Apple’s 2020 main event didn’t take place in September, as many expected. Not even in October – even if the new iPhones turned out to be good, but mini surprised everyone at all.

Apple’s main presentation in 2020 is November, where they made not just an announcement, but actually a Mac release on brand new M1 processors. That the processors themselves, that the Mac based on them, have become a revolution that turns the expectations of modern computers upside down.

I am writing all this not in some kind of fan frenzy. It’s just that I’ve been using a MacBook Air for a week, the “basic” model of the trio of new products with the M1. Until recently, such a laptop seemed impossible. Cupertino convincingly proved the opposite, raising the question point-blank for all manufacturers of standard architecture processors: either they catch up or smoothly go to the side of history.

So much about the new Air just feels familiar, and that’s by design. Just starting to use it, you think: they say, an ordinary Mac, and it is not clear why there is so much noise.

But little by little the impression is changing. In time with the unusually lazy battery indicator in the corner; with absolute silence, which you miss since the 12-inch MacBook; with a barely warm, and more often suspiciously cold body – you do everything you are used to, at an unusually high speed. Then comes the understanding of what is in front of you revolution and nothing else.

What is so good about the MacBook Air on the M1 processor? Does it have real cons and reasons to refrain from buying? These and other questions are answered in the review below.

Everything new starts from the old, so there are no external differences

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We unpacked the MacBook Air a week ago. Thanks to Pavel Teleshevsky for the video.

Putting the Air of summer 2020 side by side with the Air with the M1 processor, it seems that the laptops are exactly the same. The evolution of the Mac began with a familiar design, proven and predictable in appearance, therefore initially inviting.

On the left is a MacBook Pro with an M1 processor, on the right is a MacBook Air with an M1 processor.

All this is even good, because the last cardinal redesign of the Mac line took a long time to take root, and problems were fixed until 2020. This time, experiments with the case were clearly postponed until the next generation of ARM MacBooks.

The only practical difference in the new model is the quality of the image on the screen. He better conveys the saturation of colors – all thanks to P3 wide color space support. By the way, a big plus for photographers, especially those who work with shots taken on the iPhone.

The rest is unchanged. Absolutely the same weight and dimensions:

► Thickness: 0.41 to 1.61 cm
► Length: 30.41 cm
► Width: 21.24 cm
► Weight: 1.29 kg

The “triangular” case made of recycled aluminum, a reliable keyboard with a “scissors” mechanism, a touchpad with Force Touch, two Thunderbolt ports (USB-C 3.1), a headphone jack remained intact. Touch ID is also in place and, as before, is used as a power button.

In general, it’s like a regular MacBook Air. But only externally.

MacBook Air now has an M1 processor inside, and it changes everything

Apple didn’t just release three categories of Macs on a processor M1, but said: this is the future, and in the coming years, these are the processors you should expect in most Macs. This is the first stage of a long-term plan, which has already been unequivocally scheduled for at least 10 years ahead.

M1 belongs to the ARM architecture processors, a radically different chip idea compared to the x86-64 processors common in computers from Intel and AMD.

ARM processors have been used primarily in smartphones and mobile devices in general for 30 years. For example, on iPhone and iPad. ARM’s key advantage over x86-64 chips, which were invented back in 1978, is a more flexible architecture that allows you to achieve high performance results with less power consumption and heating.

We have already written in detail about how the M1 differs from Intel processors:

To the point: What we know about the M1 chip in the new Mac and MacBook: performance, benchmarks, facts

I advise you to read at your leisure, and also look at a separate (Russian-language!) Page about M1 on the Apple website.

The main thing worth knowing, I will duplicate here. Because the features of the new MacBook Air directly follow from the features of the M1 chip.

The M1 is the successor to the best processor designs from the iPhone and iPad. Those same A12x, A13 and A14 are the kings of performance in mobile devices, still undefeated by numerous competitors. So the backlog is definitely victorious.

Inside the M1 8 CPU coresof which 4 are for high load, and 4 – vice versa, for low. Tasks, depending on their intensity, are shifted to specially oriented chips, thereby saving battery life, reducing heat and distributing resources so that the computer works as “homogeneously” as possible in any scenario, without failures and unnecessary throttling.

It also has 8 cores (in the most affordable Air – 7 cores) of a video chip that outperforms not only any built-in video processors in laptops, but also video chips in Apple mobile devices.

In addition, M1 has an unusual architecture for computers. It’s not really a processor, how much system-on-a-chip (SOC). It contains a lot of what is usually “sculpted” on the motherboard. For example, 16 cores the Neural Engine processor, sharpened for ML tasks – machine learning, which penetrates deeper and deeper into both macOS and many professionally oriented applications.

And also straight in M1 installed RAM. It is United (UMA), has increased throughput and lower latency when accessing calls. Today its maximum value is 16 GB. By the standards of x86-64 processors, this may not seem like much. But the reality is much more interesting.

If we talk about the standards of the x86-64 era, the perceived amount of RAM in the M1 can be safely multiplied by two, the same increased bandwidth and lower latency play such a big role. This is the simplest explanation for the phenomenon that M1 with 16 GB of RAM wins in 99% of targets Intel Core i9 with 32 GB of RAM, and in some – with 64 GB.

We have decided on the technical side. Now it’s time for the real tests.

Performance. Is he as fast as they say?

The configuration of the MacBook Air I used.

Here I just want to say YES and that’s it, move on to the next topic. Because the Air with the M1 isn’t just much faster than its predecessor, it’s fast beyond what you might expect from a computer.

I have a MacBook Air upgrade from M1 to 8 graphics cores. There are 7 of them in the base model, and this is the only “stripped down” version of the chip from the entire new Mac line. It has 8 GB of RAM and 512 GB of storage. This model costs 124,990 rubles.

Drive speed is on par with a 16-inch MacBook Pro with a 2TB SSD: almost 3,000 MB/s read and write. Files are copied instantly, and almost all applications are fully opened on click, as if it were not a laptop, but some kind of iPad Pro.

Now pay attention to these two screenshots below. There is a heavy Cinebench test that reveals the prospects of processors in complex calculations.

If these are not nails in the cover of x86-64 processors, then at least a funeral procession:

Cinebench test results, 16-inch MacBook Pro, Intel Core i9, 32 GB RAM, 247,990 rubles

Cinebench test, 13-inch MacBook Air, Apple M1, 8 GB RAM, 124,990 rubles

Test scores, points…

► 16″ MacBook Pro on Intel: 6426 – multi-core, 1124 – single-core

► 13″ MacBook Air on M1: 6981 – multi-core, 1486 – single core

In the single-core test, Air and M1 in it, on passive cooling, simply destroys the Intel Core i9 processor of the previous generation from among the “top ones”, becoming the second line of the average rating. And in multi-core, it still turned out to be faster.

Similar results are obtained in a number of other benchmarks. For example, here is Geekbench 5:

Geekbench 5 test, 16-inch MacBook Pro, Intel Core i9, 32 GB RAM, 247,990 rubles

Geekbench 5, 13-inch MacBook Air, Apple M1, 8 GB RAM, 124,990 rubles

Air on M1 with 8 GB of memory beats the top 16-inch Pro with 32 GB. Curtain.

It is clear that benchmarks are not an indicator. But the point is that in real use the impressions are similar.

Here, in appearance, the usual macOS Big Sur, everything is familiar. It just works very fast, but inside is a radically different processor.

On Air with M1, applications open faster than on the top-end “firmware” with Intel Core i9. Any. EVEN through Rosetta, and even Photoshop! Sites on Air even in Chrome (though the version for M1) load a little faster.

Archives are decompressed on the Air on average 40% faster than on the 16-inch Pro. They have the same drives in terms of speed, so the difference cannot be explained by anything other than the advantage of the M1 over the top-tier Intel processors.

Impressed with the performance, I decided to hook up an ultrawide monitor to the Air and try it out with the lid closed. After the 16-inch MacBook Pro, in places it seemed that I either cleaned the system or upgraded the computer: everything worked either a little, or noticeably faster than on the “proshka”.

It came to the realization that I not only work as well on the new Air as on the Pro – I don’t see a substitution. Eternally gluttonous Photoshop without closing tabs with dozens of RAW behaved impeccably well (the version for M1, in Rosetta was noticeably worse). And twice I completely forgot that I was working on “air” when I tried, out of habit, to find files on the disk that I created on the 16-inch Pro.

This is what iPhone apps run on a Mac with the M1 look like. Here, for example, RosDomofon. Everything nominally works.

…but sometimes it doesn’t work. The developer says that you can fix it from his side.

A rare case when something went wrong: Telegram via Rosetta does not play videos correctly

If it weren’t for minor compatibility issues with some apps with Rosetta (e.g. Telegram doesn’t show video) and the small display, I could just go ahead and replace my beloved 16-inch MacBook Pro with this Air without noticing the catch.

Many of you have asked to test different applications, and each time I didn’t have much to say. Rosetta does its job very welland at a cursory glance (you can’t check everything in the world at once), absolutely all the software was launched and then worked.

Any Mac with the M1 can run iOS and iPadOS apps. Under them there is a separate search tab in the App Store on Big Sur. Alas, many developers unilaterally turned off backward compatibility. And the software itself, although it works, is of little use in the realities of Mac.

So far, only specific “add-ons” for the system have refused to start, such as a program Mac Fan Control. Also, our developer was very upset by the lack of Docker.

But its creators are working on a version for M1, so it’s a matter of time. To check compatibility, I advise you to use this site.

Applications for the M1 weigh more than the Intel versions. Therefore, I advise you to take Air 512 GB. The 256 GB version is exclusively for those who plan not to heavily burden the laptop.

The MacBook Air with the M1 even slows down quite differently than we’ve come to expect from Intel. The fluidity and responsiveness of the macOS interface remains intact, even when you put the laptop under heavy load.

You can open a whole bunch of browser tabs (people tried 400 each!), watch 4K video in them, and so on. And the browser will become more thoughtful, that’s a fact. But the laptop itself … it seems to be all over the place. Run in parallel photoshopand it opens just as quickly. And you work as usual, as if on some other computer, and not this one, an overloaded web browser is pushing.

Nothing special, just started Deus Ex: Mankind Divided to Air from M1 via Rosetta. Medium settings, 40 frames or more, quite playable.

The only “weak” point of the M1 is noticeable only against the background of top-end, large MacBooks (and even then with reservations). The M1’s discrete graphics can’t quite catch up with the standalone Radeon graphics card from the 16-inch MacBook Pro yet. But that doesn’t mean M1 can’t play games. Everything that I downloaded and installed from Apple Arcade flew on a laptop with maximum settings at 60 frames per second. Even the top 13-inch MacBook Pro of 2020 will not be able to do this, and it’s pointless to remember the past “trinashki” at all.

► The Elder Scrolls Online: 60+ FPSmedium settings
► minecraft: 110+ FPSmaximum settings
► Sims 4: 60 fpshigh settings, no anti-aliasing
► Deus Ex Mankind Divided: 40 fpsmedium settings
► Dota 2: 40-60 FPSmedium settings
► Serious Sam 3: 100+ FPSmaximum settings
► Starcraft 2: 60+ FPSmedium settings

As you can see, quite a playable footage. Hardcore Air gamers shouldn’t pick up the Air anyway, especially with the M1: a lot of games are still only available for Windows, which isn’t available on these PCs yet.

If the Air with the M1 caught up with the 16-inch firmware in 3D performance, then it would be just the finish line. But it is already clear that this achievement was simply left for the next generation of chips (and large MacBooks based on them). With such “vidyuhi”, the previously traditionally weak 13-inch Macs are now even surpassing the 15-inch MacBook Pro with a discrete graphics card from 2016-17!

How long does a MacBook Air run on an M1 in reality?

I tested Air in just two completely different scenarios. It was impossible to run more tests in a whole week, because… he ran out of battery just twice. The third did not have time, because the week is over.

Varied, uniform load. In this mode, the MacBook Air with M1 runs for about 11-13 hours. I got at least 12 hours of continuous use, and in combination with sleep and expensive work-home-work – exactly 24 hours.

In this scenario, I worked for him exactly the way I use my MacBook daily. That is, about ten running applications, including Chrome (M1 version), Safari, Telegram, WhatsApp, Photoshop (M1 and Rosetta versions), Final Cut Pro, Music, Mail, Microsoft Word (Rosetta) and Pages, as well as Steam (Rosetta). Close them when not needed. He did not limit himself in any way.

In addition, in 12 hours I ran a dozen different benchmarks, some more than twice. The brightness was above average, I feel more comfortable that way. From time to time, but not for long, connected external devices.

Who would have thought. Chrome chews the battery like crazy even in the version for M1.

A result of 12 hours with the same mode of operation is absolutely impossible on a Mac with Intel processors. I have something to compare with: I use the pumped 16-inch MacBook Pro in exactly the same way, and its battery life in a similar scenario never exceeded 6-7 hours. At the same time, Air worked visually just as quickly, and in some places even faster! How is this even possible…

The most voracious in this mode are applications translated by the Rosetta translator. If not for Steam and the old version of Chrome, as well as Photoshop in the Rosetta version, I would clearly have scored 14 hours. By the way, in sleep mode, Air steadily “lost” exactly 0% of the charge.

The new MacBook Air with M1 is similar in battery life to an iPad. But it actually takes longer.

Shock, critically high load. With this use, you should expect about 5-8 hours of work from Air. I got seven with a penny.

For some reason, many on the Internet believe that it is they who load computers as hard as possible, and therefore it is impossible to focus on official data on battery life. Therefore, I decided to simulate the most negative scenario, realistic only for 1-2% of potential users: I just took it and started to twist one benchmark after another. I set the Cinebench 4D test to an infinite loop, tortured Geekbench 5, converted 4K video to Final Cut Pro just like that. If only Air was hard.

The most unusual thing about this is how difficult it was to understand that Air was generally “heavy” at a particular point in time. A benchmark flies in the background, the project is rendered in FCP – but absolutely everything that I do outside of these two applications starts and works as if nothing had happened!

The interface works super fast, all animations are displayed without lags. Hey, I have maximum CPU usage! For comparison, my 16-inch MacBook Pro with Intel Core i9 noticeably slows down when repeating the same situation, and it’s completely unnecessary to talk about case temperature and cooler noise.

Outcome: new MacBook Air with M1 lasts longer than any Mac in the last 7 years above average loads. It is inferior (and even then not much) only to the MacBook Pro with the M1, but that’s another story. You can use it for several days until you need to look for a charge. Mac iPad-level autonomy is a marvel that wouldn’t be possible without the new chip.

MacBook Air never gets as hot as Macs used to

Almost the entire body of the Air with the M1 stays cold. With long and high loads – barely warm.

It’s no secret that some Macs have been running hot over the past few years and their performance has suffered because of it. Apple tried to find a balance between the thickness of the body and the power of iron. In the end, it seemed to give up in the 16-inch MacBook Pro, putting there the most advanced cooling system in the MacBook ecosystem and rather noisy fans.

Now it is obvious that Intel and its processors were primarily to blame for all this. The hot 2020 MacBook Air with active cooling under light loads noticeably warmed up to the very edge of a comfortable level. And the performance of the laptop as a whole fell noticeably so as not to burn the owner’s knees.

Normal chip temperature during active operation. The temperature sensor is in the M1 chip, so the temperature of the SSD is plus or minus the temperature of the processor.

Meanwhile, a MacBook Air with an M1 processor under HIGH loads, without a cooler at all, under load produces maximum 38 degrees on the body and 45 degrees inside (thanks to iStat app). 38 degrees is “barely warm”, you can’t even get warm from it normally.

It’s winter now, so I leave the advantage here for Mac on Intel processors. How to warm up now? On a 16-inch MacBook Pro with the lid closed and with an external display connected, I can actually weld anything. Opposite the back, the air is also steaming, you can use it as a hair dryer. Air with M1 in the same mode does not even warm hands …

But seriously, the Air with M1 is very cold by the standards of laptops, and this, of course, is amazing.

Who needs a MacBook Air with an M1 processor?

There are a lot of them. I’ll tell you right now “IMHO”: almost any MacBook with an Intel processor will be worse than even the base new Air for 99,990 rubles. Whether you have a 2012 or 2017 Pro, you’ll get so many upsides with the upgrade to the M1 that the downsides seem insignificant.

Owners of older generations of Air you can safely take a new one. Even 2020 models with Intel in any configuration will be inferior to the new product with M1. Fans of the 12-inch MacBook new Air must be liked. Yes, it’s not as compact, but it’s completely quiet, performs a lot better, and has both a better display and a solid keyboard. I’m hearing more and more about hardware problems with those laptops, so it’s time to upgrade and get rid of that “baby” while it’s still working.

I recommend getting the 512 GB model because many M1-compatible applications weigh twice as much as their Intel versions.

Reasons to refuse to buy Air right now are frankly few, but they are. First, you don’t install Windows on it in Boot Camp mode. There are ways to run Windows software, but they are not yet perfect and not very convenient. And secondly, this is not a gaming laptop. If what you are stuck in is not in the Mac App Store, and Rosetta is not friendly with it, then there are practically no alternatives, and it is not known if they will appear at all. Here the question is not about the capabilities of iron, but about the features of the chip architecture.

15-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro users I would advise waiting. Obviously, in 2021, a new generation of these laptops will be released on Apple ARM processors. I don’t see the point in reducing the usual diagonal of the display, just be patient a little.

Well, if you love your 13-inch MacBook Pro for its body and Touch Bar, then you should upgrade to its “sequel” with the M1. Just remember that Air is always silent…

What about the 13-inch MacBook Pro with the M1? Here only IMHO. But I think the 13-inch MacBook Air with the M1 is a better buy in the vast majority of cases than the firmware with the M1. The difference in continuous peak performance is insignificant, literally 8-12% of strength. The screen brightness is slightly lower, there is no Touch Bar. But for the rest…

Judge for yourself. The Air has a lighter and thinner case. Physical F-keys instead of the Touch Bar, which for the proportion of users is a plus, not a disadvantage. Complete silence! Slim profile that creates the illusion of weightlessness. And an average of 12 hours of use is far more than the stagnant bar of expectations from a modern laptop.

The new MacBook Air is the rebirth of the most successful laptop of the decade, Air 2013, which has become a legendary measure of quality for the entire market for several years to come. It’s better in absolutely everything, from performance to battery life. A definite success, which, in my opinion, even outshines the 13-inch MacBook Pro on the same processor. But that’s a topic for another review.

M1 is the future you want to subscribe to. This is the third day I haven’t used the new Air and I already miss it.

Thanks to Pavel Teleshevsky for part of the photo.

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