M1 Pro and M1 Max MacBook Pro models announced

It was no surprise that we were going to see new 14″ and 16″ MacBook Pro models sporting M1 variants of the “pro” variety, but Apple still managed to throw a surprises in to the event.

First, there wasn’t much mention of 120hz refresh rates on the new OLED displays, but that’s exactly what we got. And just like the new iPhone 13 Pro, these displays use a variable refresh rate, so your display won’t be burning thru your battery while running at 120hz when it doesn’t have to. Nice.

Second, there was the unfortunate surprise of the display featuring a notch. A bloody notch. And the worst part about the notch is that it doesn’t come with the benefit of FaceID. It is what it is, but it was the one feature that made me wince during the reveal.

Most of the other stuff that was rumored – return of HDMI & SDXC I/O, MagSafe, and the abandonment of the TouchBar was spot on. Lost in those rumors was that in addition to getting the function keys back, Apple included full size function keys – a first for an Apple notebook.

Design

This design iteration is a first for Apple in their mobile space. For the first time (at least that I can remember), Apple listened to the feedback given on the prior model (the 2016 MacBook Pro refresh), and backtracked on just about every design decision made for that iteration. Specifically, Apple has finally realized that chasing the tail of the ‘thin and light’ beast is not something customers want in a laptop with a “Pro” designation. The 16″ model is a small bit larger than the prior version, and a good bit – .4 lbs – heavier. I’m sure most Pros would rather the performance not suffer at the hands of thinness and lightness. The 14″ has no direct analog on the prior iteration, so obviously it’s a bit larger and heavier than the 13″ model it is replacing.

CPUs

The real star of the show was Apple Silicon. The “pro” M1 variant got two flavors – the M1 Pro, and the M1 Max. Both the 14″ and 16″ models are configurable with either the Pro or Max. The big difference between the Pro and the Max comes down to GPU cores and Memory. The Pro features 16 GPU cores and can have up to 32GB of unified RAM. The Max features up to 32 GPU cores (there’s a 24 GPU core variant available as well), and 64GB of RAM. Of note – if you choose an M1 Max CPU, you can not get less than 32GB of RAM.

Apple did their usual proclamation of “fastest chip ever”, but as is customary at this point, didn’t provide any real meaningful specs to their testing.

While benchmarks like Geekbench and Cinebench will undoubtedly show these SoCs to be the best that Apple has produced, the real benchmarks that will really get people’s eyes to open are when encoding/decoding or rendering video with H.264/265 and ProRes/ProRes RAW formats. Apple has included an on chip Media Engine that will massively improve these tasks. And in the M1 Max, you get double the chipset for these features. If Apple hadn’t already cemented it’s position for the best laptops for video editors, these machines will certainly seal the deal.

The machines can be configured in a myriad of ways – two screen sizes, two colors (silver and space gray, as per usual), three memory configs, 5 SoC options, and SSD options from 512GB all the way up to 8TB. Also, with the base config 14″ model, you can opt for the larger 96W charger for $20. That’s a nice move.

I’m guessing the new models are popular and have a good bit of pent up demand, as Apple’s website was seriously overwhelmed for a few hours after the models went live, and nearly immediately showed most custom configs at least a month delay in delivery.

As for myself – I opted for a 14″ model, with the M1 Max using the 24-Core GPU, 64GB of RAM and 4TB of SSD storage. I’ll have a full review when it arrives sometime in early November.

Apple Silicon Macs are here, and wow.

Ok, I’ll admit my previous post about the release of Apple Silicon powered Macs gave the impression that there wasn’t much exciting about the CPU switch, but boy, was I wrong.

I’ve had my hands on the M1 powered MacBook Air (with 16GB RAM/512GB SSD) for just a few hours now, and after putting it thru it’s paces, I’m floored.

I’ve run two benchmarks – XcodeBenchmark and Bruce X. These are more akin to real world benchmarks. I’m not knocking Geekbench of Cinebench, but these benchmarks involve actual applications that people will use, and actual projects that simulate what real world performance will look like. And after running each of these, and comparing it against my $4400 MacBook Pro 16″ i9/64GB RAM/4TB SSD machine, I’m floored.

Bruce X Benchmark

  • MacBook Pro i9 2.4ghz/64GB/4TB SSD: 16.03 seconds
  • MacBook Air (M1) – 16GB/512GB SSD: 11.69 seconds

XcodeBenchmark

  • MacBook Pro i9 2.4ghz/64GB/4TB SSD: 223.016 seconds
  • MacBook Air (M1) – 16GB/512GB SSD: 127.713 seconds

Again, these are real world benchmarks using real projects for Xcode and Final Cut Pro. And the MacBook Air doesn’t even have a fan. During the Xcode benchmark, the MacBook Pro’s fans spun up and were quite loud. The MacBook Air was dead silent. Of course, during sustained CPU usage the fan will be a benefit, as it will keep the CPU cooler, whereas with the MacBook Air M1, the CPU will throttle down to prevent the computer from overheating.

Here’s another comparison: I have a Logic Pro X project I’m working on that contains about a twenty tracks – 16 of which are audio tracks, the other 4 are software instruments, and of course, there are various effects applied to all the tracks. This project couldn’t play smoothly without stuttering on my MacBook Air 2020 i5 16/512GB machine. On the M1 MacBook Air, it plays as smooth as butter.

App performance isn’t the whole story though. The entire OS feels much faster. Apps (those that are Apple Silicon enabled) open incredibly fast. I’ve only tried a few apps that weren’t optimized for Apple Silicon, and the results have been great. For example, the original Pixelmator, which I still use for day to day graphics tasks, isn’t optimized for Apple Silicon. It opens quickly, and using it feels just as fast and performant as it does on my i9 MacBook Pro. Every app is different, of course, but Rosetta 2 looks like another incredible feat of engineering from Apple.

On the software development front outside of Xcode, things are a different story. There isn’t much of my everyday work toolchain that is ready for Apple Silicon yet. Stuff like HomeBrew, NodeJS, Docker and other web technologies are not quite ready for Apple’s new chip, and anyone who works with these technologies would be advised to wait before upgrading to the new machines.

But for everyone else – come on in, the water is fine.

The short of this is: If you are using your Mac for Xcode, Final Cut Pro or Logic Pro X, you are going to be blown away at what these Macs with the M1 chip are capable of.

Amazon is currently dropping $50 off the price of the M1 powered MacBook Air and Pro.