With the 2020 MacBook Air, Apple has delivered the perfect laptop for everyday use. The Butterfly keyboard is gone, leading to an improved and more reliable typing experience. This is the Mac laptop most people should buy.
The Year of Finally
The 2020 MacBook Air is the first internal upgrade for this laptop, which was redesigned in 2018. The 2018 model came with a 13.3-inch Retina display, Butterfly keyboard, two USB-C ports, a Touch ID sensor, and the same, wedge-shaped design in an even lighter body, and a gold color option.
However, the previous generation was a bit underwhelming. It was so close to being great, but it missed a couple of key aspects. With the 2020 MacBook Air, Apple seems to have checked all the following boxes:
- Price: At $999 for the base model, it’s $100 less than the previous one.
- Magic Keyboard: The troublemaker, breaker of keys, and general nuisance, the Butterfly keyboard is gone! The new MacBook Air comes with scissor switches and 1mm of travel. It’s clicky, reliable, and awesome.
- 256 GB base storage: This is the first laptop in which Apple has doubled the base storage. After years of struggling with 128 GB, this is a welcome change. And if you need more, you can go all the way up to 2 TB.
- Quad-core CPU options: While the base configuration includes a dual-core, Core i3 chip, you can spec it up with a quad-core, Core i5, or even i7, to get some serious performance in a small package. Plus, the new 10th-generation Intel chips are quite power efficient.
- Intel Iris Pro graphics: The integrated Iris Pro graphics chip offers 80 percent better performance than the previous generation.
- High-performance RAM: While you’re still stuck with the 8 and 16 GB RAM options, the RAM itself is faster. The new model features 3,733 MHz LPDDR4X memory (the previous model had 2,133 MHz LPDDR3, for comparison).
- 6K external monitor support: You can connect an external monitor with up to 6K resolution and run it at a smooth, 60 Hz refresh rate.
So, finally, the MacBook Air can serve as the default option for most Mac-lovers. It’s priced right, the keyboard’s been fixed, the performance has improved, and the storage has doubled.
On the surface, this all sounds like a great deal. However, before you press that Buy button, there are two questions we need to answer. Is it for you? And, if so, which configuration should you get?
Who Should Buy a 2020 MacBook Air?
Given its price and form factor (it weighs just 2.8 pounds), the 2020 MacBook Air is a great option for students and frequent travelers. It’s also fantastic for people who primarily use their computers for surfing the web or performing basic tasks.
First, let’s look at this computer purely from the performance standpoint, and compare the Core i3 and i5 CPUs from the 2020 MacBook Air with the previous generation. Here are the results of the Geekbench 5 benchmark, which tests the system and CPU performance (via Six Colors and Apple Insider):
- 2020 MacBook Air (Core i3): Single-core: 1095. Multi-core: 2385.
- 2020 MacBook Air (Core i5): Single-core: 1047. Multi-core: 2658.
- 2018 MacBook Air (Core i5): Single-core: 790. Multi-core: 1628.
This makes things quite clear. Even though the new processor is a Core i3, the new, 10th-generation intel chips are much faster than the 8th-generation Core i5 in the previous model. Both single- and multi-core performance are significantly higher.
And the Core i5 upgrade (which costs just $100 extra) is better still.
While the base dual-core Core i3 chip is not the greatest, it should be enough for daily tasks. If you’ll use your MacBook Air to browse the web, write, email, or watch media, go with the $999 model.
Coupled with the faster 8 GB RAM and 256 GB default storage option, the 2020 MacBook Air is the new choice for most Mac customers. If you just want a MacBook for everyday tasks and don’t have specific, high-performance needs, just get a MacBook Air.
Now, on to the second question. Which MacBook Air should you buy?
Spring for the Core i5 Processor
Yes, the dual-core, Core i3 model performs surprisingly well. However, we still suggest you spend a little more and get the Core i5 for several reasons.
First, it’s a quad-core chip, and when it comes to multitasking, this makes a huge difference. If you plan to shuffle between resource-intensive apps, like Chrome, Slack, Zoom, or Lightroom all day, those two extra cores will come in handy.
Upgrading from the base option also opens up possibilities. The Core i5 will easily allow you to do basic audio, video, and photo editing, or even software development, without too many issues. It might not work too well on heavy-duty tasks, but it’ll get you by in a pinch.
The biggest reason to upgrade to the Core i5 model is that only costs an additional $100. That’s the best $100 you can spend to increase the overall lifespan of your computer.
The MacBook Air comes in two models: the $999 base configuration, and the $1,299 build with the Core i5 chip and 512 GB storage.
This time around, all upgrades are available for both models. We suggest you go with the base model, and then add whatever is necessary.
We recommend the following:
- Processor: We’ve already made the case for the Core i5 upgrade. The faster multitasking and future-proofing are worth the extra $100. The $250 Core i7 upgrade, though, is overkill for most people.
- Memory: For most, the fast, 3733 MHz LPDDR4X RAM is going to be enough, as macOS is very good at memory management. However, if you do professional-level editing work, you might want to spring for the 16 GB RAM upgrade ($200). Unfortunately, you can’t upgrade this later.
- Storage: Even here, the base configuration is going to be enough for most people. If you struggled with the base, 128 GB storage on a previous MacBook, though, get the 512 GB SSD upgrade for $200. It’s not easy to add more storage down the line.
Again, for most people, we recommend you add the Core i5 upgrade and call it a day. You’ll be getting a very fast, lightweight, capable computer for $1,099. If you have the money to spare, we also recommend adding the 512 GB SDD option, which brings the total to $1,299.
The MacBook Pro Problem
If you’re configuring your MacBook Air with a Core i7 processor, 16 GB of RAM, and 512 GB storage, you might realize you’re creeping up into MacBook Pro territory. So, why not just buy a MacBook Pro?
Well, the answer has much to do with value, timing, and thermal limits.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro starts at $1,299 and offers only 128 GB storage. The 256 GB version (which comes standard on the $999 MacBook Air) costs $1,499. Even then, the MacBook Pro comes with an 8th generation processor and that troublesome Butterfly keyboard.
Also, since Apple already refreshed the 16-inch MacBook Pro with a new Magic Keyboard, we should see a new 14-inch model soon. Hopefully, it will have 256 GB storage in the $1,299 base model.
The one thing the MacBook Pro has going for it, though, is the thermal headroom. It has better, faster processors that can sustain a heavy workload for longer. The MacBook Air, on the other hand, just doesn’t have the thermal headroom for it.
So, if you push the MacBook Air too much (even with the Core i5 or i7 CPU), it will overheat and start throttling the CPU. This means your apps might start lagging or crash altogether.
Now, granted, this won’t happen unless you’re really doing something heavy, like editing a 4K video. If you do plan to do that kind of work, though, you should get a MacBook Pro, instead.