September 27, 2022

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Teardown: Apple MacBook Air 2022

Apple’s shift to in-house processors has prompted a fanless rethink of its most popular laptop.

Apple released the first general-user MacBook Air laptop based on its M2 processor in July with UK retail prices starting at £1,249. The company says it represents the first major redesign of the computer in essentially a decade, with its move to producing its own silicon driving many of the changes.

Weighing just 1.24kg and at only 1.13cm thick, the 13.6-inch-​screen laptop fits comfortably into a traditional A4/Letter envelope (though obviously that’s not a recommended portability option). At the same time, the M2 – here in an 8-core CPU/8 or 10-core GPU configuration – offers 1.4x better performance on a video editing benchmark than the M1-based edition.

Apple is also claiming a 15x improvement for video against earlier MacBooks that used Intel’s Core i5 chips (although, for context, remember that Intel is today on the Core i9). Meanwhile, ‘SkyJuice’ of the ‘Angstronomics’ Substack column on semiconductors says the Air’s specifications now exclude Intel completely. Apple has replaced the Intel drivers for the laptop’s two Thunderbolt/USB4 ports with another in-house chip (though it still needs to work with some other suppliers, including Texas Instruments, Renesas and Nexperia).

The M2 is an Arm v8-based design combining four high-end Avalanche cores and four low-​power Blizzard cores, with a maximum clock rate of 3.49GHz. It is made at TSMC on a 5nm process. On the entry level 2022 Air, it pairs with 8GB of memory. The SSD memory for the computers is either 256GB or 512GB.

The main physical difference from the M2 Air is the absence of a fan – indeed, the absence of any significant heatsink whatsoever.

“Under the lid we find: an impressive amount of empty space… but, where’s the heat spreader?” wonders Sam Goldheart of iFixit. “What’s with this big gap? How does this thing cool down? Sure it had a lot of thermal paste and graphite tape, and yeah the M2 is efficient, but this shield is super-thin, so it’s not helping much – and the case is lighter than last year, so? Maybe the M2 Air is secretly an iPad, or maybe Apple is just letting it run hot.”

Benchmarking suggests that there is some evidence of the M2 dropping performance for some more onerous tasks – again, video-editing stands out. Apple appears to be taking the benefits of the M2 design and trading them off against the reality that most Air owners will not want to do things that fully stress the processor’s capacity. Instead, they get benefits that arguably translate across from mobile computing – including 18-20-hour battery life.

The design rethink has also seen Apple seek to get better performance from its Spatial Audio speakers by moving them to between the case and the display. “No more perforated top case,” notes Goldheart. “And while they’re not the best speakers ever, Apple’s obsession with sound still comes through, and they sound great.”

Apple also provides three ports (2 x Thunderbolt/USB; 1 x 3.5mm) and has returned to a Magsafe charging connector after USB-C charging on the previous model. All of these are modular, making repair for these more heavily trafficked components that bit easier. The FaceTime camera has been upgraded to 1080p from 720p. Curiously, there is also a six-axis accelerometer/gyroscope, a part more typically associated with smartphones and tablets.

And we are now beyond the era of the infamous Butterfly keyboard.

The Mac has been headed in a positive direction these days. “More and better ports, a better keyboard, and a return to some more repairable ideas,” says Goldheart. “I don’t know if I trust a fanless, heatspreader-less, non-upgradable laptop – especially at this base model spec. But at least the shadow of the original Retina era seems to be passing.”

At this point, we would normally look at iFixit’s repairability score. However, the M2 Air is one of the products for which Apple has said that it will produce self-repair kits, and these are expected to come along fairly shortly (the usual exploded view will also appear then to ease comparisons).

Nevertheless, the iFixit teardown does suggest that, assuming you have the basic skills, going inside the company’s latest addition has indeed become much easier. Even the adhesive securing the battery has been applied in horseshoe configuration that makes it easier to pull out (if one part breaks, you can still pull the remainder because it is a connected piece).

But let’s revisit the MacBook Air when the repair tools do appear and get used in anger. 

Apple MacBook Air 2022: key components

MacBook Air M2 motherboard

1. Memory (SSD), SK Hynix
2. Gyroscope/Accelerometer, Bosch Sensortec
3. Memory (DRAM), SK Hynix
4. Processor, Apple
5. Wireless module, USI



Image credit: Apple/iFixit

 


Teardown Web 2 Of 2 Apple Macbook Air 2 inline

Image credit: Apple/iFixit

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