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Article updated on March 7, 2024 at 8:50 AM PST

M3 MacBook Air Review (13-inch, 2024): Redefining Portable Performance

Apple's 2024 MacBook Air update is a straightforward performance boost to power you through the future of work, school and play at home or away.

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Joshua Goldman
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Joshua Goldman Managing Editor / Advice
Managing Editor Josh Goldman is a laptop expert and has been writing about and reviewing them since built-in Wi-Fi was an optional feature. He also covers almost anything connected to a PC, including keyboards, mice, USB-C docks and PC gaming accessories. In addition, he writes about cameras, including action cams and drones. And while he doesn't consider himself a gamer, he spends entirely too much time playing them.
Expertise Laptops, desktops and computer and PC gaming accessories including keyboards, mice and controllers, cameras, action cameras and drones Credentials
  • More than two decades experience writing about PCs and accessories, and 15 years writing about cameras of all kinds.
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Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024)

$1,099 at Best Buy

Pros

  • Sizable performance gains from M1/Intel Airs
  • All-around great design, features
  • Adds dual display support, Wi-Fi 6E

Cons

  • Base configuration short on memory, storage

There's a tipping point when a computer goes from being useful to actually killing your productivity. This is where I'm at with my Intel-based 16-inch MacBook Pro, which I use for work. Testing the updated MacBook Airs with Apple's M3 chips only made its performance shortcomings that much more apparent. I mean, there's a good reason Apple keeps pitting the M3's performance gains against older M1- and Intel-based MacBook Airs: Those are the people who stand to gain the most by upgrading. 

That's not to say the M3 silicon isn't also an improvement over the M2, because it is. It's just that the performance differences are overall modest, but graphics performance does get a notable bump, similar to the 14- and 16-inch M3 MacBook Pro models we reviewed last year. In fact, the base 14-inch MacBook Pro has the same M3 chip that's standard on the updated 15-inch MacBook Air and an upgrade on the 13-inch. And while creators looking for a big power boost will likely want an M3 Pro or Max chip, the regular M3 is well-suited for the Air's eminently portable design, and it absolutely trounced my Intel MacBook Pro. 

The rest of the M3 MacBook Air is great too and also pretty much the same as the M2 models -- another reason those with M1 and earlier models will want to consider upgrading. 

Watch this: M3 MacBook Air Review: A Better Reason to Upgrade?

Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024)

Price as reviewed $1,499
Display size/resolution 13.6-inch 2,560x1,664 Liquid Retina LED backlit display
CPU Apple M3 chip 8-core CPU
Memory 16GB unified memory
Graphics Apple 10-core GPU
Storage 512GB SSD
Networking Wi-Fi 6E (802.11ax); Bluetooth 5.3
Operating system Apple macOS Sonoma 14.4
Apple MacBook Air M3 13-inch laptop on a wood table with windows in the background.

The 13- and 15-inch M3 MacBook Airs look the same as the M2 versions. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

The same, but also better

The new Airs start at a similar US price as before: $1,099 (£1,099, AU$1,799) for the 13-inch Air with 8GB of unified memory and 256GB solid-state drive. The 15-inch Air, also with 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, starts at $1,299 (£1,299, AU$2,199). From there you can increase memory to 16GB or 24GB and storage to 512GB, 1TB or 2TB. The base M3 on the 13-inch model has eight CPU and eight GPU cores. You can upgrade to an M3 with a 10-core GPU for $100 or, if you add more memory or storage ($200 each), Apple also the 10-core GPU M3 to the configuration. This chip is also standard on the 15-inch size. Both chip versions have a 16-core Neural Engine to accelerate AI and machine learning tasks. 

The base 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage seem stingy given the $1,099 starting price. While, in our experience, the MacBook Air runs well on 8GB of unified memory, it will limit what you can do and the overall performance longevity of the laptop. Storage can always be bolstered with external drives or cloud storage, but there's no such option for memory. If you can afford the extra $200, get 16GB of memory. 

Apple MacBook Air M3 13-inch laptop on a wood table with a blue couch in the background.

The midnight finish has a fingerprint-resistant seal. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

All of the key features and design elements introduced with the M2 redesign are carried over to the M3 MacBook Airs. So that means things like the fanless body made from recycled aluminum, the beautiful Liquid Retina displays, the excellent 1080p FaceTime camera, the great-sounding speaker systems, MagSafe 3 charging and dual Thunderbolt-USB 4 ports, are all part of the M3 Air package. The colors are the same as before too -- midnight, starlight, silver and space gray -- and the midnight finish has an anodization seal to reduce fingerprints. 

However, that also means things like the camera notch at the top of the displays, the fact that there's Touch ID on the keyboard but still no Face ID to match the iPhone and iPad, and that the MagSafe connector and both USB-C ports are crowded on the left side, so there's no option to charge from the right side, are still here too. Changes like these typically wouldn't get made until there's another major redesign, so I didn't expect them. That doesn't make them any less detracting for me, though. 

Apple MacBook Air M3 13-inch laptop  connected to two Studio displays, sitting on a green table.

You can have two external displays, but you can't have three. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

Apple did make two feature additions with the M3 chip update. One is a move from Wi-Fi 6 to 6E, which translates to faster wireless speeds, assuming you have a router that supports it. The other change is to display support. Prior models of the MacBook Air supported extending to only one external display.  With the M3 MacBook Airs, you can connect two external displays directly to the Thunderbolt USB-C ports, which will also power the MacBook. 

However, doing this comes at the cost of the MacBook Air's display; the lid must be closed in order to drive both external monitors. On the surface, this doesn't seem like much of an issue. You do lose both of the Air's USB-C ports; not great if your monitors don't have additional ports. And if typically use your laptop's keyboard and trackpad while working on an external display, you won't be able to do that either. 

For me, the bigger hiccup is the loss of Touch ID on the Air's keyboard. You can just open and close the lid to use Touch ID, but I use mine so much during the day, doing that would get old really fast. The better option is to get Apple's Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, and while you're at it, pick up a Magic Trackpad or Mouse to complete the package. 

Apple MacBook Air M3 13-inch and 15-inch laptops on a wood table.

No changes to the trackpads or keyboards for the M3 models. 

Josh Goldman/CNET

But that's pretty much it for new features for the M3 Airs. And if you're looking for big differences between the 13- and 15-inch models, there really aren't any. Aside from the obvious size difference and that the base M3 chip on the 15-inch has a 10-core GPU, there's also a difference in their speakers. The 13-inch has a four-speaker sound system, while the 15-inch has six speakers with force-canceling woofers. Both sound remarkably good. Seriously, few thin laptops have speakers worth using, but these do. 

So again, if you already have an M2 MacBook Air, the reasons to upgrade are limited. If you're a creator or want to play more demanding games -- we played a little Baldur's Gate and Death Stranding, for example -- trading in an M2 Air for a shiny new M3 MacBook Air might make sense. On the other hand, for M1 MacBook Air or Intel-based Air owners (or Intel MacBook Pro owners for that matter), the reasons to upgrade are plentiful. 

We've only had the new Airs for a few days, but we were able to run our benchmark tests and the performance essentially matches that of the 14-inch M3 MacBook Pro we tested late last year. The M3 Air is generally faster than the M2 Air, but again, it's the graphics performance that really shines. And my work laptop, a 2019 Intel-based MacBook Pro, was no match for the M3.

For good measure, we also tested a new Lenovo Slim 7, which is a 14-inch OLED laptop with an Intel Core Ultra 7 processor, integrated Arc graphics, 32GB of memory and a 1TB SSD for around $1,000. Its performance pretty much matches the M3's except for, again, graphics, where the Lenovo was competitive with... the M1 MacBook Air from 2020, so Intel still has some work to do to catch up there. 

Apple MacBook Air M3 13-inch laptop on a wood table with windows in the background.
Josh Goldman/CNET

If you're wondering about battery life, it's just as good as the other M-series MacBooks we've tested. Apple claims a battery life of up to 18 hours of Apple TV app movie playback and up to 15 hours of wireless web use. On our streaming video test we hit 18 hours 17 minutes for the 13-inch Air and 16 hours for the 15-inch model. 

The M3 MacBook Air, either size, is an easy recommendation. If you're ready to upgrade from an older MacBook Air, either the M2 or M3 models will be a significant improvement. The 13-inch M2 MacBook Air is now the $999 entry-level model, and Apple has discontinued the 15-inch M2 Air, so you can probably find some good deals on that right now. But if you plan to use your MacBook Air for STEM work, or design work, or rendering video or editing raw photos, the M3 is the better choice, and you should get at least 16GB of memory. 

Geekbench 6 (multicore)

Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024) 12128Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024) 12063Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023) 12049Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024) 12034Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch, 2023) 9859Apple MacBook Air (M1, 13-inch, 2020) 8710Apple MacBook Pro (Intel, 16-inch, 2019) 5342
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

JetStream2 (JavaScript and WebAssembly benchmark) in Chrome

Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024) 345.887Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024) 344.316Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023) 336.076Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024) 291.115Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch 2023) 264.984Apple MacBook Air (M1, 13-inch, 2020) 248.222Apple MacBook Pro (Intel, 16-inch, 2019) 173.313
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Cinebench 2024 CPU (multicore)

Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023) 710Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024) 628Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024) 591Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch 2023) 552Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024) 541Apple MacBook Air (M1, 13-inch, 2020) 449Apple MacBook Pro (Intel, 16-inch, 2019) 384
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

3DMark WIld Life Extreme Unlimited

Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023) 8288Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024) 8253Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024) 8252Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch 2023) 6876Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch 2024) 4851Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, M1, 2020) 4530
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance

Streaming video playback battery drain test (minutes)

Apple MacBook Pro (M3, 14-inch, 2023) 1129Apple MacBook Air (M3, 13-inch, 2024) 1097Apple MacBook Air (M2, 15-inch, 2023) 991Apple MacBook Air (M3, 15-inch, 2024) 960Apple MacBook Air (13-inch, M1, 2020) 933Lenovo Slim 7i (14-inch, 2024) 580
Note: Longer bars indicate better performance