At any rate, Apple’s GPU has been said to feature performance better than that of a discrete GTX 1050 Ti on an integrated chip. Although a GTX 1050 Ti is far from cutting-edge, to be able to get this type of performance out of an iGPU, a first-generation iGPU at that, is impressive. To test these claims I ran several tests using Final Cut Pro, Unigine, and Geekbench. Keep in mind that the Unigine tests run using Rosetta 2 translation, which could result in degraded performance. Yet, when compared to the Intel-based MacBook Air, none of that matters.
Ungine Heaven and Unigine Valley (Rosetta 2)
Last but not least, M1-equipped Macs can translate apps designed for Intel silicon. Using the Rosetta 2 translation environment, Intel-specific applications are translated upon launch, and then the translated executable is launched in place of the original. All of this usually happens in mere seconds and is mostly invisible to the end-user, except for the initial launch of the first Intel-design app. Sometimes Intel apps can take a bit longer to launch than Universal apps, and sometimes they can experience issues or outright lack compatibility. Rosetta 2 is not meant to replace Universal apps and not every app will work properly when translated. Keep in mind that kernel extensions and virtual machine apps that virtualize x86_64 computer platforms cannot be translated.
For 2020, the MacBook Air takes another step forward with the implementation of P3 wide color gamut support in its displays. This addition will probably be one of those changes that flies under the radar with most of the hype given to the M1 chip, but it’s an awesome improvement for those who regularly work with photos and videos. With the updated MacBook Air, you now have a screen that’s capable of displaying millions of additional colors when compared to the same model released earlier in the year. For workflows involving 10-bit video capture, for instance, this is a noteworthy enhancement.
With that being said, if you’re running pro apps like Final Cut Pro, I absolutely recommend maxing out to 16GB of memory, because you will notice performance benefits when working with high-end video projects. Although 8GB is “fine” for many cases, I think it makes sense to upgrade to 16GB of RAM if you have the means. Even if you leave the storage at the entry-level 256GB designation, at least upgrade your RAM, since unlike storage, it can’t be bolted on later.
We all knew going into the announcement of the M1 MacBooks that battery life could see marked improvements due to Apple’s design efficiency, but I’ve been truly impressed by how good the battery life is on both machines.
Macs featuring Apple silicon can run three different types of apps: Universal apps, Apple silicon (iPhone and iPad) apps, and Intel silicon apps. Universal apps are the most desirable Mac apps, because they feature arm64 and x86_64 binaries, and can thus run on Apple or Intel silicon Macs. On M1-equipped Macs, the app will default to arm64 unless otherwise specified in the application’s Info panel.
If you enjoyed the look and feel of the 2018-era MacBook Air, you’ll enjoy this MacBook Air, because it’s basically the exact same computer design-wise. Apple’s most price-friendly laptop features the same tapered design of its predecessor, the same scissor-switch Magic Keyboard from the early-2020 refresh, the same force-touch trackpad, the same amount of I/O — two Thunderbolt/USB4 ports, and a 3.5mm headphone input. Like I said before, it’s almost indistinguishable when compared to its predecessor.
It’s crazy to think that we have a MacBook Air with an 8-core CPU, but this is the chip that’s at the heart of the Apple M1. The 8-core CPU is broken up into a cluster of four performance cores (p-cluster) and four efficiency cores (e-cluster). Depending on the type of workload, each cluster can help drive the MacBook Air in the most efficient manner possible. For example, if your Mac is performing a background download, then the efficiency cores may handle the brunt of the work, but if you’re exporting a 4K video, then the performance cores will step up to bat. As you’ll learn, this design has a huge effect on battery life.
With these new Macs, Apple has placed RAM right on the M1 die, which means that a machine like the Mac mini, which used to feature user-replaceable RAM, no longer benefits from such a feature. While this is unfortunate for those that like to add their own RAM after purchase, the benefits of this unified architecture mean increased memory access speed, and direct access to the entire pool of memory from the CPU and GPU, Neural Engine, etc.
But here lies the real interesting test. How does Apple silicon perform against Intel silicon? I pit both 2020 MacBook Air models against each other, and it’s immediately clear that Apple silicon is far superior. In single-core performance, there are noticeable advantages, but in multi-core Apple’s 8-core CPU devastates the base model dual-core Intel i3 found in the MacBook Air.
The base model MacBook Air comes with a 7-core GPU, while higher-specced versions and all MacBook Pro models feature an 8-core GPU. The reason for this difference is explained in a post by 9to5Mac’s Ben Lovejoy, but it basically boils down to binning.
The MacBook Air, with its up to 15 hours of wireless web and 18 hours of movie playback has been nothing short of impressive. Of course, in real-world usage, no one uses “wireless web” for 15 hours, or does “movie playback” for 18 hours. Depending on your needs, computer usage can be an incredibly mixed bag, and there’s no set number that will apply across the board for everyone. However, I can attest to the fact that these MacBooks have incredibly long battery life, so much so that it was honestly hard to believe initially.
Apple’s initial M1-enabled MacBooks can officially connect to a single external display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz, in addition to the built-in display. That’s a bit of a downgrade when compared to the early 2020 Intel models, which could connect officially connect to up to two 4K displays (or a single 6K display) along with the built-in display. There is a known workaround for getting past the display limitation, but it requires extra hardware.
It’s unfortunate that I have to pair the excitement of having P3 wide color support with the disappointment of having the same old 720p FaceTime HD camera. We know that Apple can make a decent built-in webcam, which it proved with the recent 1080p FaceTime HD update for the 2020 iMac, but these MacBooks are still lacking when it comes to webcam fidelity.
Has the transition from Intel to Apple silicon on the Mac surpassed all expectations? Watch our hands-on video as we discuss what makes Apple’s M1 MacBooks so special in our MacBook Air and MacBook Pro review.
Most importantly for Mac users, these USB4 ports feature backward compatibility with Thunderbolt 3 and older flavors of USB as well. It means that all of your Thunderbolt 3 peripherals should work (unless you’re waiting for a driver update from a vendor like Universal Audio), and all of your older USB 3.x and USB 2.x devices should work as well. USB4 itself is capable of Thunderbolt 3-like 40Gbps performance with USB4 certified devices and features tunneling of DisplayPort and PCI Express. In the future, a device doesn’t necessarily need to be “Thunderbolt” compatible to experience similar benefits that we’ve all grown accustomed to with Thunderbolt 3.
On my Intel MacBook Air, I cannot play back 10-bit H.265 videos at all without lots of dropped frames, resulting in stuttering playback. And trying to export such videos on Intel MacBooks? Depending on the length of the video, that can feel like an exercise in futility. This chart speaks for itself:
Like the A-series chips in its iOS devices, the M-series chips found inside machines like the 2020 MacBook Air are the brains of the operation; they all work together in such a way to provide peak performance. The M1 chip contains all of the integral components, such as the CPU, GPU, Neural Engine, and unified memory. It also contains other key elements like the storage controller, Image Signal Processor, Secure Enclave, and more.
In this review, I wanted to do direct performance comparisons to the previous entry-level Intel MacBook Air from earlier this year. That machine sported a 1.1GHz dual-core 10th-generation Intel Core i3 processor with Turbo Boost up to 3.2GHz. The entry-level machine also came with 8GB of RAM, and a 256GB SSD, similar to the Apple silicon version. Thus, I think comparing these two machines is a good litmus test — pitting the performance of Intel versus Apple silicon. All tests were performed while the machines were connected to power, so battery life throttling does not come into play. I also made sure to close all running apps that I could on each machine before running these tests.
Although there are some noteworthy differences between the Late 2020 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air, the machines are more similar than they are different. I don’t think you could go wrong with either machine, but there are several differences that should be considered based on how you plan on using your MacBook. In this hands-on review, we consider both the base model MacBook Air and MacBook Pro models.
Chances are you, as the end-user, won’t even know that anything’s different when you power up these machines and begin using them. All you’ll know is that your computer instantly wakes from sleep, your favorite apps work, and that battery life seems an awful lot better than you remember it being on your last MacBook. And that, folks, is the biggest sign that Apple’s new machines are a success.