keeping energy consumption down. Those might not be the obvious workloads for a MacBook Air, but the 16 and 24 GB models can chew through them just fine.

Compared to the M2, you get support for two external monitors with the M3 MacBook air - but only with the lid closed. One screen can support up to 6K resolution, while the other (with the lid closed) tops out at 5K, but there's a full one billion colour gamut and 60 Hz refresh rate for both.

That does mean you’ve used up both USB-C ports on the MacBook Air M3, and might have to start looking at a dock for more external accessory connectivity. 

The fast Wi-Fi 6E support is great too, provided your wireless access point supports it as well; overall, the premium for the M3 Air - $250-$300 - over the M2 is worth it. Adding another $400 to the price of the 13-inch Air buys a device with a 15-inch screen, which isn’t too bad if you want more display real estate and space for bigger hands.

However, this is where a 14-inch MacBook Pro with an 11/14 core M3 Pro CPU/GPU, 18 GB of UM and 1 TB of storage starts looking good at $4,349 including GST. The MacBook Pro laptop is heavier, not as thin, there's 6 GB less UM, and it has fans (that are rather quiet); but there’s better performance, a brighter screen, more ports, and longer battery life. 

Either way, if you’re set on the MacBook M3 Air, fret not: moving up from the older Airs with Intel and Apple Silicon M innards, it's a great workhorse that's easy to live with and will do just about everything users want with ease.

We welcome your comments below. If you are not already registered, please register to comment.

Remember we welcome robust, respectful and insightful debate. We don't welcome abusive or defamatory comments and will de-register those repeatedly making such comments. Our current comment policy is here.


Memory soldered to the motherboard ? Reminds me of my 1997 Toshiba Satellite CDT300 that I still use occasionally for a specific task. Very Retro these days on Windows XP....just.


Yes - recently discovered this shift to solder RAM for many PC manufactures as well. Painful at these price points. 

The real reason so many laptops have moved to soldered RAM:…


A computer that is so against the right to repair it is practically stamped with forced obsolescence and one that is not worth the cost of all the extra dongles needed to operate it for main use cases (and the time spent wrangling drivers). If it is just for web browsing and document review a phone or tablet is better and cheaper. The use case for laptops has always been more then the quick flick.

Actually now we have a screen set up in the bedroom and remote access to the main server at home there is no need to even open our macbook. All design, 3D modelling etc is done using the beast at home (as Macs are far too under spec to run the apps) and work & other tasks use more configurable laptops in different home offices. If anything Mac have already made their laptops obsolete to most users by not catering to their needs, being under spec while retaining a silly price point.

But I get it; in the drive of forced obsolescence they need to bring out a new shiny model while the older ones are relegated to the landfill of dangerous waste.



This is from iFixit, the business of which is repairability. There remain issues like parts pairing, but 5/10 is not "so against the right to repair" etc.

Last week I held a very nicely designed Windows laptop, ultraportable like the MacBook Air M3, that has two USB-C ports. That's it. The M3 has a 3.5 mm earphone jack, on top of the two USB-C ports on the laptop, and two ports for charging on the wall wart.

Need more ports? I'm not sure what dongle drivers you feel you need to wrangle, but a little docking station with plenty of expansion ports doesn't require them.

You may want to think about what "ultraportable" stands for, but it's not like a desktop to which you connect lots of peripherals. Don't want that? Fine, don't get a thin and light ultraportable then, be it a Mac or a Windows PC.

There's also nothing "under spec" with the fast M3 Air. That's not the case either for the Windows ultraportable above, which should last a number of years quite easily, and the M3 Air is quicker. 



I use cameras and mic, alongside stereo speakers and controllers & tablet inputs. So yeah one dongle is not enough and if you have to sacrifice power charging while using the device that is pretty insane.

5/10 is including restricted repair by third parties aka not the users. Also it requires propriety parts which Apple in many cases does not sell readily e.g. "MacBook Air's original Touch ID sensor is uniquely paired to the logic board at the factory—and without Apple’s proprietary calibration process, even a genuine replacement Touch ID sensor from another MacBook Air won’t work."

Also in case you miss the decades of fighting Apple through the courts for even the mere minimums of parts to replace & repair and failed to read the notes of your own link here is an update…

key takeaways of the recent win 'This bill prohibits the use of parts pairing to “prevent or inhibit an independent repair provider or an owner from installing or enabling the function of an otherwise functional part,” to “reduce the functionality or performance of” a device, or to “display misleading alerts or warnings, which the owner cannot immediately dismiss, about unidentified parts.”'

Note it is not fully implemented now (article was in March 27, 2024)

So yeah Apple is still fighting them and using proprietary gotchas and really really limited connections so the device cannot be used for much graphics, video, gaming, coding, sound, and editing work.

But hey its the equivalent of a tablet for 3 times the price and less ability to repair it.


Agree with other comments here with regard to repairability.

That said, I consider apple laptops to be cheap given the longevity and value. I once used PCs pretty much exclusively (new one probably every couple of years) until I needed to develop an iOS app and begrudgingly purchased a refurbished macbook air for the purpose. That was in 2013. It lasted me over 6 years (so a little more than $200/y). Never had my work rudely interrupted by an OS update, or had it run down the battery while 'off'. I always just opened and closed the lid without a thought. There is no way some other laptop would have lasted that long while still serving my needs.

As for 'lock-in', I don't make any use of Apple's cloud or bother with an iPhone. Just not interested and it's never been an issue. I'll take my freedom in POSIX form thank you very much (sorry Microsoft, but there's no going back).

With the new apple silicon, unless you're wedded to some crucial Windows software (or games), I wouldn't recommend anything else. All the typical frustrations with a laptop just aren't there (short battery life, driver issues, failed suspend states, crashes, update interruptions, overheating and fan noise, preinstalled bloat and malware, etc).

I will constantly have 50+ tabs open in one or more browsers, while also running - amongst other things-  an IDE, VM, Slack, web and database servers and my old M1 Air lasts all day on battery without breaking a sweat. It's honestly kind of unbelievable how Apple knocked it out of the park with the move to new chips. The value for money is fantastic. I expect this laptop to work out somewhere between $300-400/y if I keep it for 2 more years. That will be about $1/day for the most important and useful work tool I own.

Microsoft are going to have a really hard time catching up on this one without a solid plan to move to ARM (and good luck with that).



Looks at my 10yr laptop currently running 20 000+ tabs and 3 virtual machines... er yeah 50+ tabs on a window must be hard... how can you do any comprehensive work across multiple fields while also running entertainment and also maintaining multiple VMs of different versions with so few tabs. 1 window is just 10000 + tabs alone (easily able to find position and access it for any of the 100+ categories in near instantly). 

Don't get me started on parts supplier information spec sheets and comparing table, video & image data across multiple sources. Sadly though with 20000+ tabs open & VMs I don't have time and space for much SM interrupting workflows... but this is news with less heavy memory load. I think I spent 1 hr reducing another 5000 tabs as I could combine a few, save a few, and have access back some in 15min of web navigation (instead of under a minute, performance takes a big hit but the reduction in memory use is nice).

Protip never get the iphone or ipad and use it with an apple mac. The walled garden forces you into only going through the apps so you cannot get access to the data without a lot of hassle. Hence we use around 8 devices and 8 operating systems on a given day but will never ever get another iPhone ever again. Even for testing the VMs for iPhone will do. Besides if I need a good camera for underwater work I will take the dive cameras, not an iPhone. If I need a camera for night or aviation photography I have those too. Same goes for parties (protip never take a device you cannot replace for $200 to a gig, way too many things can happen, for good or bad, where the phone is a goner).  If I need a phone well there are far more phone options with added protection. Watches that can be used for easy call access while anywhere are pretty much cheap and much better quality (with more ability to repair). 

I will admit with this windows & linux machine I had to replace the fans on it recently... the cat would slept right up against the machine and over a long time of me ignoring it some of the blades & bearings broke from the jam. The fans could be brought cheaply for $20 from any electrical goods site overseas, (including shipping). Inside is all screws and easy connections. No glue, no propriety calibration, no necessity of having to go to an approved repair shop or a single parts store. Once the case was opened it by unscrewing it was just 2 screws per fan with a phillips screw driver. The little plastic feet that are glued on older Macs bugged me endlessly as they would never sit right or stay on and they became nightmares to clean and replace constantly. Yet it was the screen joints on the last Mac which snapped quite badly from the battery (the case could be tapped back into shape but the screen joints & connectors were a goner with no replacement).

Hmm what is your preferred IDE? I assume you would be mostly on certain stacks, esp since VS does not play well with others and Apple are really really bad for how they ditched their suite of good code editors years ago, never replaced them with anything & quite a bit of IDE & test functions are limited on Macs. They also don't have enough processing power for large graphics heavy coding. So I am guessing web services or just plain website work?




You could just save yourself a great deal of time and post "I think everything Apple does is bad" instead of these long nonsensical rants.