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M3 MacBook Air has an SSD upgrade that people don’t even realize

Published Mar 11th, 2024 12:04PM EDT
MacBook Air 15-Inch Keyboard
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

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Apple launched its new M3 MacBook Air models last week, and the refreshed 13-inch and 15-inch laptops are now available to purchase. In addition to the M3 chips, we’ve already shown you five other M3 MacBook Air upgrades that should help you decide which MacBook Air to get. 

I won’t mince words: the M3 isn’t a huge upgrade. You could very well buy a cheaper M2 MacBook Air right now and get almost the same performance. Or, if you can find it in stock, the also-discounted M1 MacBook Air is dirt cheap.

If you want one of the M3 MacBook Airs, you should be aware of an upgrade that Apple didn’t really mention. If it did, it would have to acknowledge a “flaw” of the 256GB M2 MacBook Air. The machines have slower SSD speeds than the same-gen Air models that rock 512GB of storage or more. I said in the past this isn’t a real problem, hence the quotes above. But Apple has fixed it nonetheless. 

Apple used a single NAND chip for the 256GB M2 MacBook Airs SSD. It did the same thing with the 2023 512GB M2 MacBook Pro. All other storage options come with two chips and this impacts performance. 

Back to the M2 MacBook Airs, reviews have shown that the 256GB variants have slower SSD speeds than the models featuring more storage. In practice, buyers are unlikely to spot the differences. While the Air is great for productivity and matches the M2 MacBook Pro’s performance, it’s still a laptop that targets regular consumers. Of course, the “slow” SSD storage in Apple’s base M2 MacBook Air is still incredibly fast. 

256GB M3 MacBook Air SSD write speed test vs. M2 version.
256GB M3 MacBook Air SSD write speed test vs. M2 version. Image source: YouTube

You might need a different machine if you notice any issues with it. Maybe a MacBook Pro with a more powerful M-series chip, more RAM, and the faster storage you’re looking for. 

Still, the 256GB M2 MacBook Air’s slower performance might be more of a PR problem for Apple than for actual users. Apple has decided to quitely fix it by doing what you might have expected. 

The 256GB M3 MacBook Air features two 128GB chips instead of a single 256GB NAND chip. This improves the speed of the base M3 MacBook Air model significantly. YouTuber Max Tech, who pointed out the M2 256GB SSD flaw last year, tested the speeds of the M3 model and then tore it apart. 

The benchmarks revealed a significant performance boost. We’re looking at over 33% and 82% speed gains for write and read speeds over the M2 MacBook Air’s 256GB SSD. That’s very impressive, of course.

256GB M3 MacBook Air SSD read speed test vs. M2 version.
256GB M3 MacBook Air SSD read speed test vs. M2 version. Image source: YouTube

If you look at the figures in the screenshots above, you’ll see that the M2 MacBook Air was already very fast. And, again, you’d have no problem with real-life usage, especially if for regular tasks that don’t require massive performance. 

It’s still a great fix and a reason to buy the base M3 MacBook Air model. You don’t have to upgrade the SSD to 512GB or more just to get faster speeds. On that note, you’ll have to pay $200 for 512GB of storage. The price goes up by $800 if you want 2TB of built-in storage.

You can check Max Tech’s full video below, complete with the teardown that shows Apple’s fix, the two storage chips. On that note, the YouTuber points out that the two 128GB storage chips are actually more expensive than a single 256GB SSD.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.