Two weeks with the 8Gb RAM/512Gb SSD M1 MacBook Pro: Chef’s Kiss

Apple’s move to their own silicon may be the single, most important change since the iPod was first introduced the world. By kicking Intel to the curb, Apple has the power to fundamentally influence how personal computing will turn out for the next decade. Not just for processors, but for operating systems too.

I must admit I was very sceptical at first – especially having bought a 32Gb/4Tb 16″ MacBook Pro the previous year (which happened to be the same year that Apple first announce its transition to their own chips), as well as being in the middle of a major worldwide pandemic. I didn’t think such a strategy would pay off as a result. But I am very happy to say that I was wrong.

But having now had two weeks with an M1 based Mac, I can honestly say that the future of the Mac is going only get more interesting from this point onwards. For starters, for their first-generation Apple Silicon processor, the amount of power versus the amount of power used is just incredible. This thing can beat my 16″ MBP in quite a few areas (though not, understandably, in all of them). It makes me wonder what the higher specced MacBook Pro, iMacs, iMac Pro (if they still continue that range), and Mac Pro are going to look like. Sure, they’ll put something like the M1 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU and 16-core neural processor to shame for sure – but already we get excellent performance from the lowest end of the chain which is going to last most of us, me included, a good number of years.

I’ve had absolutely no incompatibility issues, other than with Big Sur’s outrageously disappointing DisplayPort over USB-C implementation. This has forced me into using HDMI and that’s generally been okay, though even with HDMI I did notice the pink display issue (and a snow-like screen) when putting the M1 MacBook Pro to sleep manually. Waking the unit up got the display back, then putting it back to sleep sorted it out. I’m confident it’s not a hardware issue, just how Big Sur handles external displays.

Some other issues include excessive disk writing when using some Rosetta 2 apps – mainly system utilities/anti-virus. I mentioned before in the previous article that given 8Gb RAM, I expect there to be swap – and there is – but Activity Monitor reports usage within acceptable use for what I’m using this machine for. When I get around to buying the M1 Mac Mini in a few months (with 16Gb RAM), it’ll be interesting to compare, though I suspect most of the utilities that I used to use with my Intel MacBook Pro will have released Universal or Apple Silicon binaries (kudos to 1Password for releasing their own Universal binary update – I’ve got access to unlocking via Apple Watch again.)

As I’m using the machine primarily in clamshell mode at the moment, I can’t really comment on the keyboard – but when I have, it feels a lot nicer to type on than even the 16″ MBP! What’s particularly intriguing is that this machine has never, ever gotten hot. Not once. Haven’t heard the fans spinning at all. Battery life, again, I’m using it as a desktop replacement for the moment, so I’ve not been able to attest to the 20 hour battery life. But it’s there, waiting for me use it when I do go mobile.

No issues with Bluetooth for me – my Apple Extended Magic Keyboard has Just Worked(tm), and my Logitech MX Master 3 mouse has similarly has done its job without fault. While I don’t have a Wi-Fi 6 router, Wi-Fi itself has been rock solid here with decent throughput.

I thought the two ports would be limiting, but using that Anker hub (see previous article), this has not been a problem at all, even if the unit does heat up quite a bit.

Time Machine has, incredibly, been more stable on the M1 Mac than the Intel one. It’s never been slow, lagged or otherwise caused any sort of problem for me. I was at one point looking at alternatives – but thankfully I won’t have to going forward.

Virtualisation via Parallels Technical Preview has been rock solid too – my ARM-based Debian virtual machine runs just fine and doesn’t take up too much RAM, CPU or disk space. Ideal for running bash scripts that would ordinarily need a bit of tweaking under FreeBSD.

With some of the lowest prices in the Mac range right now, an M1 Mac should be your next computer. I think it will last four-five years just fine, and by the time it comes to replace it, new MacBook Air/Pro/Mini designs will have probably rolled out and will be even better. It’s difficult to know when Apple will pull the kill switch on Intel binaries, but I wanted to move across sooner rather than later. The old MacBook Pro will probably be traded in for the Mac Mini (though I have to pay for the Mac Mini first before Apple will give me the dosh back).