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- The new MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 is, along with the MacBook Air and Mac Mini, are the debut devices for Apple Silicon in Mac computers.
- Apple boasts the Apple M1 is quicker than Intel hardware, particularly in integrated graphics, where it should easily outperform Intel's Iris Plus.
- The Apple M1 model of the MacBook Pro 13 is the new entry-level option, starting at $1,299 with 8GB of memory and 256GB of storage.
- Intel models of the MacBook Pro 13 remain the only way to buy more than 16GB of RAM or 2TB of solid state storage as well as four Thunderbolt 3 ports.
Apple has announced its new M1 processor, a System-on-a-Chip (SoC) designed by Apple (in a similar way to its phones and tablets) that will eventually replace Intel hardware across the entire Mac line-up. This is a truly revolutionary moment for the Mac.
It might also leave you confused.
You face a choice. Buy the new, trendy laptop with Apple's latest and greatest hardware, or go with the tried-and-true Intel option with room for more storage and ports?
MacBook Pro 13 (Apple M1) vs. MacBook Pro 13 (Intel Core): which is best?
The MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 has a few important advantages. It's the most affordable model, at $1,299, and it has twice the battery life of Apple's MacBook Pro 13 with an Intel Core processor. Despite this, the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 sacrifices few features when compared to more expensive Intel models.
Intel models have an edge in high-end specifications, however, as they can be configured with more memory and more storage. Intel hardware is also a known quantity that can support all current Mac apps. Developers need to update their software to fully support Apple's M1 chip, though Apple claims that process is quite simple through its Rosetta 2 translation software.
On balance, the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 is now the better option for most people, but it's not the obvious choice for everyone.
Design and dimensions
Aside from the difference in ports, the Apple M1 and Intel versions of the MacBook Pro 13 look identical. They're the same in size and thickness. They offer the same color options (silver or space gray). The Apple M1 model is technically a tenth of a pound lighter, but that's a minor difference you'd struggle to notice even in a side-by-side comparison. They even use the same 61-watt USB-C power adapter.
In other words, don't expect anyone to know you have the latest-and-greatest Mac with Apple Silicon. It looks like any other MacBook Pro 13.
In short, battery life is the real reason to buy Apple's M1 Pro laptop. The MacBook Pro 13-inch with Apple M1 doubles the quoted battery life of the MacBook Pro 13 with Intel hardware. The Apple M1 model claims up to 20 hours of battery life, while the Intel model promises up to 10 hours of time between charges.
Both figures are a best-case scenario, so you can expect slightly less battery life in real-world use. Still, it's clear the Apple M1 chip is far more efficient. The size of the battery in each model is (almost) identical, so the endurance gains are coming from lower power draw, not a larger battery capacity.
Twenty hours exceeds not only the endurance of most laptops, but also most smartphones and tablets. Portability is the big, huge, obvious reason to buy the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 over the Intel version.
Performance and specifications
Apple's M1 processor is intimidating on paper. It's an 8-core CPU with four performance cores and four efficiency cores, and comes with an 8-core GPU, plus the 16-core "Neural Engine" that enhances certain machine learning algorithms. The Intel models are quad-core processors with Intel's generally disappointing Iris Plus integrated graphics.
There is more to performance than core count, of course, and it remains to be seen how Apple's M1 will stack up overall. The new chip is a major departure from Intel predecessors, and it will have both strengths and weaknesses relative to what it replaces.
Graphics performance will be a strength for the Macbook Pro 13 with Apple M1. Recent MacBook Pro 13 models struggled with graphics because they relied on Intel's weak Iris Plus graphics. Apple's M1, however, has an 8-core GPU similar to that found in the latest iPad Pro, a device known for impressive 3D graphics performance.
On the other hand, the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 faces limitations in memory and storage. It can only be configured with up to 16GB of memory (RAM) and up to 2TB of storage. Intel models can be upgraded to 32GB of RAM with up to 4TB of storage.
Most people reading this don't need these upgrades, but they matter to professional videographers and photographers working with very large files and running multiple memory-hogging apps at once. If that sounds like you, you may want to skip Apple Silicon until the M1 is available with more memory and storage.
The MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 starts at $1,299 with 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage, or $1,499 with the same memory and 512GB of storage.
The entry-level Apple M1 version has most of the previous MacBook Pro 13's key features, including the 500 nit Retina display, the Touch Bar, and TouchID fingerprint-based login security.
However, the Apple M1 version offers only two USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports compared to the Intel model's four ports. This is a common limitation of entry-level MacBooks, but that doesn't make it less annoying. You can expect to buy a few dongles.
On the plus side, the Apple M1 has an edge in wireless connectivity. Intel-powered models of the MacBook Pro 13 only support 802.11ac, or Wi-Fi 5, while the Apple M1 model supports 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6. This will only matter if you own a Wi-Fi 6 router, but including the latest Wi-Fi standard will help future-proof the laptop's connectivity.
Consider what it means to be an early adopter
Apple's M1 is new, shiny, and offers many advantages on paper. Still, you should buy it with your eyes wide open to one key risk. Buying it makes you an early adopter.
The new hardware is fundamentally different from the Intel chips that came before. While you can expect Apple's own apps to be updated, third-party developers will need to update their Mac software for Apple M1. This will take time, with many apps seeing an update over the next year.
Software that isn't updated should still run, thanks to that Rosetta 2 "translation environment" found in MacOS Big Sur, but it remains to be seen how well this will work. It's impossible for Apple to test every program ever made for the Mac, so there's always a chance that a particular program you like to use won't work.
The bottom line
Apple's MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 is best for most buyers
In a sense, Apple is making your decision for you, because the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 is the new entry-level model. You can't buy a new MacBook Pro 13 with Intel hardware for less than $1,799.
There is a bit of overlap, however, if you want an Apple M1 model with 16GB of RAM and at least a 512GB of storage. In this case, we still recommend buying the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1. It offers far more battery life and superior graphics performance regardless.
True professionals, especially more stationary ones, are the exception. If a problem with your Mac means you don't get paid, you might want to stick with the Intel model until Apple's new M1 chip proves itself for a generation. Also, Intel models are the only option if you want 32GB of RAM or more than 2TB of storage.