Who’d have thought that by May 2021 we’d have not one but four Apple silicon-based Macs to choose from?
I was among those who doubted the likelihood of an arm-based Mac drawing me away from Intel. Then, I got my hands on the M1 MacBook Air and I fell immediately, head-over-heels in love.
It’s hard not to be impressed by the M1 chip, and I have a sneaking suspicion that those who criticise it simply haven’t laid their hands on a device containing Apple’s first-generation Mac CPU.
The launch of the M1 coincided with the rise of my YouTube channel, for which I’ll always be eternally grateful. But if there’s one thing this has demonstrated, it’s that for as amazing as the M1 is, it does create some tricky buying decisions for people.
The good news – for now, at least – is that choosing an M1 Mac for your home, hobby or business is as simple as picking the right form factor.
This has nothing to do with specs
This guide won’t delve into the merits of 8GB versus 16GB of RAM, how much storage you need or whether you need to worry about the 7-core GPU option. I’ve been there, many, many times already.
Over the last few months, I’ve come to the conclusion that every M1 Mac is the same, internally. The only difference between any of them is the presence of a fan (or two, if you count the new iMac), and, of course, the amount of RAM or SSD storage you opt for.
Apple has been incredibly smart with this initial round of its own silicon. They’ve taken the same chip and placed it in four Macs which are all aimed at very specific audiences.
You can up the RAM, stick with the base-level storage or settle your mind by opting for the 8-core GPU over the 7-core version, but the real choice lies in which Mac you buy.
M1 Mac mini: the desktop superstar
I owned an Intel Mac mini many years ago. I can’t for the life of me remember what spec it was, or how long it remained a working computer for me.
But that was the issue with the Mac mini, for me, at least; it was largely forgettable. A great entry point into the macOS ecosystem, yes, but not particularly exciting or powerful.
The M1 version of Apple’s tiny desktop computer changes this perception entirely. It’s still the small, square box with rounded corners and the worst internal speaker ever added to a computer (come on, Apple!), but the inclusion of the M1 chip turns it into a biblically powerful desktop Mac.
But that isn’t its crowning glory. You see, the reason I love my M1 Mac mini is because its effortless power has enabled me to concentrate on building a rig around it; one that befits its capabilities.
Enter an ultra-widescreen monitor, Logitech MX Master 3 mouse and a newfound love of mechanical keyboards.
Yes, I could grab all of this stuff for pretty much any other Mac, but the sheer simplicity of the Mac mini (you get just the computer and a power cable when you buy one) forces you to explore some very exciting peripherals.
The fact it is easily the most powerful Mac I’ve used for the price tops off an amazing investment for my business.
Ideal for: the adventurous desktop-based creative
M1 MacBook Air: the best laptop you’ll own
I owned a MacBook Air many moons ago (notice a pattern here?). It was the tiny 11” version, and I loved it.
Unlike my original Intel-based Mac mini, the MacBook Air has a special place in my heart. It was the first MacBook I ever owned, and I was so impressed with its portability, battery life and design that I shoe-horned it into my daily work (not easy, when, at the time, I was working at a Windows-based business).
Alas, it had one Achilles heel, which was a lack of power. I never questioned it, either; I was acutely aware that the MacBook Air I owned wasn’t going to win any land speed records. It was great for general admin, writing and taking notes, but I’d never think about taking it any further than that.
Skip forward a decade, and I’m tapping away on a MacBook Air which is powerful enough to edit, render and export 4K video as quickly as I need it to. And this is the base-spec model with, yes, shock-horror, just 8GB of RAM.
The M1 MacBook Air is the best laptop I’ve ever owned. In fact, I’ve gone as far to say recently that it’s the best Mac I’ve owned.
Apple has barely tinkered with the Air’s design, but that just doesn’t matter; it’s iconic and timeless. The battery life (while it does need a healthy dose of common sense) is superb. But the power hidden away in this thing is just ridiculous.
If you’re after an M1-based MacBook, this is the one to go for, right now. I don’t think we’ll see a meaningful update for at least a year – maybe longer. And, regardless, the current M1 MacBook Air – even in base-level form – is so good it’ll last most people for many, many years.
Ideal for: anyone who wants a MacBook right now
M1 MacBook Pro: erm…
So, if the M1 MacBook Air is the Apple silicon laptop to go for at the moment, where does that leave the M1 MacBook Pro?
There’s no easy way to say this. The M1 MacBook Pro sticks out like a sore thumb; it doesn’t really have a place.
This is for one simple reason: rumours are swirling faster and faster about a forthcoming MacBook Pro redesign, and it sounds like we’re going to see it for the first time during WWDC next month.
In my mind, that makes this particular MacBook Pro defunct. And that isn’t because it’s a bad computer; it’s just as awesome as the MacBook Air (more so, in fact, when you take into account the additional battery life and screen brightness).
It’s already on its last legs because the replacement is imminent.
Even if we don’t get to order the next M-series MacBook Pro until Q3 or Q4 of this year, the current version simply isn’t a good buy. Unless you really, really need a MacBook Pro now, I suggest waiting, because your patience is likely to be rewarded.
Ideal for: those who need a MacBook Pro now and can’t wait a second longer
24” iMac: for a simple, beautiful life
The new iMac was finally unveiled at Apple’s Spring Loaded event last month.
I love it.
The new design is a return to the beautiful, colourful iMacs of old, and placing the M1 chip inside that ridiculously thin chassis was entirely the right thing to do.
It’s important to note that this first M-series iMac is clearly aimed squarely at the home user market. That doesn’t mean it can’t be used by professionals (remember, it’s the same M1 chip as every other Mac on this page), but if you sit within that bracket and want an iMac, you’re better off waiting for the big one to arrive later this year.
If, however, you’ve got an ageing iMac at home whose performance is as dour as its outward appearance, a new colourful 24” iMac will be one hell of an upgrade.
It also features the best screen you can get for the price, and that could, admittedly, throw it into the hands of people who want to take their Macs beyond schooling and hobbyist usage. As I noted in a recent buying guide, if you want the best screen for your money and don’t need a laptop, the 24” iMac beats the M1 Mac mini hands-down in terms of bang-for-buck.
Stay tuned for my full review of the 24” iMac, but it’s a belter and has one of the most clearly defined audiences of every Mac I’ve covered today. It also comes with everything you need if you just can’t be bothered with the faff of having to buy third-party peripherals.
Ideal for: home users who want the best screen for the price
We’re still in the early stages of Apple silicon, and that means there are gaps in the line-up.
What would you dearly like to see on this page? What M-series Mac is yet to hit the shelves that would be ideal for you? Get involved in the comments.