The Best MacBooks

Why you should trust us

Andrew Cunningham has been testing, reviewing, and otherwise writing about PCs, Macs, and other gadgets for AnandTech, Ars Technica, and Wirecutter since 2011. He has been building, upgrading, and fixing PCs for more than 15 years, and he spent five of those years in IT departments buying and repairing laptops and desktops as well as helping people buy the best tech for their needs. He has also used every Mac laptop that Apple has released over the past two decades.

Who this is for, and when to buy

The best reason to buy a MacBook is that you need or prefer macOS to Windows. The operating system is stable and easy to use, but more important, it integrates well with iPhones and iPads—for example, iMessages and SMS messages sent from your Mac also appear on your iPhone and vice versa, and features such as AirDrop and iCloud make it easy to share notes, pictures, videos, reminders, contacts, passwords, bookmarks, and other data between your devices.

Macs are also a good choice if you want great support. Apple’s tech support is routinely rated above that of most if not all other PC and phone makers, and Apple Stores and Apple authorized service providers offer accessible in-person tech support and repairs in many locations.

And MacBooks that use Apple processors (or “Apple silicon”) instead of Intel processors are better than Intel MacBooks and most Windows laptops in some key ways. Apple’s processors have much better performance and faster graphics, and they get stellar battery life. Their batteries are also less prone to draining quickly when you’re using an energy-hogging app like Zoom or Google Chrome.

Macs aren’t a great choice if you have less than $1,000 to spend on a laptop, if you want to run high-end games, or if you want to be able to make upgrades or repairs yourself. Windows ultrabooks provide decent performance and more kinds of ports at or below the price Apple charges for the MacBook Air. Budget Chrome OS and Windows laptops are a better choice if you have only $500 to spend, while business laptops make it easier to fix and upgrade components over time. And Windows gaming notebooks and pro laptops, while typically large and bulky, usually have newer and faster dedicated graphics processors than Apple’s laptops do (and you can buy some of them for less than half of what a 16-inch MacBook Pro costs).

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If you need a new laptop today, you should buy one instead of waiting around for Apple to release a new one—it’s difficult to predict when or how often the company will release new hardware. But Apple is currently in the process of phasing out Macs with Intel processors in favor of its own, which (at least in our testing so far) offer dramatically improved performance and battery life compared with the old Intel models. According to Apple, it will take until sometime in 2022 for all the Intel Macs to be replaced. Right now, if the Mac you want includes an Apple processor, it’s safe to buy. If it uses an Intel processor, buy it if you need it, but wait if you can.

Once a Mac has been available for a few months, you can save a substantial amount by buying from Apple’s refurbished store. Apple-refurbished products look and work the same as new ones and have the exact same warranties, including optional AppleCare coverage, so buying one is a great way to save a few hundred dollars. If you’re looking to buy a particular configuration, the third-party Refurb Tracker site can alert you when specific models are in stock.

How we picked

The 13-inch MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Pro stacked on top of eachother. The 13-inch MacBook Air (top) and 13-inch MacBook Pro (bottom). Photo: Andrew Cunningham

As of this writing, Apple offers three different laptops in multiple configurations. We considered the following criteria when deciding which ones to recommend:

  • Performance: Any MacBook with an Apple processor like the M1 is going to be more than speedy enough for day-to-day browsing and communicating as well as heavy multitasking, editing videos, or compiling code. For Intel Macs, four-, six-, and eight-core Core i5 and Core i7 processors can also handle that kind of work. All MacBooks include at least 8 GB of RAM, which is plenty for everyday tasks, but you should consider upgrading to 16 GB or 32 GB if you edit a lot of large files or if you’ve got an Intel Mac and want to run Windows apps in a virtual machine.
  • Display: A high-resolution IPS display is a must on any laptop priced at or above $1,000. All of Apple’s current Retina displays are sharp and color-accurate and capable of displaying nearly 100% of the sRGB and DCI-P3 color gamuts.
  • Ports: All of Apple’s laptops now use Thunderbolt 3 ports exclusively, for everything from data to video to charging; Thunderbolt 3 ports are fully compatible with all USB-C accessories and cables, but Thunderbolt 3 offers better performance. All MacBooks include at least two of these ports, so you can charge the laptop and connect a second device at the same time. We wish they had a greater number and variety of ports than they do, but two ports is workable. We have picks for both Thunderbolt 3 docks and USB-C docks, as well as for USB-C monitors, and USB-C data cables and video cables, spare or replacement USB-C chargers, and other accessories that will help you connect all of your old stuff to these new ports.
  • Keyboard, Touch Bar, and Touch ID: You shouldn’t buy a MacBook that still has the low-travel butterfly-switch keyboard that Apple installed in all of its MacBooks between 2015 and 2019, mostly because of its unsatisfying, flat feel and well-documented reliability problems. Our picks all have the newer scissor-switch keyboard, which is nicer to type on and shouldn’t be as susceptible to dust and dirt. All current MacBooks include the Touch ID fingerprint sensor; the presence or absence of the Touch Bar didn’t factor in one way or the other into our decision-making since it’s a neat feature but still mostly superfluous.
  • Size and weight: All of Apple’s laptops are relatively thin and light compared with similar laptops from other manufacturers, but the 13-inch models tend to offer the best combination of size, weight, and performance.
  • Price: Macs cost a lot, but most people don’t need to buy the most expensive versions. Our recommended configurations balance performance, storage, and price—we especially recommend relying on cloud storage or external storage, if you can, instead of buying a larger SSD, since Apple’s expensive storage upgrades add hundreds of dollars to the price of its laptops.
  • Battery life: When you’re performing basic computing tasks such as browsing or emailing, all of Apple’s laptops should be able to get you through most of an eight-hour workday on a single charge. And Macs with Apple processors last for hours longer than that, with less battery drain when using common energy-draining apps like Zoom or Google Chrome.

The best all-around Mac laptop: MacBook Air (M1, 2020)

The 13-inch MacBook Air with Apple’s M1 processor, shown open to its desktop screen. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

Our pick

Apple MacBook Air (2020, M1)

Apple MacBook Air (2020, M1)

The MacBook Air has a comfortable keyboard, good performance, and a reasonable amount of storage—things that haven’t always been true of previous MacBook Airs.

The best Mac laptop for most people is the 13-inch MacBook Air with Apple’s M1 processor. It’s more than fast enough for browsing, working on documents, and making light photo and video edits, and it has an excellent high-resolution screen, a great trackpad, a totally silent fanless design, and a reasonable price. Its battery life is excellent, long enough to survive through a full day of work or classes and then some. The Air’s light weight, solid construction, and industry-leading support make it a great laptop, especially if you also own an iPhone or other Apple devices. The biggest downside is its mediocre webcam.

We recommend the $1,000 model, which includes an Apple M1 with a seven-core GPU, a 256 GB SSD, and 8 GB of memory. If you regularly work with a couple of dozen browser tabs open or if you edit large image files or videos, consider upgrading to 16 GB of memory for an extra $200. If you need more storage, we recommend adding an external hard drive or portable SSD rather than paying Apple’s upgrade prices. Don’t spend extra for the version of the M1 with the eight-core GPU; most people won’t notice the difference. We talk more about the M1’s performance later in this guide.

The MacBook Air has a bright and colorful 13-inch 2560×1600 IPS screen—that display has a higher resolution than the 1080p screens in most of the PC laptops we recommend, and text and images look sharp and detailed. The Air’s display supports both the sRGB color gamut and the wider DCI-P3 color gamut, which can display more shades of certain colors, though this feature isn’t hugely important unless you’re doing high-end film or photography work. The Air’s screen also supports the True Tone feature, which subtly changes the screen’s color temperature to match the ambient lighting in the room.

The ports on the new MacBook Air. The headphone jack on the new MacBook Air.

The MacBook Air has two USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 ports on its left side. You’ll need adapters or dongles to plug in other kinds of accessories. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

The Air has a headphone jack on its right side plus two Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports on its left side for connectivity and charging, so you need adapters or new cables to connect your other devices. Each port supports charging, 40-gigabits-per-second data transfers, external displays (up to 6016×3384 resolution, or 6K, though you can only connect one external monitor at a time), and basic USB peripherals like flash drives, printers, and mice. More expensive versions ($1,800 and up) of the 13-inch MacBook Pro include four Thunderbolt 3 ports, as does the 16-inch Pro, but even with those models you’d still need a dongle, hub, or dock to connect most accessories.

The Air uses Apple’s Magic Keyboard, which it introduced to replace the stiff, shallow, breakage prone butterfly-switch keyboard that came with most MacBook Airs and Pros released between 2016 and 2019. The Magic Keyboard still isn’t as springy as the pre-2016 MacBook keyboards (or Lenovo’s excellent ThinkPad keyboards), but it’s a huge improvement. The keyboard is now a scissor-switch design, which keeps most of the firmness of the old butterfly-switch keyboard but adds another 0.5 mm of key travel (for a total of 1 mm). If you have a 2015 or older MacBook Air or Pro, and you’ve been waiting to upgrade because you didn’t like the keyboard of 2016 and newer models, this keyboard is good enough for you to stop putting off the purchase. The MacBook Air skips the Touch Bar in favor of a row of physical function keys and a standalone Touch ID fingerprint sensor, but most people don’t need the Touch Bar, so we don’t really consider that to be a negative.

The keyboard on the new MacBook Air. The new MacBook keyboard trades the shallow, stiff keys from previous generations for springier keys with deeper and more satisfying travel. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

All of our picks include the same Force Touch trackpad, which remains the best trackpad we’ve used on a laptop because of its large size and its accuracy. It has no hinge, so it will recognize presses anywhere on the surface, but it also offers haptic feedback that makes it feel and sound as if it were “clicking” even though it doesn’t move. The Air’s trackpad isn’t quite as large as the Pro’s, but the difference isn’t noticeable if you’re not comparing the two side by side.

If you need more storage, we recommend adding an external hard drive or portable SSD rather than paying Apple’s upgrade prices.

The 2020 MacBook Air weighs 2.8 pounds and is almost imperceptibly thicker than the 2018 and 2019 models, due entirely to the space needed for the extra key travel. It’s 0.2 pound lighter than the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and about the same amount heavier than Dell’s XPS 13 (9310). The Air is not an exceptionally thin or light laptop, but it is as slim as it needs to be, and it is comfortable to carry in a backpack or shoulder bag.

A chart showing the battery life of laptop models we've tested, with Apple's new M1 processor models showing the best battery life. The old Intel MacBooks were at the bottom of our battery life comparison charts, but the new M1 versions we recommend are at the top. Illustration: Wirecutter

The M1 MacBook Air soundly beats its predecessors in battery life. The early 2020 version of the MacBook Air with a Core i5 processor lasted around eight hours in our Google Chrome–based battery test, which is decent but not exceptional. The M1 version of the MacBook Air lasted longer than 14 hours in the same test. We also found that the M1 MacBook Air’s battery didn’t drain as quickly when using video-chatting apps like Zoom, which are typically pretty hard on a laptop’s battery.

Flaws but not dealbreakers

Apple continues to include a basic 720p webcam in all of its MacBooks. This is OK for casual video chatting where all the person on the other end of the call needs to do is see your face, and the M1’s image processing does help with exposure and white balance. But the webcam in the $1,000 MacBook Air (or even a $2,400 16-inch MacBook Pro) is still noticeably inferior to the front-facing camera Apple includes with the $400 iPhone SE, or any of our less-than-$100 standalone webcam picks.

Current MacBook models use Thunderbolt 3 for all connectivity, including power. (The only other port is a 3.5 mm headphone/mic jack.) This means that if you own any hard drives, scanners, printers, thumb drives, or card readers that use USB Type-A ports, you need a hub or adapter; similarly, if you want to use an external display or projector, you need the right video adapter.

The M1 MacBook Air is missing one thing that older Intel models had: the ability to connect to more than one external display. That external screen can have a resolution as high as 6K, which covers Apple’s astronomically expensive Pro Display XDR, but even if you just want to connect a basic 1080p budget monitor to your MacBook, the laptop can only handle one of them.1 That said, the M1 MacBook Air feels faster and its animations look more fluid in day-to-day use than the previous Intel MacBook Air when connected to an external 4K display, and it’s also quieter since there’s no fan to kick on.

Most Mac apps will run just fine on Macs with Apple’s M1 chip, and many apps (including all of Apple’s) have already been optimized to take advantage of its extra speed. But apps made to work only with Intel Macs can be a mixed bag. Many, including games, run as fast or faster than they did on Intel Macs. But occasionally when using apps with a lot of scrolling or interacting with the user interface, apps sometimes looked choppier or felt marginally less responsive. And software used to run Windows apps inside of a virtual machine, like Parallels Desktop or VMWare Fusion, don’t currently work at all. This will mostly be worked out over the next year or so as developers update their apps, but it can be annoying or inconvenient in the short term. We talk more about the benefits and caveats of the M1 chip later in this guide.

Better for video and coding: 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020)

The 13-inch MacBook Pro (M1, 2020). Photo: Andrew Cunningham

Our pick

13-inch MacBook Pro (2020, M1)

13-inch MacBook Pro (2020, M1)

If you do processor-intensive work like video editing and app development but don’t want to deal with the extra size and weight of the 16-inch Pro, the $1,500 version of the 13-inch MacBook Pro is a big step up from the Air.

The M1 version of Apple’s 13-inch MacBook Pro is better than the MacBook Air for specific kinds of work that benefit from additional processor speed, and it has a larger battery that lasts for a few extra hours. Otherwise, the Pro has most of the same, well, pros and cons as the Air, including its good keyboard and trackpad, great screen, limited port selection, and mediocre webcam.

Most common tasks—opening apps and browser windows, playing videos, making a few photo edits—need peak processor performance for only a few seconds at a time, so you won’t notice a difference between the Air and the Pro for those things. But the Pro has a fan inside to help it dissipate heat, which means the M1 processor can run at its peak speed pretty much indefinitely, where the Air eventually has to slow down to prevent overheating. In our tests, this made the Pro between 10% and 20% faster at time- and processor-intensive tasks like encoding video, compressing files, and compiling apps for distribution via any of Apple’s various app stores.

The 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro has the same Magic Keyboard as the 16-inch version, including the Touch Bar. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

The Pro we recommend comes with 16 GB of memory and 256 GB of storage—the extra memory will help if you open dozens of browser tabs at once, or edit large high-resolution images and videos. If you don’t need that extra memory because you don’t do that kind of work with your computer, get the Air instead. You can add a larger SSD if you want, but you should still consider external storage before you pay Apple’s sky-high SSD prices.

The rest of the Pro’s features are similar or identical to those of the Air. Its Magic Keyboard has the same improved travel you get in other recent MacBook models, though it does include Apple’s Touch Bar rather than a row of physical function keys. The large multi-touch trackpad is identical. The Pro’s 13-inch 2560×1600 IPS screen supports the same DCI-P3 color gamut, which can display more shades of red and green than a typical sRGB screen. The Pro uses the same disappointing 720p webcam as the Air. And while the 3-pound Pro is a little heavier than the 2.8-pound Air, that’s not a difference you’ll really feel once you’ve tucked the laptop into a shoulder bag or backpack.

The biggest difference you’ll notice between the Pro and the Air, even more so than the performance, is the Pro’s battery life. The two laptops use the same screen and a similar processor—the two biggest drains on your laptop’s battery—but the Air uses a 49.9 WHr battery where the Pro uses a 58.2 WHr battery. That extra capacity let the Pro run our battery test for four more hours, for a total of 18. You could go multiple days without needing to plug in the Pro.

The biggest MacBook: MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

Apple's 16-inch MacBook Pro from 2019, shown on a desk. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

Upgrade pick

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

Apple MacBook Pro (16-inch, 2019)

The 16-inch MacBook Pro has a larger screen, as well as fast, powerful Intel processors and AMD GPUs. But you pay a lot for the bigger display and extra speed, and it might be worth waiting for a version with an Apple chip if you can.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro (2019) is much more computer than you need to browse the internet, edit documents, or do casual photo and video editing. But if you want a bigger screen for editing large spreadsheets and databases on the go, or if you want more Thunderbolt 3/USB-C ports, the Pro might be worth the extra money. And although it still uses Intel processors rather than newer Apple chips, it still offers all the performance necessary for editing photos and videos professionally, running 3D drafting programs, or compiling app code for Apple’s app stores. It’s also the best MacBook if you want to use more than one external display—it supports as many as four, where both the M1 Macs we recommend can use only one. Its speakers are also surprisingly good for a laptop. But it costs more than twice as much as the MacBook Air, it’s 1.6 pounds heavier, its battery life is relatively mediocre, and it runs a little hot—though that last part has been true of most 15-inch MacBook Pros in years past.

We recommend the $2,400 configuration of the 16-inch Pro, which includes a six-core Core i7 processor, 512 GB of storage, 16 GB of memory, and the AMD Radeon Pro 5300M graphics processor. Although 16 GB of memory is plenty even for most professionals, you can have 32 GB of memory for an extra $400 or 64 GB for $800—the other MacBooks we recommend top out at 16 GB. Only creative professionals who make their living editing video, doing 3D drafting, or coding apps should even consider paying more for an eight-core processor or the Radeon Pro 5500M GPU; the added cost is too much to justify otherwise, and our recommended configuration is still plenty fast. You can also have as much as 8 TB of internal storage, but Apple’s storage prices are so high—the 8 TB SSD upgrade costs the same amount as the laptop itself—that cloud storage or external storage is a more economical option.

The keyboard on the 16-inch MacBook Pro. The 16-inch MacBook Pro’s improved scissor-switch keyboard and physical Esc key replace the old butterfly keyboard, and they’re a big improvement. As for the gigantic trackpad, it’s the best we’ve used on a laptop. Photo: Andrew Cunningham

Like the Air and 13-inch Pro, the 16-inch MacBook Pro’s screen includes DCI-P3 color gamut support and the True Tone feature, so it can display more shades of some colors than sRGB displays and can change the tint of your display to match your ambient lighting. But the 16-inch model’s higher, 3072×1920 resolution allows it to fit more stuff at once. The bigger screen makes a significant difference when you’re editing photos or working in a large spreadsheet, and the Pro is still about the same size and weight as high-performance 15-inch laptops from most PC makers.

The 16-inch MacBook Pro also includes the improved Magic Keyboard design that swaps the firm but shallow butterfly switches out in favor of scissor switches with a springier feel and deeper, more satisfying key travel. And the Touch Bar, previously one continuous strip across the top of the keyboard, has been split into three pieces: a physical Esc key on the left, the otherwise same-old Touch Bar in the center, and a standalone Touch ID sensor and power button on the right. The Touch Bar still doesn’t feel necessary, but these design improvements address a handful of long-standing complaints from some Mac users. The 16-inch Pro’s Force Touch trackpad is also considerably larger than either that of the 13-inch Air or that of the 15-inch Pro it replaces.

While the 16-inch MacBook Pro is considerably larger and heavier than any of Apple’s 13-inch laptops—it’s 14.09 inches wide and 9.68 inches deep, and it weighs 4.3 pounds—its measurements are in line with those of other laptops we’ve tested with similar specs but with smaller, 15-inch screens. It’s also more expensive than those laptops, though: Dell’s XPS 15, for example, offers comparable processors, GPUs, memory, and storage for less than $2,000, and that’s typical of larger, more powerful laptops aimed at creative professionals. That isn’t helpful if you need or prefer to use macOS, but it does put Apple’s pricing in perspective.

Goodbye, Intel: Testing the Apple M1

Once all of this transitional dust settles, M1 Macs are going to be significantly faster across the board compared with the Intel Macs that preceded them. To demonstrate, we ran a handful of tests on our recommended M1 MacBook Air and Pro configurations, the Intel Core i5 MacBook Air configuration that we recommended earlier in 2020, and a fully loaded Intel Core i9 iMac from 2020.5 Here’s what we ran:

  • The Geekbench 5 benchmark, which is good at showing how processors do when performing for short periods of time. This includes both a single-core test, which measures the processor’s speed when just one of its cores is active, and a multi-core test that uses all available processor cores.
  • Maxon Cinebench R23, which can be used to demonstrate how processors perform over longer periods of time. It also has both single- and multi-core tests, and we ran the 30-minute version of the test.
  • Transcoding an 87-minute movie using HandBrake’s 1080p30 Fast preset, to test how quickly each Mac can encode a video.6
  • Running devMEremenko’s Xcode Benchmark in using Apple’s Xcode development environment. This tests how long it takes a Mac to compile code, as you’d do before you uploaded an app to one of Apple’s App Stores.

We chose all of these tests because they’ve already been optimized for Apple silicon, and because they represent a mix of basic benchmarks plus activities that actual people do with their Macs.

Geekbench 5 single-core Geekbench 5 multi-core Cinebench R23 single-core (30 min) Cinebench R23 multi-core (30 min) HandBrake 1080p transcoding Xcode Benchmark
2020 Core i5 MacBook Air, 16 GB

1,150

2,890 906 2,475 50 minutes, 20 seconds 514.1 seconds
2020 M1 MacBook Air, 8 GB 1,715 7,522 1,491 6,484 18 minutes, 56 seconds 138.5 seconds
2020 M1 MacBook Pro, 16 GB

1,677

7,500 1,511 7,778 15 minutes, 29 seconds 128.2 seconds
2020 Core i9 iMac, 32 GB 1,390 10,104 1,290 13,860 9 minutes, 13 seconds 139.6 seconds

Higher scores are better for Geekbench and Cinebench. Lower times are better for HandBrake and Xcode.

It’s not surprising that the M1 MacBooks outperform older MacBooks; the processors in Apple’s iPad Pros have been good enough for long enough that this was easy to predict, and the new M1 Air is between 50% and and 270% (!) faster than the Intel one depending on what you’re doing. The M1 MacBook Pro’s fan also helps a small but noticeable amount when all of the processor’s cores are busy for more than a couple of minutes, though the Air and Pro perform pretty similarly overall.

What is surprising is how well even the $1,000 MacBook Air does compared with a high-end $3,800 desktop computer. The iMac is certainly faster, and it’s got much better graphics performance, way more memory, and the ability to connect to more external displays. But it’s also way more expensive and uses way more power. If Apple’s more powerful chips can improve the iMac or the 16-inch MacBook Pro as much as the M1 improves the MacBook Air, the next Apple silicon Macs are going to be worth waiting for.

What to look forward to

Apple will continue to replace Intel Macs with Apple silicon Macs throughout 2021 and into 2022, and if you’re looking to buy a 16-inch MacBook Pro it may be worth waiting for an Apple silicon model to be released. Given the age of the current 16-inch MacBook Pro, we’d guess at a 16-inch Apple silicon model by sometime in mid-2021.

For Macs with Apple processors like the M1, expect major companies like Adobe and Microsoft to release updated, optimized versions of their apps in the next few months that will perform better than the current Intel-only versions do. Until that happens, there can be a speed penalty for using these apps, especially for software where you’re frequently interacting with the user interface (scrubbing through a track in an audio- or video-editing app, for example, or switching between multiple tools in an image editing app).

The competition

All of Apple’s current laptops include the much-improved scissor-switch Magic Keyboard, so you’ll run into the old failure-prone butterfly-switch keyboard only if you buy a refurbished model released between 2016 and 2019. Apple’s refurbished store is usually a good way to save money on a like-new laptop, but only if you can buy the 2020 versions of the MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Pro, or the 16-inch MacBook Pro. Avoid the 2018 and 2019 versions of the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pros made between 2016 and 2019, and any 15-inch MacBook Pro (the 16-inch replaced the 15-inch model in late 2019).

Although they have the improved keyboard, you should also avoid the Intel versions of the 2020 MacBook Air and Pro unless you need them for a specific reason, like running Windows apps in virtualization software or via Boot Camp. These laptops still run fine (though you should avoid the Core i3 version of the MacBook Air because of its performance; get the Core i5 or Core i7 version instead). But the Apple M1 versions are faster and get better battery life, especially if you don’t rely on high-end apps that haven’t been optimized for Apple’s processors yet.

Apple’s 12-inch MacBook and the 13-inch non-Retina MacBook Air were discontinued in July 2019, and the 15-inch Pro went away in November 2019. You may still be able to find them at a discount in Apple’s refurbished store. But we don’t recommend that most people buy any of those laptops at any price. The 12-inch MacBook is slow and includes only one USB-C port—since that port also serves to charge the laptop, the 12-inch MacBook is much less flexible than even the two-port MacBook Air and Pro models we recommend. The old MacBook Air’s four-year-old processor and 1440×900 TN LCD screen are far inferior to the components in anything else Apple currently sells. And the 15-inch Pro still has a pretty high price tag, uses the inferior butterfly-switch keyboard instead of the new scissor-switch version, and offers slower graphics processors and worse battery life than the 16-inch version.

Footnotes

  1. The M1 can handle a total of two displays at once—the laptop’s built-in display and an external one. We tried to connect two screens to a MacBook Air with its lid closed, to see if shutting off the built-in display would allow the laptop to work with a second monitor, but that doesn’t work either.

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  2. The Intel instruction set is called x86 or x86_64, a reference to the Intel 8086 processor from 1978. Apple’s M1 uses an instruction set called ARM, a reference to the company that created it. Neither of these instruction sets are exclusive to Intel or Apple; AMD chips use the x86 instruction set, for example, while phone and tablet processors from Qualcomm, Samsung, Nvidia, MediaTek, and others all use the ARM instruction set.

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  3. All of the developers of these apps have already announced plans to release new versions optimized for Apple’s chips, and many are already offering beta versions you can try if you want the extra speed and can deal with occasional bugs or missing features.

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  4. This version of Windows already exists and runs on ARM computers like Microsoft’s Surface Pro X, but the company doesn’t allow people to buy and install it on their own computers themselves.

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  5. The Intel MacBook Air uses a Core i5-1030NG7 processor and 16 GB of RAM; the M1 MacBook Air uses the version with seven GPU cores and 8 GB of RAM; the MacBook Pro uses an M1 with eight GPU cores and 16 GB of RAM; and the 2020 iMac uses a Core i9-10910 processor, an AMD Radeon Pro 5700 XT GPU, and 32 GB of RAM.

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  6. We used “software encoding” for the HandBrake test, which uses the CPU. “Hardware encoding” using the GPU is faster and preferable for things like live-streaming using YouTube or Twitch, but it generally results in larger and lower-quality video files that aren’t as suitable for professional work.

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Sources

  1. The Wide Gamut World of Color — iMac Edition, Astramael.com, April 25, 2016

  2. Wayne Manion, Apple admits butterfly keyboard problems and promises free repairs, The Tech Report, June 25, 2018

  3. Use external monitors with your Mac, Apple Support, November 17, 2018

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