Apple 14in MacBook Pro, M1 Pro (2021) vs MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro full review

Apple currently sells two laptop lines: the MacBook Pro (which currently comes in 13in, 14in and 16in screen sizes) and the MacBook Air (which is 13in). The 14in and 16in MacBook Pro models were updated in October 2021, while the smaller 13in MacBook Pro and Air were released in November 2020.

With four models to choose from there are some very notable differences between the MacBook Air and Pro. In this article we compare design, features and specs, the main areas where the MacBooks differ, the pros and cons of each, and the factors you need to consider when making a buying decision.

You may also find our Which MacBook article helpful. We also have the following :

Design & Build

When it launched in 2008 the MacBook Air was the lightest laptop available. Over the years the weight of the MacBook Pro has also declined, so the difference is a lot less than it was. Today the 2020 MacBook Air weighs only slightly less than the 2020 13in MacBook Pro; at 1.29kg compared to 1.4kg.

The 2021 14in MacBook Pro is only very slightly heavier at 1.6kg, while the 2021 16in MacBook Pro weighs in at 2.1kg. Needless to say, none of these laptops is really doing to weigh you down, but if light is the most important factor in your decision then the Air will no doubt get your vote.

It's not only the weight you will have to contend with though. The amount of space your laptop takes up in your bag or on your desk will also factor in your decision.

MacBook Air vs MacBook Pro: Air (2020)

The MacBook Air is 30.41 x 21.24cm, and 1.61cm thick, tapering to 0.41cm at its narrowest point. The 13in MacBook Pro is 30.41 x 21.24cm so it has the same footprint, but is a little thicker overall at 1.56cm as it doesn't taper.

The 14in MacBook Pro is a brand new design for 2021. It measures 31.26 x 22.12cm and is 1.55cm thick. That's actually fractionally slimmer than the 13in MacBook Pro, although a tiny bit longer and wider.

The 16in MacBook Pro is the biggest, as you'd expect, at 35.57 x 24.81cm with a thickness of 1.68cm  (these dimensions are slightly different to the predecessor which was fractionally wider.

New 14in 16in MacBook Pro

Here's all that at a glance:

  • 13in MacBook Air: 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 1.61cm - 0.41cm; 1.29kg
  • 13in MacBook Pro: 30.41cm x 21.24cm x 1.56cm 1.4kg
  • 14in MacBook Pro: 31.26cm x 22.12cm x 1.55cm; 1.6kg
  • 16in MacBook Pro: 35.57cm x 24.81cm x 1.68cm; 2.1kg

All these Apple laptops come with Touch ID and the Force Touch trackpad, but now it's only the 13in MacBook Pro that features the Touch Bar (the feature had proven to be unpopular with the pros for whom the 14in and 15in MacBook Pro models are designed so Apple has removed it. This multi-touch strip replaces the F keys, and can provide different contextual controls depending on the application open.

The Touch Bar may be of use to you, but many pros found the lack of physical function keys too much of a disadvantage. Whether or not you'll find the Touch Bar useful comes down to a combination of personal preference and what software you use. Read about what you can do with the Touch Bar.

The other difference is the colour choices. You can choose from silver, space grey and gold for the MacBook Air, but the MacBook Pro offers only the silver and space grey options.

All these MacBooks come with Apple's Magic Keyboard, which has a scissor-switch design to replace the problematic butterfly keyboard mechanism that featured in earlier models from around 2016 to 2018.

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Dimensions

Processor

The processors are the major difference between these MacBook models. But the difference is no longer between processors made by Apple and Intel. Apple has now updated all Mac laptops to run on its own processors. So you have the choice between M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max. We'll run through the differences below so you can work out which processor suits you best.

M1

The November 2020 MacBook Air runs on Apple's M1 processors, as does the November 2020 13in MacBook Pro.

The M1 has eight CPU cores, four of these are high-performance cores and four are high-efficiency cores. This is one of the reasons why the M1 works so well - when the high-efficiency processor cores are busy backing up to iCloud or syncing photos the high-performance cores will still be available for more intensive operations. As a result of this you shouldn't see the Mac slow down because of background processes, for example.

When Apple introduced the M1 chip in November 2020 it made some big claims about it being the "world's fastest CPU core" with the "world's best CPU performance per watt" as well as "numerous powerful technologies" and "improved performance and efficiency". Apple also said that the M1 delivers up to 3.5x faster CPU performance compared to previous-generation Macs.

These were big claims, but our tests of the M1 Macs prove that Apple's claims are true.

M1 Pro

The M1 was looking pretty good and then in came the M1 Pro with the arrival of the 14in and 16in MacBook Pro in November 2021.

The M1 Pro generally comes with 10 cores and this is the case for the 14in and 16in MacBook Pro. However ther the entry level M1 Pro MacBook Pro has just 8-cores.

The 10-core version offers eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores.

Apple claims that, compared with the latest 8-core PC laptop chip, the M1 Pro delivers up to 1.7x more CPU performance and achieves the PC chip's peak performance using up to 70 percent less power.

M1 Max

The M1 Max is available with either the 14in or the 16in MacBook Pro (it's build-to-order only with the 14in MacBook Pro). The CPU is the same as that in the M1 Pro though. It's 10-cores, with eight high-performance cores and two high-efficiency cores.

The real difference between the M1 Pro and M1 Max is the graphics cores, which we will discuss below.

M1 Pro M1 Max

Intel

We'll mention Intel briefly because Apple no longer sells a MacBook with an Intel processor. However, you may find one available on Apple's refurbished store or at a third-party stockist. Indeed, many of the best MacBook deals are on the older Intel-powered models, so if you want to save money a cut price Intel-powered Mac might appeal. Until October 2021 there were two 2.0GHz 13in MacBook Pro models from 2020 and the 16in MacBook Pro also offered Intel processors.

You may perfer to stick with Intel if you are using software that can't run on the M1, M1 Pro or M1 Max for example, although thanks to Apple's built in Rosetta software which translates the code so that it can run on the ARM based chips this shouldn't really be a problem. 

Which MacBooks have which processor?

MacBook Air:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU
  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU

13in MacBook Pro:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU 

14in MacBook Pro:

  • M1 Pro Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 14‑Core GPU 
  • M1 Pro Chip with 10‑Core CPU and 16‑Core GPU 
  • M1 Max Chip with 10‑Core CPU and 24- or 32-Core GPU (build-to-order)

16in MacBook Pro:

  • M1 Pro Chip with 10‑Core CPU and 16‑Core GPU 
  • M1 Pro Chip with 10‑Core CPU and 16‑Core GPU 
  • M1 Max Chip with 10‑Core CPU and 24- or 32-Core GPU (build-to-order)

Graphics processor

As you will see from the specs above, there is a bigger differentiator between the M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max than how many processor cores are available. There are various options when it comes to the number of GPU cores and the number of graphics cores will be a key part of any decision about which model is best suited to your needs.

The GPU options are determined by which Apple chip you choose, so, as above we will run through the options for the M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max.

M1 Pro and Max Graphics

M1

We'll start with the GPU options that come with the M1 chip. The entry-level MacBook Air has a 7-core GPU while the other MacBook Air has an 8-core GPU. The absence of the 8th GPU core does hold back the 7-core model, so if you think you are likely to need that extra GPU core you may think that the best option is to buy the more expensive Air, which also offers more storage. But the MacBook Pro, which has an 8-core GPU as standard, might be a better option, as we will explain.

The reason why the M1 MacBook Pro is a better option for graphic intensive operations than the M1 MacBook Air is that it also includes a fan for cooling - as a result you will be able to push it a little further. The MacBook Air will be perfectly fine for normal operations, but because it lacks a fan you may find that things slow down in order for it not to overheat while you are pushing it.

Indeed, in our tests the M1 MacBook Air fell behind the M1 MacBook Pro and the lack of fans in the MacBook Air definitely had a part to play.

M1 Pro

As with the M1 there is more than one option when it comes to GPUs.

The 14in MacBook Pro with M1 Pro offers a 14-core GPU or 16-core GPU. There is quite a large leap in price between these options though: a massive  £500/$500 difference.

Should you pay the extra £500/$500 to get two more graphics cores. Until we are able to benchmark both models we will hold off on making a definitive recommendation. Our instinct is that there must be a big bonus to the extra cores to justify such a premium.

M1 Max

One of the biggest differences between the M1 Max and M1 Pro is the number of graphics cores (there are other differences, including the M1 Max being the only chip to support 64GB RAM, which we will discuss below).

The 14in MacBook Pro doesn't ship as standard with the M1 Max, but you have two build-to-order options: a M1 Max with 24-core GPU (£200/$200 extra) or an M1 Max 32-core GPU (£400/$400 extra).

There is a 16in MacBook Pro that ships with an M1 Max, but there is also a cheaper build-to-order option available. So, as with the 14in MacBook Pro there is an M1 Max with 24-core GPU (£200/$200 extra) or an M1 Max 32-core GPU (£300/$300 extra).

As with the M1 Pro we won't make any recommendations about which GPU option to choose until we have been able to fully test them. Clearly you can expect a lot from the 32-core GPU option that comes with the M1 Max, but the question is do you really need that?

Intel

We'll quickly mention the now discontinued Intel-powered MacBook Pro models with Intel Intel Iris Plus Graphics and the now discontinued 16in MacBook Pro models that used to offer the discrete AMD Radeon Pro 5300M and AMD Radeon Pro 5500M.

How do these graphics options compare to the M1 models, which feature Apple's own graphics solution? Generally it's considered that discrete graphics are far superior to integrated graphics, so you might be thinking that the discrete graphics in the older 16in MacBook Pro would be superior.

With the M1 Apple claimed its solution to be the "world's fastest integrated graphics in a personal computer" and 2x faster than PC equivalents. Our tests showed that there was a significant leap in performance between Apple's GPU and Intel's offerings. The M1 didn't just beat that entry-level Intel option, even the 2.0GHz MacBook Pro lagged behind the M1. However, what should be no surprise is that the 16in MacBook Pro with its dedicated Radeon Pro 5500M graphics card was still a long way ahead.

Now that the M1 Pro and M1 Max are here though the AMD graphics cards are likely to be left for dust, although we will be running tests to see if this is the case. One reason why we can expect real graphics boosts is due to Apple's use of tile-based deferred rendering technology, which we discuss here: Apple Silicon graphics.

If you need some extra grunt with an Intel Mac then is is possible to plug in an eGPU via Thunderbolt - read about how to use an eGPU with your Mac. However, the M1, M1 Pro and M1 Max Macs are not compatible with an external graphics processor. Read: M1 Macs will not support eGPU.

RAM (Unified Memory)

All the M1 MacBooks - both Pro and Air - come with 8GB of Unified Memory at their base configuration. There is an option to upgrade to 16GB at point of sale.

The M1 Pro ships with 16GB Unified Memory and is upgradable to 32GB.

The M1 Max ships also with 16GB Unified Memory, but is upgradable to 64GB. 

This RAM - which Apple calls Unified Memory - is part of the M1, M1 Pro or M1 Max chip, so it's accessible to both the CPU and the GPU. Apple refers to it as unified memory architecture, or UMA. There are performance benefits this UMA, so the 8GB RAM in the M1 models isn't really comparable to 8GB or even 16GB RAM found in an Intel-powered model.

The M1 MacBooks if that they can be configured at point of sale to have 16GB RAM, while the M1 Pro can be configured to take 32GB RAM and the M1 Max can take 64GB RAM.

Storage

The Air and 13in Pro both come with 256GB of storage at the entry-level, with a second model offering 512GB. You can add a larger SSD at point of sale, but the M1 MacBook Air and Pro models are capped at 2TB. 

The 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro have two standard storage options: a 512GB SSD or a 1TB SSD. However, there are build-to-order options that go all the way up to 8TB SSD.

Our read & write tests showed that the M1 MacBook Air beats the early 2020 MacBook Air. We are hearing good things about the 2021 MacBook Pro models too, so we will be testing that to see is there are improvements there too.

2021 MacBook Pro

Battery life

When it comes to battery life the M1 Macs really stand out and we are sure the M1 Pro and M1 Max will too.

According to Apple, the M1 MacBook Air offers 18 hours and the M1 MacBook Pro offers an amazing 20 hours. The 14in MacBook Pro offers up to 17 hours and the 16in MacBook Pro offers 22 hours.

This makes the discontinued 2.0GHz 13in MacBook Pro's 10 hours battery life look appalling - but 10 hours is plenty to get through a day of work, so maybe you don't need as much as these models are offering.

Battery life is high thanks to the M1, M1 Pro and M1 Mac chips, which in combination with macOS's advanced power management, intelligently allocates tasks between the M1 performance and efficiency cores. So everything is optimised. In addition macOS Monterey is bringing a low power mode which may extend battery life even further.

If battery life is the most important to you then best option is the 16in MacBook Pro, but the 13in MacBook Pro isn't far behind that with 20 hours, so you don't have to spend a fortune.

MacBook Pro vs MacBook Air: Speed comparisons

Screens

We have four different screen sizes to consider here:

  • Two 13in Retina displays (that are actually 13.3in measured diagonally)
  • A 14in Liquid Retina XDR display (14.2in measured diagonally)
  • A 16in Liquid Retina XDR display (16.2in measured diagonally)

The display was previously an area where the Air and Pro were quite different, with the Air not gaining a Retina display until 2018. The Air then gained True Tone technology in 2019, bringing it into line with the Pro models. However the MacBook Air display is not as bright as the display on the 13in MacBook Pro, with the Pro offering 500 nits brightness to the Air's 400.

The 2021 MacBook Pro displays are superior. The Liquid Retina XDR displays have an extreme dynamic range. Apple says it is capable of 1,000 nits standard brightness, 1,600 nits of peak brightness, and 1,000,000:1 contrast ratio for deeper blacks and more vivid colours.

These new screen bring ProMotion to the Mac. ProMotion offers a refresh rate of 120Hz, which means it can refresh images 120 times a second, but it can also vary the refresh rate to much less than that when it isn't required (which is more power efficient and means it can save battery life.)

MacBook Pro screen

As you would expect the screen resolution of the different MacBooks also differs:

  • 16in MacBook Pro offers 3,456 by 2,234 pixels, total: 7.7 million pixels.
  • 14in MacBook Pro offers 3,024 by 1,964 pixels, total: 5.9 million pixels.
  • 13in MacBook Pro offers 2, 560 by 1,600 pixels, total: 4.1 million pixels. 
  • 13in MacBook Air offers 2,560 by 1,600 pixels, total: 4.1 million pixels.

In comparison the 2019 16in MacBook Pro offered 3,072 by 1,920 pixels. Interestingly, there are more pixels on the 2021 14in MacBook Pro than there were on the 2019 16in MacBook Pro.

Note that the 16in MacBook Pro still isn't 4K - to achieve that the 16in would need to offer 3,840 x 2,160 pixels (8.2 million pixels). There are non-Apple displays that offer this, but Apple isn't there yet (fingers crossed for the new iMac).

Apple does not offer touchscreen displays in its MacBooks. (Read about why we think Apple should make a touchscreen Mac).

The notch...

Notch FaceTime

There is one elephant in the room when it comes to the screens. The notch. It's a feature familiar from the iPhone where the notch conceals the Face ID and camera components. In that case the notch is part of the screen. Here the 'notch' is actually the FaceTime camera components overlapping the display, so it's a little different.

The benefits (a larger screen) should, hopefully, outweigh the disadvantages. And the disadvantage of the notch should be easy to conceal once the look of the menus of various apps start to incorporate the dark area of the notch. You will probably start to see a black strip at the top of your screen with all the usual stuff you see in the menu bar wrapped around the notch. It's only really likely to bother you in full-screen model.

There are always going to be those who hate it and those who don't really mind it. Read: Why must you torment us with another notch, Apple? and The MacBook Pro notch does not bother me.

Ports & Peripherals

Over the years it's felt like Apple has been on a mission removing ports from Macs in order to make them slimmer and slimmer. This has been a disadvantage for many, although generally if you need more or different ports you can just plug in an adapter or a dock (read: Best USB-C hubs and adapters for Mac).

So the fact that Apple's M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro offer two USB 4 ports that also support Thunderbolt 3 is limiting, but not impossible to work with.

However, Apple's strategy with the 2021 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro is somewhat different. Apple's listened to the needs of its target group for the devices and has ensured that a number of highly sought after ports are available.

Hence the 14in MacBook Pro and 16in MacBook Pro offer:

  • Three Thunderbolt 4 (USB‑C) ports
  • HDMI port
  • SDXC card slot

If you are wondering what the difference between USB-C and USB 4 is, USB 4 should be able to offer 40Gb/s, which is what Thunderbolt 3 already offers. USB-C offers 10 to 20Gb/s.

All Mac laptops offer a 3.5mm headphone jack. 

Price

Price is one area where there's a stark difference between the different MacBook models. We'll run through the pricing below, including some of the latest offers on new MacBooks - because you don't necessarily have to pay Apple's price.

MacBook Air prices

The MacBook Air is available in two default configurations:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD: £999/$999.
  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 7‑Core GPU, 8GB RAM, 256GB SSD: £1,249/$1,249.

Buy directly from Apple, or look below for the best prices right now:

M1 MacBook Air, 8-core CPU/7-core GPU, from £999/$999

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For deals on even more MacBook Air check out our best MacBook Air deals article for discounts available elsewhere.

13in MacBook Pro prices

There are now two 13in configurations of the MacBook Pro sold by Apple:

  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU, 16GB RAM, 256GB Storage: £1,299/$1,299
  • M1 Chip with 8‑Core CPU and 8‑Core GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB Storage: £1,499/$1,499

You'll notice that the more expensive Air is only £50 less than the entry-level MacBook Pro - but the latter has half the storage.

Buy directly from Apple, or look below for the best prices right now:

2020 M1 MacBook Pro Deals, from £1,299/$1,299

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14in MacBook Pro prices

The 2021 14in MacBook Pro comes in the following configurations:

  • M1 Pro with 8‑Core CPU and 14‑Core GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB Storage: £1,899/$1,999.
  • M1 Pro with 10‑Core CPU and 16‑Core GPU, 16GB RAM, 1TB Storage: £2,399/$2,499.

There are additional build-to-order options, so you can configure the 14in MacBook Pro with a M1 Max chip, or more RAM, for example.

Buy directly from Apple, or look below for the best prices right now:

2021 M1 Pro MacBook Pro Deals, from £1,899/$1,999

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16in MacBook Pro prices

If you're tempted with a larger screen and more power then the MacBook Pro 16in is available in three configurations:

  • M1 Pro with 10‑Core CPU and 16‑Core GPU, 16GB RAM, 512GB Storage: £2,399/$2,499.
  • M1 Pro with 10‑Core CPU and 16‑Core GPU, 16GB RAM, 1TB Storage: £2,599/$2,699.
  • M1 Max with 10‑Core CPU and 32‑Core GPU, 32GB RAM, 1TB Storage: £3,299/$3,399.

Buy directly from Apple, or look below for the best prices right now:

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We do recommend checking the Apple Refurbished Store to see if you could pick up a discounted MacBook - especially if you are after an Intel-powered model, although from time to time we have seen Apple sells M1 models for less via that store.

We also recommend that you take a look at our round up of the best MacBook Pro deals right now.

Verdict

If a low price is the most important to you then the M1 MacBook Air is the best option. If battery life is your main request then the 16in MacBook Pro is the top dog, but the 13in MacBook Pro isn't far behind. When it comes to portability the Air wins, but only just.

If you need a little more power then the M1 MacBook Pro is a better choice than the Air, predominantly because it has a fan so you should be able to push it a bit more.

But if you really need the ultimate in power then you really need to be looking at the 14in MacBook Pro and the 16in MacBook Pro, which offer more graphics cores and support more RAM. They also offer a bunch of ports that  will benefit many.

These are all great MacBooks. Really the decision has to be based on your budget. If your budget is small then the MacBook Air is a great option, but for just £50/$50 extra the 13in MacBook Pro will offer even more.

If you need a really powerful Mac then it will cost you even more than it used to - even the entry-level 14in MacBook Pro now costs more than it's predecessor did. Then there is a huge jump from that model to the next, and an even bigger leap to the top of the range 16in MacBook Pro, so you will be paying a high price for an incredibly powerful Mac if that is what you need. 

But in another way, this means that you can now get a Mac that could quite possibly take on the Mac Pro which costs even more - and it's a laptop. So the 16in MacBook Pro could actually be considered a bargain.

Decided to get a MacBook, Pro or Air? Check out the best accessories for MacBooks.

Still not sure? We also look at how the MacBook Air compares to the iMac and how the MacBook Air and Mac mini compare separately.

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