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Cruising Down the Apple M1

Posted on Wednesday, November 11th, 2020

Dave!Yesterday Apple resurrected Steve Jobs for a One More Thing event. And, try to check your shock, I'm going to talk about it!

Veteran's Day started early for me when the cats found a golf ball and decided to play with it in my bedroom... on my hardwood floors... AT 3:30 AM!! This is the golf ball that disappeared well over a year ago. As mentioned previously Jake can fit the ball in his mouth and carry it around. Before falling back asleep I heard them rolling it around downstairs but saw no sign of it when I went to feed them later this morning.

I honestly don't understand my cats. 99% of the time Jake and Jenny sleep when I sleep. I am almost never bothered or awakened by them at night. But every once in a while...

Ugh. Not. Enough. Coke Zero. To get me through this day.

I had planned on spending my Veteran's Day morning boxing up all the stuff I bought for my AnySoldier.com care packages so I can get them mailed for Christmas arrival. Instead I spent my morning taking a nap before work. THANKS, CATS!!!

2020, amiright?

And now back to Apple's third(!) "special event" of the season which, as expected, ended up being product announcements for their new Apple-based silicon Macs...

Sunrise from Cadillac Mountain in Acadia

I'm not going to recap everything here. There are tech sites taking care of that. But I do have some thoughts. If you haven't seen the event and want to watch, here's where you can do that.

  • This has been a long, long time coming. In all honesty I thought that Apple would be using their own chips in Macs before they started doing it in their iPhones and iPads. Intel kept overpromising and underdelivering on their wares, and Apple made no bones about how disappointed they were to be locked into Intel silicon. But here's the thing... I never blamed Intel for this. I blamed Apple. Intel chips are, for all intents and purposes, generic. They are used in Windows computers, Linux computers, specialty computers... all kinds of computers. And while Apple is certainly an important customer, Microsoft Windows is where the money is at. So the idea that Intel was supposed to gear their chips towards making Apple happy is laughable. If Apple don't like it... go somewhere else or make their own. So here we are. At last.
  • Apple's strength has always been that they control the hardware and operating system of their Macs. Because of this, they can have tight integration between the two and do things that other companies can't. No need to worry about third party PC manufacturers breaking under your shiny new OS... you're the only Mac hardware game in town. At the macro-level Apple can do whatever they want and optimize things however they want. Now they are at the micro-level, and it's going to be a complete and total gamechanger for the Mac. As it should be.
  • In general, I've found Apple's "special event hype" to be fairly accurate. If they make a claim of battery life, for example, then you can pretty much count on them being truthful about it. But when it comes to their claims of their custom M1 chips being hugely more powerful compared to Intel chips, I am a bit dubious because it's just lines on a chart. What is the basis for these claims? We don't know. I have zero doubt that these chips are more powerful in many respects, but at what, specifically? I guess we'll know next week when real-world tests are unleashed.
  • The transition from Motorola Power PC chips to Intel was pretty much a non-event for Mac users. There were a few hiccups, sure. But the emulation was speedy, seamless, and, "universal binary" apps (which had code for both Power PC and Intel in the same file) just worked. I am 100% confident that the transition from Intel to Apple will be just as seamless. Probably more so, since Apple's Swift programming language does all the heavy lifting for developers.
  • And so the days of RAM upgrades are over. GPU upgrades are over. CPU upgrades are likely over. Apple puts absolutely everything on a single M1 chip and solders it to the board. This disturbs me greatly. Not that they are putting everything on a single chip... that's awesome because things will run faster using less power and everybody wins. But what happens when the M2 comes out? The M3? You can't just pop out your old M1 chip and pop in a newer more powerful chip. You're buying new computers every time you need something faster... and tossing out your old one. In some respects, I kinda get it. Computers are so speedy now that they just don't need to be replaced as often. Solid State Drives are fast enough for memory swapping that RAM upgrades aren't as necessary. And since everything is being shoved through Thunderbolt/USB-C, the external bus is also really fast and powerful. And Apple has had a habit of making their OS releases be backwards-compatible to a decent degree. Plus it's not like Mac users have had any kind of true expandability for decades. But even so... a part of me is bummed. It would seem that a company as environmentally-oriented at Apple would move towards upgradability instead of planned obsolescence.
  • Within a decade I would be very, very surprised if MacOS and iOS don't merge into a single entity. It's where Apple has been headed all along. My iPad is one of the most amazingly powerful machines I've ever owned... it feels more powerful that my newer MacBook Pro. And now that everybody is going to be running on the same chip architecture, it just makes sense. I don't exactly hate the idea, but the files system on iOS is atrocious and the Mac has been stagnant. I don't know where the leap will be here, but a drastic leap is due. Once that gets figured out, everything else is academic.
  • Take for example file icon thumbnails. Used to be that if you save a file in Photoshop under MacOS, Photoshop would save a tiny "thumbnail" image WITHIN THE FILE so that your Mac could display the contents of the file instantaneously. When Apple transitions to MacOS X, embedded thumbnails were eliminated. Now every thumbnail is dynamically generated on demand. This is fucking outrageously stupid. When trying to find an image I need to work on I have to sit and wait... and wait... and wait... AND WAIT for my Mac to generate a ton of thumbnails until I see what I'm looking for. It's insane. I hate it. I means I HATE IT! And, yes, I name my files carefully, but visual representations are often far more efficient at finding a visual file. Except on a Mac where they definitely are not. Until Apple fixes this kind of stupid shit, they will just be baking in even more stupid into their OS's... however many there may be.
  • Apple scraping the low-end bottom of their product line for their first M1 products is hardly shocking. Far safer to test the waters with machines that aren't "mission critical" until they have a few refresh cycles under their belt. Easier to deal with having a potential recall on a $700 Mac mini somebody uses for web surfing instead of a $10,000 Mac Pro that's the primary machine running a business, just sayin'.
  • That being said... I can easily see an entire business being run on a Mac mini if Apple's claims about the speed and power are across-the-board and it's as revolutionary as it seems like it might be. From the early tests I've seen, the little Mac mini is more powerful than the iMac I use at work. And it's 1/4 the cost. This could result in a big, huge, mega-huge expansion in the number of people buying Macs instead of Windows PCs.
  • Naturally, I am excited about having a more powerful machine using less power. Who wouldn't be? But it's what comes along with that which has me more excited than I should be... the machines run cooler. Interesting to note that the new M1 MacBook Air, M1 MacBook Pro, and M1 Mac mini are all using the same chips. Where the MacBook Pro and Mac mini gain their speed and power advantage over the MacBook Air is that they have cooling fans. The M1 MacBook Air does not. The chips can run faster because they are cooled and can generate more heat. That's kinda bonkers when you think about it. Apple doesn't make a slow M1, a medium-speed M1, and a fast M1... the limiting factor on speed is how cool they can be kept. Slap your M1 MacBook Air on top of an ice pack and I'm guessing it can run just as fast as the "more powerful" machines. Kind of makes you wonder what kind of cooling technological advancements this might end up driving, doesn't it?
  • 720p IS NOT ACCEPTABLE FOR A CONFERENCING CAMERA! Holy crap, Apple... how frickin' dense do you have to be?
  • All things considered, my dream "Mac" is a 26-inch iPad running MacOS apps. It would attach to a stand for desktop use... then pop off so I can paint while sitting on my couch. I've never felt closer to being able to buy this machine than I do right now. Watching iPad apps run natively on the M1 Macs gets your brain churning over the idea of it going the other way around as well.

And that's that, I guess. There's no reason for me to buy any of the new M1 Macs. My MacBook Pro isn't even a year old and my work iMac is slower than I'd like at some things but still fully useable for everything I do. It's nice to think that by the time I'm ready to replace either of them, a far cheaper computer will likely be available that's more powerful than what I was using. If nothing else, that's my ultimate takeaway from Apple's "One More Thing."

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Comments

  1. Ren says:

    I ordered an M1 Mini for… reasons.

    I want one of the laptops as I ended up swapping my 2017 13” MBP 4-port model for my daughter’s pre-USB-C 13” MBP that she was having some trouble with. It was supposed to be temporary for school but somehow I never got it back. 🙂 I’d really like to get the new Air to replace it but I’ve decided to wait for reviews, and probably the second round of them, to make sure the Air isn’t a disappointment for my use cases (as most of the previous Airs have been).

    • Dave2 says:

      I’d like a mini just to run it against my MBP-16 to see if the speed increase is noticeable once Photoshop is optimized. Bt $700 is a bit much for something I’ll likely rarely use after that!

  2. martymankins says:

    My 5.5 year old MacBook 2015 is still going, even if it’s slower than ever. But it should get me till May 2021, where I will most likely replace it with a M1 MacBook Air. That also gives it time for a possible refresh (not too likely) and time for Big Sur to get some updates and work out any of the bugs (hoping not as buggy as Catalina was, which I held off upgrading either of my two Macs to for almost a year)

    The one stand out that the tech blogs have questioned is the max RAM upgrade being only 16gb. I’m guessing it is an architecture thing that the M2 chip will resolve. Granted, a laptop like a MacBook Air with 16gb of RAM would work very well for what I use it for. I use the 27-inch iMac for all of the heavier lifting tasks.

    • Dave2 says:

      From what I understand, the RAM issue is not a very big deal because the M1 is so efficient moving things in and out of memory. And, thanks to SSDs being the norm now, going to disk for temporary storage isn’t the bottleneck speed trap it used to be. Even so, I can’t imagine that the huge files I work on would be efficient in anything less than 32GB, so that’s my magic number before I migrate.

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