Apple’s M1 chip is brilliant. But it’s not perfect.
In fact, I’m struggling to think of a piece of technology that has raised so many questions from such a broad range of users.
I receive questions about the M1 from people who have zero interest in what a SoC is. They just want a great laptop which will last them years. I also receive questions from people who know far more about computer components than my limited knowledge affords. They’re drawn to the M1’s architecture but also know about the inherent issues associated with SSD swapping, and limited third-party developer support.
However, it’s easy to ruin your experience of the M1 chip by over-obsessing about the finer details. This is why I’ve decided to cover what I believe to be the most important pros and cons worthy of your invaluable time.
M1 pros (the stuff that’ll make you super-happy)
Yes, it is possible for a computer to make you feel all warm and fuzzy inside.
1. It’s very fast
So much has been written about the performance of the M1 chip that it’s barely worth covering in detail today.
So I won’t.
All I will say is that Apple’s first piece of silicon for the Mac is ridiculously fast, even without the benchmark results. If you’re currently struggling along with an older Intel Mac, you’ll be amazed by how effortless these M1 machines are.
My M1 Mac mini in particular has completely redefined desktop computing for me – it’s a revelation.
2. It affords great battery life
This particular M1 benefit will only be of interest to MacBook buyers, but it’s a significant one.
The M1 is a very thermally-efficient chip. It runs at such a low wattage (it consumes just 10 watts of power if you’re interested), and that means it draws far less from a laptop battery than the Intel equivalent.
My own rudimentary tests, while initially hampered by a poor choice of screen brightness, have revealed a battery which – although not quite as stellar once you start using these machines properly (more on that later) – offers the most impressive and genuinely useful standby time I’ve ever experienced with a laptop.
3. It’s capable of replacing far more expensive computers
My £3,500 16” MacBook Pro is making its way out of my studio. Its short time as my workhorse of choice is sadly over.
The reason for its sudden, untimely demise? A £1,099 Mac mini.
Everyone is budget-conscious – particularly when it comes to technology – and I cannot think of a single piece of tech which beats the M1 in terms of simultaneously offering bang-for-buck while completely cannibalising the rest of its lineup.
Unless any of the M1 downsides I’ll get onto in a moment bother you, or if your work demands the raw power of a Mac Pro, there is absolutely no reason whatsoever to buy an Intel-based Mac any more.
Go save yourself a shed load of money.
4. It’s well supported
I have only run into a couple of compatibility issues with the M1 Mac, based solely within the world of third-party audio plugins within Logic Pro.
Apart from that, everything runs perfectly – even the apps which are forced to run through Rosetta 2 (a trick macOS uses to force the M1 to ‘act like’ an Intel chip for apps that aren’t yet developed for the platform).
Unless you’re running some pretty wild development apps or the aforementioned audio stuff, you won’t run into any issues with your favourite apps on an M1 machine.
5. It’s built for the Mac
Apple has clearly battled with Intel for years. This is true for both their unpredictable and often delayed release cycles, but also the fact that Intel forces Apple to do some very un-Apple-like stuff.
They have to mould their computer designs around Intel chips. Sure, Apple doesn’t simply pick an Intel chip off the shelf (they work closely with the chipmaker to create versions that are uniquely tuned for macOS), but they are still forced to make irritating compromises.
Granted – this is indeed due to Apple’s incessant obsession with making their stuff thinner and lighter, but the net result is a bunch of laptops and desktop machines that rely far too heavily on their fans and thermal throttling to keep those Intel chips cool.
All of these issues vanish with the M1. And if you’ve ever experienced the 16” MacBook Pro undertaking any kind of mildly intensive task, you’ll be amazed by the wonderfully quiet world in which you’ll find yourself after opting for an M1 computer.
M1 cons (you can’t ignore this stuff)
Although limited, some of the M1 chip’s downsides might be worthy of your consideration.
1. There is limited I/O
You get two ports on both the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. It’s a similar story on the M1 Mac mini, albeit with the addition of a couple of USB-A ports, an HDMI output and an ethernet connection.
I didn’t think this would be an issue for me, and on the M1 MacBook Air, it isn’t; my use case for that laptop means I barely if ever, have to connect anything to it except power.
It’s a different story on the Mac mini. As time has drawn on, the lack of ports has forced me to add hubs and dongles – two things of which I’m not a huge fan. If you’re a big external device user, this first round of Apple silicon could be a little restrictive for you.
2. The battery life might not be great for you
As noted earlier, the M1 affords great battery life, but for me, it has been the standby time that has had the most impressive impact on my daily work.
The battery life while in use is heavily dependent on what you do with your M1 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro. For instance, if you’re a Chrome user, you’ll chomp through it far quicker than the reviews suggest.
Similarly, if you regularly use third-party apps, they may also eat away at the battery life a little more readily than you’d wish. I’ve experienced this with apps like Spark, Trello, Chrome, Teams, and Discord.
But I’m not personally willing to modify my usage to artificially achieve Apple’s quoted battery figures. You just need to modify your expectations, like I’ve learned to do since buying the M1 MacBook Air.
3. M1 MacBooks can only drive one monitor
You can drive a couple of monitors from the M1 Mac mini, but the M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air will only allow one monitor to be connected.
It has been suggested that Apple will release a fix for this at some stage, but that won’t be of much comfort to MacBook users who want to run a couple of displays from their new M1 machine today.
There are workarounds, but nothing beats native support for this kind of thing. So, unless you’re opting for the mini, if you want a couple of screens in front of you, the M1 MacBooks probably won’t scratch your itch.
4. Some of your apps may not work
I think the M1 platform is still a little too nascent for two types of user: music and audio producers, and developers.
I’ve had first-hand experience with M1-related issues on the music front. There are a couple of third-party plugins on which I rely which simply don’t work on the M1 – not even via Rosetta 2.
I’m not a developer, but I’m aware that this is also the case with a number of development apps and platforms; they just won’t work on an M1 Mac at the moment.
So, if you fall into either camp, make sure you do your research before buying.
5. You might run into SSD wear issues
This is an edge case – I must stress that.
There have been reports of significant SSD wear on M1 Macs configured with 8GB of RAM. The theory goes that any shortfall in the amount of RAM required for a specific task is offered up by the SSD via something called ‘swapping’. If this happens regularly and intensively, the SSD’s life subsequently reduces.
But here’s the rub: those who have discovered the issue have written biblical amounts of data in an incredibly short amount of time. In my opinion, they should be using Macs with much greater specs; either the 16GB M1 or an Intel machine.
You’ll know if you’re the type of user who needs to worry about SSD wear. But, if you’re scratching your head about what it all means, this won’t impact you – at all.
What have I missed?
I can guarantee your pros and cons list for the M1 will be slightly different to mine. If it is, get involved in the comments and let me know what I’ve missed above. We’re all in this together.