MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Here are the biggest upgrades

M3 MacBook Air vs M2
(Image credit: Future)

The new M3 MacBook Air is here, surprising absolutely no one, since it was heavily rumored for more than a year. Then again, this new MacBook also took everyone by surprise with a randomly dropped press release announcement instead of a flashy launch event.

Now that we've seen the “world’s best consumer laptop for AI” — as Apple calls it — let’s answer the obvious question on the lips of many: how does it compare to the M2 MacBook Air

I mean the M2 MacBook Air is No. 1 on our best laptops list, so the Cupertino crew has to be careful with its upgrades to make sure it doesn’t mess with greatness. Here’s what we know so far.

MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Cheat sheet

  • What are the biggest differences between the M3 MacBook Air and M2 MacBook Air? The new MacBook Air brings three key upgrades over the M2 model — an upgrade to the M3 chip, support for two external displays (with the laptop lid closed) and Wi-Fi 6E support. Outside of these changes, everything else is the same.
  • Are there any price differences? Cost has not changed, as the M3 MacBook Air inherits the M2 version's $1,099 starting price. Apple is keeping the 13-inch M2 Air around and dropping its price to $999.
  • Where can I buy one from? Pre-orders for the M3 MacBook Air are available right now on Apple’s website. We assume they will be available more widely when the March 8 release date for the new MacBook Ai rolls around.

MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Specs

Swipe to scroll horizontally
SpecMacBook Air (M3)MacBook Air (M2)
Starting price$1,099$999
ChipM3 (8-core CPU / 8- or 10-core GPU)M2 (8-core CPU / 8- or 10-core GPU)
MemoryFrom 8GB / Up to 24GBFrom 8GB / Up to 24GB
StorageFrom 256GB / Up to 2TBFrom 256GB / Up to 2TB
Display13.6-inch Liquid Retina display / 2560 x 1664 pixels / 500 nits brightness OR 15.3-inch Liquid Retina display / 2880 x 1864 pixels / 500 nights brightness13.6-inch Liquid Retina display / 2560 x 1664 pixels / 500 nits brightness
Webcam1080p FaceTime HD camera1080p FaceTime HD camera
Battery14:33 (tested)Up to 15-hours wireless web (rated)
Ports2x Thunderbolt / USB 4, MagSafe, 3.5mm headphone jack2x Thunderbolt / USB 4, MagSafe, 3.5mm headphone jack
WirelessWi-Fi 6 / Bluetooth 5.3Wi-Fi 6E / Bluetooth 5.3
ColorsSilver, Starlight, Space Gray, MidnightSilver, Starlight, Space Gray, Midnight
Dimensions11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches (13-inch) / 13.4 x 9.35 x 0.45 inches (15-inch)11.97 x 8.46 x 0.44 inches
Weight2.7 pounds (13-inch) / 3.3 pounds (15-inch)2.7 pounds

MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Price and availability

Of course, the M2 MacBook AIr is available right now with a new starting price of $999 for the 13-inch model. The only real change to this system is that the 15-inch M2 model has been retired. That larger screen size is reserved only for the M3 version, and the pricing for those models is as follows:

  • 13-inch M3 MacBook Air: from $1,099
  • 15-inch M3 MacBook Air: from $1,299

Pre-orders are available now, with a full launch set for March 8.

MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Design and display

2023 MacBook Air 15-inch M2 shown open on a surface

(Image credit: Tom's Guide)
  • More of the Liquid Retina same across the board
  • Two displays finally supported (provided you close the laptop)

More of the same doesn’t have to be a bad thing, and Apple just proved it with the MacBook Air. The same flat, utilitarian design remains — giving users a seriously sleek system that brings beautiful looks from every angle. 

Open it up, and you’ll notice everything else has remained the same too. From the keyboard and trackpad to the displays, you’re literally getting an identical experience. Whether you opt for the 13.6- or 15.3-inch Liquid Retina panel, you’re getting the same great color presentation that Global Editor-in-Chief Mark Spoonauer said is perfect “for watching videos, editing photos and everything else you want to do with no trade-offs.”

It’s great to see you’re not trading off any of the Air’s legendary sleekness or its standard port array for the M3 power here!

MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Specs and performance

MacBook Air M3

(Image credit: Apple)
  • M3 brings boosts to CPU performance, graphics, and AI tasks
  • Wi-Fi 6E gives you up to 2X faster data speeds

The M2 is no slouch, but the M3 has been capable of some serious wizardry. Making the transition from a 5nm process to 3nm (in short: smaller diodes means more stuff can be packed onto a computer chip for improved performance and power efficiency), Apple managed to bring hardware-accelerated ray tracing and mesh shading to the new Air. 

On top of that, this is the first time Apple has started to seriously talk about AI and all its potential unlocked with the Neural Engine. The 16-core engine gets a speed boost over M2, which promises to bring “great performance” to running optimized AI models on-device and in the cloud.

One thing we can’t be sure of is exactly how that bump up in chip specs impacts the MacBook Air — Apple is being its usual coy self in making sure you know how much better than M1 and Intel machines it is, with zero reference to M2 in its comparisons.

M3 MacBook Air

(Image credit: Apple)

You’ll have to wait to see the results from our hands-on time with the new Airs, but if the difference between M2 and M3 MacBook Pro is anything to go by, we’re looking at some sizable gains in single- and multi-core performance, alongside a big boost in graphics performance.

How does that M3 performance change when put in a metal construction without a fan? Time will tell. Special shout-out to two upgrades that I believe will go largely ignored. First, Wi-Fi 6E is here for faster download/upload speeds and second, for the first time in the entry-level Apple Silicon, this laptop supports two monitors — provided you close the laptop.

But come on Apple... still an 8GB RAM/256GB SSD base configuration? In the laptop space, this is getting a little silly now.

MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Battery life

M3 MacBook Air

(Image credit: Apple)
  • Same promises made for M3 as M2
  • Based on M3 Pros, we’re in for a treat

The MacBook battery life has been one of Apple Silicon’s biggest crowning achievements — embarrassing its current Windows competition to be frank. This lineage looks set to continue with the M3 Air, as the claim of “up to 18 hours of battery life” has been made for this model (the same as Apple’s marketing for M2).

In reality, when putting the M2 Air through its paces, the ultra-slim machine managed to hit 14 hours and 33 minutes in our stringent battery life test. Given Apple’s track record, it would be fair to hold the same expectations that this will do the same. But let’s leave any definitive opinions for when we test the brand new models.

MacBook Air M3 vs M2: Outlook

This M3 MacBook Air release may be more of a refresh than a huge leap forward, and we won’t know for sure whether that refresh is major or minor until we get our hands on the latest models. But this is a long-awaited and much-welcomed update to the undisputed champ when it comes to the best laptops you can buy.

This is the epitome of an “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” mentality, and I’m here for it. Look forward to our full review of the brand new MacBook Air soon.

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Jason England
Managing Editor — Computing

Jason brings a decade of tech and gaming journalism experience to his role as a Managing Editor of Computing at Tom's Guide. He has previously written for Laptop Mag, Tom's Hardware, Kotaku, Stuff and BBC Science Focus. In his spare time, you'll find Jason looking for good dogs to pet or thinking about eating pizza if he isn't already.