New M3 MacBook Air Models Can Drive Two Displays

Originally published at: New M3 MacBook Air Models Can Drive Two Displays - TidBITS

Apple has introduced M3 versions of the 13-inch and 15-inch MacBook Air, increasing performance, enabling them to drive two external displays, and updating them to more modern wireless networking standards.

I don’t need this, but I’m glad for those that do that they are finally doing this with the base M series processor.

It looks like Apple also dropped the M1 MacBook Air at the same time (as well as the 15" M2 - the only M2 is the 13"). Now all MacBooks have MagSafe power (in addition to USB-C.)

Nice for the portable crowd, but what I really want is a 27-30 inch iMac with upgraded chips

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You mentioned:

For those—like me—with an M1 MacBook Air, the main reason to upgrade is if you need more performance than the M1 chip can provide.

What about MacBook Pro M1 (2021) owners like me? Are we falling behind the MacBook Airs now in performance?

Adam, I currently have a 2018 Mac Mini and I have been trying to decide between a 14" MBP (I prefer its keyboard over the MBA) and a Mac Mini. I don’t have a portable Mac (my wife has an M1 MBA) so the idea of a double-duty portable Mac is tempting. I do not plan to run two external displays. (I still use a 10+ year old NEC 1080p display LOL.)

I also have a 5’ long standing desk, so I am wondering how you would have to modify your standing desk to accommodate a 14" MBP. One reason I have been kinda stuck regarding a portable Mac is figuring out how I would set things up so I can easily move from stationary to portable use. It would be a first for me so any insights will be appreciated.

Can’t speak for @ace, but I’m assuming part of it is that he wants to use two large external displays with his MacBook on that desk.

I have been using a 14" MBP (and before it a 13" and 15" MBP) in clamshell mode as my main “desktop” Mac for many years now. I spend a lot of time away from my desk, be it on travel or in the lab or at home, and after for many years having several Macs and dealing with syncing (and the added upkeep), I figured one beefy Mac to rule them all is better for me. Apple Silicon finally gives us true workstation power in a portable Mac. Thunderbolt gives us all we need for a truly dockable notebook. I choose 14" over 16" simply because I spend too much time on the go and don’t want the added weight/size to get in my way.

At the desk I plug the 14" MBP into my CalDigit TB4 hub that connects to all my peripherals, my office Gigabit, and my 27" 4K screen. That also keeps it charged and allows me to use it as I used to use desktop Macs. When I go away from the desk (which I often do, hence the 14" MBP with its much nicer screen and speakers vs. a MBA) I just eject my external drives in Finder and after a brief pause to let the drives unmount (check blinking stops vs. just icon goes away in Finder) I yank the TB4 cable. Done.

When I get back to the desk from using it on the go, I just plug it in, hit the shift key on my KB and it comes back to life and auto-mounts all the external drives plus reconnects to Gigabit and starts charging again. It’s all very nice and seamless. Window arrangement between on-the-go use with the internal display vs. clamshell mode on an external 27" used to be a bit iffy at times, but these days I rarely deal with anything more than perhaps moving a window to a more appropriate spot on the larger display.

With Apple Silicon and TB4 I can only recommend the setup. Feel free to ask if you have any more questions about using a portable Mac as your “desktop” Mac.


Nice. I was expecting this announcement, although I was expecting it in a few weeks at an event, not just something slipped onto Apple’s web site without any fanfare.

And I’m glad to read about it, because circumstances (Firefox dropping support for macOS Sierra in August) means I am going to have to upgrade my 11" 2011 Air.

Looking over the options, it looks like the 13" model, with 24G RAM and 512G storage (for $1700) will be my choice - with the expectation that it will last for at least 10 years before I will need to replace it again. Here’s hoping.

Falling behind? Is there a competition somewhere? If your M1 still runs all the apps you use at a comfortable level of performance, why do you care? Of course, if you feel you need more power, then you should upgrade, but this was the case even before the M3 was announced.

The vanilla M3 14" MBP will also allow for dual display support in clamshell mode once it gets a software update. Not confirmed for 14.4 though.

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It’s fine. I was just curious if somehow the new, inexpensive Mac Airs actually beat my M1 MBP in performance now.

I wonder if, given the M series, that all of them, from 1 through 3, with their subdivisions of Pro and Max and Ultra, are best considered as variants on a scale. All useful, all powerful, more punch and features as you move along, but broadly all ranging from good to excellent, depending on your needs.

Kind of like the iPhones. Models 11 through 15 are all really good.

I wonder if upgrade paths will slow down or is it just me? Time was I had a seven year window I considered for my Macs. Buy the best I could afford and then bank on a seven year use window with any excess being good fortune. My 2019 iMac still rocking along and while it’s no match for my 16" M1 Max MBPro, nonetheless both machines handle editing 4k multi stream video or my 100Mp RAW files…

I think my usage is mapped to earlier requirements, why would I even think of upgrading either?

Oh we most certainly are. This upgrade is impressive. Just consider what you’re now getting in a svelte 13" MacBook.

The single-core performance is massively better thanks to an improved core and a significant clock increase. And in terms of multicore performance you can now get a 8-core 13" MBA that beats an M1 Max. Its Neural Engine is massively faster (main jump was M2 over M1) and the GPU has a lot of nice added goodies over even the M2s (better caching, h/w ray tracing and mesh shading). And all while using less power. These are without a doubt a sweet upgrade. Many of us will be fine sticking to our M1s, but if you need a new Mac today or you are finally getting around to replacing an old Intel Mac, these are awesome and there’s no reason to hold back. :slight_smile:

Howard Oakley has cautioned repeatedly against using just simple benchmark figures. And rightly so. Instead he has written a beautiful series that investigates the various M1-M3 evolution steps (he uses the Pro to demonstrate because that’s what he got) and points out why it’s about more than just a benchmark figure. Here’s his conclusion which at the end contains links to all the detail parts of his series. Great read.

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Whoa. Two displays change everything. I’m a MBP 16" M1 user and got my wife a 15" MBA 6 months ago. I have always liked the weight of the MBAs.

I don’t have a need for the ultra-mega-CPU/GPU power these days, and I don’t mind just a little lower resolution when I not connected to my Apple and LG Displays at my desk.

I’ll resize my MBP to the MBA’s highest res to see how things look, but I might have a look at the Apple Store this week.

If so, I’ll need to find a new home for the MBP 16 because I just can’t continue to keep every damn upgrade in my closet. :grinning:

Interesting article.

To be honest, I likely wouldn’t know the difference in speed against my M1 MBP since it is as fast as I need. If my MBP were able to go on a diet, I wouldn’t be thinking about the MBA.

3 posts were split to a new topic: What’s your Mac desk look like?

Oh, that surprised me. I’m thinking about replacing my wife’s Intel MBA with this new model, and I was assuming I’d go with the 1 TB configuration. Mainly for future-proofing against the ever expanding size of software installs in general, and macOS in particular. Maybe I don’t need that much?

The most valuable bit for me was Howard’s advice about how to tell if you should upgrade from an M1 to an M3. I should really call this out in an ExtraBIT for all TidBITS readers to see.

Rule of thumb for upgrading

If you already have an Apple silicon Mac and are wondering whether to upgrade to an M3 model, you can use this rule of thumb as a way of working out which chip you’ll need.

Load your current Mac up with the apps you normally use together when working, and watch their use in Activity Monitor’s CPU History window. If most or all of its P cores are fully occupied much of the time, and that workload often spills over to the E cores, then you should aim for an M3 with more P cores (Max); if there’s always adequate spare capacity on the Mac’s P cores, then you probably wouldn’t get much added value from an M3 with more P cores.


My theory on upgrades…since I only do it every 6-7 years for my laptop.

Skip the low end and get at least the medium one in the model spread. Skip the 16 and go with the 14/15 based on weight since it does get schlepped around when we travel. Always upgrade RAM and drive…my current 14 M1 has 32GB and 2TB but would upgrade this to 4TB next time so that my external Lightroom catalog and images drive can get backed up to the internal while I’m gone. Stick with the Pro…more ports, better screen, and more pixels on the screen.

Wife on the other hand…just sticks with the lightest air…she’s currently got an M1 13 and doesn’t want any smaller than that as she has some vision issues…she only uses hers for Numbers/Pages, Firefox, and Mail mostly.

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I think these days Apple has us really well covered on the mobile Mac side. Probably better than ever before. You can get a very speedy MBA if portability is your primary concern. OTOH thanks to the tremendous performance of M3 and Apple now also offering a vanilla M3 14" MBP, people who don’t need more power but emphasize screen and audio quality can get a good deal too.

I don’t need tremendous CPU performance and I need even less from my GPU. But since I spend a lot of time away from the desk, screen quality and speakers are important to me. I could probably be just fine with a vanilla M3 14" MBP as long as I deck it out with enough memory and SSD (and I am very happy with my M1 Pro 14"). My wife OTOH doesn’t really care too much about a high-quality screen, she prefers single-app mode and lower resolution for legibility. She doesn’t need more performance than I do, but she absolutely hates big and heavy. To her the thinner/lighter the better so the MBA is ideal. I have a postdoc here who runs several VMs side by side and is always maxxing out her cores. But like me, she also wants something that she can still bring onto (and use!) on coach. To her the M3 Max with 48 GB RAM all in a 14" is perfect.

In the past, performance requirements tended to push us toward one end of the lineup. And often times those who wanted super light or small couldn’t get really nice performance. Nowadays it feels like almost everybody can get the portable Mac that suits their use almost perfectly. There is a bunch of stuff I don’t necessarily agree with Apple on, but I have rarely been so bullish about Mac before. The present portable lineup is spectacular and offers us more diversity than I think we’ve ever enjoyed before.


My main desktop Mac has 2TB of storage. But for my laptop, I don’t need that much - just enough to hold my apps and a few actively-used documents. Everything else is stored elsewhere and is accessed via my home LAN.

But my expected usage is probably not going to be yours.