The MacBook Pro family is designed to provide greater power and capabilities for more demanding professional use, while the MacBook Air family is designed for maximum portability.
This manifests itself partly in different sizing – the MacBook Air offers 11-inch and 13-inch diagonal screens, while the MacBook Pro offers 13-inch and 15-inch diagonal screens. Of course, a smaller screen – and indeed, a smaller laptop overall – makes for greater portability, while a larger screen and laptop provides more display space for professionals, and perhaps more internal space as well.
Since the two families overlap at the 13-inch size, perhaps that’s the best place to point out the ways in which they differ, as of June 2014.
- The MacBook Air weighs in at 2.96 pounds / 1.35 kg, while the MacBook Pro is 3.46 pounds / 1.57 kg – heavier, but still pretty slim.
- Both come standard with dual-core Intel Core i5 CPUs, but the MacBook Air’s is clocked at 1.4 GHz, while the MacBook Pro’s runs at 2.4 GHz.
- Both can be upgraded to dual-core Intel Core i7 CPUs, but the MacBook Air’s fastest is clocked at 1.7 GHz, while the MacBook Pro’s fastest runs at 2.8 GHz.
- Both have 4 GB of RAM at their lowest configuration, but the MacBook Air is configurable at purchase to 8 GB, while the MacBook Pro is configurable to 8 GB or 16 GB.
- Both have 128 GB SSD storage in their lowest configuration, but the MacBook Air is configurable at purchase to 256 GB or 512 GB, while the MacBook Pro offers both those options and a 1 TB option.
- The MacBook Air uses Intel HD 5000 graphics; the MacBook Pro uses the presumably-better Intel Iris graphics.
- The MacBook Air has a 1440×900 display, while the MacBook Pro has a 2560×1600 “Retina” display.
- Both offer dual mics, dual USB 3 ports, an SDXC card slot, a headphone jack, and Thunderbolt digital video output, but the MacBook Air offers a single Thunderbolt, port while the MacBook Pro offers two and throws in an HDMI port for good measure.
- The MacBook Air starts at US $999, and with all the internal configure-to-order options can get up to about $1,749. The MacBook Pro starts at US $1,299, and with all its internal options can get hit $2,699.
So to summarize, if you’re a professional user and want maximum performance from a 13-inch MacBook of some sort, a “maxed out” 13-inch MacBook Pro is 65% faster than a “maxed out” 13-inch MacBook Air, has twice the RAM, twice the storage, faster graphics, more than triple the resolution, and more expansion and video-output options built in. If you don’t need maximum performance, the MacBook Air is 15% lighter, uses less power, costs a few hundred dollars less to start, and is still plenty fast for almost any imaginable application – I actually use one at work.
I would be remiss to omit mention of the non-Retina 13-inch MacBook Pro, which dates back to mid-2009, when the “unibody” aluminum MacBook received an SDHC card slot and a “Pro” after its name. My personal laptop is a mid-2009 13-inch MacBook Pro, which aside from some wake-from-sleep issues is still going strong, thanks to some upgrades along the way. There have been several iterations since then, with no change to outward appearance, and the one currently for sale appears to be unchanged since 2012.
This model starts at US $1,199 and tops out at around $2,149, but is clearly “old technology,” since it still uses a spinning hard disk, rather than a faster, more efficient solid-state drive, still has a slot-load optical (DVD/CD) drive, has a screen resolution of only 1280×800 – fewer pixels than the 11-inch MacBook Air now offers, uses older Intel HD 4000 graphics, and uses FireWire 800 and a gigabit Ethernet port, rather than Thunderbolt ports. It also weighs in at a “hefty” 4.5 pounds / 2.06 kg.
That said, spinning disks are cheap, so the base storage is 500 GB, and some people still want optical drives and ethernet jacks, so Apple has kept this model available, for now, even though it looks like something from an earlier era next to their current offerings!