The big difference between the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2020/11/11/the-big-difference-between-the-new-macbook-air-and-macbook-pro.html

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It sounds like just a single fan. Oh how Apple have fallen. Do we know who the fan is?

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So a $300 fan. Huh.

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The Air also has a physical Esc key, unlike the allegedly-Pro’s mostly unloved Touch Bar. The only reason to get the Intel 13" MBP over the MBA is the extra RAM option and the 4 USB-C/TB3 ports, but this is not the case with the M1 versions.

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Isn’t there an extra core?

Also, if the fan allows for an extra 800-1000 mhz of speed, and reduced throttling, it’s going to be worth it.

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Naah, not a $300 fan. The biggest hardware difference is that the $1299 MBP has a 58.2Wh battery versus a 49.9Wh one in the Air, giving it a couple of extra hours of battery life at the expense of a slightly heavier form factor. The MBP also has a brighter screen, better speakers, and faster graphics in addition to the higher CPU performance the fan can provide. That’s quite an assortment of improvements even if both models technically use the same CPU.

fazalmajid, both the MBA and MBP have physical Esc keys. Apple shrunk the Touch Bar to allow for a physical Esc key next to it on the left.

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I doubt it’s that much. The aluminum case is a very effective heat sink.

Keep in mind a fan, as a mechanical component, is a single point of failure. That’s what killed my 2012 MBP.

As for the extra (GPU) core, only the cheapest Air has the 7-core variant.

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Aluminum casing would only be a good heat sink if the CPU is welded to the heatsink, and then to the case (which would probably roast your man berries if you used it as a laptop).

A fan moving air through a heat sink vs a passive heat sink makes a huge difference in how long the CPU can run at maximum frequency, and what it can top out as well. You only really need to see how much quicker a CPU will over heat if the fan is on or off to understand this… and I’m saying this as someone who has built PC for gamers for the last 7 years, I’ve lapped CPUs, and done custom liquid coolers, as well as delidded and relidded CPUS adding in liquid metal thermal compounds.

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Yeah, but the heat doesn’t evolve in the case; it evolves in the fingernail-sized chip die, and the hard part is getting it from there to the case (or more saliently, to the outside air). If the Air just had the chip thermally glued to the case, and you ran it at the same maximum workload as the MBP, you would get a spot on the case that was hot enough to literally burn you, and the differential expansion would pop the seams on the case, and things of that ilk, and it’s quite possible that the chip would still overheat. There’s a reason fast PCs are mostly fan.

There was a period around the turn of the century, when CPUs started running really hot, that laptop notebook computers would have big elaborate heat pipes inside, because I guess designers were thinking that if they could just spread the heat over the whole case that would be enough. But those heat pipes can become a significant source of mass and bulk, and then the user can put the laptop down on (say) a bed and it’s all for nothing. So the solution is forced air, and a lot of it.

The MBP may be mostly the same computer, but between the fan and the battery and the better screen, the extra $300 isn’t that outrageous. Even if you could get the same thing by adding an external battery and chiller unit to an Air, I don’t think that would be especially appealing.

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So Apple fanboys will be disappointed, then.

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THANK YOU. There are quite a few more differences between the two laptops than ‘a fan’ - which is in itself a bigger difference than the words might suggest.

Superficial reporting right here.

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No, not just a $300 fan.

The “biggest” difference (according to the Verge) is a $300 fan. But the Pro also has a brighter (and possibly more color-accurate screen, going by previous MacBook Airs/Pros), a Touch Bar versus regular function keys, a larger battery, and it comes with 8 GPU cores by default versus 7 in the default MacBook Air configuration (although you can choose an 8-GPU core Air as well).

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Ahhh, we got 9 posts in before the inevitable “fanboys” reference surfaced. To be honest, that’s better than I expected.

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All Macs have physical Escape keys again. The Touch Bar now mercifully stops one key short on the left, since the last gen of MBP. The Touch Bar is still annoying, though.

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Ah, I didn’t notice that, thanks for pointing it out!

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It’s a pretty common strategy in laptops these days and it’s how most phones and tablets handle cooling. Even without an aluminum shell.

A heat spreader, heat sink or even heat pipes and TIM are used to connect the CPU to the chassis or casing. Often times it’s used in combo with fans and actual heat sinks.

I don’t know that I’d call it “very effective”. On it’s own it tends to go hand in hand with low power, low TDP and throttling. And yes the cases apparently get very hot. I know my phone does on occasion.

I’d be willing to bet the differences here are more than a fan and any throttling. Same or similar CPU or not the Air is probably going to be set to run at lower clocks, with a more conservative boost curve and thus will perform slower even before you get into throttling or limits on boost. That is how you do these things, ARM or not. Even folks building silent, fanless or passively cooled project boxes undervolt and underclock to control heat.

Heat pipes still seem to be a thing in big gaming/productivity laptops. But it’s more about moving the heat to where air can get at it. The frame/case still seems to be commonly involved but with high power parts it’s a supplement. The idea does revolve around using raw mass to pull off heat rather than surface area venting it to the air. So there’s only so much it can do.

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part of the point though is that they could have slightly increased the size of the smaller version to add a fan - heck make them the same size to reduce the manufacturing costs of both - so they are in affect artificially throttling the cheaper laptop

that’s done by every company to some extent when they design a laptop, it’s just usually not quite so obvious.

Isn’t the cooling system the big difference between a gaming system and a “professional” system? Some coolers pump air, some coolers pump electrons, but what makes the difference is the ability to get the heat out.

There is probably some similarity to the difference between a stock automobile engine and a racing automobile engine. The former is much, much cheaper, but the latter has a whole bunch of minor modifications so it can run flat out for long stretches, the kind that would destroy an ordinary passenger vehicle.

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Yeah, you’ll always need something. I was thinking in particular of the PowerBook G3, which had a notably byzantine heat pipe object at a time when most chips still just had a little aluminum hat. But chips haven’t really got bigger in the last 40 years, whereas they can consume a lot more power, so I guess the heat flow immediately around the chip will always be a real engineering battleground.

If noise wasn’t an issue, I guess the Air’s CPU could just have a tiny aluminum sponge and force filtered air through it at enormous pressure. But it would be loud, and the exhaust vent would be a literal hairdryer. Or they could add enough space for air to flow quietly, and lose the (evidently significant) selling point of having it be thinner.

Personally I never liked the Air format, so I’d be annoyed if they just made one model that fell between two stools. As to whether the price difference “should” be $183, ¯\_(ツ)_/¯ it’s not something I’d stew about, given that I’ll use the thing for 5+ years.

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The last time they changed the processor (to intel osx), Mac people had to buy new software because the old stuff wouldn’t work, and people who learned to code on OS 9 had to do it all over again.