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The new Apple silicon M1 chip has replaced the previous Intel chips. The faster processing design gives the latest Macs a considerable boost. The specs look very impressive and the benchmarks speak volumes but how do they fare in real-world situations? 

We have looked at the latest MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini which all look on paper to be far superior to their early 2020 models. 

We are basing some of our opinions on what we learned from Dan Ackerman’s thorough hands-on testing over at cnet.

Early use advice

As yet, not all Apps have been optimized to run universally on the M1 apps to run natively on the M1. Those that are ready to open natively are namely Apple’s proprietary apps. 

DaVinci Resolve and Microsoft Office are in beta form and Adobe’s Lightroom will be due in 2021. But for the time being, you’ll need to use Apple’s x86 emulator ‘Rosetta’.

M1 Max x86 Rosetta
M1 Mac x86 Rosetta software opening message. Image courtesy of Dan Ackerman/CNET

When Apple computers first switched from PowerPC chips to Intel chips back in 2006 the company released the Rosetta emulation software to bridge the functionary gap. The latest version is a second edition, technically Rosetta 2. It does the same job but for the new Silicon M1 chip. It will automatically install as soon as you try to install a non-native app. 

So if you try to install Photoshop or Steam or Google’s Chrome web browser it will instantly appear. The picture above shows the opening message for the Rosetta x86 emulator. But as previously mentioned not all are 100% optimized for the switch yet.

When using Adobe Premiere, on the M1 to edit 4K video clips from the non-native, non-optimized install things were a little stuttery on the Mac Mini.

DaVinci Resolve 17.1 is only in beta mode but it was better at handling the same clips. Transitions were noticeably smoother.

The same video project was tested on the Mac Mini, MacBook Air, and an early-2020 MacBook Air model. They all ran fine with the real-time settings adjusted from 4k to HD. The older Intel MacBook Air was surprising but did have a little more stuttering on the real-time previewing.

The new Mac systems with their processing upgrade should be more than capable of casual gaming. But at present installing Mac-compatible games isn’t a piece of cake. When trying to install and load games via the Steam app you may encounter a few issues as Rosetta doesn’t seem to be opening the app and running it efficiently yet.

Overview of the M1 MacBook Air

For an easy transition, the MacBook Air might be your best bet. With the least hurdles found during testing. It is aimed as a mainstream option catering to office work and social media. Perfect for the average user. The majority of Adobe apps seem to currently be working as well as the previous Intel processing versions. When the apps are eventually tweaked they will undoubtedly be even better.

 

It is pretty rare to stumble upon OS issues in recent years. The Mac and Windows systems are almost in-line with one another and compatibility is much less of a problem. Although there are the occasional exceptions you might run into.

The new M1 Air, although not completely ready for the masses, does have a big benefit in the battery department over the early intel models still available. The Apple silicon MacBook Air was tested for battery drainage. It was left to stream videos and ran for almost 17 hours before the battery died.

The M1 MacBook Air
The M1 MacBook Air is available from $999 (£999, AU$1,599). Image credit: cnet.com

The battery hasn’t been upgraded in any way shape or form. So the performance has definitely been improved via the savvier processing chip. If you are in the market for one it might be better to invest in the latest edition early. The M1 MacBook Air is available from $999 (£999, AU$1,599).

Overview of the M1 Mac Mini

If budget or space is of concern the M1 Mini is your entry-level Mac OS. The compact dimensions are a selling point with many more of us starting to work remotely. It offers flexibility and can handle most tasks and you can hook it up to a Mac-ready screen if you need to.

Apple M1 Mac Mini
Apple M1 Mac Mini is selling with a starting price of $699 (£699, AU$1,099). Image credit: cnet.com

It performs equally as well as the premium M1 MacBook Pro but of course, has its limitations. You have 8GB of Ram. The storage can be up to 2TB if you have more cash to part with. It sells at a starting price of $699 (£699, AU$1,099).

Overview of the M1 MacBook Pro 

As the most expensive in the line-up it is tough to justify the outlay of buying a MacBook Pro model. Harboring the same M1 chip as the rest and still only bearing 8GB of RAM  is a toughie. The GPU is an 8-Core marginally better than the 7-Core system of the MAcBookAir. 

The biggest differences in the Pro model are a brighter screen and a Touch Bar. It is physically larger and sports “active cooling,” which enables it to run faster for longer. But this is just a fancy fan. Apple boasts its 20-hour streaming battery life but as the MacBookAir lasted almost 17 we aren’t sure it makes much of a case for itself at around $300 more for the average user.

M1 MacBook Pro
The M1 MacBook Pro is currently selling at $1,299 (£1,299, AU$1,999). Image credit: cnet.com

Obviously, if you have a very demanding workflow then you might need the longer peak speeds so as not to throttle. SO it may have its merits. You will also likely need more RAM and more ports. Only the Intel MacBook Pro models offer four Thunderbolt USB-C ports. Your other option is getting a MacBook Air and paying extra for a RAM upgrade (16GB) and getting an SSD upgrade for an extra hundred bucks. The M1 MacBook Pro is currently selling at $1,299 (£1,299, AU$1,999).

Essentially the transition from Intel to M1 is going to be a multi-step transition. If you have a professional level workflow you probably won’t find it is fit for your needs just yet. So hold off, there is no hurry. 

If you are a casual user then you might find the beta non-native apps can be worked around for now. In that case, the fans and better battery will be a benefit to you and an early upgrade is probably fine.

Scroll on to see how the models fared in initial benchmark tests and see if the comparison outweighs the caveats of buying early.

M1 MACS VS. INTEL MACS

Geekbench 5 single-core Geekbench 5 multicore Cinebench R23 multicore
M1 Mac Mini 1743 7704 7796
M1 MacBook Air 1731 7518 6822
M1 MacBook Pro 1723 7457 7772
Core i5 MacBook Pro (13-inch Spring 2020) 1184 4143 4703
Core i5 MacBook Air (Spring 2020) 1142 2912 2635
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