Fanless vs. Active-Cooled M2: How Does Apple’s CPU Fare in the New MacBooks?

Apple’s newest processor, the M2 chip, has arrived in two 2022 models of its seminal laptops: the 13-inch version of the MacBook Pro, and in the redesigned MacBook Air. The laptops have a lot in common, but despite both using the M2, the chip is slightly different, and implemented in different ways, in each one.

So, which of the two new M2-powered MacBooks offers the better performance? After testing both, we’re ready to compare the numbers and give you the answer.

The M2 MacBooks (So Far): Configuration and CPU Nuances

In theoretical terms, the cheapest MacBook Pro 13-inch should easily outperform the cheapest M2 MacBook Air, because the Air starts with an eight-core GPU (offering the 10-core GPU as an optional extra), and the MacBook Pro 13 only comes with the 10-core version.

Apple MacBook Air (2022, M2) lid

(Credit: Molly Flores)

However, of the two review units we tested, neither one is the base model. For the MacBook Pro 13-inch, our test system has a little extra memory and larger storage, while the M2 MacBook Air also has the boosted 10-core GPU and same 16GB of memory and 1TB of storage. Both test configurations sell for $1,899.

One benefit of having the two models with such similar configurations is that we can safely compare them head-to-head, without having to worry about memory or storage differences having an impact on the performance.

The M2 Apple MacBooks We’ve Tested

Apple MacBook Air (2022, M2)

Apple MacBook Pro 13-Inch (2022, M2)

One thing that needs elaborating on, though: the cooling systems in these two laptops, which take two very different approaches. The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro 13-inch offer two packages for the same M2 chip. The biggest difference between the two new MacBook models—more important than any cosmetic differences by far—is how they cool that M2 chip inside. The Air sticks to passive cooling, letting the natural flow of air and some heat sinks do the job of keeping the CPU from getting too hot.

The MacBook Pro 13-inch, on the other hand, uses a pair of fans, actively drawing in cool air and forcing out the hot. That’s an important difference, since the active airflow can be sped up when needed, and used to maintain cooler temperatures even when the hardware wants to get hot, such as when running multiple…