Apple MacBook Air M2 review – The faster 10-core GPU isn’t worth it

Apple MacBook Air M2 review – The expensive Air has to throttle earlier. After we tested the basic model, we now also got our hands on the faster version of the new MacBook Air with 16 GB of RAM, a large 1-TB SSD, and the faster 10-core GPU version of the M2 and ran it through our tests. However, the graphics update is particularly disappointing, since the passively cooled MacBook Air M2 needs to throttle its performance quickly.

We were already able to extensively test the new MacBook Air M2, and now we have a model with the faster 10-core GPU and more storage in our test. This is the configuration in the Starlight color with the faster M2 chip, 16 GB of shared working memory, and a large, 1-TB SSD. In this review, we mainly want to concentrate on the differences to the basic model. For other segments such as the case, equipment, input devices, display, and speakers, we refer you to our review of the basic version, since there are no differences in those regards:

We already knew that the new MacBook Air M2 has become significantly more expensive. With a well-equipped model as we have here (MSRP 2,309 Euros, ~$2,380), you already get into the range of a MacBook Pro 14, which is clearly superior in many areas (performance, Mini-LED display, connections, speakers). The basic model of the MBP 14 with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB SSD is currently available on the market for around 1,950 to 2,000 Euros (~$2,010-$2,061), and the model with a 1-TB SSD is available for about 2,300 Euros (~$2,371), which is the same price as our test unit of the Air M2. Of course, the Air targets a different audience with the better mobility, but we also include the Pro in our comparison charts.

Apple MacBook Air M2 review | Case – Starlight color is significantly less susceptible

With the new MacBook Air M2 in the Midnight color, we determined that while the dark blue color looks very good, it is also very susceptible to dirt and fingerprints. The current test unit in the also new Starlight color version (silver with a slight golden hue) is significantly less susceptible in these regards and corresponds more to the known versions in Silver and Space Gray.

In our review of the basic version, we already mentioned that although the new MacBook Air M2 is very slim, it still has a larger footprint than the direct competitors such as the Dell XPS 13 Plus or the Asus ZenBook S 13. If we also compare it to the MacBook Pro 14, the Pro subjectively appears significantly bulkier and is, of course, also thicker and about 400 grams (~0.9 lb.) heavier. However, in terms of pure footprint, the difference isn’t that large.

Display – An IPS panel without temporal dithering

We refer you to our review of the basic version for information on the display. In the comments section, we were asked about temporal dithering (it is used to create the illusion of more color depth). So, we examined the IPS panel of the Air M2 with a microscope and created a slow-motion recording with 240 images per second. While we were able to detect temporal dithering, for example, in the current MacBook Pro 16 with the Mini-LED panel in some particular gray color tones, this was neither the case in the old MacBook Air M1 nor in the new MacBook Air M2.

Performance – Apple M2 with 10 GPU cores

Processor

Since the processor module of the new MacBook Air always remains the same regardless of the configuration (with a total of 8 cores consisting of 4 Performance and 4 Efficiency cores), we can be brief here: The performance is basically identical. In the Cinebench loop, we see a slight advantage to the basic model after several runs, and in the final runs, the high-end Air is also minimally faster. However, this could also be explained with normal differences between the chips themselves. In practice, the difference is not noticeable.

Apple was able to increase both the single and multi-core performance due to the higher clock speed compared to the M1 processor, but you also pay for it with a higher power consumption. We have already shown in a separate article that the M2 therefore also doesn’t run as efficiently as its predecessor in terms of the processor performance.

However, the new M2 chip produces more than sufficient performance for everyday work overall, even in combination with the passive cooling of the MacBook Air. In fact, the new Air M2 is almost able to compete with the 8-core M1 Pro of the MacBook Pro 14, at least in the short multi-core benchmarks, although the performance of the Pro 14 remains completely stable without dropping.

System Performance

In terms of the subjective performance, we initially don’t notice any difference to the basic model of the MacBook Air M2, especially in everyday tasks such as writing mails, playing videos, or surfing the Internet. However, in some benchmarks, the larger storage and also the faster SSD become noticeable. Basically, emulated programs also run without any problems via Rosetta 2, but the native apps for Apple chips are generally faster and more efficient on resources. A good example are the Adobe Photoshop and Premiere Pro apps that all run acceptably as Intel versions but are significantly slower than the native apps. The PugetBench results are therefore also only of limited use, but they still show the advantage of the increased working memory and faster SSD compared to the basic model of the MacBook Air M2.

Storage Solution

After all the discussion about the new 256-GB SSDs of the new MacBook models that only use a single storage chip and are therefore significantly slower, the 1-TB SD in the MacBook Air M2 again reaches the usual transfer rates of more than 3 GB/s. However, even that isn’t current state of the art, since despite the heavy premium of 460 Euros (~$474) for the 1-TB SSD, it continues to use a dated PCIe 3.0 connection. The larger MacBook Pro 14 has a clear advantage here, since it already uses the faster PCIe 4.0 models.

Graphics Card

Except for the amount of cores, there are no differences in the GPUs of the new Apple M2, since the cores reach a maximum clock speed of 1,398 MHz in both the basic model with 8 cores and the faster 10-core version. Apple was able to improve the graphics performance with the M2 compared to the old M1 overall, and in contrast to the CPU cores, Apple succeeded in slightly increasing the efficiency here.

However, at around 13.5 watts, the power consumption has still slightly increased overall. This leads to the necessity for a quicker and stronger reduction of the graphics performance under constant load, for example during gaming, than was the case in the basic model. The result is a shrinking advantage from 19% to only about 9% compared to the 8-core GPU of the M2 after a few minutes.

 

Read Full Apple MacBook Air M2 review Here!

 

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