Mach 1:
The First Batch of Apple Silicon Macs

A lot of people are starting off with the performance and speed of these new Macs but I want to start with battery. It's basically doubled. Doubled. Need I say more.

Onto speed; these new Macs are a big upgrade over the models they're replacing. The new M1 chip is what's powering all three of these new Macs, the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac Mini. It seems like the right first step, the lower end speced Macs with the Air being the only one completely replaced. The MacBook Pro and Mac Mini still have Intel options while the Air has two choices of M1: a 7-core GPU and an 8-core GPU.

The M1 is based off the A14. It's a 5nm chip and features the same cores as the A14, but more of them. The M1 has 4 “Firestorm” high performance cores and 4 “Icestorm” low power cores (compared to the A14’s 2 and 4 respectively). The M1 also has an 8-core GPU barring the Airs optionally chip-binned 7-core (that option doesn't exist on either of the other two Macs introduced on Tuesday). The M1 is more than CPU and GPU though, it has all the functionality previously in the T2 chip as well: SSD controller, Secure Enclave and support for TouchBar which is (still) unchanged. In addition to all that specific to the Mac, it carries over some features from iPhone and iPad like an Image Signal Processor which Apple said will improve the garbage webcam (slightly). The neural engine also comes to the Mac making ML tasks much faster.

Gripes

Limitations

There are a few downsides. First, I/O: there are two USB-C thunderbolt 3 ports on both of the new laptops and the Mac Mini loses its optional 10Gb Ethernet port. Second, they can only be configured with up to 16GB of RAM and start at 8GB. That seems plenty adequate for these base machines and Apple will surely improve in both of these areas with the next release of mid-tier Macs. I'm guessing that will happen at WWDC with a 16” MacBook Pro which is a developer favorite alongside the iMac.

Presentation

My second set of complaints are about the presentation itself. I'm not a big fan of the virtual keynotes. They feel over produced and too much like a commercial. Craig Federighi pulls it off best, but still, the live events were more fun and personable. Apple is continuing to give less and less details in their presentations as well. They make claims like 2x faster which begs the questions, “than what?” and “at what?”. I don’t doubt these to be extremely performant but Apple’s extremely opaque claims make average onlookers more skeptical and make me, well, annoyed I guess. Just another austere, user-hostile move in the Cook era.

Not for Me

Last little wine: I have to admit a part of me was hoping for a redesign. These Macs look pretty boring and lack some features I’m waiting for to upgrade. I want smaller bezels, MagSafe solution, Face ID and (while I’m at it) a glowing Apple logo.

A Shiny Future

Okay, enough negativity. These machines are awesome! They’re way, way faster than the models they replace (and quite possibly much faster than almost all of the Mac line) and they have amazing battery life. The MacBook Air is in better shape than it has ever been. A great screen, keyboard, battery life and performance all for a relatively attractive price and, by the way, no fan. The MacBook Pro has the same M1 chip as the Air but it does have a fan so presumably can tackle some heavier workloads without throttling. The MacBook Pro battery now gets 20 hours of video playback. If you were holding off for a laptop, these are what you've been waiting for!

I'm not as convinced on the Mac Mini though. It's just as performant as the MacBook Pro with a fan, and it's price has gone down by $100, but for the Mac Mini market, I'm not sure it's a clear win. For those eyeing Mac Mini's, upgradable RAM and a wide array of I/O was a big feature, and is now only available on the higher priced Intel Mini. This is fine, the higher end M chips are just down the road and this is a perfectly good computer, I just don't know how compelling it is to this market.

We’ll get some benchmarks and tests soon (they ship next Tuesday). In the meantime, it's safe to say this is the start of a very exciting time for the Mac. I can't wait to see what they do with the line over the next year and a half as they complete the transition and I think they're setting the Mac up for a fantastic decade of Mac computing.