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Why the old MacBook Air is still the perfect choice for some students

MacBook Air 2022
(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / iMore)

The MacBook Air has long been a popular choice for students thanks to its lightweight form factor and relatively low price tag. In June, Apple launched its latest MacBook Air. With a fresh (but still light) design, the 2022 model has a lot going for it, starting with the all-new Apple M2 chip, new color choices, and more. 

We at iMore firmly believe the five-star-rated MacBook Air (M2, 2022) is not only the best Mac overall, but it's the best MacBook for students. And yet, there are still many reasons the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) might be a better choice as you head back to the classroom. It comes down to whether you'll truly benefit from the new features. 

As we noted in our comparison guide, this year's MacBook Air has better internals (CPU and GPU), a bigger and higher quality display, an improved FaceTime camera, better speakers, and more. With these new perks, however, Apple has elevated the starting price by $200, from $999 to $1,199. 

M1 vs. M2

MacBook Air 2022 lifestyle photos

(Image credit: Karen S. Freeman / iMore)

Undeniably, the Apple M2 chip found on the newer MacBook Air is better than the earlier model's M1 chip. However, this difference might mean very little, depending on what you intend to do with your laptop. 

In technical terms, the M2 offers 20 billion transistors, 25% more than the M1. According to Apple, this difference translates into a CPU performance uptick of approximately 18%, even though both feature an 8-core CPU. 

With the GPU, which handles the laptop's graphics-intensive tasks, the M2 has an 8-core GPU by default versus the 7-core GPU found on the 2020 MacBook Air. You can increase this to a 10-core GPU on the newer model. As a result, you'll find 25% better performance on the M2 with the same power level, although that number can jump by 35% at maximum power. 

Finally, although both machines include a 16-core Neural Engine (used for machine learning), the one on the M2 MacBook Air can perform these tasks up to 40% quicker. 

In the real world, and as noted in our MacBook Air (M2, 2022) review, you can expect 1.2x faster Photoshop performance for applying filters and effects and 1.4x speedier video editing with Final Cut Pro. 

These are great improvements from M1 to M2. And yet, if you don't plan on using your laptop with highly intensive apps like Adobe Photoshop and Final Cut Pro, you'll find zero benefits. 

Design changes

Macbook Air M2 Magsafe Charging Cable Hands On Wwdc

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / iMore)

With the 2022 MacBook Air, Apple removed the popular wedge-style design, a hallmark of past versions. The change means there's uniformity across the MacBook Air's shell shape. In turn, this has to lead to a reduction of 20% in the overall volume of the machine while keeping the same height across the device. The changes lowered the overall weight of the machine from 2.8 lbs to 2.7 lbs, even though the display has jumped from 13.3-inches to 13.6-inches diagonally. 

Without the wedge design, Apple was able to add the much-missed MagSafe charging connector to the newer model. This type of connector makes charging much safer since a quick (or accidental) pull on the cable will disconnect it from the machine, making it less likely the device will fall to the floor and get damaged. 

MagSafe is excellent, as I first mentioned in my 14-inch MacBook Pro review. Not only does it add an element of safety, but it frees up one of the two USB-C ports for accessories use. However, if you don't care for the new design or MagSafe, it's not worth the extra cost.

Similar features

MacBook Air M1 2020

(Image credit: Daniel Bader / Android Central)

Despite the many advances made on this year's MacBook Air, there are significant similarities between the 2022 and 2020 models. For example, both models offer the same battery life (up to 18 hours between charges) and storage options (256GB, 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB). Both are also available with 8GB or 16GB of RAM, although the newer model also is available with 24GB.

The list of similarities doesn't end here. Both machines also include: 

  • Touch ID and a backlit keyboard with 78 (U.S.) or 79 (ISO) keys including 12 full-height function keys and four arrow keys
  • Force Touch trackpad
  • Bluetooth 5.0 wireless technology
  • Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports
  • True Tone technology
  • Wide stereo sound with Dolby Atmos
  • Three-mic array with directional beamforming
  • And much more

Availability, price, and colors

M2 Macbook Air Midnight Closed

(Image credit: Gerald Lynch / iMore)

There are a few additional points worth considering when deciding whether to purchase the 2022 MacBook Air or go with the older model. 

First, consider availability. Finding a 2022 MacBook Air to buy before the start of the school year could be next to impossible. The pandemic continues to cause supply issues, which is most noticeable when you want to purchase a MacBook Air that goes beyond the base model. We're not talking months-long delays, but you still might be waiting weeks to get your new device. By contrast, the older model is much easier to find in stock. 

Price-wise, remember you'll already save $200 by selecting the older entry-level model. And, if discounts are available, you'll almost certainly find them on this one, not the newer model. 

There's also the question of colors. The 2020 MacBook Air is sold in Space Gray, silver, and gold. By contrast, the 2022 MacBook Air comes in Space Gray, silver, Midnight, and Starlight. For some, color choice is everything so keep the differences in mind. 

One final point, then you must decide

Typically, when Apple announces a new Mac, the earlier model is discontinued. So, for example, in 2021, the 24-inch iMac replaced (and retired) the 21.5-inch iMac. 

In this case, however, Cupertino has chosen to keep the 2020 MacBook Air around at its original price tag. Apple's extending the machine's life cycle by continuing to sell the older MacBook Air, presumably for at least another year. Apple's unique decision means the older laptop will work with more future macOS updates, such as the upcoming macOS 13 Ventura, and get longer hardware support. This is a big deal, especially if you plan to keep your machine for many years.

It's now time for you to decide. Take a look at the differences, and choose between the 2020 and 2022 MacBook Air. Regardless, the selected machine will bring you years of enjoyment and productivity. Have a great school year!

Bryan M Wolfe
Staff Writer

Bryan M. Wolfe has written about technology for over a decade on various websites, including TechRadar, AppAdvice, and many more. Before this, he worked in the technology field across different industries, including healthcare and education. He’s currently iMore’s lead on all things Mac and macOS, although he also loves covering iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch. Bryan enjoys watching his favorite sports teams, traveling, and driving around his teenage daughter to her latest stage show, audition, or school event in his spare time. He also keeps busy walking his black and white cocker spaniel, Izzy, and trying new coffees and liquid grapes.