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MacBook Air with M2 processor preview: small “pro”

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MacBook Air with M2 processor preview: small “pro”
Written by aquitodovale

Apple today presented the new renewed MacBook Air: to push the 2022 version of what is the best-selling Apple laptop ever is the second generation of Apple Silicon, M2. We took some time at the end of the keynote to deepen some details related to both the notebook and the processor, and we start from the latter, perhaps the most anticipated product.

M1 was a huge success: it was the first homemade processor from Apple and it was also a total disruption of what had been seen to date. M2 doesn’t have the same disruptive effect: it is an improved version of M1 that must comply with some very specific lawsand in this case the production process dictates the law.

M1 is made by TSMC at 5 nanometers, M2 uses TSMC’s 5PN production technology which improves performance, improves performance and consumption but it does not increase the density of transistors while keeping the node sizes identical. Apple, thanks to a better performance in terms of production, has however pushed towards a bigger “die” and has managed to put 20 billion transistors into the M2, 4 billion more than those present on the M1.

Just look at the specifications to understand that this “bonus” is exploited almost exclusively for the 2 additional GPU cores: M1 had an 8-core GPU M2, in the most powerful version, has 10 cores dedicated to graphics computing.

The use of the improved production process has probably allowed those who designed the processor to remove some redundant elements on the die, thus leaving room for the improvement of all the elements of the SoC.

The biggest improvement certainly concerns the memory: always unified memory resting on the die, but we pass from the LPDDR4X-4266 modules to the LPDDR5 modules.

The bandwidth dedicated to the memory bus increases, so does the amount of memory that can be installed: although both pre-configured versions of M2 are those with 8 GB of RAM, a MacBook Air can be had. with 16 GB or 24 GB of RAM. LPDDR5 memory modules communicate with a 128-bit bus.

Apple didn’t go into too much detail on the CPU: it talked about 4 high-efficiency cores and 4 high-performance cores and an increase in cache, and if we look at the comparison of the specs it actually increased the cache from 12 MB to 16 MB. second tier of high-performance cores.

Although official confirmations are lacking, the data released suggest that while in M1 there were the Icestorm and Firestorm cores of the A14 with the appropriate modifications M2 integrates the Avalanche and Blizzard cores of the A15 processor of the iPhone 13, so no ARM v9 but ARM 8.5. Precise details on performance are also missing: there is no single core data, but only + 18% in the multicore field compared to M1: M2, thanks to the improved production process, could work at a higher clock without necessarily having cores that guarantee a greater number of instructions per cycle than those of M1. Difficult to ask for more: the next net improvement we will see when we move to 3 nanometers.

Where there has been the biggest leap, in terms of performance, is on the GPU: from 2.6 Teraflops to 3.6 Teraflops, and with the same consumption, the M2 GPU is able to offer 25% more performance than that of M1. If you use all cores at maximum power, and therefore consume more, the increase in performance goes to 35%.

This is an important fact, because if it were confirmed it would mean that the M2’s 10 GPU cores would not be very far in terms of performance. from those of M1 Pro in the basic version which has 14 cores.

Two elements remain: the Media Engine and the Neural Engine. The first has been totally revised taking a cue from the M1 Ultra Media Engine, and for the first time comes the hardware management of encoding and decoding ProRes streams, even in 8K.

The most attentive will have noticed the lack of the AV1 hardware decoder, but there is a reason: the function of the Media Engine is above all to accelerate the encoding rather than the decoding, and the formats it manages in hardware are the processing ones.

H.264, HEVC and above all ProRes today are closed formats (intended as standard) which, especially ProRes, would weigh heavily in terms of resources if they were managed via software, especially with multiple flows. Today on the timeline of software like Resolve, Premiere or Final Cut ProRes is used, sometimes HEVC or MPeg 4 but hardly AV1 is used.

The latter can be used for distribution or playback of streaming content, but if we look at the performance of the AV1 codec with M1 we can realize that it is much lighter and less demanding than the VP9 on Apple Silicon can be. Today playing an AV1 stream on Mac M1 using Apple Silicon has minimal resource impact: while playing an AV1 clip in 4K on the 16 ”MacBook Pro with Intel processor the CPU is at 100% and consumes 23 watts on a Mac M1 we are less than 1 watt. The MacBook Air with M2 it can easily reproduce AV1 clips in 4K at 60 fps with practically negligible consumption and without heating.

Moving on to the Neural Engine, on the other hand, we find ourselves in front of a tangible improvement despite the number of cores having remained the same: from 11 TOPS we go to 15.8 TOPS, a 43% higher number of operations per second. On paper, it is certainly the component of the entire SoC that recorded the sharpest increase.

Air because it is light, but on paper it looks like a little “pro”

M2, in its two versions with 8-core GPU and 10-core GPU, is the heart of the new MacBook Air 2022. A notebook that recalls the range of MacBook Pro 14 “and 16”, a return to the rounded shapes of the past and to a linear cabinet, without the classic wedge shape that has always characterized the Air.

Apple talks about a significant reduction in volume, and perhaps the photos do not fully convey this value, but with 1.13 cm of thickness for all its length and width the new Air is slightly thicker than a tablet and definitely thinner than the old one. Air in its widest part, the zipper area.

The adoption of a fanless dissipation system and the elimination of the wedge allowed Apple to insert a slightly larger battery, going from 49.9 Wh to 52.6 Wh, not much but more than enough to be able to maintain the same autonomy as the previous version with a slightly larger screen and especially with a brighter screen.

Apple’s choices in terms of power supply give us some more hints also on the operation and consumption of the M2: the MacBook Air M2 with 8 GPU cores comes with a 30 Watt charger, exactly like the previous model.

The model with 10 GPU cores comes with a 35 Watt power supply with dual USB ports. It is not the compact charger with GaN technology that is sold in the USA, the one in Italy does not arrive, but it is another type of Type C power delivery charger with double output. The two additional GPU cores weigh around for 5 watts.

It is also interesting to see the consumption values ​​in idle: this time the environmental report takes care of revealing some data, which highlights a lower consumption without load for the most recent version.

Apple didn’t give us much time with the MacBook Air, but we were able to do some quick tests with Final Cut, PixelMator and Apple TV +.

The impression is that this Air is a cross between the old Air and the Pro: it always remains fanless, so on prolonged work it is easy for the processor to sit down a bit, but if we look at the productivity a series has been inserted of improvements of a certain weight.

The screen has a notch

Thanks to the media engine you can work in 8K and ProRes on the timeline without too much difficulty, with a much wider margin than what a user of a similar laptop needs and at the same time the passage from 400 nits to 500 nits is clearly visible, especially if you work outdoors.

The screen of the old MacBook Air 2020 M1 was already Wide Color, but for the new model Apple used the same IPS panel as the 10-bit MacBook Pros without the MiniLED backlight.

Another improvement concerns the audio: it goes from a double full range speaker to 4 speakers in the woofer + tweeter configuration with Atmos and Spatial Audio support. The yield is very good as well as the sound pressure.

Unfortunately, the SD Card slot is missing, as it is useful for the “pro” user it is also useful for the consumer user and the HDMI port is missing, but you can always use the Thunderbolt port: in addition to the integrated monitor there is full support for a 6K external monitor.

The MagSafe is back, with the cable included in the package; The 67 Watt charger required for fast charging is not included in the package. However, any Type charger with at least 60 watts Power Delivery is fine.

In spite of the rumors that they wanted a range of colorful MacBooks, Apple has remained in its classic colors by adding two finishes always in the “B&W” range: silver and sidereal grid have been flanked by a galaxy, tending to green and clear and a beautiful midnight which is almost black, and is also very sensitive to fingerprints.

We left the sore point for last, the price. The 1099 dollars of the American market, which become 1,179 dollars including taxes, are transformed in Italy into 1,529 euros. This is for the basic version, the 8 GB one with the 8 core GPU. If you want the version with 10 GPU cores and 16 GB of RAM it goes up to 2,109 euros. The “pro” from 14 “is terribly close.

Two considerations can be made here: the first is that the adjustment of the euro-dollar exchange rate due to the international situation is evident, and consequently Europe is penalized. The Air has always been Apple’s entry level computer, today it has a price that is certainly not an entry level one, on the contrary. We said it is a middle ground between the old Air that remains in the range and a Pro, but it is clear that many will want the “new” Air and this “new” is not cheap.

The second consideration concerns precisely the relationship between the Italian spending power and the price of technology: in these days we spent in San Josè we could not help but notice how the cost of living here has skyrocketed, but despite this there is a widespread sense of well-being, at least in this area of ​​California. A girl who works as a waitress didn’t want to tell us how much she earns, but she told us that with her one month’s salary, she plus her tips, he could buy himself three iPhones.

From this we also understand the reason for the huge number of Tesla that run, of all kinds: what for us Italians is a luxury, the Tesla or the top-of-the-range smartphone, for a person who lives and works in San Josè is simply produced. like so many others.

Speaking with some European colleagues, and discussing the price of the new MacBook Air, we are probably the ones who suffer more from an increase than in France, or in Germany, it is certainly less obvious. it has become expensive or if he has simply followed the global economy in its price, but we have remained firm and much more “poor” in purchasing power.



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