14 votes

M1 MacBook Pro and Air review: Apple delivers

26 comments

  1. [10]
    stu2b50
    Link
    Other reviews MKHBD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4g2nPY-VZc Dave2D: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ6vX6nmboU From what it looks like, what Apple promised, is true. The whole lineup of M1...

    Other reviews

    MKHBD: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f4g2nPY-VZc

    Dave2D: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XQ6vX6nmboU

    From what it looks like, what Apple promised, is true.

    The whole lineup of M1 Macbooks have

    1. Incredible CPU performance - the chip fights with the very best desktop chips by Intel and AMD

    2. Incredible performance even under Rosetta 2

    3. Good battery life - I believe Dave did verify the "20 hours of video playback" at a low brightness, but the real world case of Chrome + Slack + Zoom is 10-12 hours of battery life, which is still amazing

    The cons are what we knew from the presentation - a limited amount of RAM offered, only two USB-C ports supported, and the webcam remains awful.

    The GPU is okay. It seems about a GTX 1050 or 1050TI equivalent. So while good for an integrated chip, it's not breaking new records in performance. But it's enough to run Dota 2, League, or Fortnite at 60, and honestly that's pretty good for the Air.

    But otherwise, from the reviews it seems that the M1 Macbooks are shockingly good value, especially the Air. Dave2D showed that it takes 8-10 minutes of sustained 100% load before the Air throttles, which is crazy for a fanless computer, and even then it's only to 80% of the unthrottled score.

    It performs great, and it performs great through Rosetta.

    10 votes
    1. [2]
      zlsa
      Link Parent
      Another con is no eGPU support, and a maximum of two displays (including the laptop's built-in display.) So if your workflow uses a laptop with two external displays, that's not supported at all...

      Another con is no eGPU support, and a maximum of two displays (including the laptop's built-in display.) So if your workflow uses a laptop with two external displays, that's not supported at all (and likely will never be supported on these first-gen devices.)

      6 votes
      1. babypuncher
        Link Parent
        I think the general consensus for professionals is to wait for the inevitable 16" version. Meanwhile, these are insanely good replacements for the devices they are replacing: The MacBook Air and...

        I think the general consensus for professionals is to wait for the inevitable 16" version. Meanwhile, these are insanely good replacements for the devices they are replacing: The MacBook Air and the bottom tier 13" MacBook Pro. If the 16" offers the same performance uplift as these models, we're in for something real special. And I can't wait to see what these chips can do in a real desktop where Apple doesn't need to stick to 5w TDP.

        6 votes
    2. [6]
      hamstergeddon
      Link Parent
      Seriously, what it is up with this? I don't expect iPhone quality cameras in their laptops, that would be nuts, but the ones they do ship with are just awful. I've got a basic logitech webcam from...

      and the webcam remains awful.

      Seriously, what it is up with this? I don't expect iPhone quality cameras in their laptops, that would be nuts, but the ones they do ship with are just awful. I've got a basic logitech webcam from a few years ago (720p) that looks objectively better than what my 2019 MBP has. So much so that I use that old logitech for meetings instead of the built-in one.

      4 votes
      1. emdash
        Link Parent
        It likely has to do with the thinness of their current laptop lids. They're crazy thin, and as we know from smartphone cameras, available depth is important—otherwise camera bumps wouldn't exist....

        It likely has to do with the thinness of their current laptop lids. They're crazy thin, and as we know from smartphone cameras, available depth is important—otherwise camera bumps wouldn't exist. I wouldn't be surprised to see second generation Apple Silicon MacBooks adopt either thicker lids (with some other exterior design changes like perhaps storing some of the battery in the lid in addition to storing batteries in the body), or having their own front-facing camera bumps (with an accomodating recess in the body of the design beneath the trackpad), to accommodate a 1080p or higher sensor.

        5 votes
      2. [4]
        babypuncher
        Link Parent
        Why shouldn't we? The nice wide angle cameras they put on smartphones are inexpensive and really good. It makes no sense to me that we can't use them in $1,000+ laptops.

        I don't expect iPhone quality cameras in their laptops

        Why shouldn't we? The nice wide angle cameras they put on smartphones are inexpensive and really good. It makes no sense to me that we can't use them in $1,000+ laptops.

        4 votes
        1. [2]
          hamstergeddon
          Link Parent
          That just seems like overkill to me. Nobody's out there taking important photographs with their webcam like they are their phone, so I don't think the quality needs to be that good. Presumably...

          That just seems like overkill to me. Nobody's out there taking important photographs with their webcam like they are their phone, so I don't think the quality needs to be that good. Presumably cameras of that level of quality would jack the prices up even more. They probably shouldn't, but this is Apple we're talking about, so they would.

          Although I suppose something on-par with the selfie camera on iPhones wouldn't be too crazy. I'm pretty sure the selfie-camera on my old 5s is better than my MBP's webcam.

          3 votes
          1. babypuncher
            Link Parent
            I like to use FaceTime with my parents, especially these days with the pandemic. I find my MacBook Air is way more comfortable for this than my phone, since I can set it on my coffee table and not...

            I like to use FaceTime with my parents, especially these days with the pandemic. I find my MacBook Air is way more comfortable for this than my phone, since I can set it on my coffee table and not squint at a tiny screen. It also gives me more screen space so I can reference documents or websites relevant to the discussion. The poor quality of the camera really downgrades the experience on their end compared to when I call from my phone.

            This probably isn't something I would care that much about if 2020 wasn't what it is though.

            4 votes
        2. emdash
          Link Parent
          It's to some degree a series of physical limitations. For cameras to fit the needed filters, lenses, and sensor technology in the package, it takes up precious space on the z-axis of a phone's...

          It's to some degree a series of physical limitations. For cameras to fit the needed filters, lenses, and sensor technology in the package, it takes up precious space on the z-axis of a phone's design. There's obviously general iterative improvements over time, but smartphone cameras have arrived at an optimal local maximum by using depth-extending techniques such as camera bumps and periscope lenses to improve things beyond what would otherwise be possible in the phone's form factor.

          Laptop lids are even more depth-constrained, so barring a radical redesign of how we envisage laptops, with the majority of the componentry being located outside of the chassis and instead inside the lid, we're probably not going to see 7MP shooters in our laptops anytime soon.

          2 votes
  2. andre
    Link
    I've been on the fence when it comes to the Apple ecosystem. I tried upgrading my 2013 MBP to the new 2020 16" ones, but it just wasn't worth the $3500 price tag. While 32gb of RAM was nice for...

    I've been on the fence when it comes to the Apple ecosystem. I tried upgrading my 2013 MBP to the new 2020 16" ones, but it just wasn't worth the $3500 price tag. While 32gb of RAM was nice for running Docker, the overall performance just wasn't that much better, and some annoyances like the enormous haptic touchpad made me return it.

    I was planning to switch to an AMD Thinkpad with Linux, but have been waiting on the results of the Apple Silicon Macs since they were announced earlier this year, and the results seem super promising. I'm not going to buy a first generation Apple product, and certainly not until Docker is working, but looks like I'll be holding off on the Thinkpad for now...

    5 votes
  3. teaearlgraycold
    Link
    I already commented this on another thread, but I'll say it again here. The entire tech industry wants to be Apple and shows that by copycatting them. I really hope they keep that up here. I want...

    I already commented this on another thread, but I'll say it again here. The entire tech industry wants to be Apple and shows that by copycatting them. I really hope they keep that up here. I want a high powered (non-Apple) ARM laptop. I don't expect the new wave of ARMs to be as good as Apple's, but my needs aren't that great.

    5 votes
  4. [5]
    vaddi
    Link
    Has any other company in history designed as many hardware components as well as the software of a computer they sell as Apple is doing right now? They seem to be going on a path to not having to...

    Has any other company in history designed as many hardware components as well as the software of a computer they sell as Apple is doing right now? They seem to be going on a path to not having to depend on third parties.

    2 votes
    1. [4]
      tindall
      Link Parent
      Maybe not as many, but certainly by percentage others have done more. This is how all computers used to be built - I advise a quick read of Soul of a New Machine if you're interested in that world.

      Maybe not as many, but certainly by percentage others have done more. This is how all computers used to be built - I advise a quick read of Soul of a New Machine if you're interested in that world.

      4 votes
      1. [3]
        vaddi
        Link Parent
        Thanks I'm going to check it. Can you name any, off the top of your head?

        Thanks I'm going to check it.

        but certainly by percentage others have done more

        Can you name any, off the top of your head?

        1. [2]
          tindall
          Link Parent
          IBM, Data General, DEC, VAX, Acorn (where ARM originally came from), Sinclair... Truly almost every computer company in the 60s to 80s.

          IBM, Data General, DEC, VAX, Acorn (where ARM originally came from), Sinclair... Truly almost every computer company in the 60s to 80s.

          8 votes
          1. teaearlgraycold
            (edited )
            Link Parent
            There was a beautiful time when computers were so simple that it was possible for one engineer to understand a machine in its entirety. Every line of the firmware, every trace on the board, and...

            There was a beautiful time when computers were so simple that it was possible for one engineer to understand a machine in its entirety. Every line of the firmware, every trace on the board, and every transistor in the CPU. The 6502, a legendary chip that made its way into the NES, Apple II, Commodore 64 and many more, only has 3500 transistors. One of those machines might have had only a few thousand bytes of ROM code.

            Today there will always be a point, usually reached very quickly, where someone will have to throw up their hands and admit they don't know enough about their computer. I envy those people that could answer any question about their computer.

            7 votes
  5. [6]
    emdash
    Link
    Great summary video from The Verge here. It really looks like the M1S/M1X/M1Z chip that gets dropped into the higher performance 13" (14"?) and 16" MacBook Pros will scream. Here's a fun fact for...

    Great summary video from The Verge here. It really looks like the M1S/M1X/M1Z chip that gets dropped into the higher performance 13" (14"?) and 16" MacBook Pros will scream.

    Here's a fun fact for the slightly more technically inclined, courtesy David Smith, an Apple employee:

    fun fact: retaining and releasing an NSObject takes ~30 nanoseconds on current gen Intel, and ~6.5 nanoseconds on an M1

    …and ~14 nanoseconds on an M1 emulating an Intel 😇

    Wowzers.

    2 votes
    1. [5]
      tindall
      Link Parent
      I wouldn't take this as a general indication of performance. The chips are fast, but this is an optimization specifically for reference counting garbage collectors; it won't provide anything like...

      I wouldn't take this as a general indication of performance. The chips are fast, but this is an optimization specifically for reference counting garbage collectors; it won't provide anything like a 4.5x or even 2x speedup in real performance for most applications.

      It may end up tipping the performance balance among some language environments, though; that's going to be pretty interesting.

      4 votes
      1. [2]
        teaearlgraycold
        Link Parent
        I wonder what ISA extensions Apple built onto ARM. This chip was specifically made with an Objective C code base in mind.

        I wonder what ISA extensions Apple built onto ARM. This chip was specifically made with an Objective C code base in mind.

        3 votes
        1. tindall
          Link Parent
          I doubt they've added any new instructions, though they've clearly optimized some atomics.

          I doubt they've added any new instructions, though they've clearly optimized some atomics.

          1 vote
      2. [2]
        emdash
        Link Parent
        I think you give this comparison less credit than it deserves. Apple's operating systems and frameworks make heavy use of reference counting, and the chip is specifically designed to execute code...

        I think you give this comparison less credit than it deserves. Apple's operating systems and frameworks make heavy use of reference counting, and the chip is specifically designed to execute code written in Objective C/Swift frameworks in mind. Here's Gruber on this topic:

        Retaining and releasing an NSObject is a low-level operation that is foundational to Apple’s programming frameworks. [...] Retain and release are tiny actions that almost all software, on all Apple platforms, does all the time.

        The point is that Apple’s philosophical reliance on this model of software development is not typical in the broader world. This is the way Apple thinks software should work, dating back to the origins of NeXTstep in 1989. The Apple Silicon system architecture is designed to make these operations as fast as possible. It’s not so much that Intel’s x86 architecture is a bad fit for Apple’s software frameworks, as that Apple Silicon is designed to be a bespoke fit for it.

        It's not for benchmarking per se, but it's a good indicator of how Apple is choosing to heavily optimise operations that their analysis shows are frequently performed on their systems.

        1 vote
        1. tindall
          Link Parent
          Absolutely. I definitely didn't mean to imply that it's not important. It's certainly beneficial to a lot of applications software. Gruber says: He also goes on to imply that no other system has...

          Absolutely. I definitely didn't mean to imply that it's not important. It's certainly beneficial to a lot of applications software.

          Gruber says:

          How this works and why it’s so much faster on Apple Silicon than Intel is fascinating but beside the point. [...] The point is that Apple’s philosophical reliance on this model of software development is not typical in the broader world.

          He also goes on to imply that no other system has comparable performance with these atomic reference counter decrements and frees. I don't agree.

          As far as I understand, this essentially boils down to uncontended mutexes being really fast - essentially zero overhead. That's great! Uncontended mutex acquisition being fast is wonderful for a lot of software, and not just Apple software. I know that because a lot of software got a lot faster when Linux implemented "futexes" - fast user-space mutexes, which use the x86_64 atomic compare-and-swap instructions. These were fast to begin with, but as time has gone on, the CAS instructions have become very fast; essentially zero overhead, like whatever Apple is doing with these NSObject refcount decrement operations (which, of course, I can't tell you, because it's proprietary.) I don't think it's the total paradigm shift that Gruber paints it as.

          The real paradigm shift here is that Apple is leveraging its market power to force the most critical proprietary software to move to a new architecture, and hiring a bunch of really good CPU designers. And again, that's awesome for Apple users and users of that proprietary software, but it's not really a fundamental technical advance at all. I expect this to be a similar situation as the MP3 player and the touchscreen mobile - Apple is using their market power to force adoption of a technology that already existed, for which they will get a lot of credit.

          4 votes
  6. emdash
    Link
    An additional review I'd suggest enthusiasts to read is Gruber's take on Daring Fireball: The M1 Macs.

    An additional review I'd suggest enthusiasts to read is Gruber's take on Daring Fireball: The M1 Macs.

  7. Staross
    Link
    Maybe not as impressive as some of the marketing numbers made me believe, but their laptops were already good value, now I would find it hard to justify getting anything else than one of these (if...

    Maybe not as impressive as some of the marketing numbers made me believe, but their laptops were already good value, now I would find it hard to justify getting anything else than one of these (if you need a new laptop that is).