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Apple’s First ARM-Based Laptops are the MacBook Air and 13-Inch MacBook Pro

MacBook Air M1

After months of waiting, we finally know what the first Apple Mac computers to run on its own self-designed silicon will be: the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13″. The new laptops, simply called the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro 13″ with M1, use the new ARM-powered Apple Silicon chips without significantly changing the form factors from the familiar Apple laptops.

Apple claims that the low-power M1 chip inside the MacBooks offers 3.5 times the performance for most tasks than older Intel-powered models, with a five-fold boost in graphics. Apple says that they’re faster than 98% of Windows-powered laptops, triple the speed of a comparable laptop…though the company was predictably mum on exactly what that means. The Air is a fanless design, similar to Snapdragon-powered Windows machines, while the Pro still needs an active cooling system.

MacBook Pro M1

Both the MacBook Air and Pro claim battery life that’s approximately 30% greater than older models, with 15 hours of web browsing and 18 hours of video on the Air and 17-20 hours on the Pro. Apple says they can handle video conferencing for twice as long. The form factors are still fairly conventional, with only two USB-C/Thunderbolt ports on the left side and a headphone jack on the right. There is no touchscreen, and they apparently do not use face unlock, but TouchID is integrated into the power button for signing on and using Apple Pay. The 13-inch MacBook Pro keeps the TouchBar above the keyboard that previous models did, a conservative decision while Apple still refuses to offer full touchscreens on MacOS.

MacBook Pro with monitor

Of course, the hardware is only half of the story. With a new ARM-based version of MacOS, the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro can handle Mac apps, legacy x64 applications via Rosetta 2, and natively run apps designed for the iPhone and iPad. They boot up “instantly,” and the interface tweaks (many inherited directly from the iPad Pro) make everything look much smoother.

MacBook Pro battery life

Apple made some extraordinary claims to assuage those wary of switching from Intel-powered Macs to the new Apple Silicon, saying that some legacy programs can run even faster on the new M1 chip than on Intel-powered Macs with integrated graphics. Apple demonstrated several 3D games and creative apps, though performance did not seem dramatically better. Apple says that MacOS’s signature third-party apps will be coming with universal builds (both Intel and Apple Silicon codebases), including Adobe Lightroom later this year and Photoshop in early 2021.

MacBook Air feature list

The new MacBook Air starts at $999, available in Space Gray, Gold, and Silver. The base model uses 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. 16GB of RAM is also available, as well as 512GB, 1TB, and 2TB storage options, with the most expensive model topping out at $2000. The 13″ MacBook Pro starts at $1299 in Space Gray or Silver. It has the same 8GB/256GB base hardware and upgrade options, with the most expensive model costing $2300.

The Mac Mini desktop was also upgraded to M1 silicon today. You can expect larger MacBook Pros, as well as M1-updated versions of the Mac Pro and iMac, sometime in 2021.

Michael Crider Michael Crider
Michael Crider has been writing about computers, phones, video games, and general nerdy things on the internet for ten years. He’s never happier than when he’s tinkering with his home-built desktop or soldering a new keyboard. Read Full Bio »