Science & Tech

Apple's M1 chip. Illustration: Apple.
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Apple has begun using its new M1 chips in laptops, which promises to bring better performance and battery life

It is no surprise that intel chips have been underperforming in Apple’s laptops, with their computers overheating leading to thermal throttling and lacklustre performance. Due to this, Apple has been looking for a solution. 

Their solution is ARM based chips made in-house by Apple. Similar to the chips used in their iPhones and iPads, ARM chips will be making their way into Apple’s new line of MacBooks.

Eventually, this will lead to the removal of software support for their intel-based systems in a few years.

Apple has boasted a 10-watt power draw for the M1 chip, compared to intel’s comet lake series of processors. The comet lake series has chips with a total power draw (TDP) of 45 watts, which can lower battery life and lead to heat issues.

Apple is now using a system-on-chip (SOC), this small chip crams in all of the hardware necessary for the computer including the graphics processing unit (GPU), random access memory (RAM) and more importantly the central processing unit (CPU). 

With the M1 chip, Apple will boast up to 3.5 times faster CPU performance, however, it does not indicate what this is being compared to. 

The M1 chip is able to perform well at a much lower TDP by utilizing four high-efficiency cores that use a small amount of power, while completing simple tasks quickly. This allows the high performance cores to do the majority of the hard work while drawing little power.

For Apple’s new MacBook Air, there is 18 hours of battery life, compared to the previous 12 hours, shown on their intel based model. This will help students who prefer not to bring a charger to class ensure that they can work throughout the day without the fear of the battery running out.  

For students, this can be a major upgrade, as Apple silicon can lead to a lower price, better thermal performance and a longer lasting product.

There is however, an awkward period that consumers are going to deal with as most applications are built to run on the x86 architecture, which is seen on intel and AMD’s chips. Since Apple is now using the ARM-based architecture, these x86 applications will no longer work, and updates to popular applications must be released by developers.

Since Apple has decided to stop creating intel-based systems in the near future, this support may be the deciding factor in choosing a computer, as many apps used for schoolwork, such as Word, Excel, Photoshop, etc. may not be supported right away. This may force students and consumers to switch to Windows, Linux or Chrome based systems for the time being.

Apple’s solution to this problem is allowing for its code built by developers to now be compiled into an ARM version and an x86 version, allowing developers a quick fix to migrate their applications to Apple’s new architecture. 

Most notably, Apple’s M1 MacBooks will not feature many Adobe Apps at launch, and content creators will need to wait a few months before being able to use these apps. 

Apple has also announced three new products utilizing the Apple M1 chip, which will be available Nov. 17 including the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro 13” and the Mac mini, each with similar hardware. The Mac Mini is the only product with a reduction from last year’s model with a reduction of $100.

With a SOC, consumers will also notice that the RAM is not available for upgrades meaning that the configuration you choose at launch will remain permanently. 

A simple upgrade to 16 GB of unified memory will set your back $200 USD and upgrading from 256 GB of storage to two terabytes will cost up to $800 USD.

The lack of upgradeability may lead to shorter lasting products, however, with Apple choosing to swap to ARM based systems, this may be a better option than selecting an intel based system that may lose support.