in 2020, Apple’s MacBooks entered a new era. The company announced it was moving away from the Intel chips it had been using since 2006, and rolled out the first Macs with the Apple-designed M1. Cut to 2022 and the company has added four more chips to the lineup: M1 Pro, M1 Max, M1 Ultra—two of which power the latest MacBook Pro—and the M2 chip as a successor to the M1.

Just like Apple’s iPhones, the chips run on the ARM architecture and afford the company greater control over its hardware and software. They make its laptops both more powerful and more power-efficient, meaning greatly improved performance and battery life. Plus you get other perks, like the ability to run mobile apps originally made for iOS. Still, choosing a MacBook is now more difficult. Apple is no longer selling Intel-powered models, but you can find one at a third-party retailer with only a few more years of support. Is it worth buying one? Or should you go all in on Apple silicon? Here’s what we think you should spend your hard-earned money on.

Updated August 2022: We’ve added our impressions on the new 13-inch MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and the latest M2 chip.

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Is It a Good Time to Buy?

Yes. If you’re a power user looking for a powerful MacBook, then this is a great time to snag a 14- or 16-inch MacBook Pro, as Apple just released them last fall. If you don’t need that much power, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air with the latest M2 chip are now available. The cheaper M1-powered MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2020 are still fine to buy. 

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Apple MacBook Air (M2, 2022)
The Best All-Arounder
Photograph: Apple

Apple’s latest MacBook Air (7/10, WIRED Recommends) comes with a ton of upgrades on both the inside and out, which explains the price increase. In design, the company officially ditched the signature wedge form factor for a boxier chassis. It comes in two new colors—midnight and starlight—in addition to the traditional space gray and silver options. The display is also bigger and brighter and comes equipped with an updated webcam. Coming in at 13.6 inches (up from 13.3 inches on its predecessor), the Liquid Retina panel has thinner borders, screen brightness of 500 nits, and a notch that houses a 1080p sensor.

Apple didn’t throw in additional ports, but the MacBook Air did get the same MagSafe treatment as the high-end MacBook Pro models. Now you can attach the power cable magnetically to the laptop to charge it, freeing up both Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. The MacBook also comes with support for fast charging if you purchase the 67-W USB-C power adapter. Apple claims it can power the MacBook up to 57 percent in only 30 minutes. I (Brenda) would have to charge it after about eight hours of use. When using it to get work done outdoors, at full brightness, the battery lasted for about six hours.

Under the hood is Apple’s new M2 chip, which offers a boost in performance compared to the original M1. With the M2 you’ll get an 8-core CPU with the option to choose between an 8-core or 10-core GPU. I tested the model with an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, and 8 GB of unified memory. The MacBook Air ran smoothly on standard workdays when I had apps like Slack, Spotify, Telegram, and Messages running simultaneously along with 10 to 15 tabs open on Google Chrome. But I did notice its limitations on hectic days when I increased the tab count to 30 while also running those aforementioned apps. Whether I was switching tabs, scrolling, or minimizing and expanding windows, the experience felt sluggish. I even triggered the dreaded rainbow wheel a few times—which I don’t recall experiencing with the 2021 M1 MacBook Air.

That being said, we still recommend the M1 MacBook Air if you’re on a tight budget. But the M2-powered Air is an ideal option for those whose workloads, like video editing, don’t quite warrant a beefy chip like the M1 Pro or M1 Max but are a bit too graphics-intensive for the M1. If you can, we suggest upgrading the unified memory to 24 GB for better performance.

Apple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)
Best Budget Option
Photograph: Apple 

If you don’t want to spend a lot of money on a new MacBook, the MacBook Air (9/10, WIRED Recommends) with the M1 chip from 2020 is one of the most powerful laptops you can get for the price—surpassing benchmark scores with top-end Intel-powered models. This is especially true when you use apps natively engineered for the new processor, like the Safari web browser. 

You can still download and install apps made for Intel’s x86 chips (the ones in every PC you’ve likely ever owned). That’s because Apple has a transition tool called Rosetta 2 that will automatically ask to be downloaded alongside these apps. It’s what enables them to work well with the M1, often better than on Intel Macs. But over the past two years, many apps, like Adobe Lightroom and Google Chrome, have included M1 versions, so you shouldn’t run into problems. If you’re worried your favorite app might not work, do some research and scour forums to see whether an M1 version is available or whether the x86 version will run just fine. 

The MacBook Air lasted me more than a full workday, with the battery hitting 22 percent after I ran it almost nonstop from 9 am to 7 pm using Safari and work apps like Slack. (I had to plug in the previous Intel model by 4 pm.) M1 machines can also instantly wake up from sleep whenever you tap the keyboard or trackpad or lift the screen, just like when you tap your iPhone or iPad to wake it up. That’s a marked difference from older MacBooks that took several seconds to light up. There’s also no fan in the MacBook Air, meaning it remains whisper-quiet even under the heaviest loads. There is a thermal heat spreader to dissipate heat, but it also never gets too warm.

It comes with 256 GB of storage, but you can upgrade to another model with an extra graphics core and 512 GB. Unless you need more storage, the extra core isn’t worth the jump in price. Instead, spend $200 more for 16 GB of RAM, which will let you run a greater number of apps simultaneously without slowdowns. My biggest gripes with this machine? The 720p webcam isn’t great, and M1 Macs only natively support one external monitor.

Apple MacBook Pro (14-Inch and 16-Inch, 2021)
For Power-Hungry Port Lovers
Photograph: Apple

If you're looking for the most powerful MacBooks with Apple’s silicon, look no further than the 14-inch (8/10, WIRED Recommends) and 16-inch MacBook Pro (if you can stomach the $2,000 starting price). You can choose to outfit either with Apple’s M1 Pro or M1 Max processors.

I (Brenda) have tested both—specifically the 14-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max chip and the 16-inch model with the M1 Pro. If you’re stuck between sizes and chipsets, you can narrow it down based on your preferences and workload. The 14-inch MacBook Pro has slimmer bezels around the screen, so its overall size is fairly similar to the 13-inch MacBook. The best of both worlds. The same is true for the 16-inch MacBook Pro, but it still feels ginormous. 

Both sizes come with mini-LED screens (providing deeper blacks and rich color like on the iPad Pro), a 120-Hz refresh rate for smoother-looking screens, a physical row of function keys in place of the Touch Bar (complete with a Touch ID button), a 1080p webcam, and a six-speaker sound system. Apple also brought back an array of ports, including an HDMI port, three USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 4, an SD card slot, and a high-impedance headphone jack. There’s also a MagSafe charging port that lets you magnetically connect the charger to the MacBook Pro, so you can rest assured your MacBook won’t fly off your desk when you trip over the wire.

The two processor choice options are significantly more powerful than most people need. If you’re mostly working through a web browser and typing up documents, these machines are overkill, and you should stick with a MacBook Air. Editing 4K video? Rendering 3D models in CAD? Producing music? That’s what these machines are intended for. They’re both powerful, but I was able to notice the difference when editing 20 GB (at a 4:1 compression) of RED raw footage. The M1 Max delivered buttery smooth performance, with the fans whirring only slightly. I experienced some stuttering and dropped frames during the same workload on the M1 Pro. Just to reiterate, this was a heavy stress test. The M1 Pro is more than capable of handling less taxing footage; most people aren’t editing clips from RED cameras.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro with an M1 Max does have exclusive access to a High Power Mode, which enhances performance for more graphics-intensive projects like editing 8K footage, according to Apple. Its larger chassis lends itself to better airflow and cooling, and it also trumps the 14-inch in battery life. The 14-inch MacBook Pro lasted about one hour while editing the aforementioned footage, whereas the 16-inch Mac was only at 70 percent after the same amount of time. The bigger size means you’ll get a few extra hours of battery life. 

Those who work on CPU- and GPU-demanding projects all day and are in need of a computer that won’t buckle under the pressure of gigantic files should opt for the 16-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Max. If your workload isn’t as intense (but you still think you need more power than the MacBook Air), the 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 Pro will more than satisfy you. 

Apple MacBook Pro (M2, 2022)
The Middle Child
Photograph: Apple

As with its predecessor, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro with M2 sits in an awkward spot. Aside from the new M2 chip (the same one that’s in the new MacBook Air), it doesn’t offer any major upgrades. It still comes with the same 13.3-inch display, 720p webcam, and two Thunderbolt ports. The only difference is added support for high-impedance headphones in the audio jack, providing slightly more fidelity. 

Unlike the Air, it does have a fan, which allows the processor to get a little warmer and eke out more power over a longer period of time. This helps if you’re working on pro-level tasks like video editing but can’t spend the premium that Apple charges for its bigger Pro models. Other advantages over the Air include slightly longer battery life and a Touch Bar at the top of the keyboard. It’s the only MacBook that Apple now sells with the Touch Bar. The whole thing is slightly heavier (3 pounds versus 2.7 pounds), but it matches the Air’s size and is still very slim. 

It also shares the same M2 chipset as the Air—which packs an 8-core CPU and 10-core GPU, giving it a boost in graphics performance thanks to the two extra cores. In testing, it performed well for the most part. On busier work days, when I had about 20 tabs open on Google Chrome and a few apps running simultaneously in the background, it felt a bit slow; there was a lag when switching between windows and tabs, and the rainbow wheel appeared a few times.

I experienced some stuttering while editing a stream of 4K Pro Res files on creative apps like Final Cut Pro—it particularly struggled with slight color adjustments and built-in effects. Editing photos on Pixelmator and Adobe Photoshop, on the other hand, felt a lot smoother. The MacBook Pro stuttered a bit when I added some rotation, adjusted sliders, and made minor changes to color, but it still powered through a multitude of layers and effects without the fans kicking in. 

However, seeing as how little has changed from the 2020 version, it’s tough to recommend the new MacBook Pro based solely on its specs—especially since the M2 alone is certainly not worth the upgrade. It’s not completely unusable for intensive tasks, but it’s likely not powerful enough for heavy-duty workloads. If you want to save money and don’t need the extra processing power, we suggest looking for the M1 MacBook Pro at a third-party retailer instead.

Which M-Series Chip Is Right for You?
Photograph: Apple

Now that Apple offers not one but five in-house chipsets for MacBooks, choosing the right one might feel a bit overwhelming. It all depends on what you plan on using the MacBook for. 

M1: This is the base-level chip of the lineup. It has an eight-core CPU and up to an eight-core GPU with support for up to 16 GB of unified memory (RAM) at an extra cost. It’s much faster than any previous Intel-powered MacBook Pro, and it is the practical choice for most people. It packs more than enough processing power to get you through common day-to-day tasks—even light gaming— and it can handle more intense jobs like photo and video editing.

M1 Pro: The next step up from the M1 is the M1 Pro. It has up to 10 cores in the CPU and up to a 16-core GPU, with up to 32 GB of unified memory. Apple says performance and graphics are both twice as fast as on the M1. We found it to be considerably more capable than the base chip, and it’s the ideal option for anyone who works heavily on MacBooks for music production or photo and video editing.

M1 Max: This is the most powerful M1 for the MacBook Pro. Like the M1 Pro, the M1 Max has a 10-core CPU but a heftier 32-core GPU (with support for up to 64 GB of unified memory). Apple says it’s four times faster than the M1 in terms of graphics. As proven in testing, this chip is extremely powerful, as it handled every heavy-duty task with ease. It’s the clear choice if you need a computer that can handle multiple streams of 8K or 4K video footage, 3D rendering, or developing apps and running demos. You probably already know if you need this much power.

Photograph: Apple

M1 Ultra: The M1 Ultra is the most powerful M1 out of all four chips, but it’s only available for the Mac Studio, Apple’s latest desktop computer. The M1 Ultra is basically two M1 Max chips connected with custom technology called UltraFusion. It packs a 20-core CPU, 64-Core GPU (which can be configured with up to 128 GB of unified memory), and 32-core neural engine—complete with seven times more transistors than the base M1. It’s for anyone who needs the most heavy-duty processor for working with intense visual effects and graphics. 

M2: This is the newest chip in Apple’s lineup. Despite its name, the M2 is considered a base-level chip, with slightly more processing power than the M1. It packs an 8-core GPU and up to a 10-core GPU (two more GPU cores than its predecessor), along with support for up to 24 GB of unified memory. Apple says the second-generation chip has an 18 percent faster CPU and a GPU that’s 35 percent more powerful. The M2 is great for accomplishing daily tasks like word processing and web browsing, but tasks like editing multiple streams of 4K footage and 3D rendering should be reserved for the M1 Pro or M1 Max.

Quirks and Issues
Photograph: iFixit

There are eccentricities and problems with Apple’s laptops that you should know about before you buy.

Bland Touch Bar: When Apple debuted the Touch Bar in late 2016, it touted the thin touchscreen strip above the keyboard as the next generation of user input. This shift didn't pan out. There was little interest from third-party software designers in doing anything innovative with the tiny display. Apple’s newest MacBooks do not have the Touch Bar anymore, a clear indicator that the company is moving away from it. The company only sells one MacBook with it now. 

Palmy trackpad: Apple's trackpads are among the best in the computer business, but with the newest MacBooks these input devices have been blown up to unbelievable proportions and crammed against the bottom edge of the keyboard, right where you rest your palms while typing. Although there’s supposed to be intelligent palm rejection software at work, the trackpads are susceptible to accidental input.

Parched for ports: Then there’s the port situation. Aside from the new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pros, the rest of Apple’s MacBooks feature one port type: USB-C (usually only two). It might not work with some of the devices you own. You’ll want to invest in a few adapters (like this Hyper adapter) if you plan on hooking your computer up to a projector or want to use things like USB drives and SD cards. 

MacBooks to Avoid
Photograph: Apple

Older MacBooks with butterfly keyboards (2015-2019): Apple’s notorious first to third-generation “butterfly switch” keyboards are gone from the entire new MacBook lineup. And good riddance. Former WIRED editor Jeffrey Van Camp and senior writer Lauren Goode both had multiple issues with the 2017 Pro keyboard. If you’re buying an older-model MacBook, Apple does replace the keyboards for free and did add extra dust guards to the late-2018 and early-2019 models. Apple has detailed instructions on how to clean the old keyboard if yours gets flaky, which is a decent first line of defense against busted keys. Apple also extended its keyboard repair program to cover repairs on all Macs that have been purchased between 2015 and 2019, regardless of warranty status. Still, unless you’re getting it really cheap, we suggest sticking with the newer models that feature the much-better Magic Keyboard and the newer, more advanced processor.

The old MacBook Air models (with a silver bezel): Apple’s slim laptop was groundbreaking when it debuted in 2008. Unfortunately, the MacBook Air didn’t undergo many changes until 2018. These older Airs rock a dowdy-looking, non-Retina screen and weak Intel chips that are years old. The old laptops might not require the dongles that a newer MacBook might, but the newer laptops will undoubtedly feel faster for longer. Don’t let their lower price tag tempt you—there are way better laptops you can nab for that kind of cash. How to spot it: The older Air has a thick silver border (bezel) around its screen instead of the black glass of the new models.

The old 16-inch MacBook Pro: This is a fine laptop that’s not too old, but its price makes no sense when compared to the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. You’re much better off sticking with the M1 Pro- or M1 Max-powered 16-inch. How to spot it: The product name usually includes “Intel.” 

2020 Intel-poweredMacBook AirandMacBook Pro: These models have been completely eclipsed by the late 2020 models with the Apple M1 chip, from performance to battery life. They’re only worth buying if you can snag them for well under $700. Anything close to $900 and you should just pay up for the base MacBook Air with M1. It really is superior.

Get AppleCare+

None of Apple’s MacBooks are cheap, and replacement parts are nightmarishly expensive. Since the entire computer is fully integrated into Apple’s tightly designed aluminum chassis, you’re one coffee spill away from a shockingly large repair bill. This is why Apple’s AppleCare+ is worth it—starting at $249, AppleCare extends your factory warranty to three years, gives you matching telephone support, and throws in two accidental damage repairs as well. After paying a minimum $99 service fee, whatever you did to zap your shiny new Mac will be undone, and you’ll be back to hammering away on your keyboard.

Education Discounts

Apple always offers small discounts on hardware for students and teachers. All you need to do is purchase something through Apple’s Education Store, choose the product you want (you should see the discounted pricing), and go through the motions to place the order like normal. You don’t need to show any proof that you’re a student at the time of purchase, but you should be honest, as Apple can email you at a later date and ask for verification. And come on, do you really need a reason to be honest?