A new Apple MacBook Air with an M1 Apple Silicon processor
Photo: Apple

If Apple’s claims are true, your next Mac may deliver faster performance, longer battery life, and more apps than ever before.

On Tuesday, the company officially introduced a new MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac Mini desktop—all powered by Apple’s new M1 Apple Silicon processor. This marks the first time since 2006 that an Apple computer has not used an Intel processor.

“By designing the whole system together, both hardware and software, we’re able to make things you love about the Mac even better,” said Craig Federigihi, Apple’s senior vice president of software engineering. 

The 13-inch Air, which is aimed at everyday consumers, starts at $999 for a model featuring 8 gigabytes of memory and 256GB of solid-state storage.

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The 13-inch Pro, designed for coders and video editors, starts at $1,299 with 16GB of memory and 512GB of storage. Students can save $100 on each option with an education discount.

The Mac Mini, which plugs into a separate monitor and keyboard, starts at $699 with 8GB of memory and 256GB of solid-state storage.

All three Macs begin shipping in the middle of November.

While we won’t know for sure how well the new models perform until we test them in our labs, the Apple announcement offered some clues on what to expect. 

Faster Performance

Apple claims the M1 processor will bring big performance gains compared with the Intel processor found in earlier Macs.

Take the MacBook Air. Apple says the new Air is some 3.5 times faster than the previous model, with graphics performance that’s some five times faster.

In real life, that means web pages should render more smoothly, spreadsheet programs calculate faster, and games run at better frame rates than before. In fact, Apple says the new Air is up to three times faster than the fastest Intel-based Windows laptop in its class—though Apple doesn’t say which Windows laptop that is.

It’s a similar story with the new MacBook Pro, with Apple claiming 2.8 times the performance of its Intel-based predecessor and a similar five times jump in graphics performance.

The Mac hasn’t seen such a dramatic year-over-year performance gain in recent memory—much less with no increase in model price.  So as long as the final numbers are somewhere in the same ballpark as those claimed, this appears to be a strong win for consumers looking for a light and powerful laptop. 

Better Battery Life

The new processor should also result in much better battery life for the Mac.

Apple says the MacBook Air can last as long as 18 hours on a single charge while performing lightweight tasks like playing video clips. That would be the highest figure recorded on a MacBook Air.

The MacBook Pro goes one step further (likely because of a bigger battery) with a claimed life of close to 20 hours of video play.

Of course, battery life largely depends on how hard you push your laptop, but these numbers, if they pan out in our testing, would represent some of the best we’ve seen in a laptop to date.

By comparison, the LG Gram logs 16.25 hours; the HP Spectre Folio, 18.5.

Apple is able to reach these impressive numbers for a couple of reasons, including the improved power efficiency of the new processor.

Technically known as a system on a chip, the eight-core M1 combines multiple processors in a single chip. It houses not only the CPU but also chips responsible for things like information processing and security. The M1 also has several cores dedicated to low-power tasks, so the entire chip doesn’t need to light up at full power just to, say, download an app or load a webpage. 

More Apps

Because the M1 processor uses the same ARM-based chip architecture found found in Apple’s iPhones and iPads, developers should have an easy time making their mobile apps, from games to productivity products, available for Mac computers.

In some cases, they don’t have to do anything at all, Apple says, because the apps will be available to download from the App Store as soon as you turn on the laptop.

“Apple notified us that we can opt out, otherwise your iOS software will be on the Mac automatically,” says Ken Case, CEO of the Omni Group, which makes a suite of productivity apps for the Mac and iPhones.

So the switch to M1 basically means the new Macs will have access to a whole new library of apps.

Mac apps that haven’t been updated for the M1 yet will still run on the new Macs, but they’ll operate through a “translation layer” called Rosetta 2, which may degrade performance.

Apple said that at least one major Adobe app, Photoshop, wouldn’t be ported over to the M1 until early next year, which means it will have to run through this translation layer when the new computers ship later this month.