The first Macs with Apple’s own chips have been on the market since the end of 2020, but what remains after the hype and how good is Apple’s M1 chip really? We got a Mac mini with M1 at the turn of the year and tested it extensively. Today, we report on what works well and what does not work so well. We also give you a short technical excursion and look into the future of Apple’s own platform.
Products with Apple M1
Before we take a closer look at the Apple SoC itself, we will first look at the products in which you can get the M1 chip. Unlike other chip manufacturers like AMD and Intel, Apple’s chipset can only be found in Apple’s own products.
In the fall of 2020, three products were launched on the market that include the M1 chip: A MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro and a Mac mini.
MacBook Air with M1
The new MacBook Air with Apple’s M1 chip is a significant improvement over its predecessor. Although the case itself has almost not changed, the interior has been completely redesigned. The basis is of course the M1 chip, which is made for the MacBook Air due to its extreme efficiency and compactness. The battery life has almost doubled, Apple states 6 hours more compared to the predecessor. The device is supposed to provide up to 18 hours of battery life in normal use, which is an insane amount and should be completely sufficient for one day.
Another highlight, also thanks to the M1 chip, is the fact that the MacBook Air will no longer have a fan. A similar feature was already present in the 2015 MacBook, but this was at the expense of performance.
Thanks to the M1 chip, it is now possible to edit even complex 4K video projects with the MacBook Air without hearing a fan – to name just one example. The chip only has to lose some performance under extreme load due to the temperature development. Compared to a fan-operated M1, this is about 15% performance. However, this so-called thermal throttling is only activated very late.
However, the new MacBook Air also has weaknesses. The device has just two ports with USB 4 / Thunderbolt 3, which are used to charge the device, connect it to storage, connect it to a display, …. And yes, only one display, because more are not supported externally without detours.
MacBook Pro with M1
In addition to the MacBook Air, Apple has also introduced a new MacBook Pro in 13 inches (approx. 33 cm) with an M1 chip. Almost the same things apply for this device as for the MacBook Air, but we find the slightly larger case design here, which is supposed to achieve a battery runtime of up to 20 hours. There is also a fan in the case, which only activates late, but enables the 15% extra performance under extreme load. The controversial Touch Bar is also back.
But real pro users will agree, although the performance is impressive thanks to the M1, and keeps up with much more expensive 16-inch (approx. 41 cm) models for a long time, it is not really suitable for pro application areas due to the connection situation. Here, too many devices often have to be connected to the Mac, which can only be realized with expensive adapters to a limited extent.
The MacBook Pro with the M1 in its current configuration will probably be the best choice for very few people. The MacBook Air is much more attractive in many areas.
Mac mini with M1
The new Mac mini with M1 chip is the product we have tested in the last few months. From the outside, it is a relatively normal Mac mini, but it is also equipped with fewer ports than before.
The Mac mini also has two Type-C ports, plus an HDMI output and two USB-A 3.1 Gen2 ports as well as an Ethernet port. Since the Type-C ports do not have to be used for charging, for example, one more port tends to be available. The connectivity situation is better, but still not as good as the predecessors with Intel CPUs, which had four USB Type-C / Thunderbolt ports. At least the Mac mini with M1 officially supports two monitors.
The Mac mini can no longer be opened, as it used to be the case, but various sources report that the Mac mini is almost empty from the inside. Due to the extremely compact design of the M1 chip, Apple could have chosen a much more compact case.
Otherwise, the Mac mini stands out especially due to its extremely good price-performance ratio, the M1 chip ensures extremely high performance, 800€ for the basic version is reasonable and ensures a “cheap” Mac.
Limited features with the M1
As is so often the case with the new M1 machines, Apple lets the user choose which equipment he wants in his computer. Compared to the previous Intel machines, however, there is currently a comparatively small selection. A maximum of 16 GB of working memory is currently available, and there are no different versions of the M1 chip; only the SSD offers a similar selection.
Although 16 GB of working memory is basically sufficient for most people, there are always applications where you would want more memory – but that is simply not available at the moment.
The performance of the M1
Apple’s M1 chip performs amazingly, due to its architecture it offers extreme efficiency, at the same time it is optimized for specific tasks and often beats its Intel rivals by lengths. Of course, this is noticeable in export times for video editing, for example, but a normal user will also notice that he is sitting in front of an extremely fast computer. Applications, such as the settings, the Apple App Store or Safari, but also applications like Final Cut or Logic Pro X basically open at the exact moment you want to start the application. This response time alone is fun.
For the mobile Macs, there is another pleasant innovation. If you open it, the notebook is immediately ready for use. Previously, it could take a few seconds depending on which application was currently open on the device.
Apple has used the years of experience of developing its own CPUs in iPhones and iPads to now also use them for the PC market. The extreme efficiency is realized, among other things, by the proximity of the different computer components. These are all on the M1 chip and not distributed on a mainboard as is the case traditionally. The efficiency gained from this also has a price, however, as it is impossible to expand or exchange individual components. In the case of the M1, this applies to the RAM and the SSD, for example.
Like the iPhones, the CPU of the M1 is based on the ARM architecture, which has just established itself on the mobile market. It is optimized for simpler and not too complex programs, and can work much more efficiently than a classic x86 CPU. However, the whole thing also has a big disadvantage, technically speaking, it is not possible to run previous programs on the new M1 chips for the time being. Developers have to adapt their programs, or existing software has to be “translated”. However, efficiency can also be lost in the process.
Problems with the M1
Due to the different architecture and the associated translations, problems can occur from time to time. Especially with complex applications or very special activities problems can occur.
Especially with drivers or complex, nested applications, like Photoshop or Logic plugins, this can become a problem. Connected hardware does not work properly, in Photoshop some filters do not work, or not as expected, and so on.
The problem with this is often that there are always problems in very specific situations, usually not even with a message. That is, an application is fast, works, everything wonderful, then you click on “Export” and the window is displayed incorrectly. Then there is no error message, no crash, it just doesn’t work.
With Photoshop we have exactly such an error, the web export does not work, but not always, sometimes it works without problems. Unfortunately, you still have to adjust to such issues at the moment.
Customized software for the Apple M1
The solution for translated programs is of course that they have to be adapted by the developer. However, some are faster with it, others slower, and especially with freeware / open source it can also happen that there will never be an adapted software version.
Of course, Apple itself took precautions and had already adapted the in-house apps in addition to the macOS 11 Big Sur that was developed in parallel. This includes all Mac standard apps, but also the office suite formerly known as iWork, with Pages, Keynote and Numbers, as well as “iLife”, i.e. iMovie and GarageBand. In addition, Final Cut Pro X / Compressor and Motion as well as Logic Pro X including MainStage have been adapted.
But other software manufacturers quickly followed suit, including Microsoft with the complete MS Office Suite. The synthesizer manufacturer Roland, which already supplies adapted drivers for many products, also attracted positive attention.
On the other hand, we still have to wait for adapted software from Adobe; although some of the M1 versions are in the beta phase, they have not yet been released. And the manufacturers of well-known audio software also stand out negatively, as they do every year – Ableton Live is now compatible with macOS 11, but for M1 you have to resort to the “translation” with Rosetta. And Serato, manufacturer of one of the best-known DJ tools, has not even managed to adapt Serato DJ for macOS 11 – three quarters of a year after the introduction of the new version. Regarding the support of M1-Macs, they only write on a support page: “Mac computers with ARM-based M1 CPU’s are currently not supported with Serato software”.
Nevertheless, the support gets better and better with time, because none of the manufacturers actually wants to miss the entry. Besides software written for Mac, M1 Macs also run…
iPhone / iPad apps on M1 Macs
Since Apple’s M1 chip is based on the same architecture as the iPhones and iPads, it is possible to use apps from iPhones and iPads on the Mac. As usual, these are available via the App Store. Which sounds pretty cool, it is, but with limitations. It’s been possible for developers to convert an iPad app into a Mac app relatively easily for quite some time. For example, Twitter also came back to the Mac a few years ago. Now, however, no directly adapted versions are used, but actually exactly the variant that you can also run on an iPad. The problem: iPads have a touch display, Macs do not. This makes the controls very questionable at times, and the app doesn’t always make sense.
However, the much bigger problem from our point of view is that many software manufacturers deliberately remove their apps from the Mac App Store. For example, it is not possible to install the Instagram app or Netflix on your Mac. Often the reason given is that they don’t want to get support requests for a platform they don’t actually want to support. Pretty dubious, and so one can only hope that companies will recognize the potential at some point. Until then, unfortunately, the Mac App Store often only has iPhone apps where the developer forgot to uncheck the box.
It is fairly easy to guess what will happen next. Apple has already announced that it will sooner or later stop selling Macs with Intel processors. The consequence is that we will probably see a few new Macs with CPUs based on the M1 in the next two years. Only time will tell whether they will be called M1X, M2 or P1.
But even with the entry-level CPU into Apple’s own silicon world, the manufacturer has already scared industry giants like Intel, which is one of the reasons why Intel’s marketing department is currently concentrating on revealing the supposed shortcomings of the Apple M1 chip and not countering with its own performance.
The M1X will probably solve the connectivity problem and possibly double the performance at the same time. The adaptation of applications continues to progress and the Mac will sooner or later finally say goodbye to Intel.
Whether Windows will be supported again sooner or later remains to be seen and currently depends on Microsoft, since the ARM version of Windows is not officially on sale yet. Paradoxically, Windows runs worlds better on the M1 than on the ARM Surface models, at least according to hobbyists who have installed Windows on the M1 Mac.
Should people be buying M1 Macs yet?
There is no denying that Intel Macs currently offer a better feature set, but it is amazing what Apple’s base CPU can do in terms of efficiency, battery performance and speed. There are teething troubles, but they will be compensated for over time.
If you use the Internet a lot, use Microsoft 365, and do not use any special applications, you can buy one of the new Macs without hesitation. You will especially benefit from the great performance and the excellent battery life.
Users of Apple’s own software, such as Final Cut or Logic, will also have a lot of fun with the new M1. The software is perfectly adapted and extremely powerful. However, those who use many plug-ins here should be prepared for small problems.
Users of Adobe programs should currently, if necessary, wait a little longer until the versions have been officially released.
The new Macs are made for iOS app developers, since the architecture is the same as on the iPhones. Not only is compiling and simulating significantly faster, native execution of source code is also possible.
If you use very special software or special hardware, depend on multiple screens or want to connect an extremely large number of peripherals, you should wait until Apple introduces the next generation, then the problem with the ports should be solved.[yadore-offers keyword=”Apple MacBook Air mit Apple M1 Chip” market=”de” limit=7]