New Macbooks use an Apple designed chip instead of Intel CPUs and other components. Learn what the Apple M1 chip means for the Macbook Pro.
Whether you're an Apple addict or Windows watcher, chances are, nearly every computer you've used in the last ten to fifteen years has had an Intel processor on the inside. Apple's switch from their own proprietary chips to Intel-based processors in the summer of 2006, while controversial at the time, proved integral to the brand's success.
Now, however, the brand has come full circle. In a true return to its roots, all entry-level Apple computers will use a proprietary processor once more in the form of the brand new Apple M1 chip. Everything from the Mac Mini to the Macbook Pro will get in on the M1 action.
What does this mean for you, the consumer? We'll explain in further detail below.
What Is the M1 Chip?
The M1 chip is the latest, computer-optimized version of the Apple silicon system which has been in use ever since the release of the original iPad. The Apple M1 chip is called a 'system on a chip' because it combines many of the processes done by separate chips and processors onto a single chip.
What processes do these include? The following are just a few of the many:
- Audio processing hardware
- Thunderbolt and USB controllers
The above list is by no means exhaustive. As new versions of the chip come out, we will likely see many more functions combined into the system.
Why Is This Happening?
After nearly two decades of using separate CPU and GPU chips, why would Apple suddenly switch back to proprietary hardware and a system on a chip? The answer to this question differs depending on whether you're examining it from a consumer or a company perspective.
Why This Is Happening, from Apple's Perspective
From Apple's perspective, it's all about saving money and controlling the pace of innovation. By developing their own processing chips in-house, they can constantly tinker with the features and specs without having to wait on third parties. Not only that, but they can save billions of dollars since they won't have to pay external manufacturers a premium price for imported chips.
Why This Is Happening, from a Consumer Perspective
From a consumer perspective, the main benefit to the Apple M1 chip is its ability to extend your Macbook's battery life. Many of us rely on Macbooks for our work lives, so having a longer-lasting battery will give consumers the chance to get more done. Since the M1 chip also improves the USB controller, consumers may also see improved performance from the many Macbook USB-C adaptor options, cables, and peripherals released over the years.
What Computers Come With the M1?
The rollout of the Apple M1 chip will occur in phases. This means that not every new Mac computer model will come with the M1 by default. However, the following models have been released with the M1 chip installed:
- The Mac Mini, starting at A$1099
- The Macbook Air, starting at A$1599
- The Macbook Pro, starting at A$1999
These models, as mentioned above, are considered the 'entry-level' or 'consumer-grade' Macs. They're the most popular purchase choices, which make them the best proving grounds for their new proprietary hardware.
So, Are Any Macs Still Using Intel?
If you prefer working with Macs that use Intel or feel like you need more power than the M1 can offer, don't despair. You can still find models that use the Intel chip inside! These models include:
- All current iMac models
- The pricier versions of the 13" and 16" Macbook Pro
- The upgraded version of the Mac Mini with more storage space
While the M1 can handle any of the processing tasks these Intel-based computers can, the Intel machines tend to have more RAM and better GPUs. These machines are more for 'power users', rather than your everyday consumer, thus they demand higher specifications.
However, Apple does intend to roll out versions of all its Macs with M1 chips over the next two years. So expect to see that transition occur on even the high-end models soon!
M1 vs Intel: Battle of the Specs
If you're in the market for a new Apple Macbook Pro, you might be wondering whether you should opt for the M1 or the Intel version. So, let's dig into the nitty-gritty. Let's talk specs for each model.
What the M1 Model Has to Offer
The Apple M1 chip, being the computer-optimized version of the bionic A series used in the iPhone series, has a similar feel, but improved specs compared to its mobile counterpart. These specs include:
- 7 or 8 Graphics Processing Unit cores
- An 8 core Central Processing Unit
- 16 Neural Engine cores
- 8GB or 16GB of RAM
What does this mean for you? In essence, faster processing speeds, greater battery life, and the ability to multitask without it compromising your computer's performance. That's a fantastic benefit for any professional.
What the Intel Model Has to Offer
Most Mac options on the market that have Intel processors will come with either an Intel Core i5 or Core i7 processor. Whether that's an 8th-generation or a 10th-generation depends on whether you get two Thunderbolt ports or four.
If there's one thing the Intel version has over the M1, it's the option for over 16GB of RAM. If you do something for a living that's heavy on processing power, like video editing and rendering, you may want to opt for the 32GB of RAM offered by the Intel version of the Macbook Pro.
The only downside to the Intel version is that it maxes out at around ten hours of battery life at max usage, compared to the M1's seventeen.
Let's Talk Compatibility
If there's anything controversial about Apple's return to proprietary hardware, it's the compatibility issue. On the positive side, since the M-series has a similar construction to the A-series, you may be able to run apps once limited to your Apple iPhone on your laptop. Provided, of course, that the app's developer makes it compatible.
Most of Apple's primary suite, such as iMovie, Keynote, Pages, et cetera, will function without a problem. These apps regularly get optimized for the latest macOS updates, so they will function perfectly on new M1 Macbook Pros. However, even if an app is available through the App Store, if it hasn't been updated or supported in a long time, it may not function.
It seems that most compatibility issues discovered in M1 machines from App Store applications are the result of incompatibility with Big Sur, not the machine itself. So, hang tight for an update from the app's developers if you run into issues.
However, if you're not running strictly App Store programs (which most people aren't), the story gets more complicated.
Here's the thing about software: it tends to be developed with a specific set of hardware in mind. All past Mac software was developed for use with Intel's x64 instructions. The new M1 chip uses ARM, or Advanced RISC Machine, instructions.
As you might imagine, these two systems don't always play nice. So, in order to better understand how compatibility will work on the new Apple Macbook Pro, let's define some terms.
What Is Native Software?
In computing terms, native software refers to programs written exclusively for their original development platform. Examples of this would include software written for Apple silicon, like macOS or iOS apps, or console games only running on their respective consoles.
This is why it's borderline impossible to find cross-compatibility measures for Apple-exclusive apps.
What Is Emulation?
Emulation takes a program written for one platform and translates it so it can run on another. It's not a one-to-one, the way it would be if the program were rewritten natively. It instead "emulates" the function of the original program.
Emulation is something you'll hear often in gaming circles, though it has some business applications as well. Call centres may use emulated Windows machines with special programming to allow careful tracking of employee PC usage on the job.
What Is Universal Software?
As the name would suggest, universal software can function 'universally'. For the purposes of the Macbook Pro, it means the program in question was written to run in both Intel and Apple silicon.
What Is Rosetta2?
Rosetta2 is the second edition of Apple's Rosetta software, which hasn't seen use in almost fifteen years. It's intended to support users through the transition between Intel and Apple silicon Macs by offering an emulation of Intel-based apps on the new M1 machines. This translation normally happens upon install, but the app will supposedly allow real-time translation as well.
What About Windows?
Some users like the specs and the brand power of Macs, but have programming needs that require the use of Windows software. On Intel-based Macs, they had a wealth of virtualization options. However, this is not yet the case for M1-based Macs.
BootCamp, despite claims from Apple to the contrary, does not currently work on M1 Macs, as Windows does not currently allow ARM installation on Macs. This means the option to boot the Macbook into Windows is not available. The ball's in Microsoft's court to resolve this issue.
As far as virtualization goes, all hands are on deck to develop a new solution. Parallels, VMWare, and Wine stated that they're working on compatibility fixes to allow for virtual Windows machines.
Do I Need to Switch My Mac Now?
If you just bought an Intel Mac, and don't have the budget for an immediate upgrade to the M1 Macbook Pro, don't despair. Apple intends to continue supporting its Intel machines for at least the next two years while the M1 rollout continues. And, if history is any indicator, it may support its Intel machines for as many as three years after the transition finishes.
Do My Cases and Peripherals Still Work?
The good news for consumers is that, while the interior of the new Apple Macbook Pro has changed, its design has not. The 13" Macbook Pro still has the same body and form factor that it's used since 2016, while the same size Macbook Air uses its 2018 design. So, if your cases and attachments are meant for those models, then they should still work.
Your USB devices, Thunderbolt devices, and various Macbook adaptors and wireless devices should still function as well. The only issue might be high-end video and audio production equipment. For those, you should contact your equipment's manufacturer to get an idea of compatibility.
What Else Will the New Macbook Pro Offer?
We've spent a great deal of time discussing the Apple M1 chip and its many benefits for consumer-grade Macs. But what else does the Macbook Pro have to offer? Here are a few of its other fantastic specs:
Apple's Retina displays are well-known for providing gorgeous graphical experiences. However, at a resolution of 2560x1600, it offers a step above Full HD but below 4K. This means you'll get the best picture on your screen short of a 4K display.
Processing and Storage
The base Macbook Pro model comes with 8GB of RAM due to the M1 chip. However, if you need more processing juice, you can double that to 16GB of RAM. It also features a 256GB Solid State Drive, which you can configure to 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB, depending on your personal storage needs.
Let's Get Back to Basics
With the release of its proprietary M1 chip, running on Apple silicon, Apple has declared its intent to return to full creative and technological control over its computing devices. What this means for the consumer is that your new Macbook Pro, and all releases beyond it, will have far better battery life than any of its predecessors. This will allow you to dive deep into the Apple ecosystem without fear of missing out.
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