Maybe It’s Better To Hold off on Those M1 Macs

Maybe It’s Better To Hold off on Those M1 Macs

Though my current Mac lineup has been more than adequate for heavy-duty photo work, I’d be lying if I haven’t given an M1 mac a look or seven.

But while initial reports seemed to be glowing, and the Rosetta 2 translation of Intel-based apps seemed to work well for initial testers, some longer-term tests have revealed that while the lineup is solid, there are definitely some first generation kinks to work out.

Performance

From what I read and saw at launch, it seemed like I should just chuck all my other Macs (including my 2019 MacBook Pro) into a trash bin and get an M1 Mac Mini. Jeff Benjamin at 9to5 Mac did just that (minus the trash bin) and gave an honest, real world look at the mightier Mini. He got the base model with 8 GB of memory and his comments were middling at best.

“If you just plan on using it to browse the web and do spreadsheets and word processing, the base model is definitely up to the task; it’s a good everyday computer for basic things,” Benjamin wrote. “But if you plan on doing work that’s heavy in nature – which is definitely how I use my Macs — then I recommend that you opt for the 16GB upgrade.”

No surprise, but even then, when he talked about 4K video and such with the computer, he added the qualifier, “within reason.”

He also discusses some of the limitations of the M1 chipset, namely the number of ports it’s able to support. In the case of the Mac Mini, it’s down two Thunderbolt ports, and the same is the case for the MacBook Air and Pro. Undoubtedly this is something Apple will be looking to fix in future iterations; Two ports isn’t enough and it would be nice to live the dongle-free life.

More than that, there is no external GPU (eGPU) support for M1 Macs. While standard video editing is probably fine, high end work, such as 360 footage, might be difficult to work with without the extra performance boost.

SSD Issues

Another issue that could plague M1 Mac users in the future is the SSD write issue. It’s been widely reported that M1 Macs excessively write data to the solid-state drives on the computers, which in turn can shorten the lifespan of the drive. SSDs have a limited number of read/write cycles before they go kaput, and so something that can wear down one of these drives faster is a big issue.

For what it’s worth though, I have Macs with SSDs that are going on 8 and 10 years, so this might be a non-issue since it seems the longevity of Apple’s drives are so good in the first place, but that doesn’t mean it’s not an issue, and the M1 chips are so new that it’s too early to tell how many will fail (much like the disastrous butterfly keyboard from previous generation MacBooks).

Photographers with large photo catalogs will probably hit their hard drives with a lot of data from just opening up and browsing through photos in programs such as Lightroom or Adobe Bridge. The programs constantly write previews and other data into temporary files.

None of these are small issues, but are they big enough to prevent you from buying an M1 Mac? Leave your thoughts in the comment below.

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37 Comments

T Van's picture

Never a bad idea to wait for the bugs to get worked out. 2nd and 3rd iterations are generally better than the first.

Fristen Lasten's picture

But not in Jaws movies.

Johnny Kiev's picture

I just bought a Macbook Air M1 after using Windows since Windows 1.0, with a brief 2-month flirtation with a Mac around 20 years ago.
I bought it in a fit of pique after a 3-month-old Windows desktop computer went into constant boot loops and my Surface 3 work laptop developed a dislike of anything resembling a network connection.
And I love the Mac!
Lightroom and Photoshop are unrecognisable for speed, Luminar and Exposure 6 actually run without thought, and all on 8 gigs of Ram, it's witchcraft!
I have always hated on Apple for their walled garden approach but this Mac has opened my eyes, so much so that yesterday I said goodbye to Android and picked up an iPhone, in for a penny in for a pound, they just work so well together...

Peter Perry's picture

PS and LR, aren’t even optimized for it yet, so the 8 Gig will see issues if you start getting into larger jobs.

Rick Deckard's picture

Correct, PS and LR aren't optimized for M1 yet - so they'll be even faster when those optimized versions are released.

Re: "the 8 Gig will see issues if you start getting into larger jobs."
This seems like a completely uninformed opinion. You don't even know how "large" Johnny Kiev 's "jobs" are right now - so how do you know when "issues" will start to occur? What "issues" will occur?

Matt Williams's picture

I have MANY issues with Apple - the trend with the Macbooks over the past 8 years or so to make them non-upgradeable being a huge one - but the reality is.... I can't see myself ever using Windows again. It's cliche to say, but with Apple products, things just *work* (and I'll admit part of this has to do with how closed off the system is) but they also work so *well*. I've briefly used some of the apparently nicest tablets and Androids on the market and they're still laggy and bloated. My iPad or iPhone never skip a beat to do whatever I just told it to do. That's why I left my Samsung smartphone behind six years ago and never looked back.

And then, of course, there's how pleasantly everything works in harmony if you have multiple Apple products. If I type a make changes to a note on my iPhone, those changes appear in my Notes app on the Mac within seconds. Need to send a photo or video from your phone to computer? Boom, just two clicks and you AirDrop it over.

What I like about these new M1 Macs is that everything is still non-upgradeable, but at least that's entirely part of how they work so well. The memory and CPU and GPU are all very integrated, from what I understand.

I look forward to what these new processors do in the next iMacs and Mac Pro (rumors of a mini-Mac Pro are very exciting).

Andrew Eaton's picture

The M1 chip is likely to turn the cpu market upside down in the coming years. The intel model is falling apart for lots of reasons and should really move to the ARM model. I think the Unified memory is the biggest speed boost, removing vast amounts of read writes between cpu and gpu... Using 5nm fabrication is miles ahead of intel's using much less power. If Intel dont change Apple wont be the last to move to ARM architecture, there is a arm windows 10 built

Ian Eisenberg's picture

I bought an M1 to acid test Apple Silicon. I fully expect to be buying an AS Mac Pro when they update the line.
I’m incredibly impressed by the performance of the M1 Mini. Capture One flies on it does everything else.
Can’t wait for the future!

Matt Williams's picture

I can't wait to see what they do with Apple Silicon and the next iMac models. Rumors of a mini Mac Pro are very exciting too.

I'm a bit sad because I bought a Mac Mini just over a year ago - upgraded it to 64GB of RAM myself - with a Vega 64 in an eGPU (which, for now, will be useless on these in the future). My work partner needs a new machine for editing, so I'll probably pass it to him and get a new iMac with Apple Silicon for the more intensive color grading etc that I do.

The Blackmagic RAW that I've been working with lately cuts like butter on pretty much any machine, so I can't even really say that I need an upgrade at all, to be honest. We'll see if works picks up this summer.

Greg Wilson's picture

I have an M1 MBP for travel and I can tell you it's an amazing little machine. As fast if not faster, than the top Intel MBP, and the battery last and lasts and lasts. I still slightly prefer the larger Intel machine for the bigger screen and more RAM but replacing it with an M1 book of at least the same size and RAM is a no-brainer to me.

Brian Williams's picture

I got the the M1 MacBook Air with 16GB ram and 1TB ssd two months ago and have been floored by how fast it is. I do motion graphics for a living, and it easily handles my C4D and Zbrush projects, as well as Davinci Resolve for editing my home videos from my BMPCC4K, everything runs great. There are a lot of “might not be fast enough” or “I’ve heard this about the computer” from the author, it seems he decided to write an article about a computer he’s never even used? That’s odd. And his dream of a “dongle-free” world is a bit backwards, computers aren’t going to lose their (awesome) USB-C ports, and they aren’t going to keep including the old USB-A ports; you should hope your accessory makers get with the times and switch to usb-c, not that your computer goes back in time. And complaining that the Mac mini doesn’t have more ports is not unique to the M1, it just seems like article filler.

Matt Williams's picture

When I first got my 2017 MacBook Pro two years ago, I was not a fan going in about the idea of Thunderbolt/USB-C only ports.

Now? I don't care if any computer I buy ever has a USB-A port again (though, if there's space, like on an iMac, one or two would be nice).

My only issue has been that the USB-C ports apparently tend to loosen up over time and the cables can move just enough to lose connection if you just bump them. I think this was fixed on newer models (I have no issue on my Mac Mini with it).

I've also never been happy with the selection of Thunderbolt hubs out there. All of them just have a bunch of USB-A ports, SD, HDMI, ethernet, etc etc... none of them have MORE USB-C ports.

Until now, which is why I pre-ordered this, should be shipping soon: https://eshop.macsales.com/shop/owc-thunderbolt-dock.

One Thunderbolt 4 plugs into computer, expanding to 3 more Thunderbolt 4 ports, plus all the other usual stuff. For $100 less ($149) there's a smaller version that just has the 3 Thunderbolt 4 ports plus one regular USB port - not shipping until May, though.

Thought you may be interested if you've ever wanted something similar like I have.

Don Falco's picture

Buying anything from Apple, is supporting the epitome of planned obsolescence while paying a premium at the same time. A waste of money and resources. A zephyrus g14 or g15 from asus will be good for years to come, be repairable, and upgradeable sand for higher performance cost 1500 euros less.

Mandy Coate's picture

1500 euros less than $1500? They paying you to take them?

Ryan Stone's picture

The new mini is $699 and kinda stomps everything. You get iMessage and iWork apps, free software updates for years, and solid security. What’s the problem? Apple tax is old news. Longevity and resale value are also bonuses over trash intel ultrabooks and giant wind tunnel towers.

David Illig's picture

My 11 and 13 year-old 17” MacBook Pro’s beg to disagree.

Bartosz Krawczyk's picture

My 2012 (almost 10 years!) Mac Mini works just as fast as new. My 2015 MacBook Pro still works great. My 2016 iPhone 7 still works fine, maybe a bit slower that new, but still perfectly usable. So where is this "planned obsolescence" ?

B In SEA's picture

that's comical! Apple blows away just about every other manufacturer for resale value, average time in service, support life of hardware, and support life of software. the only related area they are lesser is in user and 3rd party repairability, but other manufactures are moving that way as well as it's just better for performance and compactness to make more components combined and/or soldered.

Mutley Dastardly's picture

My freedom to do with my machine is everything. No wonder i'm building custom machines with linux. Even for photo-editing. I still have one windows machine - and windows is hell. They wanted more updates/upgrades than Apple did - all we got is a mess. So i understand why people want to move into the Apple ecosystem - but it's too much of a jail to me. I'll never ever will spend one eurocent into them. The same goes for Microsoft and other corps that solder everything straight onto the mainboard. There's no way to upgrade a machine - and this way we create more and more e-garbage.
Running an ARM-machine with a reduced instruction set - will consume more memory for the same work. There's no escape to that fact. So buy it with more ram - or your ssd may be sooner or later gone. It's not difficult to understand - what doesn't fit into ram - may get moved into the swap-space. The fact that when the machine breaks there's no way to keep your data with you - that's a major issue. So when buying a mac - you should encrypt the complete machine - and don't use your biometrics for that. What can been photographed is not secret!

Mandy Coate's picture

Listen man you are not building custom half inch thick linux laptops with 20 hour battery life.

**and you are incorrect about needing more memory. I can post you screenshots of my Mac running Photoshop compared to my Windows machine running it.

Rick Deckard's picture

Congratulations, you're one of the 2.16% of entire personal computer market running Linux. What's the percentage of Photographers running Linux? I'm not sure, but I'm willing to bet that the number is closer to 0% than it is to 2.16%.

BTW, market share data is from netmarketshare.com
https://netmarketshare.com/operating-system-market-share.aspx?options=%7...

Michael Piziak's picture

Your downplaying Linux because few people use it, is what people have been saying about Macintosh for many years. People kept using Mac because they thought it was better. People keep using Linux too, because they think it is better than Mac and Windows. I should know, I was an Apple fanboy for many years, and now I only use Linux. But you should educate yourself. Cameras run Linux, as do Smart tv's and nearly every other device that doesn't want to pay Microsoft or Apple for their operating systems. Also, Android is Linux. Linux actually runs most devices on the planet. And Mac OS X is very much related to Linux - as it is a Unix OS, and Linux was derived from Unix a long time before Steve Jobs converted Mac to Unix. The marketshare data you refer to is only for desktops/laptops. If you look at marketshare by all devices, Linux is #1 - and all photographers that use a digital camera are using Linux. Instead of your narrow data, I refer readers to: https://hostingtribunal.com/blog/linux-statistics/

Rick Deckard's picture

"My freedom to do with my machine is everything."

Let me fix that for you: My freedom to do with my machine is everything TO ME - because many (most?) people that buy computers, especially laptops, aren't modifying them.

John Hadden's picture

I purchased a 16 gig/1TB M1 MacBook Air a month ago and am absolutely loving it. Coming from a 2016 13" MBP, the M1 is significantly faster and absolutely silent (which is great for the audio work I do on it as well.) C1 (with a 20+gig catalog) runs perfectly on it despite not being officially supported. Couldn't be happier!

Mihnea Stoian's picture

I had sold my Intel Windows laptop to get an M1. After reading all the same somewhat lukewarm reviews about the Air and MBP M1s, I decided to wait for the 16in M1X/M2 launch later this year at first. In the meantime I dusted off my 09 MBP and started to use it for work (office+zoom/teams/google), but it's just too slow.
I'm literally on my way to get the entry-level Air as a stop gap until the new ones come out. Hopefully it'll at least be able to run Capture One so I can do some image editing while waiting for the ones with discreet/better GPUs to come out.

Joe G's picture

You're going to love the M1. Enjoy.

Joe G's picture

Never a bad idea to actually breakdown workloads and benchmark vs.absolute conjecture in addition to long-term testing. Afterall, NASA is notorious using 20 years old chips. Have fun with your Commdore 64 primary PC.

john smith's picture

I made a login on this site I've never heard of (with the most protracted and circuitous verification process of all time... 12 "I am not a robots"), to respond to this.

I am a drone pilot and just getting into 360 video at 5+k... I can edit and process this video content with NO problem on an ipad or an iphone. Are you really trying to tell people that this is a problem on a 16GB M1 mac mini? I actually own one. I'm not using it much because I'm an audio guy and I'm waiting for MOTU audio interface multichannel support (class compliant USB works fine). But the truth is, I haven't had to since my 360 video can be edited beyond my wildest imagination as an 80s kid... on my iphone... which uses the same Reduced Instruction chipset protocol as the M1... but is less powerful.

I remember when Apple was the odd man out, and the press cycle created a negative feedback loop/self-fulfilling prophecy about them. Developers didn't want to make software or hardware for a doomed, sandboxed operating system. I feel like there's a little bit of this creeping back in as a response to Apple's courageous (but not particularly risky since they've had such an obscenely large installer base for the decade+ testing on this chip tech) decision to take control of their silicone.

I agree with you about one thing that is verifiable, and not complete hacky yellow journalism speculation: The constant hard drive access that comes with the "Photos" application, and the finder-level 'iLife Media Browser' is gluttonous and presumptuous. Just like Adobe and Google, they believe that when you install their software, they're the most important thing on this machine you bought, own, and have every right to repair, modify, and control.

Luckily, I store my photos on an external drifve, which is how I know it's working away for hours and hours while I'm not using it. Half of my 'activity monitor', 'little snitch', and 'command line' competence is a result of sleuthing to figure out whether Apple, Google, or Adobe is hotboxing my CPU at the moment. Thanks I guess? Or maybe just knock it off?

Anyway, I hope MOTU, Izotope, and Ableton get (more) compatible soon. I'm definitely a little nervous.. but I know a hit piece when I see one.

My advice for journalists in this new wild west digital environment: stick to facts. use spellcheck. learn to distinguish homonyms. get your syntax correct. re-read your article before your submit. Only the first one applies to this author, but jeez o man. This profession used to have some discipline!

Vanessa Henderson's picture

As badly as I wanted one, I actually just returned my base model MB Air M1. I don't find it to be much faster or more efficient than my 4 yr old Asus with i7/4K/16gb/2.5 TB. So I'm looking forward to purchasing the MB Air M1X when it comes available.

Rakesh Malik's picture

I just snagged one, because the M1 mini is pretty inexpensive and I want to be able to use my ColourLab AI license... but for more intensive work and for on set I'm planning on getting a Zen3 machine with an Ampere (eyeing an Asus Flow X13 bundle). It will do to wait and see with. :)

And then there are more virtual workstations becoming available to keep an eye on as well.

Peter Perry's picture

I had one for all of two weeks, before canceling the trade in and returning it, because it had so many little issues that I just gave up on it.

Things like restoring the drive, waking the laptop up, Bluetooth connectivity resets of Apple’s own KB and Mouse...

Basically, the thing was not ready for prime time yet! Of course they released fixes for some of these after I returned it, but really it was a pain at the time.

Iain Lea's picture

Apple asking its userbase to beta test its products... again.

Seth Petit's picture

I am a professional videographer/photographer and have recently purchased the M1 Mac Mini (max RAM, 512ssd). I travel to various equestrian shows and video each competitor and then download the videos to hard drives for them to view later (and to also keep on file for the judges).
I did some normal testing on the M1 Mini at home before taking it to a show, and everything seemed great!
Upon downloading many SD cards over the first couple days of the show, we realized that the first video (.MP4) file was corrupted on over half of every SD card downloaded to my main hard drive.
I have used the trashcan Mac Pro or my 2019 MacBook Pro at these shows for a long time with no issues EVER like this.
Has anyone else experienced anything like this or have any way to resolve this issue?

James Ford's picture

I received my M1 Mac Mini within 2 weeks of it being introduced, and I am not experiencing the SSD lifespan loss. I currently do a tiny amount of video or audio work. I purchased an M1 Mac because my old computer was a 2012 Mac Mini, which could not run Big Sur. Also, I keep computers for 8-10 years, plus at my age, this might be my last computer.

Authors statement:
From what I read and saw at launch, it seemed like I should chuck all my other Macs (including my 2019 MacBook Pro) into a trash bin and get an M1 Mac Mini. Jeff Benjamin at 9to5 Mac did just that (minus the trash bin) and gave an honest, real-world look at the mightier Mini. He got the base model with 8 GB of memory, and his comments were middling at best.

My Reply:
If, before submitting the article, the author had watched Jeff Benjamin’s Feb 25th YouTube posting, he might not have made the 'comments were middling at best' statement.

Authors view:
The author discusses some of the limitations of the M1 chipset, namely the number of ports it can support.

My Reply:
The author fails to remember that the M1 computers are unusually capable entry-level computers. The author seems to be caught in the mindset that had been true previously of most entry-level computers, that were less capable and often a loss leader, whose main purpose was to entice purchasers to upgrade their purchase to higher-level computers to get the level of performance they need.

Authors Statement:
There is no external GPU (eGPU) support for M1 Macs. While standard video editing is probably fine, high-end work, such as 360 footage, might be difficult to work with without the extra performance boost.

My Reply:
Either the author has not used an M1 for high-end work or has not watched the numerous YouTube videos posted by audio and video professionals who have used the M1 for high-end work. A lot of them have been impressed by the M1's capabilities for high-end video and audio work. Additionally, the author offers no proof that an external GPU (eGPU) is needed for this entry-level computer.

Authors Statement:
Photographers with large photo catalogs will probably hit their hard drives with a lot of data from just opening up and browsing through photos in programs such as Lightroom or Adobe Bridge. The programs constantly write previews and other data into temporary files.

My Reply:
From this article and others I have read, this seems to be happening primarily to “Professional Users,” who often are heavy video and audio creators. This may be a problem with the applications these “Professional Users” are using. The apps they are using may need to be better optimized for the M1 Mac.

Authors Statement:
He also discusses some of the limitations of the M1 chipset, namely the number of ports it’s able to support. In the case of the Mac Mini, it’s down two Thunderbolt ports, and the same is the case for the MacBook Air and Pro. Undoubtedly this is something Apple will be looking to fix in future iterations; Two ports isn’t enough and it would be nice to live the dongle-free life.

My Reply:
I agree with him about this. My feeling is this was done to keep the price down and maybe a hang-over from the Jony Ive view of computer design.

To me, it seems the author, picked, “low hanging fruit” to write an article about. Besides meeting a deadline, the purpose of this article seems to be to plant doubts about the M1 Macs that are not based on actual use or well-researched facts.

Chris Rogers's picture

Alawys wait for the second run. Don't be a technology guinea pig.

Luca Santirocco's picture

I have an M1 Air... if you use it a lot for 30 minutes... Thermal Throttling and unusable.
If you use more than 2 apps... Thermal Throttling and unusable.
Luckily I received it for free :)

Chris Rogers's picture

Wow it's that bad? Well at least it was free! lol