Apple’s M1 chip is the first time the tech giant has made its own central processing unit (CPU) for its laptops and desktop computers.
Before you skip past this news as only of interest to tech geeks, bear in mind that the CPU is effectively the brain behind a computer and plays a huge part in how well it works. So there are several reasons why anybody looking to buy a Mac should care about Apple’s new processor.
In fact, we’d go so far as to say Apple’s creation could have huge knock-on effects for all laptops over the next decade.
Here are the key things you need to know:
- Apple has announced a new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini desktop with the new M1 chip
- Powerful Mac laptops with M1 can have silent, fanless designs
- Macs using M1 will be able to run iPhone and iPad apps
- Macs using M1 should have dramatically improved battery life
- Many programs will run much faster using M1 chips compared to Intel, but exactly how that affects users remains to be seen.
There are still lots of unknowns about how this will ultimately benefit buyers, so read on to find out what we do and don’t know.
We’ll review Macs with the M1chip as soon as we can, but until then, take a look at our Apple MacBook reviews to find out if they offer great performance even without the M1 chip.
What is the Apple M1?
The M1 is a new ‘system on a chip’ (SoC) designed by Apple, which replaces Intel as the producer of its processors. An SoC pulls together all the technical wizardry that’s needed to run a computer on to one physical chip.
With previous processors from the likes of Intel, in addition to the CPU chip, a laptop or desktop computer needs several other chips to make features work. These include chips for memory (Ram) and chips controlling the USB ports and security features. Having everything in one place in an SoC means that the chip should be more efficient overall.
The new M1 chip boasts eight processor cores; most previous Mac laptops have had four cores. Generally speaking, the more cores the better for computer performance and multi-tasking. The eight cores comprise two different ‘types’ of core:
- Four ‘performance’ cores, which are used for challenging tasks when you need them most
- Four ‘efficiency’ cores that handle lower-priority tasks, such as things going on in the background, while also consuming less power.
This kind of chip design (based on the British chip company ARM’s designs) is found in practically every smartphone and tablet on the planet. ARM-based chips are small and power efficient, ideal for pocketable smartphones with tiny batteries. And now, Apple hopes, ideal for laptops as well.
How fast will the M1 processor make Macs?
Apple is throwing around huge numbers about how much faster the M1 processor-powered devices will be.
It says the new MacBook Air will be three times faster when exporting videos from iMovie, and fives times faster when making 3D effects in Final Cut. Apple also claims photo-processing performance in Adobe Light Room can be up to twice as fast.
Indeed, most of the comparisons Apple makes about Macs with M1 extol the virtues of faster performance when running video and design tasks.
This should particularly benefit those who use the likes of iMovie, Final Cut and other creative programs. But even if you only use your Mac for browsing the web and editing documents, you might notice everything feeling that bit more responsive and quick to load.
Macs using M1 should also wake from sleep instantly, such as a smartphone or tablet. That said, we never found previous Macs to be particularly slow to wake, but a little extra pep never hurts.
The M1 should make for better 3D gaming, too, although don’t expect to play the latest high-end games at their highest settings on an M1 Mac, as the very fastest graphics chips are still those that are entirely separate from the processor of your laptop. But it should still unlock a few more games that were perhaps previously not playable on the Mac.
You’ll have to wait for our full lab test results of the new Apple devices to find out if they deliver on their speed claims. Until then, take a look at our full reviews of other laptops that claim exceptionally fast performance, including:
- Dell XPS 15 A high-end laptop for getting work done, but with a dedicated graphics card that will help with 3D work and games.
- HP Omen 15 A chunky gaming laptop with a top-spec Intel processor and dedicated graphics that should power through the latest titles.
- Asus ZenBook Duo A massive laptop with two screens and dedicated graphics, which should be ideal for work and play.
What about battery life?
Apple claims up to 18 hours of battery life for the new MacBook Air and 20 hours on the new MacBook Pro powered by M1.
This compares with 12 hours on the early 2020 Air laptop and 10 hours on the equivalent Pro. While we’ve little reason to doubt battery life will improve – this type of chip is known to be incredibly power efficient – our lab tests will find out exactly how they fare, so watch this space.
If you need a laptop that will last for ages without the threat of a battery warning pop-up, take a look at our pick of the best laptops for battery life.
What apps can I run on M1-powered Macs?
In principal, all apps you use on a current Mac should work on laptops with M1. However, because the design of M1 chips is so different to apps designed for Macs with Intel chips, app developers will need to update their software to work best with M1 chips.
Until they do that, apps will have to be translated from their Intel versions to an M1-compatible version. This might mean you won’t see the full benefit of M1 until the programs and apps you use are updated to work with M1.
Because M1 is the same kind of chip as found in iPhones and iPads, it means apps designed for those devices will also work on these new Macs. Not all apps will be available initially, but we hope to see a growing roster of apps for Mac that were previously only available for iPads and iPhones.
Should I buy a laptop with an M1 processor?
Apple has launched a new MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and Mac mini desktop with its new M1 processors. As for whether you should buy one, that remains to be seen. This is a seismic shift for Macs, the likes of which haven’t been seen for many years. The good news is that prices are staying the same, with the new MacBook Air priced at £999, MacBook Pro starting at £1,299 and the Mac mini starting at £699.
Even so, buying a new M1 Mac now is very much a commitment for early adopters who don’t mind a bit of a bumpy road as bugs are ironed out and features are added. At the very least, wait for the reviews to start rolling in to find out the true pros and cons of these new devices.
Want to know more about how Macs compare with Windows laptops and Chromebooks? Read our guide to MacOS, ChromeOS and Windows 10.