13in MacBook Pro (M1)
Price: £1,299 from fave.co/3m59RDG
For years, it’s been iPhone this, iPhone that. And for good reason. But now, the Mac – the platform that pushed Apple to the forefront of computing – is back in the spotlight. And for good reason.
While the Intel years were good for the Mac, Apple needed something to take its computer to the next level. That something now comes in the form of Apple’s own system on a chip (SoC), called the M1. Along with macOS Big Sur (the OS built for the M1), the Mac makes breakthroughs in performance and battery efficiency that were never possible with Intel silicon.
This review takes a look at the £1,299 13in MacBook Pro, which has an Apple 8-core M1. This SoC includes 8GB of RAM and an 8-core graphics processor. The laptop also comes with a 256GB SSD, a 13.3in LED-backlit display, a
58.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery, and a 61-watt USB-C power adapter.
As the tests will show, this Mac is an astounding machine.
Apple made bold claims during last year’s ‘One more thing’ event. The company said its new 13in MacBook Pro’s M1 CPU is up to 2.8 times faster than the 1.7GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 in a same-sized MacBook Pro. (This Intel Core i7 was available as a built-to-order option for the previous £1,299 13in MacBook Pro, a machine that came standard with a 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 when it was released earlier this year.)
We don’t have this specific laptop that Apple uses for its performance comparison. But we do have three other MacBook Pro models that can help us draw some conclusions as we test them against the 13in MacBook Pro M1. Specifically:
• The £1,799 13in MacBook Pro with a 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (it’s still available for purchase)
• The 2019 13in MacBook Pro with a 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (it originally sold for £1,299)
• The beefed-up 16in MacBook Pro with a 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 (with its 32GB of RAM and 2TB SSD, it sells right now for £3,799)
So what did we find out? Well, we might not have been able to replicate Apple’s 2.8 times increase in performance, but what we did see was exciting nonetheless. Sometimes the results left us awestruck.
We first turn to Geekbench 5, where the new M1 delivered awesome results. In the benchmark’s Single Core test, the MacBook Pro (M1) left all of the other laptops in the dust, showing an 85 per cent improvement over the 1.4GHz MacBook Pro; 34 per cent over the 2GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro; and 40 per cent over the 16in model.
It gets even better with Geekbench 5’s Multi-Core test, where the 8-core MacBook Pro (M1) was faster than the 16in MacBook Pro with its 8-core Core i9 chip. And the M1 laptop blew past the other 13in models we tested, posting a 68 per cent improvement over the 2.0GHz quad core Core i5 MacBook Pro, and a 91 per cent improvement over the 1.4GHz quad core Core i5 MacBook Pro.
Geekbench 5 (single-core)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 1,724 13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 1,282
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 927 16in MacBook Pro 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 (2019): 1,226
Geekbench 5 (multi-core)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 7,569
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 4,504
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 3,954
16in MacBook Pro 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 (2019): 7,346
The impressive results continued in our Cinebench R23 testing. In multicore testing, the MacBook Pro (M1) saw improvements of 54 and 87 per cent over the 2GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro and 1.4GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro, respectively. In this test, however, the 16in 2.4GHz Core i9 actually beat the MacBook Pro (M1) (but not by much).
Our Geekbench 5 and Cinebench R23 scores were collected using ‘Universal’ versions on those benchmarks, which means the MacBook Pro (M1) was able to run native versions of the tests, taking advantage of all the optimizations built into the Apple silicon chip and macOS Big Sur. So, to see what performance is like when running in emulation mode, we ran Cinebench R20, which only supports Intel processors natively. When this test runs on an Apple-silicon Mac, the machine uses Rosetta2, an on-thefly translator.
Cinebench R23 (single-core)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 1,513
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 1,086
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 1,002
16in MacBook Pro 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 (2019): 1,144
Cinebench R23 (multi-core)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 7,778
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 5,014
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 4,151
16in MacBook Pro 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 (2019): 9,024
In Cinebench R20, we did see a hit in performance, but the MacBook Pro (M1) was still faster than the other two 13in models we tested. Compared to the 2GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro, the M1 laptop was only 7 per cent faster. The M1 Pro was still faster than the 1.4GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro, but was beaten by the 16in 2.4GHz Core i9 laptop.
Cinebench R20 (single-core)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 407 13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 437 13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 399 16in MacBook Pro 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 (2019): 455
Cinebench R20 (multi-core)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 2,097
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 1,946
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 41,601 16in MacBook Pro 2.4GHz 8-core Core i9 (2019): 3,480
A portion of the M1 SoC is dedicated to an 8-core GPU, which replaces the integrated Intel graphics in previous machines. With the £1,299 and £1,499 Intel-based 13in MacBook Pros, the graphics performance was acceptable for most tasks, but you had to lower the graphics settings in demanding games in order to get acceptable frame rates. Let’s see if the situation has improved.
Mac games with native code for Apple silicon aren’t available yet (unless you include iPhone and iPads). But we were curious to see what kind of performance we would get with a couple of Mac games that use code written for Intel processors. We ran Rise of the Tomb Raider and Civilization VI, and came away impressed. With either low or high quality settings, the MacBook Pro (M1) drastically improves upon the
graphics speed of the other 13in laptops in our testing.
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1,280x800 medium)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 73fps
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 28fps
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 13fps
Rise of the Tomb Raider (1,920x1,200 high)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 30fps
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 16fps
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 6fps
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 53fps
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 28fps
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 23fps
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 38fps 13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 15fps 13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 12fps
So what about native graphics performance? Lacking any optimized games, we used the Compute benchmark in Geekbench 5. And with either OpenCL or Metal, the MacBook Pro (M1) provides the graphics boost that users of lower-priced Macs have been yearning for.
Geekbench 5 Compute (OpenCL)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 19,309
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 8,829
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 7,807
Geekbench 5 Compute (Metal)
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 21,842
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020):: 10,382
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 7,251
IT ALSO FEELS SIGNIFICANTLY FASTER
Of course, benchmarks aren’t the only way to gauge performance. There’s also
the palpable feel when you’re using a computer. Now, when you’ve been reviewing Macs for as long as we have, getting a feel for speed improvements is difficult. Usually, we’re dealing with a 10 to 15 overall per cent speed improvement year over year, and that’s difficult to gauge outside of benchmarks.
But this wasn’t the case with the MacBook Pro (M1). Everything on the computer has a crisp snap to it, including app launching, and windows opening and closing. In Safari, the speed is even more noticeable, with faster loading web pages and smoother scrolling. When Apple’s Craig Federighi demonstrated instant wake during the ‘One more thing’ event, it showed me how I’ve accepted the fact that Intel-based Macs don’t instantly wake from sleep. While it’s only a lag of a few seconds, it’s a lag that’s now gone on the MacBook Pro (M1).
The key to all these performance increases is using software optimized for the SoC. So, before you buy an M1 laptop, check to see if the software you use most often is available as Universal binaries, meaning they include both Apple silicon and Intel versions. (Some developers may distribute software specifically for Apple silicon.) If your primary apps are Apple apps, you’re in luck, as Apple has updated its apps to take advantage of the M1.
I did a few application-based tests to determine improvements when using native software on the MacBook Pro (M1) compared to the 2GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro. In iMovie, I exported a 30-minute video using the default 720p settings to a file. The MacBook Pro (M1) finished the job in 132 seconds, much faster than the 218 seconds posted by the 2GHz MacBook Pro. I also did a GarageBand export of a 42-minute Macworld Podcast as an MP3 file, and the MacBook Pro (M1) finished in
57 seconds, while the 2GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro took 82 seconds. And then I did a video conversion in HandBrake, and the MacBook Pro (M1) jumped leaps and bounds over the 2.0GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro.
THE 16GB MEMORY CEILING
The M1 is referred to as a ‘system on a chip’. Before the M1, a Mac laptop had several different chips that served different purposes. You would have a chip for the CPU, chips for RAM, controllers, and more. Apple has now combined all those chips into one, the M1 system on a chip.
There are many advantages to a SoC, such as better performance and power efficiency, and it takes up less room on a motherboard. But there are also some compromises, such as the inability to upgrade memory. Owners of previous MacBooks are probably used to this, anyway – it’s been a while since Apple allowed users to upgrade RAM after initially buying the laptop.
But another compromise is there are currently only two available RAM options: 8GB or 16GB. For many power users, 16GB in what’s supposed to be a ‘pro’ machine isn’t enough. They’d like at least 32GB. That seems to be one of the reasons why Apple still offers the 13in MacBook Pro with Intel chips, as those laptops support up to 32GB of RAM. Now, there’s a possibility that, just as we need to rethink clock speed as other aspects of computer processing, we need to rethink memory. Apple’s SoC uses what it calls “unified memory”.
If you just can’t wrap your head around the idea of having only 16GB of RAM, you have two choices: get an Intel-based laptop, or wait. Remember, this is the very first Apple silicon chip for Mac. Sometime in the near future, Apple will likely release a chip that uses more memory. (Apple has not commented on its silicon release schedule and what chips it will include.)
ALL-DAY BATTERY LIFE
Besides performance, Apple claims another advantage to an SoC is improved power efficiency. The M1 Mac is better at managing the power it uses, which means better battery life. To gauge how long the battery will last, we ran a video at full screen on a continuous loop until the battery ran out.
Battery life: Video playback
13in MacBook Pro 8-core M1 (2020): 1,075 minutes
13in MacBook Pro 2GHz quad-core Core i5 (2020): 610 minutes
13in MacBook Pro 1.4GHz quad-core Core i5 (2019): 623 minutes
Apple states that the battery in the machine we tested will last up to 20 hours playing video. We didn’t get 20 hours, but we got very close with almost 18 hours. The other two 13in laptops we tested lasted 10 hours. In the past, we’d gladly take whatever we can get when it comes to battery improvements with the MacBook Pro, usually an extra hour or two. But to see this much improvement, well... it’s sort of mind-boggling.
FROM THE OUTSIDE, IT’S THE SAME MACBOOK PRO
The MacBook Pro (M1) has the same design, keyboard and Touch Bar as the Intel-based models they replace – and they’re also the same as the parts found on the current, higher-priced Intel 13in models. We’re fans of the keyboard, though we rarely use the Touch Bar.
One major complaint that could be made about the MacBook Pro (M1) is that it uses a 720p FaceTime camera. Apple did improve its performance though its image-signal processor, but it’s still a 720p camera in a world where 1080p cameras should be the norm.
The MacBook Pro (M1) fills out the lower-end of Apple’s 13in MacBook Pro line-up, and these models have only two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, both on the left side. If you’d rather have more ports than resort to using a hub, you need to invest in a £1,799 or £1,999 Intel model, which have four ports, two on each side. Or you can wait and see if Apple updates these pricier models with Apple silicon at a later date.
If the FaceTime camera and the two ports aren’t enough to temper the excitement, maybe this one issue will:
the MacBook Pro (M1) is limited to one external display, which can run at 6K resolution at 60Hz. If you need to attach at least two external displays, you have to get the £1,799 or £1,999 13in MacBook Pro models with Intel processors. They can handle two displays running at 4,096x2,304 resolution at 60Hz. Also, external GPU devices are not supported.
Overall, we like the MacBook Pro design. It’s attractive, practical, sturdy and familiar. But it’s a design we’ve used for some time now. It would’ve been nice for Apple to introduce something new, though this may be a trite complaint, considering how well the MacBook Pro works.
I was giddy during the first couple of days using the new 13in MacBook Pro (M1), and each time I witnessed another broken benchmark record, my excitement levels rose. Then there’s the battery that seems like it could go on forever, even when you’re doing serious work. I’ve seen and tested a lot of Macs – I did testing during the Motorola 68000-to-PowerPC transition, and I even reviewed the first Intel Macs for MacAddict. But this… this is something else. This is a revolutionary moment for the Mac.
You need to have software written for Apple silicon to get the speed, but I can understand if you can’t sit on the sidelines and wait. Even if your apps aren’t Universal yet, they probably will be soon. In the meantime, if you use a non-native app, it will run under Rosetta2 emulation, and the performance is acceptable.
However, there are a couple of other reasons to wait. The first is that this is just the start of the Apple silicon roll-out, and Apple’s next step could be chips
with more RAM, or support for more than two Thunderbolt ports. (This is all speculation. Apple hasn’t announced anything.) If those are features you want in a pro-level laptop, then wait.
The second reason to wait is that you work in a production environment and need to connect several devices to the Mac or you use specialized software. If this describes your work situation, check into compatibility before buying. If, however, you don’t need those features, or you’re not in a production setting, then invest now in the 13in M1 MacBook Pro. You won’t be sorry. Roman Loyola
• 13.3in (2,560x1,600; 227ppi) LEDbacklit display with IPS technology
• macOS Big Sur
• Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU
• 8-core GPU
• 16-core Neural Engine
• 8GB RAM
• 256GB SSD
• 720p FaceTime HD camera
• Studio-quality three-mic array with directional beamforming
• Support for Dolby Atmos playback
• 2x Thunderbolt/USB 4
• Headphone jack
• Backlit Magic Keyboard
• Touch Bar
• Fingerprint reader
• Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible
• Bluetooth 5.0