MacBook Air 2020 : Apple’s ultraportable finally finds its superb
Last week, Apple quietly announced the arrival of a new iPad Pro and a third generation of MacBook Air Retina, expected with some fear, however.
Originally, the MacBook Air embodied what was supposed to be an ultraportable. Then it was after years of triumph left fallow. Its screen then made it difficult to recommend at the time of Retina and Full HD tiles.
Returning to life in October 2018, he had disappointed. Its lack of breath made it difficult to recommend other than for very basic use. Which didn’t stick to its premium price, to put it mildly. The second generation, released last year, lacked ambition, with too small entry-level storage and too weak configuration … never two without three ?
A renewed and updated configuration
For this 2020 edition of the MacBook Air, Apple seems to have become aware of the limitations of its machine. Thus, for the first time, two quad core processors are available for the ultraportable. The first is integrated by default in the model sold from 1499 euros. This is a 1.1 GHz Core i5, tenth generation. The second is sold as an option for both models, this is a Core i7 at 1.2 GHz. Only the entry-level model is therefore equipped with a two-core processor for four threads. It is this machine, sold from 1199 euros, that we test here. A good way to set the lowest level of performance of this generation.
Before going any further, let’s point out that all MacBook Air still ships (and only) 8 GB of RAM. However, it is LPDDR4X at 3722 MHz and not LPDDR3 at 2133 MHz. This type of RAM consumes less and performs better, especially thanks to the use of two 16-bit memory channels instead of a single 32-bit.
In any case, the announced performance gains are significant enough to be repeated once again. Apple indicates a doubling of processor performance and an 80% increase in those related to the graphics part. These gains, however, were achieved thanks to the high-end MacBook Air 2020, equipped with the quad-core processor. So let’s see how our entry-level MacBook Air does.
Promise held performance up
Once is not customary, let’s start with what gives the configuration of the MacBook Air. This was indeed the main blocking point of the previous generation, in our eyes.
We compared it to two machines from two different Apple ranges. The first is the MacBook Air that it replaces as an entry-level and that was released last year. The second is none other than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, launched at the same time and which we call at the time of our test the only true entry – level machine valid.
Thus, our MacBook Air 2020, with its Core i3-1000ng4 bi-core (for four threads) of 10th generation at 1.1 GHz (and its Turbo Boost at 3.2 GHz) faces the Core i5-8210y (bi-core, for four threads, also) at 1.6 GHz (Turbo Boost at 3.6 GHz) of the MacBook Air 2019 and the Core i5-8257u (quad-core, for eight threads) at 1.4 GHz (turbo boost to 3.9 GHz) of the 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch. The last two chips were eighth generation.
These stunning details about the number of cores, Turbo Boost and generations give you an idea of Intel’s progress. Progress that can be clearly observed by comparing the performance of these three machines thanks to an automated measurement tool like Geekbench 4.
It shows a slight superiority of the MacBook Air 2020 over its direct Elder when only one heart is solicited. A short head ahead to put in perspective. Both in nominal frequency and Turbo Boost, The Core i3 runs at a lower speed. Yet his performance is better.
They are even more so when you turn to the multi-heart score. The processor of the new MacBook Air is almost 20% more efficient. This is a more than appreciable gain, even if we actually stay away from the 80% performance promised by the high-end processor available as an option for this machine.
When we compare their performance with the Geekbench Metal test, which allows in this case to gauge the graphics performance of the machine, we note an even greater progress since they are almost 28% more performance than promises the new chip, and therefore the new MacBook Air.
If we turn to last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro, we obviously notice that the MacBook Air 2020 is much inferior to it. The number of cores, higher frequencies, differences between the ranges of processors used make the difference.
The MacBook Pro 2019, still not updated for the moment, will therefore always provide more comfort than the MacBook Air tested here, especially with demanding or professional applications, especially those optimized for multi-core processors.
If we compare the performance of the 2020 MacBook Air and those of the 2019 MacBook Pro 13-inch, we see a performance differential of about 77%. So the high-end MacBook Air 2020 should still be below the performance of the MacBook Pro 2019, but by little.
This is in itself good news, when we know that the Pro laptop was solid enough to, on occasion, make heavy montages in Full HD or light in 4K.
Apple’s new ultraportable is therefore undeniably better than its eldest. By the way, tests with everyday applications confirm this trend.
Thus, with Handbrake, transcoding the same video is more than 12% faster on the new MacBook Air. When trying to edit videos in iMovie, there is also an advantage for the 2020 grind. It is in the order of 10% when playing with shots in Full HD and 47% when you go on the assault of a small montage in 4K. again, on this point, the MacBook Air is not the machine that we recommend if you regularly mount videos, especially in a professional capacity. Nevertheless, from time to time, as a hobby, the 2020 model will be able to handle it with a little patience on your part.
Same thing with After Effects, from Adobe, pro app if any. Rendering the same project is almost 25% faster on the new MacBook Air. But still twice as slow as on the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro of 2019. It is important to keep this differential in mind.
On the other hand, for some applications, the new MacBook Air does not do better. This is the case, with Office or even Adobe Photoshop, where the application of our filters and scripted effects takes about the same time. It is true that Photoshop is an application whose performance is essentially influenced by the amount of memory allocated.
Graphics in progress, but still not for the game
If the MacBook Air has more power and will arrive much less quickly in its last entrenchments, it will not have to ask him too much when launching Pro applications or even greedy games.
With the graphic bench tool, Unigine Valley, we note a considerable progress between the two generations of MacBook Air. The latest model is 72% more efficient than the previous one at 1440×900 pixels (default definition), setting the quality to Ultra and anti-aliasing to x8. Nevertheless, it only displays … 8.6 frames per second.
If you think that the fault comes to the settings too demanding, with the same bench tool, choosing the Basic option, the least greedy, we reach only 21.4 frames per second. Still nothing to play, especially since the MacBook Air then ventilates enormously.
Now let’s turn to a real game, Rise of the Tomb Raider. By pushing the settings a little, in 1440×900 pixels, the MacBook Air manages to shoot a little more than 10 frames per second of its graphic part. Nothing to play with, or making big sacrifices on the definition and quality of textures, anti-aliasing, etc.
The MacBook will obviously have fun with casual titles or less realistic graphics, but it is still not cut for the latest AAA, even by bridging their requirements. But is it a surprise ?
Limit and autonomy
Before we go further, let’s talk about two important points. The first, throttling. With a base frequency of 1.1 GHz, it is obvious that we rely a lot on the Turbo Boost to gain some power.
In this case, on long efforts, it will be necessary to learn to be patient and do without this extra performance. As soon as the machine ventilates for a little while, despite its miniature thermal envelope of 9 W, we know that the processor is really worth it and that it will have to be patient to cope with the current task. Fortunately, this does not happen so often that with classic Office Automation uses and basic productivity.
The second point is autonomy. As you probably know, containment forces, we can not perform all the tests that we usually apply. Therefore, we were not able to carry out proper autonomy tests. However, in use, working normally (a lot of tabs open in multiple browsers, an open word processor, multiple Excel sheets in background task, an open Pixelmator instance, etc. we found that the MacBook Air needs to return to an electrical outlet after 7: 30 AM to 8: 30 am of uninterrupted activity. More could have been hoped for, even if this result remains honourable. However, we will only make a final decision once our tests have been carried out.
An efficient but entry-level storage… for Apple
So let’s briefly turn to the embedded SSD. Last year, the performance of the SSD of the MacBook Air had made talk of them, because they were in sharp decline compared to the previous generation or even compared to the MacBook.
This year, the effect of surprise has passed, and we find substantially the same performance as last year. Sometimes even a little less good. But nothing totally probative.
The MacBook Air SSD will provide you with the fluidity on a daily basis to launch applications quickly, to copy files fast enough, as long as they are not too large. You will be comfortable with HD videos and less with 4K or 5K files, if you plan to edit them. But once again the MacBook Air is not intended to work long with this type of documents.
If the performance is not excellent, it is far from bad and at no time during our daily use we were slowed down by the SSD.
Keep in mind also that Apple has given us bad habits on this point, by integrating in its MacBook Pro in particular, extremely high-performance and fast storage modules.
Also agree that on this kind of device, if you have to sacrifice something, you prefer to lose a few hundred MB / s and save storage space. Now, that’s exactly what happened with this new MacBook Air. Apple has finally taken into account everyday uses and now offers 256 GB of storage by default on the entry-level model. This should allow you to be comfortable as long as you do not go crazy.
The Magic Keyboard, a heavy legacy
Now let’s move on to the other big novelty. The Magic Keyboard is no small matter for Apple or for users. For the American giant, it marks the end of a promising technological attempt, from keyboards to the firmer and faster race thanks to suspensions in the form of butterfly wings. Promising but failed, alas, despite several evolutions over the generations of machines.
For users, this is the return of serenity (until proof of the contrary in any case) and the certainty of not having a keyboard that begins to suffer from malfunctions. In fact, this Magic Keyboard is very pleasant to use, comfortable during long writing sessions (this article is written on the MacBook Air) and typing is also less noisy. To say the least, this is one of the most pleasant laptop keyboards we have been given to try recently.
Nevertheless, for those who have experienced the pleasure of butterfly keyboards, without the displeasure of their breakdowns, the impression of loss of comfort is there. The race is longer, softer, less rhythmic. He’s gonna have to grieve. The serenity of Use and durability of a product has a price. We know him now.
The Retina display, always as … Retina
The MacBook Air has been waiting for its Retina display for a long, very long time. For three iterations now, we can benefit from this very beautiful screen, even improved last year.
Coronavirus epidemic obliges, we do not have access to our lab to perform measurements of brightness and colorimetry, nevertheless, to the eye, the slab is pleasant and turns out bright enough, even to work in the sun.
The native definition of 2560×1600 pixels allows as with other MacBook to play a bit on the size of the display, by default presented in 1440×990 pixels. It is possible, either to gain working area (1680×1050 pixels), or to gain visual comfort (1280×800 or 1024×640, if you like large icons).
In any case, and this is a first, you will be able to connect an external 6K display (6016×3384 pixels) to your MacBook Air-the pro XDR Display, from Apple, if you’re in the background. Same with an external 5K (5120×2880) screen. And if you prefer to work with two additional screens, you will be able to choose two 4K slabs (4096×2304) and the MacBook Air should not frown…
Of course, this connection will go through one of only two Thunderbolt 3 ports on the left side of the machine. Apple has not enriched the volume of its offer on this side, you will definitely have to buy adapters to be able to output a video signal to HDMI, connect a USB-A or even have enough connectivity. True, Bluetooth, AirDrop and cloud help a lot to do without keys for file transfers, but an adapter is still the best companion for MacBook, Air or Pro users.
And since we talk about connectivity and connection, let’s end with a lack that we do not explain. The MacBook Air, like the 16-inch MacBook Pro launched late last year, is not compatible with Wi-Fi 6 (802.11 ax). True, the standard is not completely stopped but no future developments will impose a change of the current chips, according to most manufacturers. It is therefore quite possible to integrate it into commercial products. Apple knows this well, since the Wi-Fi 6 is present in its latest iPhone and iPad Pro…