| October 14, 2021
| Topic: Hardware
The best Mac in 2021: Which device is best for you?
It’s that time of…October… again. Once again, Apple is hosting an October event shortly after its big iPhone September event. This time, it’s on a Monday. While that’s a tad unusual, it won’t stop us from speculating. For this event, the theme is “unleashed,” which could mean anything from dog collar-mounted AirTags to letting the dogs out in terms of performance.
What’s missing from the Mac lineup?
A good approach to this is to take a look at what Apple has left behind. Apple has M1 Apple Silicon versions of the Mac mini, the MacBook Air, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, and the 24-inch iMac. Apple is still shipping Intel versions of the 27-inch iMac and the Mac Pro. Missing in action completely is the iMac Pro, which Apple no longer sells.
Let’s eliminate the Mac Pro; I don’t expect Apple to introduce a Mac Pro replacement this year. That machine’s performance is such that, for the uber-pros who really need one now, it’s probably still safe to spend somewhere between $6K and $50K for a machine that can be counted on to do everything it needs to do, even though it will probably be obsolete relatively soon. Remember this thing can support gobs of RAM, a bunch of traditional video cards, and oodles of CPU cores.
I have no doubt that a year or two down the line, as Apple perfects Apple Silicon capacity and yields, we’ll see some amazing, top-end Mac Pro paw-formance. It will get a new leash on life — but not in 2021.
The big expectation for 2021 is a spec-bump boosted version of the M1 chip. Without a doubt, the freshman M1 chip was a best-in-show superstar out of the gate, but it is limited. So far, we haven’t seen it capable of supporting more than 16GB RAM or two Thunderbolt 3 ports. My guess is that’s a limitation of the silicon itself, and we’ve seen the top of what that chip die can produce.
Which brings us to the rumors of the M1X processor. Earlier in the year, there were rumors of either an M1X or an M2, but the rumor mill seems to have settled on the M1X nomenclature for now, so that’s what we’ll use.
The M1 has eight cores: four high-performance Firestorm cores and four lower-performance Icestorm cores. Don’t expect the M1X to be a radically new chip generation. Instead, look for the M1X to be filling in holes that the M1 has left open. These include support for 32 or 64GB of RAM, support for four Thunderbolt 3 ports, and perhaps more. Perhaps there will be more cores, moving from four each of Firestorm and Icestorm to, perhaps, six or eight each.
These performance boosts don’t matter to the bottom end of the Mac-user spectrum. All indications are that M1-based Macs are more than enough for most Mac users. I’ve even replaced nearly all of my Intel Macs with M1 versions, and they’re actually fast enough for most (but not all) of my work. Any rumors that the M1X Macs are intended for lower-end Mac users would be barking up the wrong tree.
So, if we’re to see an M1X, it’s to meet the needs of more professional users, not $52K Mac Pro extreme, bleeding edge professional users, to be sure. It’s the professional users who need more RAM and more ports.
What might be introduced
My editors have been hounding me for some educated guesses on what will be introduced on Monday. So let’s dig in.
14-inch MacBook Pro
First, of course, we can expect a new MacBook Pro. Rumor has it that there will be a 14-inch model with a 120Hz display. Given that Apple has been innovating on displays in the iPads Pro, this might actually be true.
Now, here are some of the big questions. First, will Apple finally get rid of the Touch Bar? This is one of Apple’s all-time most egregious user interface errors, and it has been almost universally ignored. The fact that it sacrificed a physical Escape key to the Touch Bar design, and it was coupled with the equally maligned butterfly keyboard, made the Touch Bar a hot mess.
Apple did fix the butterfly keyboard with its so-called Magic Keyboard (magic, because it didn’t suck as much) in 2020, so we can expect the new 2021 M1X MacBook Pro to also sport the Magic Keyboard.
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| October 14, 2021
| Topic: Hardware