Apple’s M1 Macs Make Intel Look Like a Joke

It's not even close

Key Takeaway

  • The new M1 Macs replace Apple’s low-end Macs.
  • The M1 chip is based on the iPhone’s A14, which means it’s super fast, cool, and provides amazing battery life.
  • It will take two years for Apple to switch all its Macs to M-series chips.
Apple's new M1-powered MacBook Air partially open
Apple

Apple’s M1-based Macs are here to replace the hot and tired Intel-powered models. They’re fast, they’re cool, and their batteries last, like, forever.

The M1 is a Mac-customized version of the A-series chips that power the iPhone and iPad. Because it evolved from these mobile chips, it uses very little power, and runs very efficiently, generating little heat. This, in turn, means that it can run fast, yet the battery lasts all day. So, unless you have a good compatibility reason to buy an Intel Mac, or you want a Mac that hasn’t yet made the shift, you should buy an M1. It’s an easy choice, as we’re about to see, although not for everyone—yet.

"My soon to retire dad didn’t want to get the first in a new generation of Macs, but get something that’s established," architect and loving son James Robinson told Lifewire via direct message. "Whilst Apple have been doing their own fab silicon for portable devices a while now, he didn’t want a gen 1 device."

The Same, Only Way Different

On the outside, these new M1 Macs—a MacBook Air, a MacBook Pro, and a Mac mini—are identical to the previous models. Only the inside has changed; you get the same M1 chip in all of these new Macs. The only difference is the MacBook Pro and Mac mini still have fans, while the Air has none, just like an iPad.

Unlike with Intel, you don’t get to pay more for a higher-spec CPU. The only upgrades available when buying are for memory (RAM) and SSD storage. But you may not need as much RAM as you thought.

Cool, Fast, Totally Chillaxed

The main news with these M1 Macs is that they sip power. Apple’s chip-design team spent years obsessively shaving the power requirements on iPhone chips, which run off small batteries, in tight enclosures without fans to cool them. The M1 is the same. It’s optimized for the Mac, but is essentially this year’s A14 iPhone chip with some extras. This means that it manages to run fast, and yet stay cool.

"I’ve spent this entire week trying to make this $999 laptop warm, if not hot," the Wall Street Journal’s Joanna Stern said in a video. "I’ve completely failed."

On Intel MacBooks, the fans spin up into leaf blowers, and the heat from the keyboard makes your hands sweat. The M1 Macs stay cool, even under excessive load. (Stern’s stress tests are even stressful to watch).

So why is there a fan in the Pro and the mini? The Air, like the iPad, will warm up. And when it does, it slows down to keep cool. Jam in a fan, and you can crank the M1 along at full-speed, all day long.

A Shared Memory

Usually, a computer has RAM, which holds the stuff you’re currently working on now, graphics memory, and lots more. The problem with this is you have to constantly swap data between the two, which wastes time and energy. The M1 gets around this by sharking memory. That is, all "RAM" is available to all parts of the computer that need it, making things faster.

So, while conventional wisdom says you should buy a computer with as much RAM as possible, it could be that the 8GB model of these new Macs is plenty.

"For the vast majority of people, even for those who lean on the ‘professional’ side of laptop multitasking with several apps and a dozen browser tabs and multiple types of media playing at the same time, the base models of these computers with 8GB of RAM are going to be enough," writes 9to5Mac’s Stephen Hall.

iOS Apps on MacBook

The other big difference between the M1 and the x86 Intel chips is that the M1 can run iPhone and iPad apps. You’ll find them in the Mac App Store, and you install them and run them like any other app. They’re a bit weird. There’s nothing in the menu bar for these apps, for instance, but for a game, or for your favorite weather utility, who cares? And here’s one trick for you: You can actually copy the app from your iPhone or iPad, and double-click to launch it on your new Mac!

A collection of apps available on macOS, including HBO Max, Among Us, and Apple TV

Not all iOS apps are available on the Mac, though; developers can opt out. It’s possible their apps don’t really work properly without a touchscreen, or they already have Mac versions of their apps. Also, iOS apps tend to be way cheaper than their Mac equivalents, so if a developer has both Mac and iOS versions of an app, they may end up cannibalizing their own sales.

Who Should Buy an M1 Mac?

If the Mac you want is in this first wave of M1 versions, you should go ahead and buy it. The M1 Air is now the only Air available new, whereas there are still Intel versions of the Mac mini and the 13-inch MacBook Pro available. Those are for people who need more RAM, mostly, or who don’t want cool, quiet computers with long battery life. I’m inclined to believe these new Macs will be way more reliable than the old Intel versions, too.

So, really, unless you’re James Robinson’s dad, you should probably buy an M1.