MacBook Air (M1, 2020) Review



The new Apple MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini with the Apple M1 SoC have kickstarted the company’s multi-year transition from Intel CPUs to its own in-house silicon. Apple’s preceding pivotal computing shift came approximately 15 years ago when it announced its transition from the PowerPC architecture to Intel CPUs, and now it’s doing it again. This move was once a very long time coming, and a essential one since it allows Apple greater keep watch over over the design and performance of its Mac computers. More importantly, it will have to also allow Apple to better plan future product roadmaps, now that it knows precisely what sort of chips to expect going ahead.

The Apple M1 is the first SoC for Macs that has been announced, and it can currently be found in the new MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. The M1 SoC is based on the ARM architecture, much like Apple’s iPhone SoCs, and boasts of vastly better performance and power efficiency than preceding Intel CPUs. This also means non-native software not up to date to work on M1 will run in an emulated mode. We’re going to get into these kinds of details in a bit. First, let’s check out what your options are in India if you are shopping for the new M1 MacBook Air.

 MacBook Air (M1, 2020) pricing and variants

Apple has removed the Intel-based MacBook Air models from it’s India website, and the M1-powered MacBook Air starts at the same price of Rs. 92,900. This mannequin gets you 8GB of RAM, 256GB of storage, and the 7-core GPU version of the Apple M1 SoC. You’ll be able to configure it to have 16GB of RAM and up to 2TB of SSD storage before you take a look at.

The second one, pre-configured MacBook Air variant gets you the M1 SoC with an 8-core GPU, 512GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM for Rs. 1,17,900, which is the one I’m testing. The RAM and storage are once again configurable but you’ll’t upgrade anything later.

The MacBook Air is to be had in three colours: Space Grey, Gold, and Silver. Versions of the MacBook Pro 13-inch and Mac mini with Intel CPUs are still to be had for now, but those are the top-end configurations and are priced a lot higher than the M1 versions.

MacBook Air (M1, 2020) design

The physical design of the MacBook Air (M1, 2020) is precisely the same as that of the MacBook Air Retina mannequin which was once refreshed earlier this year. The dimensions and weight of both models are identical, and even when sitting side by side, it’s unimaginable to tell the two apart. You can probably have to wait till next year whether you were hoping to receive a redesigned MacBook Air. I personally shouldn’t have any issues with this. I think the current design is functional and stylish, and more than serves the purpose.

It’s tough to tell the M1 MacBook Air (left) from the Intel version (correct)


The MacBook Air (M1, 2020) has two USB Kind-C ports on the left and a headphone jack on the correct. The Kind-C ports make stronger Thunderbolt/USB 4 for high-speed data transfer, fast charging, and outside connections for up to a 6K display. The MacBook Air has the same 13.3-inch IPS display with a 2,560×1,600 resolution and 400nits of brightness as the Retina models, alternatively Apple has added make stronger for the DCI-P3 wide colour gamut, which will have to give creators more flexibility when colour grading projects.

The keyboard layout, trackpad, and palm-rest area are also the same as on the Intel mannequin. You get stereo speaker cutouts on either side of the keyboard, and Dolby Atmos enhancement is supported. The glass-covered Force Touch trackpad works brilliantly as at all times, and the scissor-mechanism keys are comfortable to kind on.

There are a couple of changes to the keys themselves though. The ‘fn’ button in the behind left corner has a new globe icon, and now brings up the emoji menu with a unmarried press. The F4, F5, and F6 operate keys now double as shortcuts for Highlight search, Dictation, and Do not Disturb, instead of Launchpad and keyboard backlight brightness adjustment as on preceding mannequin. I personally overlook the brightness adjustment, but that’s only because I like having its level set just so. Automatic adjustment works fine though, and you’ll add a shortcut for this to the menu bar whether you wish to have it.

The M1 MacBook Air looks identical to the outgoing Intel mannequin, excluding for some differences on the keyboard (behind correct)

The new M1 MacBook Air looks and feels very familiar to the Intel models, and that is the reason a good object. On the other hand, one major difference is that the M1 models shouldn’t have an exhaust fan and are cooled passively. This makes the new Air absolutely silent, even when doing heavy workloads.

MacBook Air (M1, 2020) specifications and software

The M1 is Apple’s first SoC for Macs and is built around a 5nm process, very similar to the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12 series and iPad Air (4th Gen). It consists of an 8-core CPU (four performance and four efficiency cores), a seven or 8-core GPU (depending on the variant you pick), and a 16-core Neural Engine. The M1 SoC also features other components such as the I/O controller, RAM, and Safe Enclave coprocessor, all on a unmarried package. This, according to Apple, allows for much faster and more efficient transfer of data and directions, which leads to more than double the CPU, GPU, and machine learning performance in comparison to an Intel-based MacBook Air. Apple also claims the SSD in the new M1 MacBook Air is twice as fast as before.

The Apple M1 SoC supports Wi-Fi 6 for higher bandwidth connections to compatible routers. One feature that has been dropped in the new M1-powered Macs is make stronger for outside GPUs such as the Blackmagic eGPU, so whether your workflow requires using such hardware, you will have to stick with Intel Macs in the meanwhile.

With hardware out of the way, let’s turn our attention to software. The MacBook Air (M1 2020) runs macOS Big Sur, which has been optimised for the M1 SoC. Apps which have been up to date to run on M1 in addition to Intel CPUs are now referred to as Universal apps, and all of Apple’s first-party apps in addition to many third-party ones have already been migrated. On the other hand, there are still many popular apps such as Slack and Adobe’s Creative Cloud suite, which aren’t yet up to date to run natively on M1.

Rosetta 2 is Apple’s translation tool which helps run x86 apps on ARM


These apps still work, roughly, thanks to Apple’s translation tool called Rosetta 2. It’s an emulation program, invisible to the end user, which automatically translates directions meant for one architecture to another in order that an x86 app can run generally. We’re going to get into performance in the next section.

Since the M1 is very similar to Apple’s iPhone and iPad SoCs, it’s now imaginable to run many iOS and iPad OS apps on an M1 MacBook Air. When you search for an app in the App Store, you can now see two tabs on the top, ‘Mac Apps’ and ‘iPhone & iPad Apps.’ It’s up to app developers to make a decision whether they would like their mobile apps to run on Macs. For example, Netflix is not to be had (yet) but you’ll play Crossy Street or use the Flipkart app. iOS apps run in windowed mode, and a few can also be resized. You even get menu bar options, just like a Mac app.

This is still very much a work in progress, and the experience is not at all times as seamless as the usage of the same apps on an iPad or iPhone, since it’s a must to substitute touch input with a trackpad and keys. iPhone apps that are to be had but not optimised have a lucid warning in the title – “Not verified for macOS.”

Many iOS and iPadOS apps can run on the M1 MacBook Air


MacBook Air (M1, 2020) performance

To receive a better sense of real-world performance, I migrated all my data (approximately 300GB) from my existing MacBook Air (Retina 2020) over to the new one. Apple’s Migration Assistant tool makes this very easy, and everything is done over a peer-to-peer Wi-Fi connection.

The very first thing you can notice when switching to the new M1 MacBook Air is that it wakes instantly when you open the lid. It is a lot quicker than any Intel-based MacBook Air I’ve used. If in case you have an Apple Watch, your Mac can detect your presence so you do not even have to use the fingerprint sensor, making the process even more seamless.

MacOS Big Sur feels a bit snappier on the M1 MacBook Air than on the preceding mannequin. Minor lags in animations when swiping through apps in Launchpad or loading heavy apps as an example, don’t seem to be noticeable anymore. When you run a non-native app for the first actual time, you get a immediate asking you to download Rosetta 2 with a view to run it. This installation only happens once and it doesn’t take very long. After this, non-native apps simply work without any extra intervention.

Apps created for the Intel platform run surprisingly polite on the Apple’s M1 SoC


You’ll be able to check if an app is running natively or via emulation through the Activity Monitor, or the usage of a simple app such as Silicon Info. Emulated apps take a bit longer to load than universal ones, but in comparison to an Intel-based MacBook Air, it’s approximately the same. Once loaded, all of the apps that I tried worked just fine, without any lag or crashes. Third-party apps such as Telegram that have been up to date to run natively on M1 load way quicker than on an Intel MacBook Air.

The second one object that becomes immediately obvious is how cool the new M1 MacBook Air runs. When I reviewed the Intel Core i3 version of the MacBook Air (Retina 2020) back in July, it got pretty warm when stressed even a little bit. Since then, I’ve been the usage of a Core i5 variant of the same laptop as my primary work computer and this one also runs warm even when idle. With the Menubar Stats app running in the background, I noticed my Intel Core i5 Retina MacBook Air’s CPU idling at around 45 degrees Celsius, whereas the M1 MacBook Air would idle at around 33 degrees Celsius. The moment I began running even simple apps such as Pages or Slack, the palm rest area and the space above the keyboard on the Intel Mac got very warm, and the system temperature shot up quickly.

The M1 MacBook Air (left) runs consistently cooler than an Intel Core i5-based MacBook Air (correct)


The M1 sees only a modest increase in temperature when performing the same activities, and the palm rest area, the behind, and even the area above the keyboard simply don’t get warm enough to be noticeable. The truth that this laptop is in a position to deal with such low operating temperatures without a fan is pretty improbable.

And it is not because of lack of performance. Actually it’s the complete opposite. The Geekbench 5 benchmark, which is optimised for M1, shows a enormous leap in performance in comparison to an Intel Core i5 Retina MacBook Air. The M1 SoC scored 1,704 and 7,405 points in the unmarried and multi-core tests respectively, in comparison to 1,103 and 2,843 points from my Intel MacBook Air. Apple claims that the M1 MacBook Air has twice the SSD performance than before and this shows in benchmarks as polite. The M1 MacBook Air averaged 2.8GBps and 2.7GBps read and write speeds respectively in Blackmagic Disk Speed Test, in comparison to 1.2GBps and 1.3GBps from the Intel version.

After all, in Cinebench R23, the M1 MacBook Air posted impressive numbers. It scored 1,479 and 6,682 in the unmarried and multi-core tests respectively, in comparison to 787 and 2,194 from my Intel MacBook Air. All through benchmarks, the M1 MacBook Air reached its highest recorded temperature of approximately 85 degrees Celsius, in comparison to the 100 degrees Celsius reported by the Intel MacBook Air. The M1’s temperature also ramps down pretty quickly despite it not having a fan.

The M1 MacBook Air (left) destroys an Intel MacBook Air in benchmarks


My typical workflow involved a large number of Safari, Pages, and Photoshop use, and in these kinds of tasks, the M1 MacBook Air performed flawlessly. I used the Photoshop beta designed for the M1 SoC, and it worked very polite. Lightroom has also recently been up to date to run natively on M1. On the other hand, the other apps in the Creative Cloud suite are yet to be optimised, and will only be releasing sometime in 2021. You’ll be able to still use these apps through Rosetta 2 but there are some known issues.

As powerful as the M1’s CPU cores are, Apple claims that the integrated GPU will have to also supply a boost in graphics-heavy workloads such as video editing and gaming. The MacBook Air is not designed for serious video editing, and while it can maintain apps such as iMovie reasonably polite, editing in Last Cut Pro (FCP) or Adobe Premiere will take it out of its consolation zone. With the most recent version of FCP installed on both the M1 and Intel-based MacBook Airs, I loaded up a 4K video the usage of the Apple ProRes 422 Proxy codec. Both laptops were in a position to maintain this just fine, even though scrubbing through the pattern clips was once a bit smoother on the M1 MacBook Air. Exporting this project was once also quicker on the M1-based unit, taking 10 seconds as opposed to 17 seconds for the MacBook Air with the Core i5 processor.

It is advisable if truth be told believe the M1 MacBook Air for serious video editing

I then tried some 5K clips shot with a GoPro Hero 9 Black, and prioritised quality in the preview window. With this setting, the Intel-based MacBook Air showed a moderately jerky preview with a large number of dropped frames. The M1 MacBook Air, however, had no trouble rendering the preview smoothly without dropping any frames. Exporting a one-minute 5K clip to H.264 took 3 minutes and 54 seconds on the M1 MacBook Air, as opposed to 9 minutes and 29 seconds on the Intel MacBook Air. That’s a massive difference in export time, which shows the uncooked potential of the M1 SoC.

While performing all of these activities, the M1-based MacBook Air barely got warm and the SoC temperature peaked at approximately 80-86 degrees at one point, but even this ramped down quickly once the task was once done. I also didn’t get a unmarried CPU throttling warning when tracking the thermal log in a Terminal window. The Intel-based MacBook Air however reported CPU temperatures of 90-100 degrees when rendering and exporting media in FCP. The fan was once also running at almost full tilt at all times trying to cool it down, and the thermal log recorded more than one instances when the laptop throttled the CPU speed rather drastically because of high temperatures.

The M1 MacBook Air does a decent job with Apple Arcade games


With regards to gaming, Apple Arcade games look good and run reasonably polite on the M1 MacBook Air. Games optimised for touch input from Apple Arcade are also moderately easy to play with the keyboard and trackpad. The Pathless is a heavier title and had a couple of framerate hiccups, but was once still playable at the default settings. The M1-based MacBook Air also does get warm quickly when gaming. Games that are specifically optimised for M1, such as Shadow of The Tomb Raider, are said to run better than on even the top-end Intel-based MacBook Air.

Steam runs very polite through Rosetta 2 and you’ll install games compatible with the Mac on the M1 MacBook Air. I tried Alien Isolation, but sadly, the performance was once very bad with nearly unplayable framerates. An Intel MacBook Air performs better in comparison when running Steam games, for now besides.

One of my biggest gripes with the Retina MacBook Air was once the webcam. Image quality was once very grainy when I used it in less-than-ideal lighting. Apple claims it has improved the quality of the 720p FaceTime HD camera thanks to the new ISP (Image Sign Processor) in the M1 SoC. With a side-by-side comparison, there’s a noticeable improvement particularly in dim lighting. The M1-based MacBook Air produces less grain and exposure is better than on the Intel-based MacBook Air. It’s still a 720p webcam, sadly, but no less than the quality has improved making it much more usable.

MacBook Air (M1, 2020) battery life

The preceding MacBook Air delivered more than passable battery life, enough to final a full workday and then some. With M1, Apple is claiming even better numbers with the same battery capacity. The M1-based MacBook Air promises up to 15 hours of Web usage and up to 18 hours of Apple TV film playback (up from 11 hours and 12 hours respectively). Since no one actually browses the Web or watches TV shows for that long at a stretch, it’s tough to test Apple’s particular claims, but with steady mixed usage, I used to be averaging approximately 13-14 hours of screen-on time in one full day, which in itself is mighty impressive.

When in standby with the lid closed (say, overnight), I noticed barely any battery drain. Another impressive achievement is the M1 MacBook Air’s ability to retain going once you hit the red line in the battery meter. Despite the OS warning me that my Mac would be forced to fall asleep whether I did not plug it in, I managed to receive approximately another hour and fifteen minutes of runtime while streaming a film in Safari.

The M1 MacBook Air delivers amazing battery life


The Apple M1 SoC might be a first-gen product for Apple’s laptops and desktops but it’s very evident that this is the end result of years of perfecting the A-series SoC for its phones and tablets. Intel’s CPUs lately haven’t been terribly exciting, with only modest improvements in performance year on year. In a way, this has held the MacBook Air (and the remainder of Apple’s portfolio) back.

With the improved performance and efficiency of the M1 SoC in the same chassis, the MacBook Air is no longer just an entry-level laptop but one that may be seriously regarded as for heavy-duty tasks as polite. Apple has even managed to fortify battery life and make the design totally fanless. The cherry on top is that every one this comes at the same price as the preceding Intel-based MacBook Air.

In addition to the M1 performs, I wouldn’t recommend ditching your current Intel-based MacBook for this correct absent, particularly whether the apps you use haven’t been optimised for M1 yet. While most apps will have to run just fine through Rosetta 2, I’d propose making certain that the fundamental ones that you wish to have frequently shouldn’t have any known issues. Also, keep in mind that this is just the first wave of devices based on Apple’s in-house silicon. We will have to expect more powerful Apple SoCs for the inevitable refreshes (or replacements) of the 16-inch MacBook Pro, iMac, iMac Pro, and Mac Pro.

Whether you do not need to wait and do not rely on any niche apps, then by all means pick up the new MacBook Air with M1. It’s more powerful, runs cooler, and lasts longer, making it probably the most best value offerings in Apple’s MacBook lineup.


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