Which MacBook Should You Buy — Air, Pro, or Pro 14/16″?

CG Director Author Petar Vukobratby Petar Vukobrat   /  Published 

There are many different MacBooks nowadays, all of which carry a slightly different design and, perhaps most importantly, target demographic.

They still share much of the same DNA though, so it should really come as no surprise that so many people struggle to fully differentiate them and, in doing so, make the right purchasing decision.

That’s the main purpose of this particular piece: to give you all the nitty-gritty on Apple’s latest and greatest MacBooks and to fully — and in great detail — explain what it is exactly that sets them apart.

Macbook Air and Macbook Pro Variants

As already mentioned, Apple has quite an impressive line-up to offer: laptops for casual users, creatives, software developers, content creators, and everyone in between. There’s something for almost every kind of budget and use case.

Still, with the shift to Apple’s long-awaited ARM-based silicon, it has become harder than ever to fully and accurately differentiate which devices are geared towards whom.

Is, say, the MacBook Air a good enough option for video editors? How powerful is it really? Who even needs a MacBook Pro if it carries the exact same chipset deep within its enclosure?

These laptops still adhere to the same nomenclature but nonetheless offer relatively comparable levels of performance.

It is, therefore, important to be fully aware of one’s workflow so as not to spend frivolously. This one realization alone can save you hundreds upon hundreds of dollars/euros.

We’ll cover a lot of ground down below, so if you’re intimidated by long blocks of text — no matter the style in which they are written — make sure to use that nifty search feature: CTRL+F on Windows and Cmd+F on macOS.

With that out of the way, let’s begin!

MacBook Air — Biggest Strengths

The MacBook Air is, without a shadow of a doubt, one of the very best ultraportable laptops on the market. And, well, it’s not even up for debate.

Macbook Air m2 Specs

Source: Apple

You could even label it as the best, but we’ll refrain from such sweeping statements for the time being.

Why, you might ask?

It’s Passively Cooled

Every laptop, when pushed to its limits, will emit some kind of noise — often too much noise. The MacBook Air is an exception.

Now, laptops that have passively cooled processors are nothing new, but their lack of active cooling always came at too big of a cost performance-wise.

The M1 and M2 chipsets from Apple, however, are so efficient they don’t even need a fan; it’s pretty much a revolution of sorts: astounding, desktop-class performance at just a few watts.

Macbook Air Passive Thermal Design

Source: Apple

Never before did such a thing exist, so it should really come as no surprise that MacBook Airs started flying off the shelves the very moment they became available.

They do thermally throttle, but even when it happens it’s not as severe as is the case with regular non-ARM processors. And that, in short, is quite a game-changer.

Not having any fans and active cooling eliminates yet another potential point of failure; moreover, dust and debris cannot build up.

Best of all, an ARM-based MacBook Air can provide a silent experience no matter the workflow. Its fans will never ramp up or affect your “flow state” and that, for most creatives, is a luxury worth the asking price.

Still Incredibly Powerful

Apple’s engineers have, through either sheer ingenuity or some strange form of witchcraft, been able to cram in a mind-blowing amount of performance inside a meager power envelope.

The M1 and M2 SoCs are amongst the most efficient and advanced on the market.

The fact that they’re passively cooled changes nothing in that regard. You’re still getting a chipset that’ll outperform most desktop-class offerings, especially in single-core performance.

It’s not as powerful in prolonged, intensive workloads but you’re probably not going to be rendering the next Blade Runner on your MacBook Air so that shouldn’t affect your purchasing decision in the slightest.

Unless you’re a hugely demanding user who needs the most powerful hardware money can buy — for, say, some sort of “heavy duty” rendering — a standard MacBook Air will definitely get the job done.

With Apple’s new chipset, the “rules” of the game have changed.

The Perfect Laptop

A beautiful, bright display that’s color accurate, has a 16:10 aspect ratio and has more pixels than you can count. A phenomenal keyboard. Best-in-class speakers. Ten hours of real use on a single charge.

A trackpad most Windows laptops can only dream of, and a level of craftsmanship that can only be matched by, say, Razer and Dell.

That’s what you get for less than a thousand dollars: the MacBook Air — a laptop that delivers an unparalleled user experience and some awe-inspiring “bang for the buck.”

It has everything one needs regardless of one’s profession. There’s nothing to point out as a negative, nothing to criticize.

The bezels, perhaps, aren’t the most contemporary in design, but that’s about it. It only has two USB-C ports (Thunderbolt 3) which isn’t ideal for those still sporting USB-A peripherals and external storage, but that, too, can be dealt with.

Macbook Air M1 IO

Source: Apple

Comparatively Cheap

The MacBook Air is basically a steal for what it offers.

There’s simply no other laptop on the market at the time of this writing that can compete on even footing from a value perspective.

Every single Windows laptop out there lacks something — certain corners have been cut.

To get all-day battery life, incredible performance even when unplugged, a beautiful, color-accurate display, and a chipset that can compete with desktop-class processors all in a 13” form factor and clamshell design? It’s almost too good to be true.

No wonder Apple decided to intentionally “gimp” the base M2 MacBook Air — they, too, realized that it offered way too much for its MSRP. It’s hard to upsell people when your base offering outclasses everything else on the market.

MacBook Air — Biggest Drawbacks

The MacBook Air, while undeniably spectacular, does have its own drawbacks and limitations.

Some of them are inherent to the M1/M2; others, however, pertain to the laptop itself.

Not For the Most Demanding Users

Any passively cooled chipset, no matter how efficient, will thermally throttle when pushed to its limit.

So, if you’re the kind of user who’s rendering non-stop and needs a machine that’ll deliver the exact same level of performance across longer periods of time, the MacBook Air might not be for you.

Its performance doesn’t drop off too much, but it can become quite noticeable if you know how to “push its buttons.” The chipset itself simply wasn’t designed to be pushed and stressed for too long.

Now, to be fair, the M1/M2 can still deliver mind-blowing results even in the harshest of conditions, but if your livelihood depends on, say, the speed at which you can render stuff out, then you should definitely avoid the MacBook Air — despite its many benefits.

Another thing worth keeping in mind: Apple’s ARM-based laptops don’t allow for any kind of upgrade further down the line. None whatsoever.

Need more storage? Tough luck; you’ll have to buy a whole new MacBook.

Want more RAM? Ditto.

Now, these limitations are tied to the chipset, not the laptop, but you’re nonetheless bound to reach the limits of a MacBook Air a fair bit sooner than you would with a MacBook Pro.

Aesthetically Outdated [M1 Model]

The “old” M1 MacBook Air is pretty darn outdated in terms of aesthetics, although that’s not something a lot of people care about all that much.

Its bezels, in particular, stick out like a sore thumb, especially when contrasted to basically any modern Windows laptop on the market that falls under a similar price category.

M1 Air vs M2 Air Design

The M2 model (and, presumably, its forthcoming successors) has ameliorated this “deficiency” and is about as slick and attractive as it gets.

MacBook Air — What Does the Future Hold?

The MacBook Air, it is safe to assume, will remain passively cooled for many years to come.

It’s the least powerful ARM-based laptop in Apple’s product stack but is nonetheless still sufficient performance-wise for, say, 95% of the population.

It’s great for all kinds of use-cases and workflows and it’ll only get better and more efficient as time goes on.

MacBook Pro 13” — Biggest Strengths

Then we have the 13” MacBook Pro, the one that can house either the M1 or M2 (at the time of this writing, at least).

It is a strange laptop: incredibly powerful, visually quite similar to the Air, but it’s also the “odd one out.” It doesn’t really have a reason for being; it’s better than the Air in a few key areas but also more expensive.

Still, it does build on the Air’s foundation and, in doing so, solves some of its biggest drawbacks.

The Best M1/M2-Based Laptop You Can Get

The 13” MacBook Pro is actively cooled which means it’s a much better option if you’re a more demanding user — one who needs consistent performance over longer work sessions but doesn’t want to spend a fortune on a 14” or 16” MacBook Pro.

Macbok Pro Thermal Design

Source: Apple

The 13” MacBook Pro is, therefore, the absolute best laptop on the market that contains the base M1/M2.

There’s really no other way to say it — it fixes everything that MacBook Air users could complain about and still delivers a few nice bells and whistles on top, just for good measure.

Extremely Well-Rounded

Everything one can adore with the MacBook Air is present with the Pro as well and is oftentimes upgraded even further.

M2 Macbook Pro 13 Specs

Source: Apple

The display is a bit brighter (500 nits), the speakers are even better and more immersive, and you even get the polarizing (but still fairly useful) touch bar above the keyboard.

The 13” MacBook Pro is one of the greatest and most iconic laptops ever made, and even though it isn’t particularly mind-blowing when compared to the regular Air, it’s still a wholly spectacular option for anyone looking to join the Apple ecosystem.

Insane Battery Life

Last but certainly not least, its battery lasts even longer than the one in the Air (and even the M1-based 13” Pro). With up to 18 hours of battery life, it’s no wonder people deem it as the “king of endurance.”

MacBook Pro 13” — Biggest Drawbacks

This particular model is still running a chassis that’s around six years old at this point. It’s a pedestrian design by Apple’s standards — an iconic one, no doubt, but still outdated.

Moreover, it’s not that much better than the MacBook Air which makes it hard to fully justify its less palatable MSRP.

It might have a fan but the performance delta between it and the MacBook Air (M1/M2) isn’t nearly as tremendous as Apple wants you to believe (although it does exist). It’s a device that, essentially, has no target demographic.

It is, in all fairness, the cheapest “Pro” device in Apple’s current line-up, but that doesn’t necessarily make it a wise purchasing decision.

The MacBook Pro is still an exceptional option if you can find a good deal, but it’s not as tremendous from a value perspective as the MacBook Air nor as powerful and feature-rich as its bigger 14” and 16” brethren.

MacBook Pro 13” — What Does the Future Hold?

It’s hard to make any kind of guess, but there’s a very real chance that Apple will simply forgo releasing any new Pro of this size and form factor and just focus solely on its more powerful (and alluring) alternatives.

The Pro 13” is without a place and purpose in Apple’s current line-up and the higher-ups over in Cupertino probably know it, too.

MacBook Pro 14/16” — Biggest Strengths

Apple’s latest and greatest MacBook Pros are geared towards the most demanding users — those who need as much power as money can buy all within a thin and light package they can bring with them whilst on the go.

M1 Macbook Pro 14 16 Specs

Source: Apple

They are astoundingly powerful and are “bleeding edge” in every sense of the word.

They’re expensive, too, but one could argue that they’re still worth the asking price — even in today’s economy.

The Best MacBook(s) You Can Get

These MacBooks have the best displays, the most power, ample I/O, incredible battery life, and best-in-class keyboards and trackpads.

They’re some of the most well-rounded laptops money can buy. There’s really nothing out there that can compete.

You do have Windows laptops that can deliver a similar level of performance, but they’ll run a lot hotter, make a lot more noise, and will have, say, one-third of the battery life (to say nothing of build quality and everything else).

For the creative professional, content creator, videographer, photographer, music producer, and software developer, these sizable MacBooks are undoubtedly the way to go.

They’re also atop Apple’s product stack and will, therefore, always have the best and most powerful chipsets.

Incredibly Powerful

If you need an incredible amount of power to aid you in your work, the 14”/16” MacBook Pro should definitely be at the very top of your list of priorities.

They’re astoundingly capable and yet bafflingly silent, no matter what you throw at them. Apple’s ARM-based SoCs are some of the most efficient on the market which — when combined with macOS’ optimized nature — results in one heck of a user experience.

And, needless to say, they can easily trade blows with full-blown desktop PCs across a wide range of workloads.

Best-in-Class Displays

Mini-LED. An adaptive refresh rate (up to 120Hz). Almost a thousand nits. 99% sRGB. 83% AdobeRGB.

What more could you ask for?

Best MacBook Pro Alternatives Right Now

Source: Apple

These specs might change with future MacBook Pros but one thing is bound to remain the same: they’ll all sport jaw-droppingly beautiful, color-accurate displays that’ll put most other laptops to shame.

The fact that you can choose between a 14” and a 16” option is also amazing: some folks want as big a canvas for their work as possible.

Others, however, want all of those aforementioned bells and whistles but would still like to retain ample portability.

There’s something for everyone.

Just the Right I/O

Laptop manufacturers have been eliminating one port after another all in a ludicrous quest to make the thinnest laptops imaginable and usher in the era of USB-C — the one port that can do it all.

M1 Macbook Pro IO

Source: Apple

That, while somewhat understandable, often came at too big of a cost: professional users need a wide range of ports to get their work done, and adhering to the oft-ridiculed “dongle life” is neither practical nor cheap.

That’s why Apple’s latest and greatest MacBooks stand out: they don’t skimp out on the I/O.

There’s a MagSafe port for charging, three USB-C ports (two on the left and one on the right), a 3.5mm jack with support for high-impedance headphones, a full-sized HDMI port, and last but certainly not least an SDXC card reader. This, essentially, is all one needs.

Best-in-Class Endurance

Apple’s SoCs are not only incredibly powerful but mighty efficient, too. That’s the most amazing thing.

It’s “easy” to get high scores in, say, Geekbench or Cinebench if you raise the TDP beyond measure (i.e. the Intel method).

It’s easy to reach a million frames per second in a AAA title when the GPU can draw about as much power as three refrigerators.

The tricky part is to attain said performance while also keeping power consumption at a minimum. That, for a portable machine, is of the utmost importance.

MacBook Pro 14/16” — Biggest Drawbacks

Their faults might be few in number, but they’re still worth mentioning.

Incredibly Expensive

These devices do not come cheap.

They’re, one could argue, adequately priced, and you are getting a ton for your money, but they’re still an investment one doesn’t make on a whim.

For the price of one base 14″ MacBook Pro, you could buy two M1-based MacBook Airs. That might sound like a stupid comparison, but it does illustrate a broader (and most crucial) point.

With them being so expensive, think twice whether you really need all the many bells and whistles which they provide.

Limited Benefits Over Base M1/M2

Apple’s mighty powerful silicon has many benefits. That much is a fact, and it’s a well-known one, too.

Still, one could argue that, for the price of a “base” MacBook Air or MacBookPro (13″), you’re basically getting the vast majority of said benefits.

The only reason why one should pull the proverbial trigger and upgrade (to a bigger MacBook Pro, in this case) is if one needs the absolute best and most powerful version of these chipsets (and those that will soon follow).

They all share much of the same DNA. They’re all incredibly efficient, powerful, and capable beyond measure.

They also share many of the same flaws as well. They offer no upgradeability further down the line — none whatsoever.

M1 Ultra SoC RAM upgradeability

They still need to run unoptimized software through an emulation layer — there’s still a host of different programs and software suites that haven’t been updated to support Apple silicon.

And, well, buying a 14″ or 16″ MacBook Pro isn’t going to solve or circumvent these issues and hurdles. That much is a fact.

FAQ

Let’s go over a few potential questions you might have regarding this particular topic:

Is the MacBook Air Powerful Enough For My Needs?

Odds are, it is. Just because it’s thin and light doesn’t mean it cannot pack a punch.

That’s the great thing with Apple’s silicon: it subverts all possible norms and expectations, and it does so effortlessly.

Both the M1 and M2 MacBook Airs deliver incredible, best-in-class performance. Just make sure to get enough RAM and storage as you won’t be able to upgrade these things further down the line.

Going with 16GB of RAM is pretty much a no-brainer if you’re a demanding user.

Is the MacBook Pro Better Than the Air?

It is, but marginally so.

Its biggest benefit — other than slightly better battery life and a brighter screen — is the fact that it has active cooling and can, therefore, deliver consistent performance over longer, drawn-out rendering/compiling sessions.

Is the 14″/16″ MacBook Pro Worth It?

That depends on your use case and overall budget.

If you’re a professional user whose livelihood depends on the speed at which something can be rendered or executed, a 14″/16″ MacBook Pro most certainly is worth it.

These bigger “Pros” are the absolute best and most powerful laptops that Apple has to offer, and if you need one for your work — and have sufficient funding — don’t think twice about it!

What’s the Best MacBook?

From a value perspective: the MacBook Air.

From a performance perspective: the 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pros.

Over to You

Apple has quite a stacked line-up and, perhaps most importantly, there’s an option for every kind of user and budget.

Do you have any of these MacBooks and, if so, which one? Let us know in the comment section down below and, in case you need any help, head over to our forum and ask away!

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Petar Vukobrat

I first sat down in front of a Pentium II in 1999 and it feels like I’ve been sitting in front of a computer ever since.

And, well, until mankind comes up with something better and more entertaining, that’ll keep being the case.

If you have any questions — or just want to talk about all things PC and Apple — leave a comment down below!

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