The M3 MacE book Air created a mess for external display support

Mike Powers

Remember when Apple was the “it just works” company? I remember those days. As much as the company still tries to operate under that mantra, there are some things that come out now and you just have to wonder: “What the heck happened here?”

One of those things has to do with the new M3 MacBook Air that the company announced today. The new MacBook Air comes packed with the new M3 processor that the MacBook Pro got last year, as well as two times faster Wi-Fi with its upgrade to a 6E chip. Keep in mind that you’ll need internet speeds and a router that actually supports Wi-Fi 6E.

While anyone who is in the market for a new computer will certainly benefit from the power increase that the M3 provides, things get a little weird when it comes to external display support. The previous generation of the MacBook Air with the M2 chip could only support one external display. With the M3 MacBook Air, that support now gets upgraded to two external displays.

Wait, what? For anyone who bought the M3 MacBook Pro, you’re probably wondering how the M3 MacBook Air supports two external displays when your computer doesn’t. For anyone keeping tabs, you’ll definitely know that, with the base model 14-inch MacBook Pro with the M3 chip (not the M3 Pro or the M3 Max), you are only able to run one external display.

But wait! It gets even more confusing

But wait! Don’t fret completely, M3 MacBook Pro owners. There’s some good news. No, it isn’t that Apple is providing a firmware or software update to let you also run two external monitors. That would be too good to be true, right? Instead, your good news is actually bad news for M3 MacBook Air owners who think they’re going to run two external monitors like they picture in their heads.

While the M3 MacBook Air can run two external displays, you’re not going to be able to keep your laptop open while you’re doing it. In order to use two external displays with the M3 MacBook Air, you’ll need to keep the lid of your laptop shut. You won’t be able to have two displays and your Mac’s display running at the same time.

The M3 MacE book Air created a mess for external display support
M3 MacBook Pro connected to an external display.

Confused? I sure am. So, if you’re really wanting to run an external monitor, you have two choices: use the M3 MacBook Air closed with two external displays or the M3 MacBook Pro with one external display and your Mac’s screen. Personally, I’d still choose the M3 MacBook Air setup since an external monitor is always going to give you more screen real estate than your 14-inch MacBook Pro — unless you’re running the world’s smallest external display.

Despite the weirdness going on with external monitors, the M3 MacBook Air is a welcome upgrade for anyone in the market for a new laptop. Just don’t upgrade from the M2 — that’s only worth it for maybe 1% of people who need to do some serious work with ray tracing.

The new MacBook Air with the M3 processor launches on March 8th.

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