Apple’s release of the new MacBook Air was highly anticipated, primarily for two reasons: the highly anticipated redesign and the introduction of the M2 processor, the next generation of Apple’s M-series of chips. As expected, reviews for the M2 MacBook Air were positive, with Macworld’s Jason Cross calling it “a hit” and “a delightful everyday computer for most users.”
But praise for the MacBook Air has been overshadowed by reports of throttled performance. Article by article warns of a performance “lack”, “difficult” Throttling, and how it “can’t handle the heat”, and video by video demonstrates what’s supposedly wrong with the new laptop. It might make some people wonder if it’s worth their money and wonder what Apple was thinking.
Here’s the thing: We’ve been here before, folks. When the new M1 MacBook Air was unveiled in 2020, it made splashy headlines with its stunning speed improvement over Intel chips, as well as the throttling required to maintain a reasonable temperature under more strenuous workloads. In fact, heat has always been an issue with MacBook Air, even before Apple silicon.
It’s the same story, different year. Why is it new again? Why didn’t Apple fix the problem? The answer is simple and lies in what the intended user of the MacBook Air is.
The MacBook Air does not have built-in fans. It’s a passively cooled machine, meaning it doesn’t use any special hardware to actively cool it. This is done deliberately so that the MacBook Air can be thinner than the MacBook Pro. When MacBook Air starts to heat up, it throttles to maintain a reasonable operating temperature. This is another aspect of the MacBook Air that is intentional.
The MacBook Air is also Apple’s most popular laptop because it’s the company’s most affordable. Its price attracts so-called “casual users” who spend most of their time online, using productivity apps like iWork or Microsoft Office, streaming audio and video for either entertainment or online meetings and other productivity tasks everyone does with a computer. Probably the most stressful work involves apps like Photos, iMovie, GarageBand, or other consumer-level creative software for short periods of time.
The MacBook Air handles these tasks with ease – it’s as fast as the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the same M2 processor. It’s what most people should buy – add the redesign and feature set of the Air and we think it’s better value than the 13-inch Pro. If I just described what you do every day, the MacBook Air is a better value for you. (There’s a separate performance issue with the MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 256GB SSD that’s a head-scratching design decision but unrelated to the throttling concerns.)
That’s not to say the MacBook Air doesn’t throttle. It does. But what does it throttle? Tasks that “occasional” users don’t do on a regular basis. For example, one report of Air’s severe throttling concerned the export of 8K Canon RAW video. Do you know what produces 8K Canon RAW video? Cameras that cost over $4,000. You know who works in 8K Canon RAW video? video professionals. Do you know what Macs they buy? MacBook Pros.
The MacBook Air throttles on CPU-intensive tasks that are often performed by users doing “serious” work, often in a professional environment. This is intentional. If you use a MacBook Air and often render 8K RAW videos, or produce long high-resolution videos in Final Cut Pro, or make music professionally, or whatever you’re doing that’s constantly taxing the CPU and you’re frustrated by it, guess what? You are using the wrong tool for the job. You should be using a MacBook Pro.
If you insist that Apple fix the MacBook Air instead, ask yourself, if you’re willing to spend money on the equipment to produce the content you want, why skimp on the MacBook to finish the job?
Headlines that grab you
Many of those reports making headlines about the problem actually indicate that you have to do something uncharacteristically for a casual user to get the MacBook Air to throttle. But there are also plenty of reports glossing over the fact that you probably won’t be rendering a 60-minute 4K video in Final Cut Pro while having 20 tabs open in Safari and sorting through your FileMaker Pro collection database of 10,000 gems. And when they sugarcoat it, it looks like it’s an issue that affects everyone.
As someone who works in the media, I will admit that we fight for your attention and some media outlets are more willing to exaggerate in their headlines than others. (And yes, Macworld is to blame, too. I hear about it in your emails and tweets.) But most outlets clarify who the intended user for the MacBook Air is in their content.
The fanless MacBook Air is intentional – Apple doesn’t overlook anything. Its target user is “the rest of us”, everyday users with productivity tasks that need to get done. The MacBook Pro is for users who demand computing power. Get the right Mac for what you want to do.