Stephen Smith's Blog

Musings on Machine Learning…

Apple M1 MacBook Air Review

with 3 comments


Introduction

I received my new shiny golden ARM based MacBook Air a few days ago, so I thought I’d write this blog posting on my initial impressions. This replaces our aging 2012 MacBook Air which continues to be a good computer, but sadly it isn’t supported by the new Big Sur MacOS release. It is also a bit limited with only 4Gig RAM and a 128Gig SSD. The new MacBook Air has 16Gig RAM, a 512Gig SSD and has an 8 core GPU.

Same Old Mac

The first impression when you turn it on and perform the initial setup, is that it is the same MacOS as you are used to. Everything works the same and you wouldn’t know there is a new ARM based CPU running behind the scenes. The screen is really nice at a resolution of 2560×1600, the keyboard is the updated magic keyboard and is quite nice to type on. The laptop is relatively lite and the battery lasts a long time.

Installing Software

Using software natively compiled for the new Apple M1 ARM processor is the best and there is already a lot of software available this way. All the Apple software, of course, is compiled for ARM. I installed XCode, which took a little while since it is so large. As long as you don’t compile for Intel, you don’t need the Rosetta emulator to run this. I installed Microsoft Office and Google Chrome, both of which are natively compiled for ARM and run great.

Bigger companies all bought or were provided with the developer prototype hardware to get ready for the real release, however smaller developers and open source developers weren’t going to pay the $600 for the prototypes that you were contractually required to trade in when the real release happened. Now that the ARM based Macs are released and people are receiving them, we are seeing lots of projects with test native ARM builds posted. Further, Apple engineers are contributing to a number of open source projects to help them move a little quicker.

After all this, I needed some utilities that weren’t compiled natively yet, so I let Rosetta install. Then the utilities installed and worked seamlessly. I haven’t installed a great many non-native applications, but for the ones I have installed, I’m impressed that they just work and you can’t see any sign of all the magic working in the background to seamlessly emulate an Intel processor.

You Can Run iOS Apps

Besides running MacOS applications, you can run iOS Apps. From the App Store you can select most iOS Apps to install as well. When I heard about this, I didn’t think I’d really need this. However, it lets you do some things that I couldn’t do before. For instance, a complaint about EchoLink, a ham radio program, is that you need to run it on a phone. Now I can run it on my laptop, which I find handy.

There are actually a number of useful phone or tablet apps that are handy to finally be able to run on a laptop.

UPS Sucks

When I ordered the MacBook, I ordered from apple.ca, so I sort of expected it would ship from Canada. There were no options for shipping, it just said free shipping, so that is what I got. The website said to expect two to three weeks before it ships. OK fine. Then exactly two weeks later, I received the notification that it had shipped. I clicked on the track shipping button and found out it was shipping from Shanghai, China via UPS. Oh no, I’ve never had a good experience with UPS. It took three days to leave Shanghai and then showed up in Incheon, South Korea. Then the next day, tracking showed it in Anchorage, Alaska. What the heck, was it on a boat sailing around the Pacific? The next day, Louisville Kentucky, so it was flying. Sucks that UPS routes everything through this hub. Next day, Seattle Washington. Next day Richmond, BC. It then sat in Richmond for three days. Then it moved to Gibsons, BC and sat there for three days before being delivered. It seems to me that sending anything UPS is about the worst way you can ship things.

Apple sucks that they use UPS. For instance, my experience with FedEx is that it would have flown from Shanghai to Vancouver directly and then gotten here the next day, since FedEx does two deliveries each weekday and then also delivers on Saturdays. FedEx is the best, but Purolator and DHL aren’t far behind. Again UPS sucks, please Apple stop using them.

Summary

The MacBook Air is a very nice laptop. It is well made, light and fast. It’s easy to work on and the long battery life makes it ideal for a mobile workforce. There is tons of software available, naively compiled MacOS, Intel based MacOS and then all the iOS Apps. If you are looking for a new laptop or an upgrade to an old Mac Mini, then these new M1 based Apple Macs are a great choice.

Written by smist08

December 23, 2020 at 11:10 am

Posted in Life, Mobility

Tagged with , , , ,

3 Responses

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  1. Unfortunately, there are a couple of proprietary Windows apps that will not run on Macs, especially the new M1 based models. I enjoyed my Mac Book Pros while I could afford them. My last one died in February. The motherboard fried. The tech said it was a common failure for that model. $2500+ down the drain. Now that I am retired, I will stick with x86 based Dell XPS less than half the price.

    jlgreer1

    December 23, 2020 at 11:29 am

  2. hi Stephen,
    Seasons greetings!

    I guess serendipity brings me here …. about six weeks back I was reading about the M1 Macs, got to thinking about programming and assembly programming. (I haven’t done assembly programming since ~1980, retired last year). I was shopping on the Target app and found your Programming with 64-Bit book, it has been on my wish list – I’m pretty cheap currently, still thinking about it. Today I was looking at some other computer architecture books on amazon, and looked up that book to check reviews. Then I see you have a blog, are “retired” now and have a ham license.

    I also have a 2012 Air as my primary system, and have been thinking about the new M1 systems. Thanks for your blog posting – confirmed most of my research about them.

    Oh, you probably know, but there are some hacks to install Big Sur on 2012 Airs. It might not support the wifi chip, I haven’t looked lately. But a usb wifi dongle is small and cheap. I’m still running Mojave on mine (an 8GB version), I still get security patches so I’m not too concerned about being on the latest.

    Hmmm, I almost took at temporary job with UPS delivering packages for Christmas rush. Backed out at last minute with COVID fears. I don’t get enough deliveries to have many datapoints on the different companies. I do have a soft spot in my heart from the model rockets UPS delivered to me in my teens.

    Happy New Year!
    -John

    John Valenti

    December 24, 2020 at 9:50 am

    • Merry XMas and Happy New Year. Best of luck in 2021, hopefully a much better year for all of us.

      smist08

      December 26, 2020 at 8:36 am


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