Tag Archive for ‘MacBook’

Thoughts on M1 Macs

This week’s Apple event was exactly what we all thought it would be — the announcement of the first batch of Macs powered by Apple Silicon. They detailed the M1 chip and introduced a new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini.

Mac Mini

The Mac Mini was the most surprising to me. Given the power consumption of Apple’s existing chips, Mac notebooks felt like a safe bet to be included in the first group of machines. A new Mac Mini is quite the welcomed introduction, of course, but I’m not sure if anyone expected it with a good degree of confidence. Especially given it’s spotty upgrade history — Apple notably waiting four years after the introduction of the 2014 model before releasing the 2018 iteration.

I’m pretty excited about the new Mac Mini, though. As many of you may know, I’ve been considering an upgrade for quite some time. The Mac Mini that we’ve been using as our home server is from 2011. It isn’t officially supported past macOS High Sierra and it’s performance when ripping and converting Blu-ray discs leaves a lot to be desired.

I’m still waiting on actually benchmarks from reviewers before pulling the trigger, but if Apple’s numbers are to be believed, I think we’re in for a real screamer in the M1. An 8-core CPU, up to 8-core GPU, the integrated Neural Engine, and unified memory architecture seem like a massive upgrade when compared to Intel chips. Intel’s been floundering for a handful of years now, AMD recently surpassed them in performance, and now Apple’s moving to their own chips. The folks at Intel have their work cut out for them.

The Mac Mini as a whole isn’t necessarily a strict upgrade, though. The M1 model is limited to 16GB of RAM — that’s compared to the 64GB limit of the Intel-based model, which is still available for sale, to be clear. I can’t speak to specific workflows that would necessitate the additional memory and I’m not sure if changes to the memory architecture of the M1 would result in needing less memory for given tasks (more efficient usage, for example), but if you feel you need more than 16GB of memory Apple isn’t giving you the option on an M1 Mac.

And that 16GB memory limitation is across the board for all models announced by Apple at their event. These Macs are only available with 8GB or 16GB of memory.

Back to the Mac Mini, this also means the end of upgradable RAM. One of the things that appealed to me about the Mac Mini was the ability to upgrade it over time. That was hindered a great deal when they moved from 2.5-inch drives to SSDs that were soldered to the logic board, but up until these M1 Macs, you could still upgrade RAM yourself.

For thrifty buyers, that gave you the option to save a bit of money at the time of purchase and acquire less-costly aftermarket RAM, upgrading it yourself. If I purchased the 2018 Mac Mini, that’s exactly what I would have done — bought it with 8GB of RAM and then upgrade it sometime after purchase. With the M1 Mac Mini, for both internal storage and memory, you’ll need to get what you need right out of the gate.

The M1-powered Mac Mini also saw a reduction in ports when compared to the Intel-powered model. The Intel Mac Mini has four Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, HDMI, audio out, and ethernet. Of the lot, the M1 model lost half of the Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports.

The changing port configuration won’t have any impact in how I use the Mac Mini. My current Mac Mini has a ThunderBay 6 connected over Thunderbolt (through Apple’s Thunderbolt 3 to Thunderbolt 2 adapter) and occasionally has a USB-A Blu-ray drive and/or an external SSD connected over USB-A. None of that will change if I end up with the M1 Mac Mini. I’ll still be able to connect all of my accessories without issue — I’ll even be able to drop the Thunderbolt adapter.

The last change is simply cosmetic — the M1 Mac Mini is only available in silver. I was looking forward to purchasing a Mac Mini that was more similar in color to the ThunderBay 6 that it will sit on top of. It’s not that my current, silver Mac Mini is an eye sore or anything, but it would have been nice to have some uniformity on my server shelf. I hope Apple offers the Mac Mini in space gray again at some point in the future.

MacBook Air

My wife is a school teacher and was suddenly forced to work from home earlier this year. At the time she was teaching pre-kindergarten and didn’t need much in the way of technology in order to provide her students with regular instruction. This year, though, she’s teaching fifth grade and with that comes the need to manage online teaching portals, video calls, and documents — often simultaneously.

The only computing devices she has at home are her iPhone and an iPad Air. They’re more than enough for her everyday tasks and were usable when working from home with her pre-k class, but she recently spent about a week working from home teaching fifth grade and it was usable at best.

Her school is opened up again, but there’s no telling when or if it could be closed again for some period of time. So she has her eye on acquiring a new laptop. I think this new MacBook Air would be the perfect fit. It has incredible battery life — up to 18 hours according to Apple — a fan-less design, and all of the great features of the previous MacBook Air.

I am a little surprised that there was no change in pricing for this new model. The Mac Mini’s starting price is $100 lower, after all. And while it’s easy for me to say Apple should lower the price, without much knowledge of the factors that lead them to the $999 price point, it sure seems like it would be possible now.

Given that Apple’s designing the chips in house, the MacBook Air is almost certainly their biggest seller giving them economies of scale, the M1 in the MacBook Air starts with a 7-core GPU, and the machine is available for $899 with education pricing. It just seems like this would have been a good time to lower the price a smidge.

Even still, this looks like a great machine overall. Like with the Mac Mini, I’ll wait for reviews, but I expect my wife will end up with the base model MacBook Air in gold before too long.

MacBook Pro

The new MacBook Pro has all the same features of the previous, two-port model but with the M1. When compared to the MacBook Air, it has better battery life, no 7-core GPU option, and an active cooling system.

The cooling system seems to be the real differentiator here. Like the rest of the lot, we’ll have to wait for reviews and benchmarks, but I suspect the performance differences between the Air and the Pro will come down to cooling capabilities.

The Pro’s fan should give it the ability to sustain higher clock speeds for longer than the Air can while under load. So unless there are some more inherent differences between these two machines’ M1s, this seems to be all there is to it. And if that’s the case, for short bursts, the Air and Pro (with the same number of GPU cores) should preform identical to one another. The difference wouldn’t be noticeable unless you’re performing longer, sustained tasks that tax the system.

If that theory pans out, I feel like the vast majority of users should just opt for the MacBook Air. You’ll save a little bit of money, still get incredible battery life, and much of the same performance. Unless your workload involves heavily taxing sustained tasks, I just don’t see the reason to spring for the Pro.

Future Macs

This initial batch of Macs powered by Apple Silicon is a huge step forward, for sure, but I’m still left wondering what the rest of the lineup is going to look like long-term. The 16-inch MacBook Pro, 21.5-inch iMac, 27-inch iMac, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro are still left unchanged.

These also happen to be the machines that are built with more desktop-class components. And there’s a lot of questions left unanswered in that regard. Is Apple going to release another chip or collection of chips for these machines? Should we be expecting an M1X? An M2? Will these other machines be available with more than 16GB of RAM?

And what about the Mac Pro? Is Apple going to release a machine powered by Apple Silicon that has the ability to install and upgrade internal components? None of this first batch of M1 Macs support external GPUs, so is this the beginning of the end for AMD or Nvidia powered graphics in Macs?

Will Apple consolidate the lineup at all? Will the 27-inch iMac and iMac Pro be merged into a single offering? Is the current Mac Pro the last Mac Pro?

We could speculate all day, but what I can say with certainty is that I haven’t been this interested and excited about the future of the Mac in a long time.

Moving to the MacBook Pro

13-inch MacBook Pro

After Apple started transitioning their notebook line away from the notoriously unreliable butterfly keyboards, I started pondering what my new work laptop would be. My first work-issued laptop was the 2018 MacBook Air. Although I absolutely loved the machine’s weight, size, and overall design, the keyboard was fundamentally flawed.

I started having issues with the keyboard just a month or two after I received the MacBook Air. But I just dealt with the annoyance of duplicate and missed key presses because I needed it for work. I live too far away from an Apple Store to easily bring it in for repair and that left me with the only option of sending it in by mail, which usually takes at least a week. I couldn’t be without my work laptop for that long.

Then, about a year later, Josh was born and I was on parental leave for four months. I took that opportunity to send in my machine and get the keyboard replaced. It came back about a week later and the keyboard worked perfectly. That’s excellent, but my faith in the butterfly mechanism was tarnished.

I came back from parental leave earlier this year and knew that I was due for a replacement machine in April. Apple had already released the 16-inch MacBook Pro last November with the new scissor switch keyboard and I wasn’t going to order a new laptop unless it had the new keyboard. The 16-inch is just too large for my liking, though. I like to move around the house throughout the day while I work — spending some time at the kitchen table, some time in the living room, and some time in the office. Between that and the extra heft while traveling to work meetups a few times each year, I would much rather have a smaller machine.

The next Mac to return to the scissor switch keyboard was the MacBook Air in March. All the benefits of my 2018 MacBook Air with a new, more reliable keyboard — what’s not to like? I still had another month to go before I was able to order a new work laptop and although I found the new Air intriguing, I felt it was in my best interest to wait and see with the 13-inch MacBook Pro update had in store.

I didn’t have to wait long, the new 13-inch MacBook Pro was announced in May. But that left me with the question, which MacBook to choose?

Luckily, I work for the best company in the world — we’re able to choose what machine is best for each of us and our work, with limited restrictions. So I could essentially get whatever I wanted, configured however I wanted. With price being no object, that means you have to choose a machine entirely based on it’s own merits — there’s no need to make concessions because a component upgrade is too expensive.

I hemmed and hawed for quite some time about what machine would actually be better for me and my work. I liked the form factor, lighter weight, and lack of Touch Bar on the MacBook Air, but how much would I appreciate the extra horse power of the MacBook Pro? And would that additional performance be worth the trade offs in portability?

I had it narrowed down to two different configurations:

MacBook Air

  • 1.2GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • 16GB of memory
  • 512GB solid-state drive

MacBook Pro

  • 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
  • 32GB of memory
  • 512GB solid-state drive

Most of my friends that I spoke with suggested I choose the MacBook Pro, but the decision wasn’t too easy for me. I overvalue portability compared to most of them. I want the thinnest and lightest laptop I can use and will typically give up performance for it. And that extends to the power adapter that the machine uses as well — 30 watt power adapters, which the MacBook Air require are much smaller and lighter than the 61 watt power adapter that comes with the Pro. I know I can use third-party power adapters (and trust me, I do), but it becomes tricky when you want to use your laptop under load with a lower wattage adapter — the battery depletes even when plugged in.

Then there is the question of the shape of the machine itself. The MacBook Air features that iconic wedge shape, while the MacBook Pro is flat. I rarely use an external keyboard, so would the flat shape effect my ability to type comfortably? The answer isn’t obvious and given the state of retail at the moment, it’s not like I could go out and try the MacBook Pro for some amount of time in store. And even if I could, the environment isn’t exactly great from an ergonomics standpoint, so I doubt I’d be able to get a good impression of what it would feel like to use in practice.

And the other major downside of the MacBook Pro is the Touch Bar. I have heard almost nothing good about it and the overall impression that I see online is that the Touch Bar makes your computer worse. Things are a bit different with the current iteration, though, specifically with the escape key being a physical key. But without much experience with it, I’d still err on the side of preferring a machine without one.

But then we get into the topic of performance. This is where the MacBook Pro really starts to shine. Based on Geekbench 5 benchmarks, the MacBook Pro is only marginally faster than the MacBook Air on single-core tasks, but it’s one-and-a-half times the performance on multi-core tasks. It’s difficult for me to gauge whether I will really get much benefit from that extra performance in my day-to-day tasks, though.

I spend all day in Chrome, Slack, Simplenote, and Things. Those aren’t particularly intensive applications, especially since I typically have less than ten tabs open in Chrome at any given time. I also have some menu bar apps open, like iStat Menus, tyke, Droplr, One Switch, and a handful of others. That’s a pretty accurate snapshot of my daily work and I don’t need a ton of CPU performance to keep up.

But this might not always be the case. I have an opportunity to spend time working on support for our mobile apps in the future and with that comes the possibility of more intensive applications. Specifically the iOS Simulator and Android in emulation so I can test our apps in different environments. This is a far heavier workload than what I’m doing currently and is the single reason I ultimately decided to spring for the increased performance of the MacBook Pro instead of the better portability of the Air.

Impressions

I ordered the 13-inch MacBook Pro in space gray with a 2.3GHz Intel Core i7, 32GB of memory, and a 512GB SSD. I’ve been using the machine for my daily work for about a month and although I had some hesitation with a few of its features, I’m very happy with the decision overall.

Here are my miscellaneous thoughts and impressions on the machine’s features, when compared to the 2018 MacBook Air that I upgraded from:

  • Physical Size: The difference in thickness and weight of the MacBook Pro was immediately obvious when it first arrived. But it only took a few days before I completely forgot about it. When I pick up the MacBook Air now, I am reminded of how light it is, but in my day-to-day it hasn’t had much of an impact.
  • Keyboard: It feels different than the MacBook Air. And while I appreciate the scissor switch keyboard’s reliability and key travel, I do find myself missing the stability that came from the butterfly switches. Not enough to go back, mind you, but I can understand to a certain extent why Apple was fond of the butterfly mechanism. If they were able to fix the reliability issues entirely and increase key travel, I think the butterfly keyboard would actually be more enjoyable to type on.
  • Touch Bar: I’ve been skeptical of the utility of the Touch Bar since its introduction, but have had very little experience with it up until now. Having a physical escape key seems to be a massive upgrade from the previous iteration and I’ve actually found the feature to be a positive addition to my workflow, although minor. I currently have my Touch Bar configured to display the extended Control Strip with display brightness, keyboard brightness, and volume buttons on the right with Quick Actions, Mission Control, and Show Desktop on the left. I only have one Quick Action configured, but I imagine it will get more useful to me as ideas for automation present themselves in my work.
  • Performance: I haven’t had much of an opportunity to test out the MacBook Pro’s performance. I’ve been sticking primarily to my everyday tasks so far and it has tackled those handily. I’ve run Geekbench a few times and the performance results do bear out what I’ve seen listed in their benchmark browser.
  • Battery Life: I don’t have exact measurements on battery life and mileage may vary depending on your workload. I have found that the Pro’s battery life is worse than the MacBook Air, but not by so much that it impedes my ability to work away from a power adapter for prolonged periods of time. One interesting wrinkle in this attribute is my use of Turbo Boost Switcher Pro, which lets you disable Turbo Boost at will. When this feature is disabled, I’m still seeing better performance and better battery life when compared to the 2018 with Turbo Boost enabled. So if I ever needed to work for longer stints without a power adapter, disabling Turbo Boost would likely do the trick.
  • Power Adapter: The MacBook Pro’s power adapter is large compared to the MacBook Air’s adapter. And massive compared to the third-party Anker power adapter I had been using. But I’ve since purchased Anker’s 45 watt adapter with a similar form factor and although it doesn’t provide as much power as the included adapter, it seems to at least maintain the current charge when the machine is under load.
  • Thunderbolt 3 Ports: The MacBook Air offers two Thunderbolt 3 ports while my new MacBook Pro offers four. There has been exactly one instance where I’ve used more than two ports — I had my power adapter, iPad Pro using Sidecar, and my Apple TV HD connected so I could display its screen in QuickTime for screen sharing on Zoom. I’m sure there are still a lot of Mac users that wish they could have more ports, but I think Apple’s offerings are just fine.

Unless something radically changes over the next couple of years, I expect my next Mac will be whatever the 13-inch MacBook Pro iteration is at the time of purchase. It offers an incredible balance of horse power and portability, which makes it the perfect machine for my work and travel habits.

Apple Changes Default MacBook Charging Behavior to Improve Battery Health ➝

Jason Snell:

The way MacBook batteries charge is about to change. Apple has released a new developer preview of macOS Catalina 10.15.5, and as these releases often do, it contains a new feature: Battery Health Management.

The new feature, which will only be available on Mac notebooks with Thunderbolt 3 ports, enables a new default approach to charging and discharging MacBook batteries. According to Apple, the feature is meant to reduce the rate of chemical aging of the MacBook’s battery, thereby extending its long-term lifespan—but without compromising on day-to-day battery life.

This is the type of feature that I love seeing from Apple — something that seems infinitely obvious, but only after you’ve heard about it.

➝ Source: sixcolors.com

MacBook Keyboards

MacBook Air Repair Status

I’ve been using a 2018 MacBook Air as my work laptop since shortly after its initial release. But in a few months I’ll be due for an upgrade. Luckily I work for the best company in the world, Automattic, and I’ll get to pick nearly any Mac I want as a replacement.

I travel a few times each year to various company-related get-togethers so I’ll definitely order a laptop. But at the moment, the only Mac portable worth purchasing is the new 16-inch MacBook Pro. The butterfly keyboard is just too much of a deal breaker for me to consider anything else that Apple offers right now — the 16-inch is the only model with the newer scissor switch keyboard.

Just a month or two after I started using my Air, I started having issues with missed and duplicate key presses. I’ve sort-of lived with the annoyance until now because I didn’t have another suitable Mac available to use while my primary machine is out for repair. But now that I’m reaching the tail end of my parental leave, I finally sent in my MacBook Air for a keyboard replacement.

I’m hoping the repaired keyboard will buy me some time until I’m ready to upgrade. And with any luck, Apple will release a new 13-inch option with the updated scissor switch keyboard. With the frequent travel and my desire to move around the house while I work, a 16-inch is a bit too big and heavy for my liking. The 13-inch MacBook Air feels like the perfect size, but I’ve started to want a bit more horse power out of my work machine.

The MacBook Air can handle my work load the vast majority of the time. But occasionally I’ll be doing some more processor intensive tasks while I’m on a Zoom call. In those instances it would be nice to have a little more head room. A 13-inch MacBook Pro is probably my best option.

I’m due for my upgrade around April, but the exact time frame of when I get a new machine is dependent on Apple. If they don’t release a new 13-inch MacBook Pro with the scissor switch keyboard before then, I’ll just have to make do with my MacBook Air for a while longer. I don’t want to go another day with the butterfly keyboard, but I certainly can’t order another notebook with one, which would extend my use for an additional year or two.

I hope Apple holds a media event sometime this Spring to announce an updated 13-inch MacBook Pro, among other product releases. But honestly, my confidence in Apple for Mac hardware is at an all time low. I mean, we had to wait four years for a new Mac Mini, five years for a new Mac Pro, and have been dealing with these butterfly keyboards since 2015.

Six or Seven years ago, I would have bet money on Apple releasing updates to each Mac every year. But with their recent track record, I’m not even positive that the next 13-inch Pro will move away from butterfly keyboards at all.

I hope they prove me wrong. They need to prove me wrong. Not just because I’d like a new laptop that actually works for typing, but because they’ve done massive damage to their reputation and it’s long past time for a course correction. It’ll take years for them to build their reputation back to what it was and the sooner they refresh the MacBook lineup’s keyboards the better.

The Black MacBook ➝

A neat little video from Stephen Hackett discussing the black MacBook. I remember when these came out and wanted one desperately. But in the end, I wasn’t willing to spend the extra $150 just for the black casing and ended up with the white model instead.

It was an excellent machine and served me well for about five years before I purchased an 11-inch MacBook Air to replace it.

➝ Source: youtube.com

Unshaky Attempts to Solve the Double Keypress Issue on MacBook Keyboards ➝

When I first started experiencing double keypress issues on my MacBook Air, I thought for sure, there must be be something in the Accessibility panel to help with this. But to my surprise, there is not.

Luckily, Sam Liu, built a clever little menu bar utility that can be configured to ignore these unintended double keypresses of they occur within a user-selectable timeframe. I have my “p” and “a” keys set to ignore duplicate inputs within a 50ms window and it’s worked wonders.

I have a bit more tweaking to do with the app’s settings — I still experience duplicate keypresses on occasion. But the frequency with which it happens has dramatically reduced. It feels like I have a functional keyboard again.

I’ve had the app installed on my work machine for the past five days and it has dismissed nearly 400 of these additional keypresses. That’s about eighty potential typos each day that I would have needed to correct. I can’t explain how happy I am that this app exists, but seriously, Apple needs to get its act together and fix these keyboards. Like, yesterday.

The Twelve South BookArc ➝

A great review of the Twelve South BookArc by Josh Ginter. I’ve used this stand with my MacBook Air for a handful of months and I’m a huge fan. It gets my Mac out of the way when it’s connected to my external monitor and gives me precious desk space back. It’s pretty snazzy to look at, too.

The Best MacBook Accessory on the Market ➝

There are plenty of accessories from folks like Twelve South, Anker, and even Apple that can be an important part of your daily workflow. But I can’t imagine owning a MacBook, MacBook Air, or MacBook Pro without at least one of these. I try to keep my desk clear of clutter and store items in my desk drawers when I’m not using them, but this has become such a crucial part of my Mac experience that it lives on my desk so it’s always at the ready.