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Comparing the 13-Inch MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air and iPad Pro

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In the last two months, Apple has refreshed the 13-inch MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the 12.9-inch iPad Pro, all of which have similarities in performance and functionality.


In our latest video, we went hands-on with all three of Apple's new machines for a detailed performance comparison to give MacRumors readers some insight into which device might be the best purchase for their needs.

In This Comparison

We're comparing base model devices from Apple, with specs and price points below:
  • 12.9-inch iPad Pro With Magic Keyboard ($1,350) - A12Z Bionic chip, 6GB RAM, 128GB storage.
  • MacBook Pro ($1,299) - 1.4GHz 8th-generation quad-core Intel Core i5 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics 645, 8GB 2133MHz RAM, 256GB SSD.
  • MacBook Air ($999) - 1.1GHz 10th-generation dual-core Intel Core i3 processor, Intel Iris Plus Graphics, 8GB 3733MHz RAM, 256GB SSD.
Note that the iPad Pro is priced at $999, but the Magic Keyboard is a necessary purchase to put it on par with Apple's laptops as it adds a full keyboard and trackpad. The Magic Keyboard is $350.

The iPad Pro is also available in a smaller 11-inch model that we did not use for this comparison, and pricing on that model starts at $799 for the tablet and $299 for the keyboard.

Design

The MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro are similar in terms of design (and we have a full comparison here), featuring a unibody aluminum casing, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, 13-inch Retina displays, Magic Keyboards with scissor switch keys, Force Touch trackpads, T2 security chips, and Touch ID.


The MacBook Pro has a brighter display and a Touch Bar, while the MacBook Air has an hour more battery life and it supports up to a 6K display.


The two machines are close to the same size, though the MacBook Air has a tapered design and weighs 2.8 pounds compared to the 3.1 pounds of the MacBook Pro.


The iPad Pro, of course, is radically different because it is a tablet with a touch screen that morphs into a laptop-like design with the addition of the Magic Keyboard. The Magic Keyboard also has scissor switch keys and a trackpad, though it's smaller and doesn't use Force Touch.


The iPad Pro uses Face ID instead of Touch ID, and when paired with the Magic Keyboard, it weighs in at 3 pounds, so it's just about the same weight as the MacBook Pro. It's a lot more versatile than either the MacBook Air or the MacBook Pro though because it can be used without the Magic Keyboard, dropping the weight down to just over a pound.



Benchmark Comparisons

We used Geekbench 5 on all three machines to test the overall performance, and unsurprisingly, Apple's iPad Pro is the fastest of the bunch. Apple's modern A-series chips beat out many similar Intel processors, and while Apple is working on Arm-based Macs, we still have a year or so until those are ready to launch.


The iPad Pro earned a single core score of 1116 and a multi-core score of 4686, which was quite a bit higher than the MacBook Pro's single-core score of 859 and multi-core score of 3621.

Both the iPad Pro and the MacBook Pro outperformed the cheaper MacBook Air with its Core i3 processor when it came to multi-core performance, but the MacBook Air won out over the MacBook Pro in single-core performance. The MacBook Air earned a single-core score of 1076 and a multi-core score of 2350.


It's worth noting that the 13-inch MacBook Pro is using older 8th-generation chips that have not been updated, while the MacBook Air has Intel's latest 10th-generation chips. There are MacBook Pro models that use the new chips, but only in models starting priced at $1,799, which is quite a bit more expensive.

The iPad Pro has Apple's A12Z chip, which is similar to the A12X chip used in the 2018 iPad Pros, though an extra GPU core has been enabled in the new model to boost performance up just a bit.

Real-World Testing

We also did some real world testing to see how those benchmarking scores translate into actual performance, because how a device performs when being used for everyday tasks is more important than how it benchmarks.

Transferring a 1.3GB video file took five seconds on the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro, and a whopping 50 seconds on the iPad Pro just because the file management on the iPad Pro isn't as robust as file management on Apple's Macs.


Exporting a 4K five minute video in Final Cut Pro on the MacBook Pro took 4 minutes and 10 seconds. On the MacBook Air, it took 5 minutes and 30 seconds, which is no surprise given that it has a slower CPU and GPU.

There is no Final Cut Pro software on the iPad Pro of course, so there's no direct comparison to make, but exporting a 4K five minute video in Luma Fusion took just three minutes, which is faster than both the MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air.

Software and Feature Considerations

The iPad Pro is more powerful than both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro (when it comes to base models) but that doesn't matter when the iPad Pro just can't do what some people need.

As mentioned above, for example, there's no Final Cut Pro on the iPad Pro for video editing purposes, and the same goes for Logic Pro. There's no Xcode on iPad Pro for app developers, and while the iPad Pro supports multitasking, it's limited to two apps open and used side by side at one time.


Video quality on the iPad Pro is much, much better because Apple hasn't upgraded the 720p camera on the MacBooks for years now, which is nice for Zoom, Skype, FaceTime, and other video interactions, though it's kind of a hassle to use the front-facing camera with the Magic Keyboard attached because it's located at the top of the iPad Pro.

The iPad Pro has a major advantage when it comes to activities like note taking, reading textbooks, making flash cards, and more, thanks to the Apple Pencil integration and the ability to use it in either landscape or portrait mode.

The Apple Pencil is ideal for taking handwritten notes with diagrams and sketches, and reading textbooks is easier in portrait mode than it is on a wider screen.


Creative work can be done on any of the machines, but again, the iPad Pro has an edge for artists because of the Apple Pencil support. Video and audio editing are more limited on iPad Pro for those who are used to software like Final Cut Pro or Logic X, but there are some comparable apps.

Photo editing and graphic design can be done on an iPad using apps like Photoshop and Lightroom, so there are many alternative workflows for people who need to do creative tasks using the iPad's tools.


When it comes to writing documents, browsing the web, and similar tasks, the Magic Keyboard elevates the iPad Pro to the level of the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro and is vital for those who want a laptop-like machine that's much more versatile.

Bottom Line

If the iPad Pro's shortcomings in software and multitasking don't impact your workflow, it's the most capable of the three, given that it converts from a laptop-style machine to a tablet, supports Apple Pencil, and has the fastest performance.

The MacBook Air is the best value of the three because of its $999 price point. It's the perfect machine for every day tasks like document creation, writing, and web browsing, plus it can also handle video editing, photo editing, and similar tasks (though it's not the machine to get if you're looking at exporting large videos all the time or doing super system intensive work).

The MacBook Pro is a more robust machine better suited to tasks that need more CPU and GPU power, but to really take advantage of the MacBook Pro's capabilities, you'd probably need to step up to the $1,799 machine rather than relying on the entry-level model with its older processor.

What are your thoughts on these three machines? Do you have one? Which did you choose and why? Let us know in the comments.

Article Link: Comparing the 13-Inch MacBook Pro to the MacBook Air and iPad Pro
 
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ruslan120

macrumors 65816
Jul 12, 2009
1,294
989
The performance comparisons made me wonder, would ARM performance scale at the desktop level? i.e. If Apple designs an ARM iMac* will it outperform an x86 based one?

IIRC x86 has a plethora of architecture extensions that GeekBench doesn't make use of which makes the Macbook Air / Pro look a bit worse than they are.


* Am aware this is unlikely. Just a hypothetical

Edit: Just wondering - nice comparison 👍
 
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bartszyszka

macrumors member
Dec 7, 2004
51
68
New York, NY
Do the differences between MacBook Air and MacBook Pro performance become significantly smaller if you'd have an Air with a quad-core processor? If the question is just "what's the best base model", then your review makes sense. But if I'm willing to bump up some of the specs, then the decision becomes more confusing (especially when the difference in weight seems to be pretty minor?). This review also doesn't mention that the Air has faster memory.
 
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thunng8

macrumors 6502a
Feb 8, 2006
902
285
The performance comparisons made me wonder, would ARM performance scale at the desktop level? i.e. If Apple designs an ARM iMac* will it outperform an x86 based one?

IIRC x86 has a plethora of architecture extensions that GeekBench doesn't make use of which makes the Macbook Air / Pro look a bit worse than they are.


* Am aware this is unlikely. Just a hypothetical

Edit: Just wondering - nice comparison 👍
FYI - The Apple Arm chips also have plenty as well. Namely an entire imaging dsp and neural engine.
 
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oilers780

Cancelled
Apr 15, 2020
174
101
Should've used the i5 in the Air rather than the i3. The i3 for $999 USD in the Air isn't really worth it since that's a good priced laptop. It should be an i5 in there at minimum. At least the upgrade to an i5 is only $100.
 
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Bug-Creator

macrumors 6502a
May 30, 2011
705
3,168
Germany
If Apple designs an ARM iMac* will it outperform an x86 based one?

1st the would need a chip with a similar TPD.

Can they just crank up the speed on those ARMs? Or would they just put in more cores to come up with more compute?

Or use the lower TPD to build a passive cooled iMac?
 
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K-Funk

macrumors regular
Jul 24, 2007
102
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"The iPad Pro is more powerful than both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro..."

I'm a tech ignoramus, but I thought the whole concern with Apple possibly switching to ARM for the MacBook is that ARM chips are significantly less powerful than Intel's chips. Is that not the case?
 
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rp2011

macrumors 68000
Oct 12, 2010
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I’ll take the versatility and power of the iPad pro with MK. For more intensive power hungry work i’ll take a desktop computer. The limitations of the Macbook form factor is a waste of money to me.
 
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rp2011

macrumors 68000
Oct 12, 2010
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"The iPad Pro is more powerful than both the MacBook Air and the MacBook Pro..."

I'm a tech ignoramus, but I thought the whole concern with Apple possibly switching to ARM for the MacBook is that ARM chips are significantly less powerful than Intel's chips. Is that not the case?
Intel chips run so hot in the Macbook form factor that they need to be mitigated by both slowing them down and using less powerful chips.
 
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TravelsInBlue

macrumors member
Feb 7, 2020
80
262
As much as I love the iPad because it does have its use cases (I have an 11” Pro), unless your workflow is pretty basic, productivity on the iPad is going to be more hindered with trying to find workarounds to even the most trivial tasks.


Even in K-12 applications, a $129 chromebook provides much more mileage. This constant comparison between macs and iPads just seems contrived and pointless.
 
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fbr$

macrumors 6502
Feb 6, 2020
281
447
Why would anyone compare an iToy, I mean iPad with a proper computer?
Excuse me, but what "proper" computer are you talking about?

The MBA that barely can perform basic tasks without getting extremely hot?
The 8th gen 13" MBP?
The ultra-expensive 10th gen 13" MBP that doesn't even have a dedicated GPU?
Those are jokes!

Let's hope the 14" MBP will have a dedicated GPU to do justice to its "Pro" name, like the 16" MBP which is amazing!

About the iToy, I'm reading and writing this on my new 2020 iToy 11", it's an outstanding device, love it, ProMotion is absolutely amazing, but to be honest I bought it mainly to be a consumption device, didn't try yet to do any serious task on it.
 
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slothinker

macrumors member
Nov 28, 2012
30
12
My 2016 MacBook Pro unexpectedly died (circuit board failure) which was doubly disappointing because it had been very lightly used. I already had gotten a 2018 iPad Pro 12" and recently added the Magic Keyboard. I'm delighted with the versatility of the set-up, the keyboard, the ability to interact w/ software via trackpad, Magic Mouse or Apple Pencil. It's ideal for video conferences and numerous other applications such as watching TV or videos while at your desk. I have an iMac and this is a great companion to in IMO. The Magic Keyboard has been surprisingly useful and represents a very clever design that I imagine will be copied by many other manufacturers as time goes by. I would agree regarding the note about file transfers -- the iPAD OS file system is pretty primitive and if you're planning on file-based activities, I'd stay w/ a regular Mac or PC.
 
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rp2011

macrumors 68000
Oct 12, 2010
1,744
1,701
As much as I love the iPad because it does have its use cases (I have an 11” Pro), unless your workflow is pretty basic, productivity on the iPad is going to be more hindered with trying to find workarounds to even the most trivial tasks.


Even in K-12 applications, a $129 chromebook provides much more mileage. This constant comparison between macs and iPads just seems contrived and pointless.
Ive bought a couple of Samsung chromebooks to use for basic tasks and found them to be not just big wastes of money, but breeding grounds of frustration.
I would not purposely subject K-12 children to that if at all possible.
 
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D.T.

macrumors G4
Sep 15, 2011
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Vilano Beach, FL
Why would anyone compare an iToy, I mean iPad with a proper computer?

It's not quite Apples to Apple so to speak, but in terms of effective computing device, it's very driven by the use case. I've got two products, one in the Federal space (for investigative services), and one in the clinical analytic sector, and I've done a significant amount of user / usability studies, and the iPad as a handheld, touch device (with a decent, easy to use camera front and rear camera system - and extremely long battery life), supplemented by a keyboard for followup notations, reports, and "office" type workflows is significantly better (and greatly preferred by my user community).

I'm a dev/architect, I "get" the need for certain types of equipment, for specific tasks, but having seen the effectiveness of an iPad in my line of work, I'm not dismissive of it as "toy", when it's helping to do things - better than a notebook - like resolve cases of traumatic brain injury.
 
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Chicagoblah

macrumors newbie
May 19, 2017
19
12
I’m shocked at how much I have enjoyed using the iPad pro with the magic keyboard... i still have a MBP for work (2018 model) but for most general use I dont really need anything else. Hopefully the next ipad OS improves the file management but I always preferred windows explorer to Mac OS finder... maybe it’s my hard drive but I constantly cannot find files in finder unless I manually search, only then will it show in a folder... drives me insane.

also its hard using my mbp keyboard now, glad they are moving on from the awful design
 
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Jandalf

macrumors member
Oct 27, 2016
42
41
Nicely done! I was really surprised to see the benchmark results!

but To me the essential question is definitely:

iOS or macOS

and then it is not comparable anymore and I will go for the air (i7 and 16gb RAM to make it future proof).
My current maxed out MB pro late 2013 is still blazing fast, but now I need a second laptop and cannot really wait for the arm - or should I? ARMs will likely improve laptops rather than iMacs I guess???
 
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Chompineer

macrumors 6502
Mar 31, 2020
383
873
Ontario
Excuse me, but what "proper" computer are you talking about?

The MBA that barely can perform basic tasks without getting extremely hot?
The 8th gen 13" MBP?
The ultra-expensive 10th gen 13" MBP that doesn't even have a dedicated GPU?
Those are jokes!

Let's hope the 14" MBP will have a dedicated GPU to do justice to its "Pro" name, like the 16" MBP which is amazing!

About the iToy, I'm reading and writing this on my new 2020 iToy 11", it's an outstanding device, love it, ProMotion is absolutely amazing, but to be honest I bought it mainly to be a consumption device, didn't tried yet to do any serious task on it.

If it’s based on Tiger Lake U then it would have an Intel Xe iGPU, which is another large jump from the G7 now.

A DGPU in a 13” is uncommon and not something many people need/want. If there is one it’s typically ultra low power anyways, like an MX150, which the Xe will easily surpass.
 
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