Apple has made a bold move with the launch of their new M1 MacBook. This new laptop features an entirely new chipset that the company has developed for their own computers. It could be signaling that they are getting ready to move away from Intel and becoming completely self-sufficient—just like they’ve done with their flagship smartphones and tablets.
So, the big question on everyone’s lips is, have they cracked the processing chip yet?
The good news is, it’s possible to answer that question right now because we have access to both the Intel-powered MacBook and the new M1-powered MacBook. A direct comparison is quite easy to make at this stage.
How Similar Are They?
In looks, you’d be hard-pressed to pick out which one is which. The two computers sport the same design, and all the basics in the operating system stay the same. This means that if you’re used to working on a Mac, you’ll find that the M1 MacBook is just the same as any of their other laptops that you’ve used before.
The new laptops include Apple’s magic keyboard and the Force Touch trackpad, as well as the usual touch bar and touch ID that are staple features of the MacBook. You get an HD 720p camera for FaceTime and other video conferencing tools, and a LED-backlit Retina IPS display monitor—both typical MacBook features.
However, this is pretty much where the similarities end.
Where Do The Differences Come In?
The M1-powered version is significantly cheaper than the computers with Intel processors. However, this is because right now, only the entry level MacBook Air has the M1 processor and there is no new entry level version with the Intel chip.
If you want the higher specs of the Pro laptops, you’ll have to pay more, anyway. In the future, there will be a pro lineup of MacBooks that also features the M1 processor instead of the Intel version.
One of the major changes to the device is the battery life that Apple is promising. With the M1, Apple says the laptop will give up to 20 hours on a single charge. That’s double what you can get out of the Intel-powered laptop.
Of course, this is still to be tested out in the real world, and more data on actual battery life will come out as people use the new laptops. In the interim, we have to take Apple’s word for it.
The biggest difference here is how the systems are set up. Intel works on a logic board, separating out the CPU, GPU, RAM, security and input/output. The M1 is an all-in-one chip that integrates everything into the processing chip. Apple calls this their system-on-a-chip (SoC) setup. This certainly gives the M1 a leg-up when it comes to performance.
Without user data for comparison, it’s hard to say for sure, but it looks like this new entry level MacBook will be a lot faster than the previous version with the Intel Core i7 or i9 processors. It seems likely that once Apple rolls the M1 processor out to their Pro range, those laptops will show similar boosts in performance.
Apple has also set up their cores differently from Intel on the M1. There are eight cores divided into two groups. Four cores for efficiency, and four for performance. The system will use the efficiency cores for powering every day, simple tasks like working on documents and spreadsheets, email and surfing the web. This helps to preserve battery life, while still giving you enough processing power to work efficiently. The performance cores are reserved for more complicated tasks, like editing video or photos.
Not all programs are faster on the M1 though, with the latest generation of Intel chips performing tasks on Microsoft Office and Google Chrome significantly faster. When Intel got put against the ropes by Apple, they ran a series of tests to show that their processors are also faster on certain Adobe programs.
As has pretty much always been the case with Apple, you need to check if your software will run on your new laptop. The big problem with the new M1 processor is few third-party developers have designed their apps and tools to run on it yet. Of course, this list will grow significantly longer over the next year.
The new MacBook Air runs an emulator program called Rosetta 2, which allows third-party programs to be compatible with the ARM architecture used on the computer. Tests have shown that it works fairly well and doesn’t decrease the performance of the program when run through the emulator.
Since Intel processors are widely used around the world in Windows and previously Apple computers, the choice of compatible software that runs natively on your laptop is far greater right now.
The M1 isn’t quite there yet in terms of capabilities, but like other high-end laptops, it’s likely going to grow from strength to strength. Apple has put in the groundwork here to make that aim of being self-sufficient a reality in the not-too-distant future. They really seem to have missed that awkward step that most first-generation technology goes through in the beginning and came out with a strong contender.
Right now, the M1 MacBook is a great buy for most users. It is cheaper than the Intel-powered version and has pretty strong performance on everyday tasks. As long as you’re happy to stick within the Apple ecosystem. However, if you need high-end performance and have particular programs that you need to use, the Intel-powered MacBook is the option for you.
In the future, all the MacBooks released by Apple will likely include the M1 processor. If you’re unsure about whether or not you want to go this route until the M1 processor has seen more real-world testing, consider getting in now and buying your new laptop. It’s possible that by the end of the year, there will be no more Intel-powered MacBooks.