Apple's newest MacBooks and Mac Mini run on its own M1 chip
Apple told us it was transitioning its computers away from Intel chips to its own custom-made Apple silicon in June, and today it launched the first models to make the switch: a new Mac mini, a new MacBook Air, and a new 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Apple has used its own bespoke chips in its iPhones and iPads for a number of years, because it thinks it can do the job better than any third party – and create superior devices built on tight integration between hardware and software at the same time.
Now it's doing the same for its computers: the newly unveiled Apple M1 chip uses a cutting-edge 5-nanometer process to maximize performance while minimizing battery draw, and Apple says you can expect 3.5x faster CPU performance, 6x faster GPU performance, and 15x faster machine learning than on previous generation Macs.
The close integration of CPU, GPU and a neural engine is another advantage of Apple's move to its own silicon and the M1 chip. The efficiency improvements can get you up to twice the battery life on your Mac, Apple claims.
And because the silicon is based on lightweight ARM architecture geared towards mobile devices, start-up times on these new computers should be pretty much instantaneous. The switch also means developers will find it easy to port over iPhone and iPad apps.
These performance and battery life gains are impressive, but we'll only know for sure how well Apple has done once reviews for these new computers are in. ARM-based chips can't typically reach the same heavy duty demands as traditional ones – you'll notice the lower-powered Macs are getting the update first.
What's more, Apple is going to continue to sell Intel-based versions of the Mac mini and the 13-inch MacBook Pro for the time being, alongside the new M1 versions. Only the MacBook Air is completely switching to Apple silicon right now.
Developers will also need to recode their applications to run properly on the new processors designed by Apple – Adobe Photoshop, for example, won't be fully optimized until next year. The roll out of macOS Big Sur should help here, which Apple says will happen from November 12.
As for the details of the actual hardware itself, the designs are staying just about the same but the insides are getting upgrades. The new M1-powered Mac mini is apparently up to 3x faster than the 2018 edition, with pricing on the product starting at US$699.
The updated MacBook Air ditches the fan thanks to the low-power demands of the M1 chip, and according to Apple can reach 3.5x performance gains over the previous edition. Pricing on the new laptop starts at $999, with up to 18 hours of video playback possible between battery charges.
Finally the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the M1 chip inside will start at $1,299. Apple says it offers a 2.8x performance increase over the current entry-level model in the series, with a single battery charge lasting for up to 20 hours of video playback.
All these new computers are available to preorder now, with shipping and store availability on November 17. Apple says that within two years, every computer in its line-up will have made the switch to Apple silicon.