All machines I’ve previously owned have run Windows, have tried dual-booting with Linux, but sooner or later always have gone back to just using Windows as my operating system. Have not even bothered trying since WSL became an option (it cannot do everything, but it can do most things).
For about 2 years my employer provided me with a late 2013 (I think) Macbook Pro, the whole company shifted to Mac’s at the time. It was a bit odd at the start, but when I got used to it I enjoyed working on it. A great screen, a good keyboard, and the perfect touchpad — I didn’t even use a mouse for the whole endeavor. Perhaps partly because the Apple mouse was despicable for someone who claw-grips his mice, yuck.
In the end, I came to the conclusion that Windows and Macs are different, but one is not inherently better than the other, but given that the configuration I had cost north of 2500$, I would never have never purchased one for myself, at that price point I would expect a machine to be able to do everything and it simply can’t — gaming.
My main workhorse is a desktop, I use it for everything. However, I do lack a laptop, sold my last one a few months ago as it was getting a bit long in the tooth and would have lost all value it had left in a few more months (7300HQ & GTX 1060). Given the current world affairs and working from home situation, I wanted to buy myself a new laptop, even if to just take a break from the desk, though in the future I would have needed one anyway. So I started the search for an applicable machine.
I did not even consider a Mac at the beginning, what if I want to play a game? After the initial search, all the options I found had some kind of drawback, usually the screen and/or battery life, if I’d want to have it all I would need to spend quite a bit, which I was not willing to do as I have a mental limit on how much I am willing to spend on a laptop or anything at that matter if I'm honest.
Now I started questioning if I need it to be able to game, I have a desktop for that and the previous one was seldom used for that purpose anyway. Perhaps a thin and light? A windows ultrabook, that can technically game but actually can't, unless you spend a fortune. That felt like a crippled machine to me and would be all too familiar.
Here the M1 started to come into the picture, with the attractive base price, excellent performance reports, and the trackpad I have fond memories of. Some may say to wait for the M1X or whatever it will be called, but I need a laptop now and I doubt those will come at such a nice starting price, doesn't matter how faster it may turn out to be if it costs north of 2500$. And after all — this won't be my main machine unless I suddenly have to live on the road, which I doubt will happen.
The wild performance claims
I've always thought that ARM will never be able to surpass x86 in performance and I bet a lot of people have been under the same impression, which is just blatantly wrong as it turns out. This just shows how complex modern computers really are and that most people, myself included, have no way to really reason about it.
I was really curious about where this magic performance comes from, so did some research about the matter. Turns out that ARM as an architecture started in the '80s, people were worried that x86 is becoming too complex and most programs are using just 20% of the available instructions 80% of the time. Started as an experiment and it worked, though the transistor count at the time held it back to be really competitive. Transistor counts have skyrocketed since then and here we are now. I still don't get the whole picture, but at least I now know that x86 is not the be-all and end-all architecture.
What about the Air/Pro debate? This turned out to be quite simple — they have the same chip, but the Pro is better at sustained loads because of the fan. General computing tasks are bursty, web development is bursty as well so I went with the Air for a completely silent computing experience. I did not consider the 8Gb models as I've been on 16Gb for years now and as the 16Gb Pro is quite more expensive I decided that I can take a hit on the battery.
As most generic tasks are done in the browser nowadays the experience is great, everything is snappy and can be done hours on end on a single charge, magnificent. If that is all you need — the M1 can be a great machine. The only mishap I’ve noticed is a slight hitch when going through system settings.
Some research has to be done to make sure applications that you need will run on the new architecture though, this is a great site for just that purpose. While using the machine you can’t really tell if the application you are using is optimized or not unless you dig into the activity monitor to check.
I was concerned about the screen size being an issue, and it sometimes is though the aspect ratio makes it very usable, a valid tradeoff for superb portability.
There are a few drawbacks I have encountered, some are quite minor, as the absence of a delete key and a slightly different layout of the keyboard, others though, do grind my gears a bit:
- The trackpad and mouse have a single setting for scroll direction, If I have to use something that requires the scroll-wheel button, I have to go toggle that setting every single time, seems like a major oversight.
- Finder. I had it in the list view and wanted to create a folder but it did not allow me to. Turns out you can’t do it in that view. I have no words to describe this.
- Finder Pt. II — the inability to
command + Cand
command + Va file when I have selected a folder.
- Finder Pt. III — dragging files from one window to another sometimes just does not do anything unless I do it perfectly, not sure what it is about. Did I mention the icon? It has to be the worst icon I’ve ever seen.
- Had to get the dimensions of an image, “Get Info” just would not list them, had to go through some convoluted route with Preview to obtain them. Column view tends to show the details, but at times they are just plain wrong.
- Launchpad is way too basic, iPad’esque even. Had to create a trash folder to keep all the junk. Garage Band, seriously?
- Mac provides a nifty shortcut for creating screenshots:
CMD + Shift + 4which is similar to the windows alternative:
Win Key + Shift + S, but I’ve found a major problem:
CMD + Vdoes not paste the image in applications like Discord, Slack and WhatsApp Web.
As annoying as the drawbacks can be, they aren't deal-breakers, heck, I've been living with the finicky Windows search for years now. Perhaps I just want to do things the Windows way, only time will tell if that is the case. I have a hunch that the performance combined with the battery life is what has
An update regarding the ability to create folders while in the list view of finder — it may be a bug or some security feature, but given I can do it in a different view I’d say it is a bug or a very odd design decision.
Developer point of view
This can vary quite vastly depending on what you need or may need in the future, this is the subjective experience I've had.
The one major dealbreaker, for now, is virtualization, I'm not using Docker or anything similar for my work or leisure projects making it a nonissue for me. I also believe that it shall be solved at some point in the future.
One of the most essential tools for the Mac is Brew, which currently does not have a native variant, but it can be installed and used if you run the terminal under Rosetta, a few clicks and it just works, entirely seamlessly.
For a quick comparison, I used the Web Tooling Benchmark. Here are the results for both machines:
These numbers are coming from a 13" laptop, let that sink in. When running projects I can feel the difference, it is not as big as the numbers may suggest but it is there, especially for Angular, React felt basically the same, depends on the task at hand.
One place where the machine felt short was in using Unity, it is usable at the prototyping stage, but a lot slower. It is running under Rosetta, hopefully, the native version will improve things.
One cropped up. After about 7 weeks I received an alarming notification regarding the battery of the device.
Not sure if it is ar real problem with the battery or just a software issue, but the reality is I will need to get the device serviced. This is after light use, charged twice per week at most.
I'm not returning the machine, it is a great portable second machine to have. Could I make it into my main machine? No. For me, a Mac can serve as a great laptop, but I can't imagine using it as a full-blown desktop. Does not matter how great the touchpad is, if I have to use it on multiple screens it becomes a pain, and losing the gestures on a proper mouse is a dealbreaker for me.
I'm excited to see where this ARM race will lead us, I can see clearly how Intel is cherry-picking benchmarks as I write this.