Why the M1 MacBook Air Might Still Be Apple’s Most Practical Laptop

Newer isn’t always better

  • The M2 MacBook Air is more expensive than its predecessor and runs hotter.
  • The "old" M1 MacBook Air is still a great computer for most people. 
  • If you do buy the new version, avoid the entry-level model.
A MacBook computer with the lid partially open displaying a colorful screen reflecting on the keyboard.

Martin Katler / Unsplash.com

Apple's brand-new slimline M2 MacBook Air is here, but for most people, the previous model might still be the best buy.

The M2 MacBook Air is Apple's first Apple Silicon-era laptop for regular folks. It has been completely redesigned around Apple's own ARM-based chips, has a new slab-sided shape, a screen with smaller borders, and a MagSafe charging port. And yet the previous M1 MacBook, which was essentially just the old Intel-era model with a new Apple chip inside, is still superior in some ways, and much cheaper. 

"For casual users, the M2 chip will not really make any significant differences for day-to-day tasks unless you need extreme improvements in professional workflows," Sudhir Khatwani, co-founder and Editor In Chief at The Money Mongers, told Lifewire via email. 

Heat and Speed

The old M1 MacBook Air has one significant advantage over the new one. Because it was initially built for inefficient, hot Intel chips, it is supremely capable of cooling things down. Combined with Apple’s ultra-cool, ultra-efficient M1 chip, which is a fancier version of the chips used in iPads and iPhones, this led to a machine with almost day-long battery life, no need for a fan, and which pretty much never got warm, let alone hot. 

The new M2 MacBook Air may have been designed especially for Apple’s chips instead of Intel’s, but it has a few major flaws. One of these is that the M2 chip gets hot. Not as hot as the old 16-inch Intel MacBook Pro that could probably have fried an egg, but hot enough that the computer has to throttle the performance of the M2 chip until things cool down again, which partly negates the advantages of the faster chip. 

Someone using an M2 MacBook Air on their lap in a library.


The M2 computers so far also have slower storage. Both the M2 MacBook Air and the M2 MacBook Pro, announced at the same time, suffer from slow SSD storage in their base models. That is, the entry-level models with 256GB storage use a single 256GB SSD for their storage needs. The older machines use a pair of 128GB SSD chips instead. 

Those two chips can be accessed simultaneously, making read and write operations almost twice as fast. If you go for the higher-specced versions of these new M2 computers, you’re back to the two-chip design, but it’s a significant enough problem that you should probably avoid the base models. 

This isn’t some esoteric problem, either. If you bought the lower-end model, you also probably opted for the minimum 8GB RAM. And when a Mac gets low on RAM, it starts swapping the contents of that RAM onto the SSDs. If they’re fast, you probably won’t notice. But in this case, the whole computer may slow down. 

In practice, the older M1 model may run faster and cooler than the new one while also costing $200 less. 

M2 Advantages

That’s not to say that the M2 MacBook Air doesn’t have advantages. The screen is bigger and brighter, it’s a hair lighter, and it has the above-mentioned MagSafe charging port, which frees up one of the Thunderbolt/USB-C ports for anything other than just charging. It also has a better webcam. 

Close up on the MagSafe charger on the M2 MacBook Air.


The M2 chip itself is also better in some ways. It’s faster and inherits the hardware video-processing engines from the M1 Pro chips, allowing impressive performance for video editing and the like. But if you are buying a MacBook for pro-level video work, you should probably be looking at an M1 MacBook Pro, which is way more capable, and—in my experience—runs so efficiently that the fans never even spin up. 

"Functionally, the only difference is the lack of MagSafe. And it's still awesome and quite a bit cheaper," Jonathan Brax, CEO at Techable, told Lifewire via email.

Hard Choice

In the end, it comes down to what you’ll be using it for and how much you want to spend. If there is a specific feature of the new M2 MacBook Air that you know you need or want, then the decision is made. But if you’re on the fence or on a budget, then the old M1 MacBook Air is still an amazing machine, one that doesn’t suffer from two major flaws and will save you $200 or let you spend that extra money to make it even better. Don’t write the old model off yet.

Correction 7/27/2022: Updated Sudhir Khatwani's title and organization in paragraph 3.

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