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What Kind of Performance Can You Expect From Apple's New M1 Macs?

Apple's move to their own chips represents a seismic shift in the computing industry, and given how many creatives rely on Macs, one that has serious ramifications for the photography and videography industry. Now that the first computers with Apple's own chips are here, you might be wondering what kind of performance you can expect. This excellent video takes a look at the new Mac mini with the M1 CPU inside. 

Coming to you from 9 to 5 Mac, this great video takes a look at the new Apple Mac mini with Apple's own M1 CPU on board. I discussed how excited I have been for this change earlier this year, and it looks like my excitement was well founded, as early reviews show Apple's M1 chip providing truly remarkable performance figures and stunning battery life in laptops. As the video above mentions, emulation with Rosetta 2 is mostly seamless, but there are some hiccups with Adobe apps, so you might want to wait to make a M1 machine your main work computer, but Adobe is working to quickly bring its core apps to M1 machines. Still, it is a very exciting future for Mac users. Check out the video above for more. 

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Jacques Cornell's picture

"This excellent video takes a look at the new Mac mini with the M1 CPU inside."
The M1 is actually much more than a CPU. It's a System On a Chip, including an 8-core CPU, a 7- or 8-core GPU, RAM, port controllers, and more, all built into a single chip.

Nicolas KIEFFER's picture

At least we may get rid of that crappiest processor design that is a plague since many years now !

Go to hell Intel and its x86 processor ! It always been the worst design but got Microsoft traction for years.
It is really time we pass to something better than that processor. It has done its time.

Funniest part is that Apple shifted to Intel because x86 were just the cheapest tech available. And now they get off because whereas ARM are cost effective and became a real platform since the rise of smartphone and tablet running ARM processor.

We have serious software already available, unix and linux are already running fine on ARM. And ARM processor are now really capable as the R&D has given to power to slash down x86.

Next PC will be powered by ARM too, in a not so far future.

Alex Herbert's picture

I don't know, AMD are still taking things forwards with their 7nm process chips. It'll be interesting to see what they'll be offering when they hit 5nm. I think a lot of people are getting ahead of themselves regarding exactly how good these M1 processors are. They are a generation ahead, for now, hence the power and physical space benefits. But I think we'll be seeing this from other manufacturers once they also hit 5nm, and then we'll really see some interesting competition.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I wonder, though, whether the competition can implement complete SoCs that integrate ALL of the major components as Apple has. AMD makes CPUs and GPUs, but can they also integrate port controllers and RAM? We'll see. My guess is it'll take them a while to catch up. And, the competition's performance with ARM processors is reportedly pretty sad.

Alex Herbert's picture

A good point regarding the SOC, I don't believe AMD is working on that type of architecture from anything I've read. I don't know how much of a benefit having integrated RAM and port controllers is but I'd definitely rather have the choice to upgrade as far as a desktop machine is concerned. It's all very interesting either way.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I DID have an upgrade choice - I replaced my 8-core 2013 Mac Pro with a $1099 M1 mini with similar CPU performance and twice the GPU speed. My next upgrade choice? An M2 mini in a year or two. I guesstimate the cost of ownership will be on the order of $200/year with semiannual upgrades.

Alex Herbert's picture

Choice to upgrade = replacing parts AFTER the computer has been purchased. e.g. PC

Jacques Cornell's picture

Yeah, well, I had a 2008 8-core Mac Pro. I upgraded the GPU, installed an SSD, and RAIDed internal drives. But, in the end, a new MacBook Pro with external storage was faster and cheaper. I can see how, for some folks with niche needs, upgrading parts can be cost-effective. But, for my photo work, I've found simply replacing my Macs with faster ones to be a better solution.

Would I love to have a budget minitower option? Sure. An Intel mini with eGPU was going to be my "upgrade" path, with a better GPU a year or two later. However, the M1 gets me pretty close to that level of GPU compute power, and something faster will arrive soon.

RAM upgrades? The new integrated RAM seems to be so fast and efficient as to render previous notions about RAM requirements inapplicable. We shall see...

Storage? I just bought an NVME stick and a 20Gbps USB 3.2 Gen. 2 enclosure that delivers 800MB/s on my MBA and should hit 2000MB/s on one of the mini's USB4 ports. My archival storage is a LaCie 5big TB2.

I'm just not feeling constrained in any way.

Alex Herbert's picture

I won't lie, I've been tempted to get one of these M1 MPBs just to play around with. It's not going to replace my Ryzen 3900x, but for something I can carry around with me I'm not seeing much else out there.

Jacques Cornell's picture

At $999, the MBA is a no-brainer. For the past 3 years I've had an 8-core 2013 Mac Pro as my workhorse and a 8GB/256GB entry-level 2017 MBP as my location/travel Mac. When I realized that the M1 would be faster than my Mac Pro, I started by considering an M1 13" MBP to replace both - for years I ran my biz on a high-end 13" MBP, so this would be a move back to an old strategy. But, I like having two Macs - just in case - and I don't use my laptop much, so when I realized it would cost me just $400 more to get the base-model MBA and an upgraded (16GB/512GB) mini, well, that seemed a bargain too good to resist. Rather than pay another $200 for a 1TB SSD in the mini, I bought a 1TB NVME stick and a 20Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 enclosure to hold all my catalogs and master image files for unfinished projects. (I move finished projects to HDs for long-term storage.) If the TB3 ports support 20Gbps (unclear at this point), this external SSD will be nearly as fast as Apple's. It gives me an additional 500GB of storage, and I can easily move all my current projects between the mini and the MBA, which is handy when traveling and a key part of my backup strategy.
In addition, it occurred to me the other day that the MBA is so fast that I could cut my batch export times in half by simply dividing the task between the MBA and mini, something that wasn't true with my MP & MBP. So, not only is either of these Macs as fast as a 16" MBP, but where it counts for me - batch exporting - the combination of the MBA and mini is TWICE as fast as a 16" MBP for less money.
FWIW, my LaCie 5big TB and my NEC PA322 display daisy-chained to it via DisplayPort are working just fine via an Apple TB2>TB3 adapter. I haven't tried calibrating yet, though...

Alex Herbert's picture

How is the screen on the MBA, I hear that's the only real difference between the Air and the Pro (if you get the higher spec Air) is the brighter screen and deeper black levels.

Jacques Cornell's picture

I've got it hooked up to my NEC PA322, so I don't look at the MBA's screen much. Seems fine. Quite nice, actually. 400 nits is certainly bright enough for just about anything other than using it outdoors in bright sunlight. I calibrate all my displays at 120cd/m2.
As for differences, the Pro has a fan, and so will be faster under heavy loads for extended periods, it has a touchbar, and it has 8 GPU cores vs. 7 in the MBA.
My mini arrives on Thursday...