Should You Buy an M1 Mac?

image credit: Apple Event, November 10, 2020

published by Chand Bellur
November 16, 2020 at 1:46 p.m.

 

  • Powered by the new M1 processor, Apple’s latest Macintosh computers provide an exceptionally speedy user experience.
  • The M1 processor bundles various system-on-chip (SoC) technologies into one chip, improving speed as components can access shared memory.
  • The T2 chip, now integrated into the M1 processor, is vulnerable to intrusion by malicious users using publicly available tools.
  • New M1 Macs, including the 2020 Mac Mini, MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro, can only run macOS Big Sur.
  • Many early adopters of macOS Big Sur experience “bricked” devices during the update process, often necessitating a trip to the Apple Store for repair.

Why You Should Buy an M1 Mac

Apple’s latest Macs, running the new M1 chip, are the future of the Macintosh. Although Microsoft and Qualcomm beat Apple to the punch, with their SQ1 and SQ2 processors, the M1 chip boasts unbeatable single-core scores on Geekbench.

Geekbench is a cross-platform benchmarking tool, enabling comparison between different devices and processors. Using generic, standard algorithms as a performance baseline, a Geekbench score unifies metrics across platforms. If you want to know how an iPhone 12 compares to a Samsung Galaxy S20, Geekbench can accurately compare the two.

According to Geekbench, Apple silicon is blazing fast, at least for single-core tasks. In fact, no processor on the market can beat it. Apple’s M1 chip earned an impressive 1741 single-core Geekbench score when running in a Mac Mini. The next fastest non-Apple processor, the AMD Ryzen 7 5800x, gets a respectable 1641. Apple’s own fastest Intel Mac scores a 1251 for the single-core test.

Most casual computer users benefit from fast single-core speeds. Simple apps, such as social media and communications tools, typically only use a processor’s single core. The overall responsiveness of the operating system’s UI depends largely on single-core speeds.

Although Macs with Apple silicon are fast and responsive for everyday users, these brand new machines are best suited for experienced, technical users. Early adopters and tech aficionados will fare best with Apple’s most modern Mac. It’s a brand new machine running a brand new processor. It runs an operating system that’s already embarked on a rocky voyage, making it a poor fit for inexperienced, casual computer users.

If you’re a highly technical person, such as a software developer or engineer, these new Macs are ideal. macOS developers are most likely to purchase Apple’s latest computers. More casual users may want to skip this one, as its new, version 1.0 processor and radically transformed operating system may present difficult challenges to the uninitiated. Unless you’re handy with computers or love hanging out at the Apple Store, wait for the next generation of Macs to debut, with improved M2 processors and more mature software support.

Why You Shouldn’t Buy an M1 Mac

It’s encouraging to see Apple hyping the Mac after ignoring it for years. When they did pay attention to the iconic computer, obsessions with thinness and visual appeal compromised reliability. Plagued with defects and reliability problems over the past decade, the Mac transformed from a reliable workhorse to a fragile show pony.

Although Apple’s reputation for quality is strong, the Mac seems to be an exception over the past few years. Beset with issues, such as the defective butterfly keyboard, fragile Fusion drive, and “flexgate” display cable problem, the Mac seems to be one of Apple’s least reliable devices. Given that the M1 Macs are a new, radical change from the past, it may be better to let Apple enthusiasts purchase and field test them.

Furthermore, looking past the phenomenal single-core score, Apple’s M1 processor offers mediocre multi-core performance. The top M1 Mac, a diminutive Mac Mini, only attains 7643 for its multi-core score. Apple’s best performing Mac Pro mops the floor with the M1 Mac, with a whopping 18,471 multi-core score. It’s almost three times higher!

To put this in perspective, Intel’s i7 processor is a fixture in many $700 laptops. It offers better multi-core performance than Apple’s newest M1 processor. The least expensive M1 Mac notebook, the MacBook Air, costs about $929.

A system with a higher multi-core score runs powerful software, such as image processing, digital audio workstations, and 3D rendering, faster than computers with lower scores. Professional users will fare well with an M1 Mac; however, there are better options for the price.

M1 Mac: Too New for Newbies, Not Fast Enough for Pros

The M1 Mac is a bit of a paradox. Apple’s newest Macs, running its troubled new operating system, may prove frustrating for new, casual computer users. Although a MacBook Air may seem affordable, new users may need several trips to the Apple Store to deal with impending issues.

Once Apple’s marketing excitement wears away, pro users won’t find the latest Macs suitable for the workplace. Although they offer impressive single-core scores, less powerful multi-core performance makes them ill-suited for professional use. Most audiovisual professionals will stick with their Intel-based MacBook Pros and Mac Pros for now.

The most concerning aspect of the M1 chip is its T2 security component. Security experts can hack into this processor, compromising its protection. Although such an attack requires physical access to the machine, this can happen in the workplace. Researching the issue shows that Apple has done little to fix the problem, perhaps because remote exploitation proves challenging.

Apple creates some of the best products around; however, perfection is elusive to all. Their clever, misleading marketing lulls Apple fans into believing a myth of perfection. Given that both the M1 processor and macOS Big Sur are new, radical changes, it’s best to proceed with caution when considering either option. 

There are a lot of Mac users who now regret upgrading to macOS Big Sur. They can no longer use their Mac, at a time when working from home is a necessity for so many. The new M1 Macs may be solid, stable machines or harbor defects that Apple ignores for years. Only time will tell. It’s best to let the die-hard Apple fanatics field test new products. The prudent consumer may wish to wait for Macs with the M2 or M3 processor before committing to a new, expensive computer. Regardless of price, a machine plagued with issues is counterproductive.

 

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