Technology: Apple’s MacBook Pro 13″ M1 (2020) – Two Week Review

The reviewers mislead me. I was convinced this would be a life changing experience. I started to look at what my iMac and iPad Pro were worth if I were to sell them and I was even thinking about a MacBook Air base model because I didn’t need a fan or more than 8GB of RAM. These were the ultimate computers thanks to Apple’s Silicon System on a Chip (SOC).

It’s been 3 weeks and I’m not sure what the fuss was all about. These opinions are my own and do not reflect any views of my employer.

About me, Prior to the pandemic and being sent home I was working about 8 hours a day on a 16” MacBook Pro with a 2 terabyte SSD, 32GB of RAM and a Core i9 processor. I had it on a dock connected to a 32” 4K UltraSharp display and a CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 dock. At home and on the weekends, I was using a 27” iMac with a Core i9 (9900K) processor, 96GB of RAM and a 4 terabyte SSD with a Vega 48 GPU. I also traveled via Motorcycle with a 2018 iPad Pro and Magic Keyboard and an iPhone 11 Pro. After being home for 2 months and the announcement of Apple Silicon, I sold my MacBook Pro for about $1000 less than I paid. I knew it would depreciate further and I had not turned it on in 2 months since I was using the iMac full time. The iPad Pro became my mobile writing tool and was fine for working up to 1 week. I could do client management, project management, emails, meetings via Slack & MS Teams and mostly keep up with about 90% of my work on an iPad. It was fast enough and thanks to limited Multi-Tasking, never really slowed down. The Magic Keyboard is the key to unlocking iPad Pro’s abilities to be used as a work computer. I used it for 3 weeks in 2020 for mobile work while camping / traveling and it was flawless. No one knew I was traveling with only an iPad.

When it was time to return to the office, I ordered a MacBook Pro 13” with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. The 2TB option was too expensive and I’ve become so used to editing my video & photos on the iMac that I didn’t think it would be an issue. I spent a lot of time trying to decide between MBA w/ 8GB of RAM and 7 CPU cores versus the 8 core model with double the RAM. I figured for resale reasons, I would go for the higher end M1 machine with a fan which is the MacBook Pro.

Also what drew me to the MacBook Pro was the speaker & microphone setup. This has come in handy at work because my machine is used for conferences. We have 7 interns in my office this Summer and 2 more remote. 3 hours a day, we’re in meetings where my MacBook Pro is hooked up via HDMI to a 70” display and the MacBook Pro’s multi-microphone setup is pretty remarkable. Everyone’s voices are clear to those on the other end and when our remote interns talk, the television’s loud speaker doesn’t echo through the MacBook Pro’s Microphone. The system does a great job of making teleconferencing possible without any external expensive setup. We’ve tried the Dell machines my company issues to the interns and they do a terrible job of picking up a room of talking and cancelling out the speaker voices on the onboard microphones.


Here’s what I expected from the M1 MacBook Pro

  • All day battery life
  • Very cool to the touch operation with no heat at all and never hearing a fan
  • Improved keyboard versus my 16” 3rd Generation butterfly keyboard
  • Good audio in and out
  • Decent webcam (even though still 720P, Apple’s M1 does onboard video processing to improve the video quality)
  • Instant everything…app launching, processing, saving, exporting audio, copying files
  • Instant boot
  • Instant wake from sleep
  • Seamless transition from Rosetta (Intel Compiled) to native Apple Silicone for all applications

Only some of these expectations came true and it’s why I’m still writing primarily on my iPad Pro like this post.

The device takes about 4 minutes to boot despite being a 100% clean install of MacOS with no custom software. This has been the case since I first unboxed it and booted it. I even re-installed the OS thinking it was installed correctly. This boots slower than any Mac I’ve owned recently. It wakes up instantly from sleep but thanks to TouchID and Apple Watch Unlock it sometimes sits with the login window waiting to figure out how to unlock and sometimes just says “we’re going to need a passcode”
The battery life is around 5 hours in actual usage. I thought it would be 17-20. I keep the office apps running and the rest are all Apple applications like Mail, Notes, Photos, News, Music, Messages. I also use Slack + Teams which are not native apps. My toolbar is iStat Menus, OneDrive, Bartender, a couple of VPN apps that I sometimes use, PasteBot, Sometimes I have AcrobatDC or Lightroom running
Speaking of that, iStat Menus tells me I’m using 6 or so GB of RAM actively and RAM pressure is right up against the 16GB. I’ve been a MacOS X user long enough to know that the usage meter is just MacOS doing its thing but the fact that I’m close to 8GB in actual usage without doing anything in Final Cut or GarageBand is a sign that I’m glad I purchased the 16GB model. when editing some 4K HEVC Video, I was using my full SWAP file and up against the 16GB limit…so 32GB would be nice for a machine that I keep more than a few months
This machine is always hot and always running its fan. The fan is not full speed. I’ve heard it full speed during setup but it’s always hot. It’s not as hot as my Core i9 MacBook Pro but it’s very close. The fan constantly runs and my palms are very sweaty. The underside of the machine is even hotter so I don’t use it on my lap at all. The CPU is constantly at 50% usage primarily MS Teams and Mail usage. It’s so bad that I’ll probably take an upcoming weekend and blow away the OS and start over fresh.

The heat and battery life are probably the most offensive aspects of this machine. I am constantly seeing all 8 cores in iStat Menus in use and CPU pressure is always at about 50%. it only spikes above that when I’m doing something multimedia like editing photos/videos/audio.

As for the system’s responsiveness it’s fine day to day. It’s most certainly and unequivocally slower by about 15% versus my iMac which I’ve used full time for a year that rarely has a fan that comes on. I knew it would be slower but I didn’t know I’d feel just how slow it was.

Going from a 27+32 inch setup at home with 16 virtual cores and 96GB of RAM to a 13” 8 core machine with 16GB of RAM and no external monitor has been very tough. I was truly hoping the M1 would be fast enough, cool enough, quiet enough and have a long enough battery that I didn’t miss the larger home setup but I do. Writing a long blog post on the MacBook Pro is just not satisfying given how much heat the machine puts out. I was going to sell the iMac and move the MacBook Pro between home and office and just dock it at each respective location. I don’t think I can do that now.

It makes me wonder how slow the MacBook Air would be because there’s no fan to keep that machine cool so I imagine with my usage, I would be hitting the thermal ceiling so much that it’d be clocked to about 50% of capacity full time even with the identical cores of the MacBook Pro I purchased.

The keyboard IS better than my 3rd Gen butterfly but not as good as the full size Apple keyboard that came with my iMac.

The software story of transitioning from Intel to Apple Silicone is pretty amazing. You don’t know that an app like Audacity is being emulated when Lightroom isn’t. It’s really cool to experience because you never have to think about an emulator running. It’s running and you’re just getting things done.

Back to the speed, someone will inevitably ask if my iCloud Photos Library has finished its machine learning. I actually purchased this machine one week before I needed it and all I did was keep Photos for Mac open for that entire week and let the machine peg its CPU (and it did) for a full week and let it get all of that done.

The result unfortunately, even with Optimize storage turned on is that my iCloud Library of Photos weighs in at 174 gigabytes. The PhotoaAnalysisD is no longer running in any reasonable amount of CPU cycles that I can see so it’s done with it’s thing. Today, with local snapshots turned on, everything i need to work and no locally stored media except iCloud Photos, I’m using about 900 GB of the 960 GB of space.

…yeah, I’m already at capacity. It’s so bad that I’ve ordered an SSD for when I’m on a trip like I am right now where I’m on-location in Montana photographing and shooting video / podcasts for a motorcycle rally and I need to store a LOT of content to publish some dailies. I can’t do that on the MacBook Pro without deleting the iCloud Photo Library even though it’s set to optimize. My iCloud Photo Library is 1.2 terabytes so I guess I should have bought the model with two terabytes of storage?

Also, the two-port setup on a Pro model is just bad. Two USB_C ports is no-bueno. One for charging and one for…well everything else. I have a HyperDrive+ that was $79 that connects to both USB-C ports and has power delivery so I can then plug everything into it

  • Power via Anker’s 65Watt GANII charger
  • iPhone via USB-A
  • AppleWatch via USB-A
  • IPad via USB-C
  • MicroSD
  • SDHC
  • HDMI
  • External SSD

I’ve done this setup minus the last peripheral and it works all day and I can unplug everything and nothing bad happens. It just keeps chugging. This is a lot smoother than on intel CPUs. I highly recommend Anker’s new GAN II chargers. They’re as small as the 15W charger apple sells and they can allow my MacBook Pro w/ HyperDrive+ installed to charge iPad, Watch, iPhone and itself.

Here’s the thing. This is a professional machine in name only. It’s Apple’s consumer SOC, it has 2 ports, it’s limited to 16GB of RAM and 2 terabytes of storage with no discreet GPU and only gets 5 hours of battery life when I use it just for my office tasks. It was about 3 hours of battery life when I was importing, editing and exporting HEVC content off a GoPro Hero 9 and RAW images off a Canon 5D. The battery life is identical to my high-TDP Core i9 16” MacBook Pro with a larger screen and a discreet GPU.

Customer Sat..well this customer’s satisfaction is satisfactory. It was sub-$2,000 which makes it the cheapest Apple computer (minus the iPad) I’ve purchased in many years and I am using it for professional tasks but every reviewer told me that I would never hear the fan, it would never get hot, it’d get 10-15 hours of battery life and it would blaze through every task.

For me, it just hasn’t. I can’t return it because I need a laptop and I’m not going to go out and spend $4,000 on a fully loaded Intel MacBook Pro just 6 months before the M1’s successor and true professional SOC & system are released later this year. Apple never sold this as a professional machine except putting Pro on the name but I do wish I could have either kept my old Intel Core i9 machine or a truly Pro M1 successor came out at WWDC which is how long I held out before picking this up at the Apple store on WWDC day.

I am sorry for this 2,000 word rant but I’m feeling a bit passionate given how much reviewers in the press and trusted Macintosh nerds online proclaimed how life changing this machine was. Recently I heard someone was considering selling their iMac Pro and going full M1. At this juncture, I believe that person is full of malarkey.

I believe I will, when I find a free weekend, nuke the MacOS install again and go through the process over and maybe keep Photos for Mac not setup. I know Slack & MS Teams use a lot of bandwidth as does my Mail install but whatever it is, I don’t think my CPU utilization will go away therefore, my heat won’t be going away either. If the machine were cooler, quieter and lasted longer, it’d be a home run despite being slower than my iMac.

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