New Apple Silicon “M1” Macs

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As expected, Apple released new Apple Silicon based Macs at a virtual event on Nov 10. While an updated MacBook Air and 13 inch MacBook Pro had been widely rumoured, Apple surprised by also releasing an Apple Silicon based Mac Mini. All are based on the new Apple “M1” SOC (System On Chip), a beefed up variant of the A14 Bionic being used in this year’s iPhone 12 and iPad Air.

All are externally identical to the existing/previous models, with all the changes internal. Apple’s stated performance specs and the battery life improvements for the M1 processor are very, very impressive. And initial reviews are showing these Macs to be every bit as powerful as Apple says they are.

Apple Silicon MacBook Air 

This model replaces the Intel version entirely – and is stated to be 3.5 x the CPU speed, with 5 x as fast graphics performance with new improved SSDs which offer twice the speed. Battery life is stated as up to 18 hours of video playback and 15 hours of wireless web, which is an unprecedented jump in one generation. The display has been upgraded to a P3 gamut panel as well, although it’s not quite as bright as the screen on the MacBook Pros.

So from that description this should be a very impressive MacBook Air. MacBook Air has moved to a fanless design in this update, which will make it a silent laptop, which is nice, but there might be some impact on performance due to throttling for heat management under sustained load. Only time and experience will tell how that will affect the over-all feel of the machine. But this sounds like a great upgrade – and the price has remained the same too.

Since the MacBook Air hit its stride in it’s second iteration in 2011, it’s been a great compact, all-purpose Mac laptop, the “perfect Mac laptop for most people”. So if this Apple Silicon M1 version is all that Apple says, and it seems that it might be, it should be the best iteration yet, and a great choice for general computing. We’ll be testing one at Mac Aid soon.

Apple Silicon 13 inch MacBook Pro

The Apple Silicon upgrade to the 13 inch MacBook Pro also sounds very solid, with the new M1 based version replacing the previous entry level model. Given the larger chassis, and the fact that the 13 inch MacBook Pro retains a fan for heat dissipation, this should be a fast, capable laptop.

The M1 processor in the 13 inch MacBook Pro is said to be 2.8 times as fast as the previous model, with graphics up to five times faster. There’s a Touch Bar, and two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. Battery life is stated as up to 20 hours, which is a vey nice upgrade indeed. Apple says that’s 10 hours longer than the previous model and the best battery life ever on a Mac.

Apple Silicon Mac Mini

The big surprise was that Apple also released an M1 version of the Mac Mini. This should be a great little Mac, with significant performance increases. And the price dropped for the M1 model too.

M1 based Mac Mini reverts to a silver finish, and boasts substantial performance improvement with up to 3× faster CPU performance and up to 6× faster graphics. It includes 2 Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, two USB‑A ports, HDMI 2.0, Wi-Fi 6 and Gigabit Ethernet.

Mac Minis are used in many and varied settings, as servers, workstations and media centres, and it sounds like this version will be a great little performer in any of those roles. The price-to-performance ratio for the Mac Mini has never been better, with the M1 version being described as “a barnburner of a miniature desktop PC”.

Running your existing applications

You’ll get the best performance on these Macs running apps built for the M1 processor. But all of your existing applications should run fine using Rosetta 2. Apple says that some applications are actually faster under emulation with Rosetta 2 than they are on the Intel processors they were programmed for, and early reports are bearing this out. Your own real world results may vary of course.

The M1 also brings the ability to use your favourite iPhone and iPad apps directly on macOS Big Sur, although reports on how well this really works are mixed. 

A great future for the Mac

These are substantially upgraded Macs, and sound very impressive, particularly given that they are all entry level models in Apple’s line-up. And so it will be interesting to see what Apple has in store for Apple Silicon versions of their higher performance models like the iMac, 16 inch MacBook Pro and Mac Pro.

As exciting as this all sounds, remember that these are a first generation product, so it might be wise to hold off for a little and let someone else road test them first. Mac Aid have an M1 Mac Mini already and are about to start putting it through its paces. We will report back once we have some real-world experience to relate.