To M1 or not to M1, that’s the Apple question

Nov 29, 2020 at 06:57 pm by nemirc

Recently Apple released new MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs and Mac Minis, all of them using the new M1 chip. I am not the kind of user that upgrades to the latest and greatest hardware at every release, but I think it is fair to see how this move can affect users. 

The new M1 chip is a chip specifically designed for the Mac, as Apple puts it. The idea is to do what Apple used to do best a few years ago: combine hardware and software in a way that maximizes performance and productivity. However, this chip is different to what we’ve seen before in desktop computers because it combines the CPU, GPU and unified memory technology in a single package. In theory, this yields better performance, meaning you are able to work faster. 

Unfortunately, I don’t have access to any of the new systems, so I can’t compare the performance between the new M1 Macs and the last generation Intel Macs. However, those who have tested them report there’s a noticeable difference in performance between both. Personally, I would love to test new MacBook Pro or MacBook Air and see how it compares to the latest Intel Macs, and even to a Windows PC, specially when it comes to mid-to-somewhat-high-end game development. 

However, the change in architecture comes with a catch, and this is due to the change in chip architecture. For over a decade, Apple has been using Intel chips for their macs, and that meant a lot of things. For example, developers could use the same code to make their Windows and Mac applications, Apple included Bootcamp to allow users run Windows on their Macs. 

I don’t follow programming technology enough to know if there are tools that let you program tools that run on Windows and M1 Macs, or if offering those apps require you code said apps two times, once for Windows and once for Mac. However, I use Bootcamp on my Mac because I only have two computers (one desktop and one laptop, which is my MacBook Pro) and I need Windows on my Mac for portability reasons, and updating to a new MacBook Pro means no more Windows on my Mac.  

There’s another thing to consider as well, though: old software. If you are like me, you’re using outdated software (for example, Adobe CS6 is still my main Adobe suite, and my Mac has Adobe Photoshop CS5.5 because I can only install the suite on one system at a time. Likewise, I have a few outdated Mac applications like Substance Painter and Substance Designer, but it seems those will work just fine on the new Macs thanks to Rosetta 2.  

Then there’s the question about hardware. I don’t really use much external hardware other than my Wacom, a 3DConnexion mouse and a jogwheel for editing, so we’d need to see if those still work. However, to be fair, a lot of times hardware also stops getting support during OS switches. For example, I have a Wacom Intuos 4, and it is a pain to make it run on Windows 10 because drivers are not being produced anymore 

On the other side, if I had a Windows laptop (additional to my Windows desktop, of course, because laptops don’t compare to desktops when it comes to performance), I can see the benefits of switching to an M1 Mac... if the graphics performance is there. As a part time Mac user, I can tell you that Macs are not known for their outstanding graphics performance, and I would realy like to see how that has changed with the new chip. According to some benchmarks I’ve seen, the new Macs seem to be comparable to early 2020 gaming laptops, and that sounds like a good thing. 

For some people, getting an M1 Mac is a very easy choice. For others, the question may be a little more complicated because a change may affect our workflow in one way or another. Personally, I would like to to wait and see how things progress, and also see how the gamin landscape evolves on the Mac thanks to this. Right now, my Mac games revenue doesn’t compensate the amount of work required for optimization (due to the low-performance GPUs found in regular Mac systems), but the M1 chip may change that, and, if porting my Mac games becomes easier, that may be worth checking out. On the other hand, I am also interested in exploring mobile development and that may induce me to get a new Mac in the future. 

Sections: News & Features

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