Apple’s new M1-based MacBook Air, MacBook pro 13, and Mac mini. (Credit: Apple)
For years, I’ve marveled at the raw power of Apple’s bespoke silicon, those A-class chips that appeared to have almost limitless headroom. Apple appeared to know something about mobile processors that its competitors, more specifically Qualcomm and, secondarily, Intel, did not.
It wasn’t just the benchmarks, which right on through the new iPhone 12 and its A14 Bionic, continue to handily beat the best Qualcomm has to offer. It was in how these devices performed and what I could do with mobile technology. Editing 4K video on a device no bigger than my hand would’ve been classified as science fiction a decade ago and is now de rigueur.
Apple’s decision to build its own custom silicon and gradually switch all of its Macs over to it was met with shock but not alarm. We know Apple could build the necessary power and realized that ARM-based CPU’s could offer significant battery life gains.
While not the first to do this, Microsoft and Qualcomm already partnered on the ARM-based SQ2 chip for its Surface Pro X, Apple’s far more expansive unveiling is sure to make more significant and long-lasting ripples in the system ocean.
While we only got one Apple Silicon SoC, the M1, Apple dove headlong into its own custom silicon pool, slotting the 5-nanometer processor in not one but three major Macs: the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13 inch, and the Mac Mini. while some might argue that the Mac mini is still a niche product, the MacBook Air is easily one of the company’s most popular and beloved systems. It’s long been a huge hit with students and employees who get to specify their own laptops.
However, it’s not just that Apple is shifting its system business away from Intel and that it’s seeking to unify its platforms without actually blending iOS and macOS together (hello, Universal apps). M1, at least as presented by Apple on Tuesday, is a no-compromises (save the apps that will have to use Rosetta to run on it) processor that, with the support of macOS Big Sur, is just as capable with Final Cut Pro and Logic Pro as it is with your favorite iOS game.
I know, the M1 has integrated graphics and, even with 8 cores, I should lower my expectations. Still, the graphics performance on any of Apple’s A-class chips has always been stellar. It’s possible Apple’s M1could surprise people here, as well.
That the M1 brings things like low heat (fan-less operation, at least for the laptops) and truly instant on to laptops and desktops is a bonus. I’m also pleased that Apple didn’t raise the prices on the M1 systems (it lowered it on the mini).
Design-wise, the new MacBook Air with M1 is virtually identical to the precious model. (Credit: Apple)
Battery life, though, is a sort of no-turning back feature. We carry our iPhone around with us with an expectation that they will last, at least with a fresh battery, all day long. Laptops and desktops, even with the most efficient Intel desktop CPU will last a workday, but probably not much more. 17 hours of work, of wireless web browsing, a potentially processor-intensive task, is the kind of thing you can get hooked on.
It’s early days in the M1 story. We have no benchmarks, real-world app tests, or battery rundown numbers, but it would be foolish to deny that we’re turning an important system corner here. Apple’s M1 and all those Macs is the inflection point and now we all wait to see what comes next.