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The Base M2 MacBook Air’s Storage Performed Poorly in Our Tests, as Expected

You must pay for the speedier SSD if you want it.

Previous reviews have noted that the arrangement of the storage models in Apple’s entry-level M2 MacBook Pro makes the SSD much slower than that of the M1 MacBook Pro. We’ve been wondering if the standard M2 MacBook Air might experience the same problem because Apple told The Verge that it has the same storage configuration as the Pro. We finally have a base model in our possession, which has 256GB of storage and 8GB of memory, therefore the answer is: yes, it does.

According to the numbers we’re seeing in Blackmagic’s Disk Speed Test app, the base model of the M2 MacBook Air has read rates that can be 40 to 50 percent slower and write speeds that are typically 15 to 30 percent slower than those of the 512GB model Apple supplied The Verge to review.

This is not a surprising outcome given that the base Air only has a single NAND chip, whereas the M1 models and M2 models with 512GB and more have two, which can enable almost twice as fast speeds.

Although I wouldn’t say the speeds we’re seeing from this base MacBook Air are poor, they are (especially when it comes to reading data) the kind of speeds you can easily get on computers that are a little bit more, um, blah. For instance, when it comes to writing speeds, the base model is only slightly faster than my 2019 Intel MacBook Pro, and its read capabilities are noticeably worse. Microsoft’s Surface Laptop Go 2 (which starts at $600) loses to the basic Air on write but destroys it on read, to choose a Windows computer out of a hat. (Read speeds, which gauge how quickly your device can access files on its system, are typically more crucial for general usage.)

The 512GB model we do have is also quicker than the base M2 model on both read and write, as you can see in the results below, even though we did not have an M1 Air with 256GB to test.

Slower storage rates can affect a variety of operations, including file uploads, and can affect overall performance because Macs use SSD space as temporary memory (swap memory) when their onboard RAM is exhausted, as Verge writer Dan Seifert writes in his review of the M2 Air.

So, how will these specific distinctions affect you? People who are targeted by the Air’s marketing campaign are unlikely to notice a significant difference in performance between the 256GB and 512GB models on a daily basis. On both laptops, I ran two 4K YouTube videos while having 25 Chrome tabs open for 30 minutes without having to use swap memory on either one. I repeatedly turned on and off the two devices side by side, and the boot times were essentially equal. And when I opened any of the programs I typically use, like as Chrome, Safari, Messages, Photos, Activity Monitor, Slack, Music, etc., I didn’t notice much of a change.

However, for the intended users of the MacBook Pro, a restriction like this might be a deal-breaker. We typically advise against purchasing an Air in favor of a MacBook Pro with an M1 Pro or Max chip if you have a higher task (and may very well feel a difference).

Having said that, some people will undoubtedly care about these outcomes. If you fall into that category, upgrading from 256GB to 512GB will cost you $200, raising the price of the eight-core M2 MacBook Air from $1,199 to $1,399. If that seems like a lot, the still-excellent M1 MacBook Air costs $1,199 and comes with 512GB of storage and 8GB of RAM (the same price as the base M2 Air). In my real-world comparisons, I’ve discovered that M2 machines perform noticeably better for graphics-intensive use cases (like playing games), but their performance differences have little bearing on other tasks that a casual user might perform (like photo and audio editing, internet browsing, etc.).

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