Pixel Envy

Written by Nick Heer.

Reviewers See Simultaneous Gains in Performance and Battery Life With Apple’s First M1 Macs

Matthew Panzarino, TechCrunch:

Right up top I’m going to start off with the real ‘oh shit’ chart of this piece. I checked WebKit out from GitHub and ran a build on all of the machines with no parameters. This is the one deviation from the specs I mentioned above as my 13” had issues that I couldn’t figure out so I had some Internet friends help me. Also thanks to Paul Haddad of Tapbots for guidance here.

As you can see, the M1 performs admirably well across all models, with the MacBook and Mac Mini edging out the MacBook Air. This is a pretty straightforward way to visualize the difference in performance that can result in heavy tasks that last over 20 minutes, where the MacBook Air’s lack of active fan cooling throttles back the M1 a bit. Even with that throttling, the MacBook Air still beats everything here except for the very beefy Mac Pro.

But, the big deal here is really this second chart. After a single build of WebKit, the M1 MacBook Pro had a massive 91% of its battery left. I tried multiple tests here and I could have easily run a full build of WebKit 8-9 times on one charge of the M1 MacBook’s battery. In comparison, I could have gotten through about 3 on the 16” and the 13” 2020 model only had one go in it.

After the first benchmarks hit Geekbench last week, you may have been prepared for big leaps in performance. And, knowing how efficient Apple’s A-series is, you probably assumed these M1 MacBook models would have better battery life than their Intel predecessors, too. What I did not expect — and maybe I am a dummy — is the extent to which both of those things would happen simultaneously. I’m just going rewrite what Panzarino found because I think it is worth underscoring: Apple’s entry-level MacBook Pro model will build WebKit within seconds of the same amount of time as a twelve-core Mac Pro, and that will consume just nine percent of its battery.

This is not an outlier result. John Voorhees of MacStories rounded up a bunch of the reviews that dropped today and everyone is seeing the same thing. These Macs perform better than almost any other Mac you can buy while getting multiple days of battery life during typical use — and they are Apple’s entry-level models.

This is one of those silly things that makes me giddy; none of this seems possible. It kind of reminds me of the introductions of the Power Mac G5 or the 2010 MacBook Air. These are groundbreaking leaps forward. Speaking of which, it is going to be wild to see what processors end up in the higher-end MacBook Pro models next year, not to mention the iMac and the Mac Pro.

But I am getting ahead of myself. The 16GB RAM limit for these models bummed some people out, but it seems that these Macs have no trouble keeping up.1 I agree with Panzarino: it is very possible that Apple will stop advertising RAM amounts in all but its highest-end products, and it will be completely fine. Also, if you are haunted by memories of Photoshop running over Rosetta fifteen years ago, it sounds like you can relax because Rosetta 2 is, apparently, great.

Two other items of consensus among reviewers are that running iOS apps on a Mac is a poor experience and that the webcam still sucks.

Other than that, reviewers seem totally enamoured. I’m writing this on an eight year old MacBook Air that, as my couch laptop, is still chugging along fine. I bought it with the same advice I’ve used for just about every computer I’ve owned: I buy the absolute best I can save for and afford. This laptop has the highest-specced processor and RAM that were offered at the time. But when it comes time to replace it, I think I might be completely satisfied with the cheapest MacBook Air Apple offers. Why would I bother upgrading something that outperforms just about everything else in the current lineup? Either Apple has uncharacteristically failed to think this through or, more likely, whatever is in the pipe is going to be so desirable for more demanding users that we will happily pony up the premium for the fastest Macs ever. After all, they really only have these entry-level models to beat.

  1. This makes me even more bummed that iPadOS still manages memory like an iPhone-derived operating system. ↩︎