/posts/ 2021/macbook-air-m1-review

Macbook Air M1 - One Month On

Jan 25, 2021

#apple #hardware #review 

Well, it’s not strictly one month later, more a month and a bit. Pandemic time can stretch out normal time periods to be a tad longer than what you expect. On the 10th December 2020 I ordered one of the new MacBook Air M1, and since the 16th it has been my daily driver laptop. Previously I had been using a Surface Pro 6 but surprisingly the performance started to drop off a cliff just a few months after purchase, mostly due to some minor SSD issues, little did I know it was just the start of the issues I would have, but I digress.

The big selling point of the new Macbook Air is the M1 chipset; an ARM-based SoC (named “Apple Silicon”) that has been derived from Apple’s years of work on the A series processes used in iPhones and iPads. By switching to a desktop ARM, Apple has been able to reduce heat and increase battery life to way beyond what is expected in a productive laptop, while maintaining the processing speed of a good mid-range Intel system.

So, let us talk about performance. I can safely say that the M1 outperforms the Surface Pro 6 by a large margin, and while I expect people to note that the Surface Pro 6 is over 2 years old I can’t point out how much of a night and day difference it is. My workload is mostly based around Visual Studio Code and other simple development applications, on the SP6 it would take about 3-4 seconds to open my VS Code setup, on the M1 it’s under a second. Safari opens near-instantly, and I can run several Electron apps with no visible slowdown. The seconds here and there saved allow for more frictionless workflow i’ve ever experienced with my SP6. From what i’ve heard a similar jump can be felt even with the ARM-based Surface Pro X and the Surface Pro 7.

With all major architecture changes you do hit some snags, the biggest is the lack of support for “Apple Silicon” on some applications, which require using Rosetta 2 with Intel-based binaries. When you initially load an Intel binary on an M1 you can expect a wait of 5-10 seconds depending on the size of the application, but after that, it is back to near instant. The transcoded Intel applications run slower than native and it’s most obvious on CPU chewing applications like video rendering and gaming, but for day-to-day apps like Office, they feel the same.

Adjustment to my workflow has been a bit of a challenge, as it turns out I have switched to a heavily Microsoft Edge based workflow using Memex and other tools, and having to rediscover tools for MacOS that work with Safari has been a challenge. While I could switch to using Edge on MacOS or Chrome, I ideally want to keep in sync with my iOS-based devices now that I can take advantage of the extra features available to me. I’m no stranger to MacOS, as I used a 2013 MacBook Pro before my Surface Pro 6, but it is something to consider if you want to switch to using a Mac full-time.

As a relatively low-power user, even for my job role, I find the M1 an amazing workhorse for the price, and I’m extremely happy to have this as my daily driver. I’m hoping that I can make use of this device for a good 5-6 years before I have to consider upgrading again, much like my old MacBook Pro. Apple are pushing hard into ARM/AS and new devices are on the horizon. If you’re considering upgrading then I’d wait until the next generation of devices to come out, hopefully with an even more crazy jump of power than the M1s had.