Apple’s “One more thing” event is behind us, and I bet you’re confused.
In some ways, Apple has simplified its lineup. All variants of the new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini have the exact same processor (with one minor difference we’ll get to later). But it’s also harder than ever to decide whether you need a MacBook Pro or Air, and there are several important differences between Apple’s new computers and the old, Intel-based ones, that were very easy to miss.
These details — both good and bad — might actually make the difference between swiping your credit card or waiting for the next generation of Apple laptops. Here’s our list; read it before you hit that “buy” button.
1. MacBook Air’s disappearing GPU core
This one was probably the easiest to miss. Apple’s new MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro-sport, per Apple’s specifications, the same M1 processor, which has an 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine.
While the $1,249 MacBook Air has 8 GPU cores, the entry-level, $999 MacBook Air only has a 7-core GPU.
It’s hard to say how much that one missing core (it’s probably not missing but disabled) will impact performance, especially given that Apple didn’t share any other details about the M1 processor, such as clock frequencies and cache sizes. It’s also important to note that the Pro has a cooling fan, while the Air is cooled passively, which might also make a difference in performance, especially when performing long CPU or GPU-intensive tasks.
The bottom line is this: You might want to wait for real-world tests until you buy any of these machines.
2. Apple’s still selling an Intel-based MacBook Pro and Mac mini
During its presentation on Tuesday, Apple was careful not to mention the word “Intel.” But the fact is, the company still sells a Mac mini with an Intel Core i5, 6-core processor, starting at $1,099. The 13-inch MacBook Pro can be had with an Intel Core i5 quad-core processor, starting at $1,799.
The Intel-based MacBook Air is gone from Apple’s online store, so the only way to get it right now is from third-party retailers or second-hand.
3. The RAM is capped at 16GB, even on the Mac mini
Apple’s new M1 chip comes with 8 or 16GB of RAM soldered to the board. That means you cannot upgrade RAM after you buy any of these new machines. This is especially important for potential Mac mini buyers. Even though the Intel-based, 2018 Mac mini does not officially have user-installable RAM, it’s quite possible to upgrade it yourself, all the way up to 64GB of RAM. We can’t know for sure until someone opens the new Mac mini up, but it’s extremely unlikely that this will be possible with the M1-based Mac mini.
And even if you aren’t the tinkering type, the Intel-based Mac mini (which is still sold by Apple, see above) can be bought with up to 64GB of RAM. With the M1 Mac mini, you’re stuck with a maximum of 16GB.
If Apple’s promises of the M1’s performance are true, the new Mac mini might be so fast that it offsets having less RAM installed. But as us, computer geeks say, more RAM is more RAM (OK, I may be the only one who says this). The new Mac mini might be good enough for some tasks, but you won’t be able to spec it into a proper workhorse for certain RAM-hungry tasks.
4. M1 chip means the Mac mini and 13-inch MacBook Pro can drive a 6K display. But there’s a catch.
At one point during the event, Apple said the new Macs can power a 6K display. This was already true for the last generation of MacBook Air, but — as MacRumors — it’s a first for the Mac mini and the entry-level 13-inch MacBook Pro. So if you’re planning to connect these machines to a single 6K display, you’re good to go.
Note the “single” bit. If you were planning to connect two external displays to an M1-based laptop, it won’t work, at least per Apple’s specifications. The Intel-based, 13-inch MacBook Pro can support one external 6K display or up to two external 4K displays.
Luckily, the M1-based Mac mini can support one 6K display and an additional 4K display, which should be enough for most users. The Intel-based Mac mini still wins here, as it can support up to three displays.
It’s also notable that the Blackmagic eGPU isn’t listed as a supported accessory for any of the new computers. The Blackmagic eGPU, which Apple sells through its online store, is an external graphics card that can turn a MacBook into a gaming or graphics-processing powerhouse.
I asked Apple for clarification on the Blackmagic eGPU, and multi-monitor support, and will update this article when I hear back.
5. FaceTime cameras on the new MacBook Air and Pro still have 720p resolution
Apple claims the new M1 chip enables better camera performance, so you should get a clearer image during video calls on your laptop. However, the actual camera on the new MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro still have a paltry 720p resolution.
This, perhaps, isn’t as troubling on the Air, which is Apple’s entry-level machine. But the new MacBook Pro, which is aimed at professionals, should at least have a 1080p camera.