Regular readers will know that I’ve been toying with the idea of swapping my 16-inch MacBook Pro for the rumoured M2-powered 14-inch version next year.
The reason for this is simple – I’m fed up with carting that huge laptop around when I travel.
This week, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and leave the 16-inch MacBook Pro at home while travelling in London. Instead, I packed the base-model M2 MacBook Air – nothing else. I wasn’t worried, either; this particular laptop is my daily driver for all things non-production-related and I love it.
How would it fare on the road when tasked with some video editing? Could it live up to the base-model M1 MacBook Air’s surprising brilliance as a stand-in, grab-it-in-a-pinch video editing laptop?
What happened next surprised me.
My M1 MacBook Air Montreal experience
To give this story some context, we need to head back to October 2021, when I travelled to Montreal for business. Back then, my video editing machine was an M1 Mac mini, and, clearly, I wasn’t going to take that out on the road with me.
I therefore had no choice but to take the base-model M1 MacBook Air with the knowledge that I’d rely on it significantly for video editing during my trip.
It wasn’t long before it was called into action. On the day of my outbound flight, Apple held an event (they always do this when I travel), which meant I needed to publish a reaction video later that day. It would be a real stretch; after a long flight and the fast onset of jet lag, I’d have to watch the event, take notes, shoot the video, and then edit and publish it before even considering anything that could remotely be described as sleep.
The only tool I had to edit that video was the aforementioned base-model M1 MacBook Air. You know – the one with just 7 GPU cores and 8GB of unified memory.
It absolutely smashed the job. I couldn’t have asked any more of it.
It’s worth noting that I didn’t detune my camera for the edit, either – I continued to work with the 10-bit, 4:2:2, 4K video of which my 16GB Mac mini had been making mincemeat.
The M1 MacBook Air breezed through the job. There were a couple of stutters and dropped frames here and there, and the export took a little longer than it would have done on the Mac mini, but it didn’t frustrate me once.
So, you’d expect the new version of that laptop to at least match it, wouldn’t you?
No choice but to give up
As I write, I’m sitting in one of London’s countless Starbucks outlets. This wasn’t the plan – I wasn’t intending on writing this blog post until later today after I’d finished my video editing tasks.
As it turns out, I can’t finish those tasks, because I had to pull the plug just minutes into an edit.
To clarify, I’m working with the same footage from the same camera that was fed into the M1 MacBook Air last October. Nothing has changed.
Well, one thing has – the laptop in question.
Editing that video footage in Final Cut Pro on this M2 MacBook Air was nigh-on impossible. As soon as I began adding clips to the timeline and making cuts and adjustments, the thing practically ground to a halt. The ‘dropped frames’ warning box popped up constantly, and hitting the space bar to play the video responded many frustrating seconds later.
Closing everything but Final Cut Pro made no difference. It was a lost cause. In fact, it was so bad that I had no choice but to close Final Cut Pro and write this blog post instead.
What’s going on?
You may remember my immediate defence of the base model M2 MacBook Air when it was launched earlier this year. I still stand by much of what I said; no one is buying this machine as a mobile video editing rig – those who need that kind of thing will be opting for the MacBook Pro.
However, what has genuinely surprised me today is the manner in which this laptop has failed, immediately, compared to its M1-based forefather. It’s not as though it’s just a ‘bit’ worse, either – it is totally unworkable as a 4K video editing rig under the exact same conditions as those I laid upon the M1 MacBook Air last year.
Something is clearly wrong. Maybe it is to do with the NAND chip configuration I brazenly brushed aside during my original reviews of the M2 MacBook Air. Perhaps I just got lucky with the M1 MacBook Air last year and picked the right time to undertake that video edit (maybe it too would have failed today due to changes within Final Cut Pro – who knows).
Whatever the reason, I hold my hands up – if I ever suggested that this base model M2 MacBook Air could be an occasional stand-in for a much more powerful machine in the realm of video editing, I was totally wrong. I’m sorry.
Should you be worried?
No. I don’t think the experiment I’ve undertaken during my trip to London is typical of an M2 MacBook Air owner. These laptops aren’t purchased for professional production duties, and anyone deciding to do a bit of 4K video editing on a base model M2 MacBook Air probably isn’t working against the clock like me.
This laptop remains a brilliant buy in its base-model configuration for anyone who wants to do normal computery stuff with it. As noted earlier, that’s its main role in my business and it never falters. I even dive into Lightroom and Photoshop on a fairly regular basis, and it eats those tasks up, too.
It just seems that, when it comes to the crunch, the M2 MacBook Air has lost some of the brilliance that made the base model M1 MacBook Air a surprisingly capable mobile video editing rig.
That’s a crying shame, but I’d love to hear about your experiences. Have you got the base model? And, if so, have you really put it through its paces as I have attempted today? Get involved in the comments!
“Perhaps I just got lucky with the M1 MacBook Air last year and picked the right time to undertake that video edit (maybe it too would have failed today due to changes within Final Cut Pro – who knows).”
….. PLEASE do a follow up and test the M1 Macbook Air again with the same material your M2 failed on.
I’ve been considering upgrading my M1 Macbook Air to the M2 version, and I really would like to see this before I do.
Were you able to check how much swap was being used in Activity Monitor?
And yes, I’d love to see a follow up and test the M1 Air vs. the M2. Maybe some code got borked when they were trying to optimize for the M2 processor.
Today I bought an MacBook Pro M1 Pro 16″ base model. Thanks to Black Friday there was a 21% discount on Amazon. I want the bigger screen and the sound (I watch a good amount of movies). And coming from a MacBook Pro 15″ mid 2014, I shouldn’t feel much difference in weight or size. Can’t wait to get my hands on it.
IT WAS BECAUSE OF THE SINGLE NAND CHIP. WHEN SWAP MEMORY CAME INTO PLAY, IT GROUND TO A HALT. YOU WOULD HAVE BEEN O.K. WITH THE 512 GB MODEL. FOR THIS VERY REASN, I RETURNED THE BASE MODEL, IN FAVOR OF THE 16GB/512GB MODEL. BLACK FRIDAY SALE SAVED ME $230.00