In the midst of the global crisis caused by the Coronavirus, Apple has quietly released the new MacBook Air. The release may have been a quiet one, but there’s been a lot of noise since: these new machines made a good impression in the entire tech community as the first reviews that are dropping in are pretty positive. A few improvements design-wise and a couple of upgrades on the inside: can this be enough to make the Air a feasible choice for video editing?
Tech guru Max Yuryev is well known for the comparisons he does and has great expertise in the matter at hand. Plus, his reviews are always aimed at content creators, especially video makers and editors. So, could this lightweight and portable laptop be the swiss-knife many filmmakers were looking for? Let’s see.
First things first: what has changed in this Macbook Air 2020? The most anticipated improvement is the return of scissor switches on the keyboard since now the Air has the same Magic Keyboard we’ve seen on the bigger brother, the Macbook Pro 16″.
Apple seems to have finally backed off from the much-hated butterfly switch design, with great joy for most of its user base. Apart from that, we’re getting a price cut of $100 and double the storage on the entry-level.
The available CPUs are from the latest refresh by Intel, the tenth series. The baseline has an i3 processor, but we can upgrade to both i5 and i7 CPUs, the quad-core variant, not dual-core like the predecessors in the past.
Other than that, CPU’s aren’t the only power-up. GPU’s have been upgraded too, and this time it’s the Iris Pro series, not a cheaper subset of graphic cards.
Enough with the design, now let’s talk video editing. That’s what matters to us, right? Firing up Geekbench, we can see that this year’s refresh has a pretty respectable score. So much, in fact, that it can even compare to the MacBook Pro, that is in regards to single-core performance. On the multi-core side, things change quite a bit.
When it comes to CPUs, the latest MacBook Air moves ahead of its predecessor by leap and bounds, and the same goes for the Pro 13″. So, what does that mean?
Well, it’s important to take this into account since many applications are moving toward a better usage of GPU’s resources. If you are editing in Final Cut or DaVinci Resolve, you should consider that these NLEs fall in the GPU-intensive category of editing suites.
If instead your workflow relies more on Premiere Pro and Avid, it’s a whole different story. Both are more CPU-oriented platforms.
This hypothesis is confirmed by the tests. A simple stabilization that required almost a minute on the previous Air now takes a mere 35 seconds if editing in Final Cut. The laptop cuts through 1080p footage with no hiccups at all, even if you load LUTs and playback at full res.
Upping the game a notch and scrubbing 4K footage, we start to see a little bit less smoothness overall, but still pretty usable. Funnily enough, all of this does not translate to export times. A Bruce-X test gets almost double the time to complete the task than on the previous Air. Could it be a thermal throttling of the GPU?
The more Max investigates the problem, the more it becomes apparent that the GPU, although being much better than before, simply can’t handle that kind of load. Anything besides some light 1080p clips with a few effects is beyond the scope of the newcomer. Even connecting an e-GPU somehow does not get the situation going.
This is, unfortunately, a great concern for whoever was considering this laptop as a portable editing station. It’s clear that while some productivity-focused jobs can take advantage of the lightness and qualities of the MacBook Air, all content creators will have to wait for the much anticipated MacBook Pro 13″ refresh, what could possibly be the equivalent to the 16″ for the 15″, the so-called MacBook Pro 14″.