Home Tech Apple Apple’s M1 chips and all that: This MacBook Pro simply rocks

Apple’s M1 chips and all that: This MacBook Pro simply rocks

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These days I write very little on the subject of technology, despite the “Mac” clue in the title of this blog. My original objective in staring Macfilos was to cover Apple’s computing products. It was just about at the time when Apple was moving from a rather nerdy, computer-enthusiast-oriented company into the mainstream. The iPod had started the trend while the iPhone and iPad led directly to the Apple behemoth we know today.

Nonetheless, I retain a keen interest in technology and a careful eye on developments, particularly in the world of Apple. I tend to be spurred into action at times of change, such as outlined in the recent article on installing a Synology Disk Station to handle the growing Macfilos photo library.

This week, however, something rather disturbing and wholly unexpected caused me to make some changes that deserve recording.

One more thing

It all started with last week’s “One More Thing” presentation in Cupertino. Apple’s own silicon, the much anticipated ARM-based M1 processor, was launched and is already off to a remarkably good start. All the indications are that expectations have been well exceeded and the usual naysayers have been confounded. The humble, fully integrated M1, has startled the Mac world because of its performance which outpaces all but the higher-end Intel setups. I was interested, of course, but not motivated enough to do anything.

Until Monday of this week when I discovered, quite by chance, that my high-spec 2018 15in MacBook Pro just rocks. It had started moving around a little on the desktop some weeks ago and I was thinking of buying a rubber mat to keep it anchored (although I had never thought this necessary before). Then I realised pressed a corner of the keyboard and the whole computer wobbled on what turned out to be a bulge underneath the case. It isn’t visible (yet) but quite noticeable.

UPDATE: This article resulted in several comments cautioning care over the possibility of an expanding battery leading to fire or explosion. While this doesn’t seem to be an extreme case, a barely noticeable distension of the case bottom, I made a second call to Apple Support, mentioning these extreme possibilities. The result is that they are collecting the computer by courier and say that they will have it repaired and back to me within a week.

This can mean only one thing: A swollen battery. I’ve experienced this phenomenon on an old iPhone, but never with a laptop. With the case distorted so much, I’m not even sure that a replacement battery will put the device back to “as new”.

Apple Support was as helpful as ever. They agreed with my diagnosis and said the MacBook Pro would have to go to the repair centre. Fortunately, on this occasion, I had purchased the Apple Care package, which extends to this time next year.

If I hadn’t taken this precaution, I would have been just out of warranty and would have had to rely on Apple’s goodwill for a free repair. But there is still one big snag, linked to Covid, which I will explain later.

The future: A little computer box to be hidden under the desk, LG Monitor, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. (Image: Apple Inc)
The future: A little computer box to be hidden under the desk, LG Monitor, Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. (Image: Apple Inc)

Decisions

Back in 2018, I went through an agonising decision process in deciding to pension off my old iMac and return to a portable-cum-desktop solution. It’s something I’ve dabbled wth over the years and can never decide if it is a good option.

However, the 15in MBP was the result. I had gone for the all-in-one solution. The computer has been reliable and speedy, but it has not lived up to its destiny as a portable computer. I cannot remember a single occasion when I took it away from my office desk, where it has been sitting for two years, hooked up to a second monitor and aided by Bluetooth keyboard and mouse. The current year of Covidity and lockdown hasn’t furthered this computer’s credentials as a go-anywhere device.

Because of the laptop has been desk-bound for its entire existence, I haven’t really experienced the charms of having a combined computer for office and travel. Indeed, I haven’t even used the keyboard much. The controversial Touch Bar hasn’t even been an issue. I haven’t used it. But the fingerprint ID button has been a boon, and I have become addicted.

In general use, though, apart from a continuing problem with wobbly USB-C ports, an issue Apple failed to acknowledge, I have been quite content with the MacBook Pro. I must admit, though, that during 2020 I began to seriously question the decision to employ a laptop for desk use.

The arrival of the three M1-chipped computers, MacBook Air, 13in MacBook Pro and Apple Mini, was a point of great interest and the Mini, in particular, set my thoughts churning. But it was academic interest because my current MBP is only two years old, still in Apple Care warranty, and still doing a good job. Or so I thought.

The appearance of the bulge on the bottom of the MacBook Pro was a moment for reflection. If I could have had the computer repaired and ready for action within the week, I would have probably resisted change.

But Apple Support had some bad news for me. With all Apple Stores closed again because of the second UK lockdown, there’s no chance of getting the MacBook Pro in for repair until December 2 at the very earliest. Nor is Apple arranging for courier collections.

Enter the new super Mini

All this has prompted me to order one of the new Mac Minis. It’s a chance to try out the lauded M1 processor, but also an opportunity to clean up the desk, tuck the computer out of sight and work with just a monitor, keyboard and mouse. Unfortunately, because of the huge demand for this new model, I have to wait three weeks for delivery. I think it will be worth waiting for.

As for the MacBook Pro, I’ll get it repaired (maybe they’ll even give me a new one…) and put it up for sale. I am just hoping that that swollen battery doesn’t burst its breeches before the Mini arrives in the middle of December.

The Mini, by all accounts, is the fastest of the three M1-chipped newcomers. There’s a bit more space around the components, helping to keep the heat down. And, while the processor in all three machines is identical, benchmarks show the Mini to be just ahead, probably because of the lack of compromise to achieve the most compact architecture.

Choosing the Mini, though, isn’t without compromises. For starters, you need a wired keyboard and mouse, not the Bluetooth devices you probably own, to start the installation process. Until Bluetooth is available, it’s a direct-wired connection you need. Fortunately, I have an old keyboard. But I don’t have a mouse. I’ll probably have to buy a £5 Amazon Basics rodent just to set up the Mini.

Once set up, though, the Mini has two other main drawbacks. There is no fingerprint touch ID, so it’s a case of reverting to the password for power-up and authorisations. This is something I’ve entirely forgotten about, and I’m not looking forward to returning to keying in passwords. Of course, I can use my Apple Watch to unlock the Mini, but it isn’t quite the same.

The second issue is the lack of a webcam, making an external device essential if you do a lot of Zooming. I don’t (and my LG Monitor doesn’t have one built-in), so I’m happy to use the iPad instead of the computer whenever a camera is needed.

Apart from that, the Mini has the advantage of being extremely small and compact. It can be hidden under the desk or on a shelf. And, although it has other ports, all you really need is one USB-C Thunderbolt cable to connect to the monitor or hub. So it’s a pretty minimalist setup which should keep me happy.

The next month, then, will see big changes on the computing front here at Macfilos, occasioned by that swelling battery. Perhaps it’s fate, but this is something I will find out only when the Mini is up and running. Long-distance travel seems a distant prospect at the moment, so I am unlikely to miss having a portable. Increasingly, in any case, I have relied on the iPad when travelling (within the country, as it happens). We will see what transpires when the Mini arrives.

Will it live up to its reputation. Will I be satisfied? More in December.


23 COMMENTS

    • Thanks for the link, Don. It looks like I e made the right decision. I’ll have to see how Lightroom performs under Rosetta 2 and I’m hoping it will be adequate until Adobe get round to an M1 compatible version. I will keep you all up to date on my thoughts when the Mini arrives.

  1. Hi Mike, make sure you have your fire insurance paid up. If I had a swollen battery I would be concerned about it starting a fire. I would make sure the computer is not plugged into electricity when not being present.

      • Hi Mike, I would store it outside when not using it. it can still start a fire unplugged but would be worse and riskier plugged in. I am an electronics engineer and am astonished Apple is not taking serious effort to get it out of your hands.

        • Thanks for the advice, Brian. I will certainly take precautions. As in said in the article, this is not a visible bulge and is only noticeable because it has probably distended the underside to the extent that the rubber feet aren’t flat on the desktop. But, so far, it is relatively minor. However, I think you are right and I need to stop using it, however inconvenient that is. I will call Apple Support again and give them some angst.

        • I called Apple Support again, using all the trigger words: Fire, explosion, lockdown, vulnerable. The result is they are sending a courier today to pick up the computer! This means I have no Mac, which is highly inconvenient since I have a lot of work to do. I will have to make do with what I can cobble together on the iPad…

      • Not sure what’s absurd about it. If the case swells, the computer is defective. Apart from anything else, who wants to use a laptop which is balancing on an egg?

  2. I won’t say a thing… 🙂

    But now that you are doing it, could you not purchase a USB bluetooth dongle, and then use your current mouse/trackpad/keyboard arrangement?

    • I could and I thought of that. But a mouse costs £5 and it might even turn out to be surplus to requirements after the set up. I have a wired keyboard. We shall see how it goes.

  3. Mike, This is completely private and not for public consumption but I have stopped using a password on my 2012 MacBook Pro as it only lives in the house. Life is much easier.

    • Agree this is a possibility with a Pro, Mini or iMac, but not with a portable. It’s not so much the waking up (the Apple Watch can do that), it’s the application passwords and access to 1Password that are so much more convenient with touch or Face ID.

      • Huh?

        I rely on Apple’s built-in ‘Keychain Access’ which stores and memorises all passwords so that I don’t have to! I want to log into my online webmail (as distinct from Apple’s own general-purpose ‘Mail’ program)? ..My still-in-day-to-day-use 2013 MacBook Air remembers and automatically inserts my password. I want to log into some old photo-processing app which I once bought? ..My Mac automatically supplies and inserts the relevant password. It’s seamless.

        And if I DO want to find some password which I long ago used for some half-forgotten program or wi-fi network, I just call up ‘Keychain Access’ and look in that ..and there’s my password for, say, some Greek wi-fi network I used seven or eight years before!

        “Application passwords”? ..My Mac – and yours – can automatically remember, regurgitate and insert all of them! No ‘touch’ or ‘face’ ID required. Not by me – or should that be I? – anyway.

        • I do all that, partly with Keychain but mostly (especially for important stuff) with 1Password. It works as you say. But there are still instances, particularly when installing new software or allowing access to sensitive areas, when the user password must be entered. I’ve grown used to using the Touch ID pad on the MacBook Pro.

          How do you log in when opening your computer when Keychain isn’t available? As far as I can tell, there are three ways of doing it: Typing the password, using an Apple Watch or touching the Touch ID button.

          • “..How do you log in when opening your computer when Keychain isn’t available?..” ..b-but it’s always available, automatically ..we-ell, for everything except first logging in. But for that I use my own password, or – if Bluetooth’s already on – my Apple Watch does it automatically. (I don’t have a Touch ID button.)

            Maybe I’m missing something.

          • No I think you have everything covered. I just used the Touch ID button for everything. All computers should have them (or Face ID, even better).

    • Hmm good point Dunk. This could mean I am without a computer for the next month. I shall have to think about this. It’s odd that Apple Support didn’t raise the issue.

  4. My ageing and very senile 2012 MacBook Pro is now in its final death throes – for those that haven’t heard (I know Mike has). The SSD gave up a few months back, I opened it up and slung in a cheap HD then promptly blew itself out three weeks after fitting, and took the warranty with it. A lot of research later, and some more cheap parts later, I spent half an hour under the bonnet, fired her up, it took days of ironing out issues you couldn’t make to get her spluttering to life again. I still haven’t rebooted the time machine backup, as I think that might be part of the problem. (all of my 2020 images are in time machine, I have stepped in to check they are safe, and then left well alone).

    Anyway for now she lives, but I have my eye on a nice MacBook Air on the M1 silicon. I have been mobile for years, and never owned a desktop Mac. The last desktop PC was hefted into a skip minus its drives over a decade ago. I actually do travel everywhere with my MacBook, I am surprised it has lived this long. I liken her to a Mercedes car, in that they can live forever almost given a decent service and replacement parts.

    I would point Mike that you are marginally off course on the M1 silicon, the Air has a slight variation in its silicon. In that it is only running 7 cores, not the 8 of the Pro or Mini, and in tests it is just marginally slower, but not by huge amounts, unless you are a heavy processor of video. Even with 7 cores it is outstripping the majority of the Intel books, and at least one desk top. Which makes it a marvel.

    Anyway it is the end of another exceptionally long day, and I am off to bed, I just dropped by to see what I am missing in the world of photography. 🙂 Dave

  5. As I understand it only the cheapest Air is using 7 cores but the 512GB version uses 8.Either way it looks amazing value for what you get. My huge old desktop iMac died and not having a monitor, mouse or keyboard anymore I’m trying to decide between buying new ones plus a mini or a Macbook Air, or (gasp) both. Difficult choice. My 2015 Macbook is looking old now too but still working fine. Will be very interested to hear more about how you get along with the Mini Mike.

    • I specced up the Mini to 1TB and 16GB. I’ve had 32GB in recent computers but, currently, the M1 chip is limited to 16GB. However, the performance I’ve seen in the number of reviews is quite outstanding. I infer that 16GB isn’t as much of a limitation as it would be on an Intel-powered equivalent. But that’s just what I’ve heard. It will be very interesting to see how it performs for me, but I am quietly optimistic.

      A few months ago I looked at a Mini, the Intel version, and by the time I’d specced it up to 32GB/1TB and chosen the faster processor, it was well over £2,000. This Mini, with the top-spec, is just over £1,250 but, of course, there aren’t as many expensive options. That’s not much more than an iPad Pro 12in and does seem astounding value for money. It would be interesting to try out the base model for £699 and see just how good that is. I suspect it will be fine for most people.

      Of course, we shouldn’t forget the need for peripherals, which you get built-in with a laptop or iMac. But that isn’t an issue for me because I already have all I need. As you say, it will all be very interesting.

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