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In a Nutshell
The new MacBook Pro is an extraordinary premium laptop. Featuring snappy system performance, incredible battery life, and outstanding software support, this is the perfect laptop for serious content creators and professionals.
From the outside, the new MacBook Pro looks and feels the same just like its predecessors. However, under the hood, it hides a completely new heart – the M1 processor, which was specifically designed and developed by Apple. The new chip without a doubt represents a significant step further in MacBook’s evolution. In fact, it is such a radical change that Apple clearly decided not to redesign the new laptop, as it would be too risky to introduce so many new changes, and thus potentially disappoint its faithful customers. In our opinion, this was a rather too conservative move from Apple, as MacBook Pro can really boast with some amazing new features, and new design would greatly express its true novel identity.
Speaking of its design, the new MacBook Pro looks almost exactly the same as all other MacBooks from 2016 onwards. There are only a few minor differences, but they are mostly unnoticeable. On last year’s 13-inch MacBook Pro, and last year’s 16-inch model, Apple removed the problematic butterfly keyboard, so the new MacBook Pro and Air come with a magic keyboard that features slightly longer keystroke and greater reliability. There is also a Touch Bar, which you may like or hate, but it can prove very useful with a tool like BetterTouchTool.
Apple MacBook Pro M1 (2020) Specifications
|Graphics card||8-core GPU integrated into Apple M1|
|Screen||13.3-inch (2560 x 1600), IPS|
|Connectors||2 x Thunderbolt 4 (USB 4), headphone jack|
|Dimensions||304 x 212 x 15 mm|
The new MacBook Pro with the M1 processor comes with two Thunderbolt 4 ports (which, of course, also support USB 4.0). The 2.560×1.600 resolution screen offers a maximum brightness of 500 nits, supports P3 wide range of colors and true tone technology – just like all the previous models. Unfortunately, the FaceTime HD camera also features the same specs like the one on previous models, which means it can only record video in 720p resolution. In the age where everybody works from home and attends endless series of Teams and Zoom meetings, this kind of webcam is quite a disappointment. According to Apple, the webcam should “intelligently” enhance the image using the Apple’s Neural engine, however, in practice it is hard to spot any difference compared to a standard 720p camera. At least the speakers are great again: those on the MacBook Pro, unlike the Air, support a high dynamic range, and the Pro also features slightly better microphones than the Air.
However, the new MacBook Pro’s main spotlight feature is its M1 processor. The Apple’s M1 chip is comprised of an 8-core CPU, an 8-core GPU, and 16-core Neural engine. This chip also packs all the other controllers that were previously produced separate, including the Thunderbolt controller, all the earlier functionalities of the T2 chip in charge of security, as well as the LPDDR4X SDRAM working memory. The M1 is Apple’s first chip made just for Macs. It is wrong to consider it the first chip of its kind, as the M1 represents the pinnacle of Apple’s development of processors based on ARM architecture which began in 2010 with the A4 processor for the first-generation iPad and iPhone 4. In recent years, Apple has introduced a variety of new mobile processors that are able to deliver desktop-class performance, so the release of the M1 processor isn’t such a big surprise.
The M1 is also the first personal computer processor to be manufactured with a 5-nanometer manufacturing technology. The chip, which is actually an entire SoC (System on a Chip), contains 16 billion transistors in the form of an 8-core processor (CPU) with 4 high efficiency cores (Firestorm) and 4 performance cores (Icestorm), an 8-core graphics processor (GPU), and a 16-core machine learning system that Apple calls the Neural engine.
Everything that used to be separate chips on the motherboard, including controllers for all I/O operations (like the controller for Thunderbolt 4), a codec for certain types of media records, as well as an earlier T2 chip that was in charge of “security” issues such as encrypting the SSD and storing fingerprint information, is now the part of M1. The memory itself (LPDDR4X SDRAM) is part of the same package, which allows much faster communication between memory and other parts of the M1 and greatly contributes to improved performance. Although Apple never announced this, measurements and analyses have shown that the base clock at which the M1 operates is 3.2 GHz, and the standard power consumption ranges from 10 to 15W.
System Performance & Benchmarks
Since M1 processor in the new MacBook Pro is such a big deal, we’ve decided to run some benchmark tests in order to inspect how the new CPU performs in real-world situations. These situations include file compression, 4K video encoding and OCR. We’ve compared these results to a 13-inch MacBook Pro from 2019, which was considered to be a high-end laptop for professionals, due to the fact that it featured a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor. Here were the results:
|Benchmark Test||MacBook Pro (2019)||MacBook Pro M1 (2020)|
|Geekbench 5 (Single-Core)||880||1705|
|Geekbench 5 (Multi-Core)||3770||7455|
|Geekbench 5 (OpenCL)||7635||18340|
|Handbrake (4K Video Encode)||194 s||89 s|
|7zip Compression (26 GB File)||35 min 20 s||9 min 30 s|
|SSD Sequential Read||2740 MB/s||2800 MB/s|
|SSD Sequential Write||1445 MB/s||2220 MB/s|
|ABBYY FineReader OCR (2 GB File)||61 min 30 s||29 min 30 s|
|Browserbench JetStream 2 – Chrome||113.200||148.300|
|Browserbench JetStream 2 – Edge||111.340||152.230|
As you can see, the new MacBook Pro can boast with impressive system performance results, despite the fact that it features a rather new and unconventional M1 processor. In Geekbench 5 Single-Core test, the new MacBook Pro scored 1705 points, while the Intel-based MacBook Pro (2019) scored 880 points. The performance advantage of the MacBook Pro M1 was even more impressive in Multi-Core test, as the new laptop was 97% faster than its predecessor. These results clearly showed us that the new MacBook Pro with M1 processor is the fastest Mac computer to date.
Next up, we’ve decided to test the 4K video encoding performance in Handbrake on both computers. The video we’ve used for this purpose was 1:46 long, and was encoded in 10-bit HEVC format. The video encoding was performed using the Handbrake’s “1080p Fast” preset. The 2019’s MacBook Pro finished the job in 194 seconds, while the new MacBook Pro M1 did it in 89 seconds. We found the performance of the new MacBook Pro to be quite impressive, especially since this is a mobile computer that features a low-powered CPU, and it performs even better than some high-end desktop PCs.
After that we’ve ran a few file compression tests. For this test we’ve used a collection of 15.000 files that was 26 GB big. The MacBook Pro (2019) compressed all of these files into a one single ZIP file within 35 minutes and 20 seconds. The new MacBook Pro (2020) finished the same job in less than 10 minutes. Next we tested the SSD performance of both laptops. The 2019’s MacBook Pro achieved sequential read speed of 2740 MB/s, and sequential write speed of 1445 MB/s. The new MacBook Pro M1 achieved sequential read speed of 2800 MB/s, and sequential write speed of 2220 MB/s.
The purpose of the next text was to inspect the OCR performance of both laptops. For this purpose we’ve used ABBYY FineReader OCR application, and one 2 GB PDF document which consisted of 775 PNG photos merged into a one single file. It took roughly 1 hour for MacBook Pro (2019) to read the whole document. The new MacBook Pro M1 did the same job in 29 minutes and 30 seconds. During this process, the device remained completely cool and silent, while the 2019’s MacBook Pro had both fans running at 6.000 RPM, and its CPU cores reached the temperature of 90 degrees Celsius quite quickly.
Finally we’ve tested the browsing performance of both laptops. In JetStream 2 Chrome test, the new MacBook Pro M1 scored around 148.000 points, while the 2019’s MacBook Pro scored 113.200 points. In Edge test, the new laptop scored around 40.000 points more than its Intel-based predecessor.
Battery and Thermals
The new MacBook Pro M1 is really an impressive device. Its battery performance is also worth the praise. The laptop can run up to 20 hours on battery while being used for lightweight tasks (such as watching videos), and up to 17 hours while being used for “normal” operation (i.e. writing documents and browsing the web). If used for some other heavy-duty tasks, such as graphical design or video editing, the battery can last for up to 11 hours. This is a significantly much better performance compared to 2019’s MacBook Pro. In our tests, which consisted of doing some office tasks, browsing the web, and listening to the background music, the battery managed to last about 16 hours.
The reason why the new MacBook Pro features such a long battery life is the fact that its M1 processor is extremely energy efficient. This isn’t just because the M1 processor is low-powered by its nature, but also because its architecturally optimized to execute as much operations as possible while consuming the least amount of energy.
Speaking of MacBook Pro M1’s thermal design, the laptop features an active cooling system comprised of two system fans. We are very pleased to say that the fans turn on very rarely, and that they become quite noisy in very extreme situations. Overall, the new MacBook Pro (2020) is a much cooler device than its 2019’s predecessor that features Intel Core processor. The average core temperatures fluctuate between 35°C and 40°C, while under full load reach 60°C. The MacBook Pro (2019), on the other hand, features average core temperatures of 50°C to 65°C, while under full load they frequently exceed more than 90°C.
The M1 Processor – A True Leap Into the Future
The MacBook Pro with M1 processor is, without a doubt, the most impressive update to Apple’s line of computers ever. We can freely extend the claim to the two remaining new computers with the M1 – the MacBook Air and the new Mac Mini – as the differences between them in terms of performance are quite marginal. Rarely do two generations of the same product differ in speed so much that the new product is able to finish various computer tasks in half the time then its predecessor. Another thing that makes the new MacBooks with M1 processor so impressive is that they can even outperform some high-end desktop computers, while at the same time consume immeasurably smaller amount of power.
If what we saw in our system benchmarks was only offered by the first generation of Apple’s ARM family of processors, then we’re pretty impatient with what some future M1X or M2 CPUs will brings to us. The MacBook Pro with M1 is not the first generation of products that uses such line of processors, but the result of more than a decade of systematic investment in its own processor development makes the transition from Intel to M1 a completely painless process. Whether you use Macs or not, like Apple or not, the significant step Apple has taken by bringing a 5-nanometer ARM processors to personal computers could prove important to an entire PC industry.
Software Compatiblity & Support
Of all tech companies, Apple has the most experience with large software transitions and migrations. The ARM is the fourth processor architecture that Apple decided to use in their computers. From Motorola’s 68k processors, Macs switched to PowerPC, then from PowerPC to Intel, and finally, now, from Intel to Apple’s own custom-made CPU design based on the ARM architecture. During the transition period from the PowerPC architecture to Intel, the Rosetta translation layer did a great job, allowing users to continue using old applications on the new platform as well. Apple also made things as easy as possible for developers by offering them the ability to easily compile applications for the new platform using the Xcode framework. This same framework is now allowing most applications to become native, or directly compatible with M1 CPU by simple recompilation with appropriate settings.
With MacBook Pro (2020) Rosetta is now back in version 2.0. The first time you run an application that is still only compatible with Intel CPUs, the Rosetta 2 translates its code into a code compatible with an ARM CPU architecture. It should be further emphasized that the Rosetta 2 is not an emulator. Applications are translated (or recompiled) only once into the ARM version, and as such remain stored on the disk for further use. This means that the first time you run an application compiled for Intel, you have to wait about thirty seconds, but each subsequent start (except in the case of updating the application) is as fast as if it were a natively compatible application for the M1 CPU. There is no subsequent emulation and no performance slowdowns.
As of writing this article, the situation with universal applications (those that natively support M1) is extremely good. All apps made by Apple that are shipped with the operating system are, of course, fully compatible with the M1 CPU. Google Chrome exists in the new version, just like Firefox and other browsers. The entire Microsoft Office 365 is also available as an universal application, including OneNote, but with the exception of OneDrive (whose universal future is not yet known, but the Intel version works quite well), Skype and Teams. All in all, Microsoft was extremely quick to introduce support for the M1.
Almost all the most popular applications for Mac, such as Affinity Photo, Designer and Publisher, iA Writer, Ulysses, Bear, TeamViewer, PDF Expert, Fantastical, Transmit, Drafts, Slack, and Todoist, have long been available in versions customized M1. But even those that aren’t, like the Spark mail client or the Cyberduck FTP client, work in Intel versions without any problems. Content creators will be glad to hear that Adobe’s Lightroom is the first company’s application to have full native support for M1, however, it is still in beta. Other Adobe apps still don’t offer native support for M1 CPU, but work completely normal through Rosetta’s translation framework.
Applications written for iOS can now run on a Mac as well – the architecture of both systems is now, after all, the same. Recently, Apple has been very active in promoting Catalyst applications to developers that can be developed to work on both Macs and iPhones or iPads (easier cross-platform code transfer), but in the case of Macs with an M1 processor, it’s about running any application written for iOS – even if its authors haven’t designed it yet or don’t even plan to make it as a Catalyst app.
The bigger problem, however, is that iOS apps, of course, don’t offer exactly the perfect experience on a PC without a touch screen, despite macOS Big Sur implementing touch alternatives with keyboard combinations (cursor and other keys) and trackpads to be able to get to all parts of the iOS app interface. For example, you can use the popular Reddit client Apollo on a Mac with M1 without any problems, but many other applications and games haven’t been able to deliver the same smooth experience so far. But there are definitely exceptions and completely usable games. For example, Crossy Road is completely playable with the cursor keys. It will, obviously, take some time for developers to assess whether it pays to more actively support their apps on the Mac as well (and whether their apps make sense on a computer at all), and then fix what can be fixed to provide a better experience. So for now, of all the novelties the M1 brought to us, this ability to run iOS apps on a Mac is the least exciting, but it may prove useful for some apps.
What Professional Content Creators Think of MacBook with M1?
One of ViCadia’s contributors, Dale Gill, has been a professional photographer, and video producer for quite some time, and is one of the first owners of MacBook computer with an M1 processor in the United Kingdom. According to Dale, the new MacBook lets you perform complicated and demanding video processing that even powerful desktop computers have hard time dealing with. And all that on the go.
From the first day after he purchased the new MacBook Air with M1, Dale has been using his new laptop as an “off-road” computer in order to perform photo and video processing immediately after shooting. Before purchasing the new MacBook Air with M1, Dale used his 2014 MacBook Air as a “tethering device” through which he would transfer all the photos acquired on the field to his desktop iMac 5K (2017), and would afterwards perform all the finishing touches. What really impressed Dale about the new MacBook Air (besides M1), was keyboard and screen. The new MacBook Air features a much more “pro level” keyboard, as well as a top notch display screen that can be used for some serious professional work. His only complaint about the new MacBook was the lack of an SD card slot, as well as magnetic charger connector.
Speaking of performance, Dale told us how he immediately started to use his new MacBook Air (2020) as his primary computer, as it was able to deliver better performance than his desktop iMac 5K that features an Intel Core i5 processor, and 24GB of RAM. In DaVinci Resolve, his 2017’s iMac 5K could easily handle the processing of full HD 30fps files, however, he frequently experienced stuttering during video playback, and 60fps playback was almost impossible since iMac had to render the whole file first, which wasn’t very good for fast and comfortable work. On MacBook Air (2020) with M1, the processing and playback of 4K 60fps files ran absolutely flawlessly, and there was no flickering, stuttering, color shifts, or need to pre-render files in order to perform video editing.
Dale also told us that his experience with non-native M1 apps was extremely good, since Rosetta translation layer was doing an extraordinary job to deliver smooth and stable system performance, despite the fact that most apps don’t still fully support ARM architecture. In his opinion, the transition from Intel to M1 architecture is extremely smooth with new MacBook, as apps like Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop work perfectly fine on the new laptop. Overall, Dale told us that he was extremely impressed with what the new tech had to offer.
Overall, the new MacBook Pro M1 is a fantastic 13-inch laptop money can buy. Featuring incredibly snappy performance, extraordinary battery life, and outstanding software support, it is one of the best laptops we’ve seen in years. The new MacBook may look like its predecessors, however, under the hood it is a completely new device. The Rosetta translation layer is doing an amazing job to make the transition from the Intel CPU architecture to the ARM architecture as smooth as possible, and so far, the results we’ve seen were simply amazing.
All in all, the new MacBook Pro M1 is a perfect device for serious content creators and professionals who are in need of a powerful and portable notebook computer. This time Apple truly achieved something special with its new MacBook, and we can only say that this notebook computer is well worth the price.