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Be careful when you buy a MacBook Air: Avoid the Intel SKUs of the 2020 Air

Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1
There are plenty of discounts for the Apple MacBook Air 2020 before Christmas. However, a closer look usually reveals that it is a discontinued model with an old Intel processor. We think you should avoid these SKUs, even though you can save some money.

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The MacBook Air is Apple's most affordable notebook and there are usually some offers for the holiday season. This year, you will once again find plenty of offers at local dealers and online shops. However, a closer look at the specs reveals that almost all models are discontinued SKUs with Intel processors. The big issue here is that both the Intel as well as the new Apple M1 model are often just listed as Apple MacBook Air 2020. If you do not pay attention, you will get a significantly inferior device.

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Where is the difference?

The most recent (Late 2020) update of the MacBook Air is probably the most important change in the recent years, because Apple now uses its own M1 ARM processor for the first time and waives the previous Intel Core CPUs. We have already reviewed the MacBook Air M1 and the result is very good. The performance of the new M1 silicone is not only much higher compared to the efficient Y-series CPUs of the previous MBA models, but the chip is also more efficient and does not need a fan anymore. The small chassis fan of the previous models was probably the biggest issue in our opinion, because it was not very efficient and just way too loud considering the low performance. The new MacBook Air M1 is now passively cooled and therefore always a silent companion.

Cinebench R15 / CPU Single 64Bit
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
208 Points ∼100%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 i3
Iris Plus Graphics G4 (Ice Lake 48 EU), i3-1000NG4, Apple SSD AP0256
141 Points ∼68% -32%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 i5
Iris Plus Graphics G7 (Ice Lake 64 EU), i5-1030NG7, Apple SSD AP0512
140 Points ∼67% -33%
Cinebench R15 / CPU Multi 64Bit
Apple MacBook Air 2020 M1 Entry
M1 7-Core GPU, M1, Apple SSD AP0256Q
1020 (817min - 1020max) Points ∼100%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 i5
Iris Plus Graphics G7 (Ice Lake 64 EU), i5-1030NG7, Apple SSD AP0512
448 (363min - 448max) Points ∼44% -56%
Apple MacBook Air 2020 i3
Iris Plus Graphics G4 (Ice Lake 48 EU), i3-1000NG4, Apple SSD AP0256
333 (293min - 333max) Points ∼33% -67%

There are more advantages compared to the previous Intel models: Longer battery runtime, improved display (now with P3 color gamut instead of sRGB), slightly improved speakers, a better stereo jack, and Wi-Fi 6.

We were a bit concerned about the ARM processor at first, but we were positively surprised. macOS runs extremely well and even better compared to the old MacBook Air with Intel CPUs. Apple's own emulation software for old apps that were designed for Intel Macs is also extremely powerful. There are still some compatibility issues here and there, but considering the M1 MacBooks have just been launched, the situation is already very good and it is just no comparison with the poor experience you get on Windows on ARM notebooks (not even talking about the extremely limited app selection; the emulation of x86 apps is still in development).

What about the price?

The old MacBook Air 2020 with the Intel Core i3 CPU (256 GB SSD) starts as low as $799 (Best Buy), the slightly faster Core i5 quad-core SKU (512 GB SSD) retails for around $1049. Both devices are much slower than the new MacBook Air 2020 M1 for $999 or even $899 in Apple's own education store. We definitely recommend the M1 model, especially if you you have already considered an i5 or even i7 SKU. We also think the i3 MacBook Air is still a bit expensive, so if possible, you should get the newer M1 model or wait for another price drop.

If you have already decided to get a new M1 MacBook Air and you are not sure about the iGPU (7 vs. 8 cores), we can recommend our article, where we have compared the two. If you are not sure that you really need the additional performance, the entry-level model is a very solid choice. Please see our in-depth review for more information about the new M1 MacBook Air 2020.

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Andreas Osthoff
Editor of the original article: Andreas Osthoff - Managing Editor Business Laptops - 1302 articles published on Notebookcheck since 2013
I grew up with modern consumer electronics and my first computer was a Commodore C64, which encouraged my interest in building my own systems. I started working as a review editor for Notebookcheck during my dual studies at Siemens. Currently, I am mainly responsible for dealing with business laptops and mobile workstations. It’s a great experience to be able to review the latest devices and technologies and then compare them with each other.
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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > News > News Archive > Newsarchive 2020 12 > Be careful when you buy a MacBook Air: Avoid the Intel SKUs of the 2020 Air
Andreas Osthoff, 2020-12-17 (Update: 2020-12-17)