The 4 Most Frequently Asked Questions Regarding Apple’s Innovative New M1 Chip
In late 2020, Apple announced its M1 chip, the first in its family of ARM-based chips and the first chip developed internally for their personal computers. Boasting “incredible performance” and “revolutionary power efficiency”* the M1 chip has understandably been the subject of much attention, press, and scrutiny.
Many of our tech-savvy or at least tech-curious clients have been asking us questions about the M1 chip and whether it makes sense to invest in M1-built Apple computers. To help you understand what the new M1 means to you and your organization, we’ve compiled the answers to the four most common questions we’ve received since Apple’s announcement.
Why is the M1 chip a big deal?
The M1 chip represents a number of firsts not just for Apple, but for the entire industry. While Apple has been designing their own chips and using them in their mobile devices (iPhones, iPads) for about a decade now, this is the first time Apple has used their own chips on their personal computers.
While better speed and performance are important details for Apple’s new chip, the announcement of the M1 chip represents a transition for the entire computing industry. By implementing the same chip design seen in mobile devices and tablets, users can experience the same benefits on their computers that they are accustomed to receiving from their mobile devices. A computer that is always connected, accessible, and minimal booting/loading times.
“It is really about the continuing – and even accelerating – shift to the next phase of computing,” says Om Malik, founder of GigaOM.
A Brief History of Apple Chip Architectures
Whereas Windows-based computers have been utilizing Intel chips since their invention in the late 1970s, Apple is now on their 4th chip architecture in their 36-year history.
When the first Apple computer released in 1984, they used a chip design from Motorola called 68K. While Intel chips were already being used in the tech world, the first Apple computer utilized an early graphical interface to display images rather than just text and command prompts seen in previous computers, and the 68K chips provided the needed processing power.
Throughout the late 1980s and early 1990s, Intel chips made huge strides in terms of efficiency and processing power. To keep up, Apple changed their architecture for the first time, adopting PowerPC in 1994 through a partnership with IBM and Motorola.
In 2005, Apple shocked the world by announcing they would be transitioning to Intel processors. Steve Jobs attributed the architecture change to a superior product roadmap offered by Intel as well as the inability for PowerPC to build the products he was envisioning.**
Skip forward 15 years, and late in 2020 Apple announced the internally-designed and built M1 chip, signalling a transition away from Intel chips and a gradual phasing out of computers built using the Intel architecture.
What is the M1 Chip and what does it do?
Designed in-house using the same ARM-based technology seen in their iPhones and iPads, the M1 chip combines processing, I/O (Input/Output), security and memory. Where previous Macs needed multiple chips to deliver all these features, the M1 combines these all into a single chip. It is also the first personal computer chip built using 5-nanometer process technology and contains 16 billion transistors. This is a lot of tech-heavy talk that basically boils down to two distinct advantages for the average user, blazingly fast speed and incredible battery life.
With the M1 chip, users can edit high-resolution photos 3 times faster, render timelines in video editing software 6 times faster, and experience smoother scrolling and reduced load times. The upgrade to the GPU (graphics processing unit) in the M1 also allows for multiple simultaneous playbacks of 4k and up to 4 times higher frame rates when running graphics-intensive games. Overall, users can expect a more seamless and efficient experience using their computer running everything from work-related creative tasks to kicking back and enjoying the latest video game.
Should I buy an Apple computer with M1 architecture?
The short answer is: it really depends on your business and your needs. At TSP IT Services, we are holding off upgrading our client’s computers and advising against the purchasing of M1 devices for the moment. A big reason for this is that the M1 chip requires the machine using it to be running Big Sur, Apple’s newest operating system. While this is standard for any new piece of hardware, there are many programs we and our clients use that haven’t been upgraded and fully debugged on Big Sur yet. We anticipate that these programs will be upgraded and fully tested on the new OS sooner rather than later, but we are waiting to upgrade our machines and our clients machines until all the software in our support stack is compatible and fully tested with Big Sur.
The M1 chip that was first released also comes with a few limitations that users should be aware of before they get too enticed by the speed and battery life offered by upgrading. The first of these limitations is the lack of virtual machine support. Many Apple users emulate a version of Windows within their computer to access certain Windows-only applications. Windows-based programs are built in a language read by Intel chips, but not for the new M1 chip. We anticipate that support is coming in the future, but if this is an important part of your daily computing, we would advise you to wait until official support has been announced.
The second important limitation that impacts many of our clients (and our own staff) is the amount of screens the M1 chip supports. Intel-based Apple computers could support up to 5 total displays and support eGPUs (external graphics processors) for even more displays without a performance hit. The M1 chip currently only supports one external display for laptop computers, which is a significant limitation for designers or coders who need the flexibility multiple displays provide. Just as with the lack of virtual machine support, we expect Apple to remedy this limitation in the future. But, if you are dependent on multiple displays to work, we recommend holding off on upgrading to the M1 architecture.
At TSP IT Services, we do plenty of advanced planning for new systems with our clients. We are beginning to recommend M1 computers for clients looking later this year to upgrade systems if it’s right for their organization, but we are currently holding off on upgrading any clients due to the software, virtual machine support, and display limitations.
If you’re looking for a new personal computer urgently, we aren’t saying not to purchase an M1-based Apple computer. But if you have the ability to wait, we are anticipating that Apple will announce features that remedy the above limitations and the expansion of M1 computers to reflect Apple’s full line of machine offerings.
Is my old computer useless now?
Not at all! While Apple is phasing out the Intel line, we expect a 2-year timeframe from the initial announcement until all Intel-based computers are discontinued. And even then, Apple supports their computers for up to five years after discontinuation, so there is no need to rush out and get an M1-based computer if you’re still on the fence or happy with your current machine.
At the moment, the M1 is only offered on the MacBook Air, Macbook Pro 13”, and the Mac mini. Over the course of 2021, we expect this offering to expand to their entire product line, including their higher end machines, made for creative designers and IT specialists. As an added level of assurance for those running intel-based Macs that their machines won’t become paperweights soon, Apple is pushing for the prevalence of universal programs that run efficiently on both chip designs, and there are no programs currently that run only on M1-based architecture.
While your computer won’t become obsolete any time soon, we’re sure the speed and battery improvements of the M1 will entice plenty of users to make the switch sooner rather than later.
Keep in Touch
macOS machines have a long life, and Apple has shown that they’ll never stop innovating. If multi-display and virtual machine support is critical for your workflow, be sure to check back with TSP IT Services by signing up for our newsletter as we’ll continue to keep you up to date with the latest at Apple and their new chip architecture. Still unsure if upgrading to the M1 chip is right for you and your organization? Contact us today to speak to one of our IT development specialists!