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Apple M1: At least a generation ahead of Intel

Six months have past since Apple launched its first M1 based Macs. This week saw a slew of new Macs and an iPad Pro all using the same processor.

M1 is at least a generation ahead of anything Intel can offer. It is, in effect, an entire system on a chip. There’s no indication the chipmaker will close the gap any time soon. Intel is in trouble.

If you want the best battery performance and the most powerful everyday processor it’s Apple all the way.

M1 across the Apple range

Your M1 choices run from the NZ$1200 Mac Mini through the iMac range up to the NZ$2550 MacBook Pro. The same processor runs the iPad Pro (prices start at NZ$1350).

The M1 is nominally an eight-core processor. In practice it is more complicated. There are four high-performance cores and four low power, high-efficiency cores.

There’s something else going on.

The M1 changes how we think about the relationship between processors and computers.

Over the years we’ve been trained to see processors as the key component defining the difference between low-end and high-end computers.

Until now it always been the case.

Processor power

You spend more money to get a more powerful processor running at a faster speed. In many cases computer brands sell what amounts to the same laptop equipped with different processor combinations.

That extra money buys you more grunt to crush more numbers, render huge graphics files or kill virtual aliens faster.

It wasn’t always a linear relationship. There were sweet spots in the Intel line-up where you could buy the maximum bang for the minimum number of bucks.

None of this applies to Apple in 2020

No doubt there will be more powerful Apple Silicon processors in the months and years to come. But for now it is one chip to rule them all.

Or, to put it another way, unless you have specific needs, there’s no longer any need to worry about the processor part of a computer’s specification.

Where does M1 leave Windows and Intel?

There have been reports of Windows running faster on Apple Macs than on more expensive Intel-based computers. If you stick with MacOs, you’ll see even better speeds.

Apple’s price-performance advantage is stark. Yes, you can buy Windows laptops or desktops for less than Mac prices. In cases, a lot less. If you’re not looking for performance, that remains a plausible buying strategy.

Otherwise, it is becoming harder and harder to justify the prices of higher-end Intel-based laptops or desktops.

Price competitive

The old idea that Apple is an expensive option needs revisiting.

Take Microsoft Surface. The devices have a lot going for them. It’s hard to make direct comparisons and, at the time of writing, the market is muddied by a lot of aggressive discounting.

Yet there are cases where Microsoft asks for 40 percent more than Apple for computers with shorter battery life and less raw processing power.

It’s much the same when you look at HP, Dell or any other well-known PC brand.

Hard to ignore

There will always be computer buyers who convince themselves that Apple is not worthy of their business. As if HP, Acer or Lenovo are somehow morally superior.

This isn’t always irrational. Many people have a lot invested in Windows, although that is less of a barrier than it was.Running Windows on Mac may be easy, but it means compromises and extra spending.

For everyone else, it’s getting harder and harder to walk past Apple’s computers.

On a personal note, I’m concerned that this looks unbalanced. Perhaps I’ve swallowed the Apple propaganda. The advantage seems so extreme, there must be a catch somewhere. I’ve been over the numbers repeatedly and I don’t see it. Yes, you can find all kinds of reasons to not want an Apple computer, but, for now, the raw price-performance argument seems solid. 

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