IT’S INCREDIBLY FAST AND TOTALLY QUIET.
I have a large hardcover book on my couch if I want to edit photos in Lightroom with the computer on my lap. Without that tome to protect my legs, my laptop slowly grills my thighs like delicious salty chunks of meat in a Brazilian barbecue restaurant. Laptops become hot when exposed to labor-intensive activities. That’s just a way of life and the reason they generally need fans to keep cool.
After nearly a week of exposing the new MacBook Air to the wringer of my daily computing routine, I am extremely impressed (and my thighs remain surprisingly raw, even without the book). The M1 chip certainly looks like the real deal.
What is the difference between this and the old MBA?
Earlier this year, Apple announced its intention to part ways with Intel, the company that has been making Mac chips since early 2006. Apple’s silicon was already in iPhones and iPods, but now it buys its most hungry machines. of energy.
Apple’s silicone product made for Mac is called M1, and it’s a system on a chip. That means essential components such as the processing cores, graphics cores, neural engine, security enclave, and even system memory are all part of a larger slice of silicon. You will find the same basic configuration in iPhones and iPads.
How fast is it?
Apple claims that this holistic approach to chip building brings enormous benefits in terms of efficiency: different systems on the chip can access the same data without making redundant copies. This kind of efficiency improvement only saves fractions of a second on each event, but when it happens billions of times in a row, it can lead to a tangible increase in performance.
It sounds complicated on paper, but in the real world, it translates to a small, quiet computer that’s absurdly fast. I ran the MacBook Air through the popular benchmarking software Geekbench 5, which subjects computers to a standardized set of computing tasks and returns a score to compare one machine to another. The new $ 999 MacBook Air beat the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro (which cost $ 2,399 in 2019) in single-core performance and surpassed the win in multi-core score. Aside from the numbers, almost everything seems to be moving faster in the MBA. Apps open immediately, photo previews are immediately displayed at full resolution. It’s very impressive.
That’s not to say Air will replace every MacBook Pro or Mac Pro out there. The lack of a cooling fan means that performance decreases as the heat increases. After an hour of editing photos in Lightroom, the MBA had clearly slipped down a bit when it came to computing power; it took a little longer. The new M1-based MacBook Pro has a built-in fan especially for this purpose; in fact, that and the battery are the main difference between the two machines (unless you count the touch bar, which I don’t).
In addition to speed upgrades, Apple also claims to have effectively doubled battery life compared to the previous Air. In the real world, I spent 10 hours of typical work on it during a workday without having to worry about plugging it in. That’s a big leap from the previous model, which generally sold out after lunch.
In the future, battery life is also likely to improve as more companies release optimized versions of their apps to take advantage of Apple’s new hardware.
What about those apps?
There are three different types of applications you can run on newer M1 powered Macs. The optimized applications run natively on Apple’s silicon, which means the developers have rebuilt their software to run directly on the M1 chip. Obviously, Apple’s own applications fit this project, and others have already joined.
These native apps really show you what the M1 can do. They pop open quickly and only take small bites on the battery while running. Safari on the MacBook Air is the fastest and most flexible web browser I’ve ever owned. The latest Big Sur macOS update made navigating a lot easier when you have some Safari tabs open, which is good because the MBA has a lot of power to handle the load. I opened 40 tabs with no problems.
Non-optimized applications normally run on Mac M1s, but there are some exceptions. I ran the original versions of Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom with no issues. Adobe plans to optimize both programs in the coming months, but you can try an optimized version of Photoshop in beta now if you’d like to try it out. Keep in mind that it lacks a lot of typical features and you don’t expect to use it for real work until its official release early next year. Fortunately, the older version seems to work fine.
Finally, you can now run iPhone apps directly on a Mac M1 by downloading them directly from the macOS App Store. So if you want to load up the iPhone version of Among Us and kill your friends in cute ways, you can. I don’t see myself using iPhone apps on Mac that much. Businesses can also keep their iPhone apps from the Mac App Store, which means some of the software they want – yes, including Instagram – isn’t available. Right now, iOS apps on Mac are a mess, so don’t get too excited about them just yet.
Despite all the internal updates, the new MBA looks and feels exactly the same as its older brother. The Air was already the most popular laptop in the world, so it’s no wonder Apple isn’t changing the overall feel. It would be nice to have more than two USB-C ports for connecting monitors and accessories, but that’s more of an issue with the M1-powered 13-inch Pro than here.
Who should buy it?
This is still a transitional period for the Mac: buying the new MacBook Air M1 means buying a first-generation product, which always carries a small amount of risk. Before you take the plunge, I recommend that you make a list of all the apps you use regularly and check if they are already optimized or when they plan to. But aside from any quirks that crop up in the future, the MacBook Air is a pretty great start to Apple’s new generation of Macs.