2022 MacBook Air vs. 2020 MacBook Air: Is the New Air, and Its M2 CPU, Worth the Extra Cash?

At WWDC, Apple announced its new M2 chip based on its own silicon design, as well as two new MacBook laptops that will run on this enhanced platform. The headliner is the new M2-based MacBook Air, which has received several physical and feature upgrades over the 2020 M1-based Air, in addition to the new core-processing guts.

The thing is, the 2020 Air was a very popular machine, given its attractive starting price of $999, and it will be staying on the market alongside the 2022 model, at least for now. How do the two compare, and with its higher starting price, is the new kid worthy enough to earn your extra dollars? Read on for a breakdown.

The 2022 MacBook Air: Fresh Style, Lower Profile

Despite the MacBook Air’s already compact frame, the M2 Air has been trimmed down even further. Somehow, Apple is touting a 20% further reduction in size compared to the M1 Air, which measures 0.63 by 11.97 by 8.36 inches and weighs 2.8 pounds.

Apple MacBook Air (M1, Late 2020)

The 2020 MacBook Air
(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

The 2022 model is only 0.44 inch thick, and—good-bye, taper—it also ditches the signature wedge shape for a squarer, more MacBook Pro-like chassis shape in its redesign. It’s also a few feathers lighter, at 2.7 pounds.

M2 MacBook Air

The new-look M2-based Air
(Photo: Brian Westover)

As far as its build quality, I personally did not get hands-on time with the new Air myself, but my colleague Brian Westover attended WWDC and reported on its look and feel in his hands-on experience. In his view, despite the much trimmer height, it looks and feels surprisingly solid and, as ever, feels very well made.

The 2022 Air will also come in some new color options. The four options are Silver, Starlight, the classic Space Gray, and Midnight. Midnight is entirely new compared to the 2020 Air, while the Starlight color replaces what was simply called Gold; Starlight looks like a more traditional and less rose-gold color.

The New M2 Processor: Component, Pricing Changes Abound

That physical redesign is likely to be the priority for many shoppers and fans of the MacBook Air. After all, the M1 chip already ensures a fine performance baseline, and at a $999 starting price for that model, that deal still exists. Maybe the new design is enough to get those shoppers on board.

M2 Layout

The M2 chip emerges at WWDC.
(Photo: Brian Westover)

For those who didn’t buy into M1, though, or performance hounds looking to upgrade, the M2 chip is the bigger deal. Apple’s first generation of this in-house 5-nanometer fabrication process was a hit, and the second take looks even faster. Apple is promising an 18% improvement in performance versus power draw, which is a nice passive upgrade if it pans out in testing.

M2 Performance

Rather than rehash all of the differences, I’ll point you to our in-depth M1 vs M2 comparison. You can find many more details on the changes and differences between the two families. So far, Apple has announced only a single version of the M2; there is no Ultra, Pro, or Max variant (yet).

Here, then, is a summary of the differences in configuration of the base models…

As mentioned, the previous Air started at $999, but the M2 version is more costly. It starts at $1,199, a $200 increase, which, of course, includes the new design and the improved M2 chip. The upgrades are nice, but the loss of the $999 deal in a unit based on M2 silicon is still disappointing—I’ve already outlined my thoughts on the new pricing structure.

The starting configuration comes with 8GB of memory and a 256GB SSD, same as before. A standout spec is that the 2022 Air is available with up to 24GB of this unified memory, an unusual capacity tied to Apple’s unique memory and processor structure.

In the base model, there is also, of course, a sort of “passive” upgrade of M2 as far as performance and even core count go—the M2 chip in the cheapest 2022 configuration of the Air has eight CPU cores and eight GPU cores, up from eight and seven from the M1 Air, respectively.

2022 Air vs. 2020 Air Display and Features: A Bigger Screen, a Better Camera

The chassis itself may be smaller, but counterintuitively, the display itself is actually bigger. The laptop industry has been on an unrelenting mission to decrease the size of screen bezels over the past few years, and that has, again, led to a larger display in a smaller body.

M2 MacBook Air

The slightly larger screen and camera notch on the 2022 model
(Photo: Brian Westover)

It’s not a massive increase in the 2022 Air—the new screen is 13.6 inches, and adds the controversial notch up top for the webcam. That’s up from the 13.3-inch display of the 2020 Air. Not a massive gain, but who wouldn’t take a larger screen in a smaller laptop?

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M2 MacBook Air

The 2022’s screen is a 13.6-incher with an atypical resolution.
(Photo: Brian Westover)

As for the display technology, there’s a Liquid Retina panel with a 2,560-by-1,664-pixel resolution. According to my colleague, it looks amazing and really pops with 500 nits of brightness, so you can look forward to its quality. The 2020 Air features a 2,560-by-1,600 resolution, so it’s very similar for the old 13.3-inch size.

Apple MacBook Air (M1, Late 2020)

The 2020 Air: Those older bezels look thick in comparison.
(Photo: Zlata Ivleva)

Speaking of the webcam, that’s upgraded too. In a move that’s very friendly to remote and home work, the new camera is up to 1080p from 720p, for a much sharper picture. This is slowly becoming the standard as users lean more and more on their personal and home laptop cameras, and the jump in clarity from 720p is generally, well, clear.

M2 MacBook Air

MagSafe charging joins the Air line.
(Photo: Brian Westover)

M2 MacBook Air

The 2022 Air’s MagSafe connector
(Photo: Brian Westover)

Finally, it’s no longer USB-C as the only option for charging the Air. While the two USB-C ports (with Thunderbolt support) are still the only connectivity for displays and peripherals (and you can still use them for charging), Apple added a MagSafe charger for power. This will also support fast charging, unlike before, so you can free up a USB-C connection and juice up your laptop more quickly.

Should You Get the 2022 Air or the 2020 Air?

Those are the major differences between the old and new MacBook Air, with plenty to look forward to in the 2022 Air if you’re eyeing a new laptop. The increased starting price may give you pause, but it is at least easy to see where the improvements come in.

We will reserve a firm recommendation until we have had a chance to benchmark-test the 2022 Air against the 2020 model. But the early takeaway is that the 2022 model and its amped-up M2 chip should appeal mainly to performance hounds, and the 2020 can hold its own for the price-conscious. To frequent travelers, though, there may be no contest once they grasp the new Air: The extra slimness alone could be the decider in favor of the 2022 model.

Check back for our full review of the 2022 M2-based MacBook Air when units become available later this month.

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