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Why the 15-inch MacBook Air has to feature Apple’s next-gen M3 chip

Published Mar 6th, 2023 10:44AM EST
2022 MacBook Air Main
Image: Christian de Looper for BGR

The 15-inch MacBook Air is coming soon, with multiple reports suggesting the release is imminent. But Apple is also expected to refresh the 13-inch MacBook Air, according to a recent report from Bloomberg. Considering the MacBook Air got a big redesign last year, any product refreshes for the 13-inch model can only impact the specs. In this case, upgrading the upcoming M3 System-on-Chip (SoC) seems like the only plausible reason to refresh the laptop model. But will the 15-inch MacBook Air also get an M3 chip?

Apple unveiled the M2 SoC at WWDC 2022, and WWDC 2023 is right around the corner. Apple may very well introduce the M3 series during its keynote, which is supposed to jump from the current 5nm chip process to 3nm. The upgrade might mean more efficiency gains, therefore improved battery life, as opposed to huge speed upgrades. However, the latter must be on the table. The M3 will be faster than the M2, even if only slightly.

But does that mean the 15-inch MacBook Air won’t launch until June or later? Gurman said in his latest Power On newsletter that Apple is expected to launch new macs by the end of the summer. That would put the launch window right around WWDC 2023.

2022 MacBook Air Ports
2022 MacBook Air ports. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

Gurman couldn’t say whether the upcoming 15-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air models will feature M2 or M3 chips. He speculated that a 15-inch model with an M2 chip may still be exciting. But a brand-new M2 13-inch model would not be as compelling.

Therefore, Apple must use the M3 chip to at least one of the new 2023 MacBooks:

So it’s plausible that Apple is gearing up for at least the new 13-inch model to be an M3 machine. That would make a lot of sense: The M2 chip was always designed as a stopgap processor ahead of the M3, which will mark the first time Apple is moving from 5-nanometer chip process technology to a 3-nanometer design in the Mac.

But if Apple is launching the 15-inch and 13-inch MacBook Air models around the same time, using the M2 chip inside the bigger model wouldn’t make sense.

The M2 chip is indeed a stopgap processor, but it has no rivals in the field. Now that the M2 Pro and M2 Max are also out, sticking with the M2 for the 15-inch upcoming MacBook Air seems implausible. The M3 will allow Apple to march ahead with computer chip development at a pace that rivals Intel and Qualcomm can’t seem to match.

2022 MacBook Air Side
2022 MacBook Air profile. Image source: Christian de Looper for BGR

Put differently, an M3 15-inch MacBook Air should have extraordinary battery life that other laptops will struggle to match.

The 13-inch model has a quoted battery estimate of 18 hours. Add the M3 to the mix, and the 15-inch MacBook Air would benefit from the extra energy savings. This would further increase battery life. And that would be a massive advantage over other laptop vendors.

To put things in perspective, the M2 Pro/Max 14-inch MacBook Pro has an 18-hour battery life estimate. The 16-inch variant goes up to 22 hours. The 15-inch MacBook Air should at least match the 16-inch Pro battery life, if not surpass it.

On the other hand, previous rumors said that Apple has already started manufacturing the 15-inch MacBook Air. That implies Apple might be using the same M2 SoC. Furthermore, an April or May launch would also suggest Apple will use the M2 chip instead of M3. We must account for TSMC’s ability to manufacture the M3 in enough quantity to make an M3 15-inch MacBook Air launch possible before WWDC.

Finally, Apple might want to give the M3 a proper launch at WWDC 2023. Especially if an M3 variant will power Apple’s first-gen mixed-reality glasses. But Apple could always unveil the M3 just like it did with the M2 Pro and M2 Max, via a press release instead of an event.

Chris Smith
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 closely follows the events in 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.