Apple does an Intel by comparing the 2022 MacBook Air with M2 with the MacBook Air 2019 with Intel Core i5-8210Y
It appears Apple has “done an Intel” by hiding some potentially embarrassing data in the fine print. Big tech companies are constantly being caught out by conveniently obfuscating details to make new launches look more impressive than they really are, whether it be chip designers picking select benchmarks that run more optimally on their architecture or laptop OEMs deliberately choosing devices for comparisons that will make their latest and greatest look even more magnificent. Apple has seemingly chosen the latter course for the 2022 MacBook Air with M2 by comparing it with the MacBook Air 2019 with Intel Core i5-8210Y.
There is a section on the MacBook Air with M2 product page that starts with the line “The M2 chip can really zip”. Apple begins by listing various usage scenarios such as video editing and gaming, and it then compares the new MacBook Air with the model with M1 processor, which is fine. Here, the M2 model offers a so-so 1.2x (image upscaling) to a good 3x (ProRes video transcode) performance improvement over the previous-generation Apple MacBook Air. So far, so good. The comparison then moves to pitting the 2022 MacBook Air against an “Intel-based MacBook Air”, with the slightly dulled text revealing the chip in the latter to be a dual-core Intel Core i5.
There are some amazing performance leaps shown here, which to the layperson would simply convey the message that “Apple M2 good, Intel bad”. For instance, video editing is 15x faster on the M2 model than the Intel Core i5 MacBook, and image upscaling hits a remarkable 26x performance difference in favor of the 2022 MacBook Air. On the surface, it looks like Apple has produced an absolute beast of a laptop – but the reality is more prosaic. Although there’s little doubt the M2 chip will be a decent competitor in the processor arena, it’s actually competing against an Intel Core i5-8210Y from 2018. “Brand-new processor from 2022 thrashes four-year-old rival” is hardly as tantalizing a boast as “24x faster at video transcode performance”.
Apple, in fairness like most companies who engage this marketing practice, even hides the exact details in the notes, simply stating “production 1.6 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5-based MacBook Air systems with Intel UHD Graphics 617”. So, this is the 2018 Amber Lake i5-8210Y found in the MacBook Air 2019 – Cupertino could have gone with the Intel Core i5-1030NG7 variant of the MacBook Air 2020, but the resulting stats wouldn’t have looked so sweet as the Team Blue chip can hit 3.5 GHz.
The M2 processor uses 5 nm technology and sports 8x CPU cores and up to 10x GPU cores – the i5-8210Y is based on a 14-nm manufacturing process and potters along with two processor cores and a low-end iGPU. Perhaps Apple could have even compared the 2022 MacBook Air with the 2008 model as that also had a low-power dual-core Intel processor with a 1.6 GHz clock rate inside it (Intel Core 2 Duo SP7500) – imagine those performance comparison returns!