Apple's move to its custom in-house processors first announced at WWDC 2020 has begun with the announcement of the MacBook Air with M1 chip and the MacBook Pro with M1 chip.
Here’s everything we know so far about Apple's first MacBooks with Apple Silicon, from pricing and availability to performance and design. We'll also give you a rundown of how well reality matched our expectations for these notebooks.
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MacBook with Apple Silicon price and availability
Unfortunately, the rumors of a price drop for the Apple Silicon laptops did not come to pass with prices remaining basically static for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13-inch.
The MacBook Air with the M1 chip will be shipping on November 17 starting at $999 ($899 for education), you can order it from Apple today. The base MacBook Air will include 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch with the M1 chip will be available starting on November 12 and starts at $1,299 ($1,199 for education). The base MacBook Pro includes 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, just like the Air.
MacBook with Apple Silicon design and ports
If you were looking for a serious exterior redesign to these laptops to go with the new internals, prepare to be disappointed.
The overall look of both laptops remains nearly identical to their Intel-based counterparts. The MacBook design certainly remains classy and iconic, but we've reached the point where it feels pretty dated compared to some of its competitors. With the iPhones and iPads getting a fresh design over the last year, here's hoping Apple's laptops are in for a similar makeover in 2021.
The MacBook Air gets the same two USB-C ports as the present model, Thunderbolt/USB 4 to be exact and it still features a headphone/mic jack.
MacBook Pro 13-inch buyers are going to be a little less enthused to see that they have lost two ports and now get the exact same two USB-C ports as the Air along with the headphone/mic jack. Oh and for good or bad the TouchBar sticks around on the MacBook Pro 13-inch.
MacBook with Apple Silicon performance and specs
We will of course have our own tests of the performance of the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro alongside our reviews soon, but let's take a quick look at Apple's claims for the M1 chip.
The MacBook Air has only slightly lesser pure specs with its M1 chip than the MacBook Pro. The base model features the 5nm 8-core M1 chip with a 7-core GPU. Apple claims this is good enough to offer three times faster performance and five times the graphics performance of this year's Intel-based MacBook Air.
In addition, Apple is upgrading the SSD's in the MacBook Air, supposedly twice as fast as the previous model and with the elimination of its fans, the MacBook Air should be whisper quiet. The base model will include 8GB of RAM and the MacBook Air tops out at 16GB of RAM.
The MacBook Pro 13-inch on paper doesn't sound like much of an upgrade from the MacBook Air, with Apple not providing any specifics regarding the clock speed for the M1 chip in either. It has the same 5nm 8-core M1 chip, but the base model includes an 8-core GPU up from the 7-core GPU in the base Air. Apple says it will provide up to 2.8x the CPU performance and 5x the graphics performance of the current MacBook Pro 13-inch.
Given the larger chassis of the MacBook Pro and the inclusion of fans it should have much better thermal performance than the Air allowing it to run its M1 chip at higher speeds for greater durations, we'll see exactly what that looks like when we get them in for review.
A potential disappointment for prospective MacBook Pro buyers with high-end needs will be that RAM tops out at 16GB just like the MacBook Air. This appears to be a limitation of the M1 chip at least presently with even the new M1-based Mac mini stopping at 16GB, a far cry from the 64GB available on the current model.
MacBook with Apple Silicon battery life and charging
The MacBook Air gets a nice boost to its battery life according to Apple with up to 15 hours of web browsing and 18 hours of video playback. That's a 6-hour boost from the claims for the current MacBook Air.
The MacBook Pro fares similarly with a jump up to 17 hours of web browsing and 20 hours of video playback.
Unlike its smartphones, Apple is still giving MacBook buyers a charger with the laptops. The MacBook Air gets a 30W charger, while the MacBook Pro gets a much faster 61W charger.
Scorecard: What we wanted
Affordable pricing: Well, we didn't get this one. Apple's cost of goods went down on these laptops by an estimated $100 or more and it is passing the savings on to itself. At least the company didn't raise the price.
Longer battery life: This one appears to be a home run although we'll have to see how they hold up in our testing. Apple is claiming 15 hours of battery life for the MacBook Air and 17 hours of battery life for the MacBook Pro 13-inch. Both would be a solid step up from their Intel counterparts, which scored 9 hours and 31 minutes and 10 hours and 21 minutes, respectively, on our Laptop Mag Battery Test this year.
No drop-off in performance: Again, we'll have to see how this actually holds up in our testing, but Apple is certainly making bold claims regarding both of its M1 laptops. The MacBook Air is probably the more notable of the two with Apple stating that it is three times faster with five times the graphics performance of its predecessor. Its claims regarding the MacBook Pro are somewhat similar stating that it's "the world's fastest CPU" with two times the performance at 1/3 the power along with five times the graphics performance.
Extensive app compatibility: This is perhaps the biggest question mark when it comes to the move to Apple Silicon. Apple asserts that these laptops will offer greater app support than any previous Apple laptops owing to their support for iOS and macOS software. What that actually looks like in practice for all of those new apps as well as legacy macOS apps that need to go through Rosetta 2 translation remains to be seen.