Update: 19 July 2021 - Resolved some spelling issues, thanks Denise
There are a lot of reviews out there from a lot of bloggers and YouTube people which hit the internet shortly after the Apple Macbook M1 was released. What’s it really like to use one? There is a big difference between an unboxing and a review a month or so later having spent. lot of time with a device.
This is that review.
I’m running a Macbook 13″ M1 with 8Gb Ram and a 256Gb SSD as my daily work device and while it has some great advances on previous Macbooks it’s not without a few things which may stop some from using it at the moment.
Let’s start with the positives
ARM chip Speed
The M1 is based on Apple’s spin on the ARM processor, and whatever witchcraft they have cast, the Apple spell they have wielded over this chip means it’s a fast processor. That being said, if you’re using it mainly for Microsoft Office, Browsing the web or doing general usage things you’ll not notice the difference between this or any other Mac because doing these tasks Macs are speedy anyway. My previous Macbook was a 2015 model and I can’t really tell you it was faster or slower than what I’m running day to day in the office on this M1 the same way I would if I was running a 2015 Windows device.
If however your thing is number crunching, and in my case that is video editing, then if your video editing app of choice has been ported over to Apple Silicon your rendering times are going to be lightning-fast compared to other non M1 based Macs. Like x3 to x5 faster depending on what you’re doing and using.
This is a number-crunching chip and it screams speed when doing so.
Battery life however is something every user is going to notice right away about this product, it’s phenomenal and I’m saying that as a Chromebook user used to getting days out of the batteries of my devices.
On my second day at my new job I forgot to pack my Apple power puck, normally this would lead to some very carefully choreographed battery management during that day, not on the M1, 40% left by the end of the day.. I’ve gotten a couple of days of average use out of it if I’m not hammering it… As I’ll explain below the type of Applications you use has a huge bearing on battery life and this will also improve over the course of time.
Thoughts so far
As Mac’s go, it’s a good looking device, with a good screen that is taking the silicon to a new place using ARM technology and in doing so is providing a great number-crunching platform with good battery life. As OSX starts to utilise the M1 chip further other features will also come into play and this can only be a good thing as we look at the iPad silicon as a similar example.
There are however teething issues
I’m however not your average office dwelling MacBook user and a few things have arisen which I hope to get sorted out over time.
More than 1 external monitor
So this is a bit hit and miss depending on your setup, and to really get it working you’ll need the latest display port drivers installed.
The official word seems to be be 1 external monitor on an M1 Macbook
On the docking stations we use at work I’m able to happily run 2 x 24″ HDMI monitors with no problems through a dock and I think this is because the Dock has the monitors plugged in to a traditional DVI connector and an HDMI connection.
At home, I cannot make this work at all. While i can plug in the HDMI to my Samsung Ultrawide screen OR the 52″ Monitor both will not work hung off 2 x USB-C Docks with HDMI connections on each. (even with displaylink installed)
This will apparently be sorted with an OSX update in the future, and it’s a first world problem for me more than anything it’s nagging my OCD.
If you want to run virtual machines on the M1, then there is no VMware or Virtualbox desktop virtualisation for you at the time of writing this post. Your option is to buy Parallels Desktop.
Parallels is great software in its own right and comes with a whole suite of useful tools, it isn’t however free. (You could argue that the fact it is paid for is why they are able to fund the development the other desktop Virtualisation applications don’t.)
After you’ve purchased and installed Parallels it’s not all sorted however as you will quickly realise that the only OS’s you can run are ARM-based OS’s. You can’t just download the ISO of your favourite Linux distro or Windows and get going, you can only run the ARM64 version of an OS.
Thankfully this isn’t as bad as it was a few years back and there are good ARM based options for Windows, Ubuntu, Fedora and a few other Linux distros. However its no where near as feature complete as a standard x86 option at this point.
I am running Parallels and it’s running Windows 10 ARM, Windows 11 ARM and Ubuntu 20.04 Server ARM perfectly well. On Linux, the majority of the applications I run have been ported over to the ARM architecture thanks to a big push by Canonical.
With a push towards ARM by companies like Apple, Microsoft, Canonical etc this will slowly become less restrictive however, its something to consider right now if you are a heavy user of desktop virtualisation.
Apple Silicon Apps
While the battery life on this small but perfectly formed hardware is great there is something which can kill it. OSX applications that have not been ported to the new Arm version called Apple Silicon when looking for application support.
Intel compiled applications will still run fine on the device but they do so through an emulation layer. While this is fairly transparent to the user for some applications it eats battery..
How do you know if the applications you use have been ported over to Apple Silicon? You head over to one of the many websites setup to index such things.
These will inform you if your essential applications have been ported to Apple Silicon, and it’s getting much better than it was a few months back…
As the tagline fo a popular Disney plus show would say “This is the way” and moving forward it won’t just be Apple moving to ARM chips for their hardware, this isn’t also the first time Apple have done this.
For those of us old enough to remember Apple moving from Motorola to Intel chipswas a thing many years ago and there will be a transition process this time where bugs and problems are ironed out. Apple will do thier best to make sure this is as seamless as it can for the new flock of Internet connected brethren.
The Desktop virtualisation issue is a good example of the industry will find a way and over time this will not be an issue for people.
Right now I’d still recommend the Apple Macbook M1 for a home user or office user or if virtual machines are not a worry (or you can use the ARM versions of an OS) then the M1 is the way to go if only for the brutally fantastic battery life.
Otherwise, wait for a generation or 2 before you spend your money… either way you’ll be using the M1 ARM technology soon enough.