- Model: MacBook Pro (13-inch, M1, 2020)
- Display: 13.3-inch IPS 2560×1600 retina display
- Processor: 8-core CPU with 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores
- Graphics: 8-core GPU
- Memory: 16GB RAM
- OS: macOS Big Sur
- Storage: 1TB SSD
- Webcam: 720p
- Ports: 2x Thunderbolt/USB 4, 1x headphone/microphone jack
- Connectivity: 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0
- Dimensions: 11.97″ x 8.36″ x 0.61″
- Weight: 3.0 lbs
- Price: $1,899
MacBook Pro M1 – Design and Features
In terms of appearance, the M1 MacBook Pro looks just like every other MacBook we’ve seen for years. The unibody aluminum finish is clean and understated, with a black Apple logo on the lid and a thin, lightweight chassis you can easily fit in a backpack. The keyboard is, thankfully, the new-old “Magic” keyboard designed to replace Apple’s disastrous butterfly design. It has significantly deeper key travel than the previous version, but not quite as deep as the MacBooks of old. Still, I found it comfortable enough for casual browsing and longer writing sessions alike. The trackpad is large, smooth, and still one of the most accurate you’ll find on the market – though instead of a physical button, you get Apple’s Force Touch haptic feedback that simulates a click feeling. It’s actually very satisfying, and hopefully the lack of moving parts means one less point of failure.
All that said, I’m still not in love with the touch bar – in theory, it’s a great idea, giving you different shortcuts based on the context of what you’re doing. But in practice, it just feels a little ham-fisted. I often find the shortcuts I actually want are buried behind an extra tap-to-expand gesture, because the rest of the bar is wasting space on something useless. It’s not a deal breaker by any means, and perhaps I’m just a fuddy duddy who refuses to get with the times, but it’s not for me. The Touch ID sensor on the power button, however, is still a hugely welcome inclusion for quick logins and security checks, though I wish Apple would implement facial recognition already to keep up with its Windows-based competitors.
The Retina display is sharp and beautiful, with a black bezel around the edge that’s wider than competing Windows models, which makes it feel just a tad dated – but I’m honestly splitting hairs given how premium the rest of this machine feels. Using an X-Rite i1Display Pro and DisplayCal software, I measured the display’s brightness at 521 nits (plenty for most environments) with a solid contrast ratio of 1459:1 and 97% coverage of the DCI-P3 color space, which allows for bright, vivid colors across the spectrum.
The speakers sounded surprisingly decent for a 13-inch laptop, which usually require less-than-stellar downward-firing drivers. Cramming some speakers along the sides of the keyboard works well, and while they’ll never come close to a dedicated set of speakers (or headphones), they’ll do in a pinch if you’re watching YouTube videos or streaming tunes without a pair of earbuds nearby – I’d even argue they sound better than a lot of 15-inch laptops I’ve tested in the past year.
Apple’s port selection still bugs me to no end, unfortunately. Two measly USB-C ports is just not enough, particularly when one of those is often taken up by your laptop charger. I still have plenty of USB-A devices, not to mention the occasional need for an extra display, and fumbling with a series of dongles is not my idea of a good time.
All told, it’s extremely similar to the M1-equipped MacBook Air, which has almost the exact same internal and external hardware for a lower price. For its slimmer design (and price tag), the Air eschews one of the M1’s GPU cores (in certain models), the Touch Bar, and 10Wh of battery capacity. The Air also gets rid of the fans for a completely silent design – while I wouldn’t consider the Pro noisy by any means, it does use that active cooling for more sustained, unthrottled performance when needed. And frankly, while it can’t cut a block of cheese like the MacBook Air can, the Pro is still very thin and light.
MacBook Pro M1 – Performance & Gaming
It’s hard to compare the MacBook Pro directly to other gaming laptops we test. For one, it isn’t really a gaming laptop – it’s more of a professional-and-general-use laptop that has the ability to run certain games. It also runs macOS, which means some of our typical benchmarks aren’t compatible – or at least won’t compare to Windows laptops in a fair, apples-to-apples fashion (no pun intended). As such, we had to improvise a bit with our performance testing.
Before we get into gaming, let’s get day-to-day performance out of the way: you’d never know this computer had an ARM CPU built in. In real world usage, the Apple silicon inside this MacBook Pro feels quick and responsive at every turn, just like Apple’s chips in the iPhone and iPad do. Apps optimized for the M1 chip run beautifully, even under heavier workloads. Chrome barely hiccupped at all during my long work sessions, even when loaded up with 30+ tabs, and I was able to scrub through 4K footage in DaVinci Resolve with nothing but the occasional, minor frame drop. The 16GB of RAM likely helped that somewhat (I’d recommend it if you can swing the cash), but the M1 was no slouch. Some apps are still rolling out M1 support in beta downloads, but support is wider than I expected this early in the chip’s lifecycle.
Good performance with M1-optimized apps to be expected, though. My real skepticism with the M1 chips was Rosetta 2, the translator that allows Intel-based Mac apps to run on ARM. I still remember the first iteration of Rosetta back in the mid-2000s, which allowed PowerPC-based apps to run on the then-new Intel-based Macs. Performance was less than stellar at launch back then, but this time around is different. So far, I haven’t hit any major hurdles with Intel apps running under Rosetta 2. VLC performed as well playing 4K video as it would on any other Mac, Zoom calls ran smoothly, and I was able to scroll through Discord chats with nary a hitch. (Though VLC and Zoom have been updated since the original writing of this article to support M1 Macs.) It might not stand up to top-tier CPUs in the heaviest of workloads, but things definitely won’t feel sluggish as a result of Rosetta 2, which is a welcome surprise.
That said, while I didn’t run into any trouble with my daily selection of software, I have heard reports of some apps not working properly under Rosetta just yet, so there may still be some growing pains if you require certain specialized programs or development tools built for Intel machines. You can see a list of Apple Silicon-ready programs in this database, along with notes on which translated apps have issues – it notes that screen recorder Screenflow, for example, doesn’t work at all, and FTP program Cyberduck runs but has some quirks.
Oh, and you aren’t limited to desktop programs anymore – you can run iOS apps on the M1 Macs as well. Many big-name mobile apps (like Instagram) are not available on the desktop, though, and others are on the jankier side, with windows that won’t let you move or resize them freely. This feature is occasionally handy, just don’t expect the world from it.
Finally, let’s talk games. Some titles, like World of Warcraft, have already been updated for M1 Macs, and in my tests it ran quite nicely. At 1920×1200 and the default graphics quality of 5, I easily kept a stable 60 frames per second fighting ogres in Exile’s Reach. Apple’s also banking on users playing more casual iOS or Apple Arcade games, which are lower fidelity and should run smoothly. Again, many big-name iOS games are missing from the store, but I was able to play Warhammer 40,000: Freeblade without any issues – though I had to enable “Touch Alternatives” in the menu for the game’s multitouch-controlled weapons. Other games, like the iOS port of Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas, won’t really work on the Mac due to their use of two-handed touch controls that just won’t work with a mouse. Apple Arcade games I tested also played beautifully, whether they were M1-optimized (like Towers of Everland) or running under Rosetta (like Oceanhorn 2) – but again, mileage may vary depending on the title.
In fact, I’d go so far as to say that Rosetta games can be a bit of a minefield. Take our usual benchmark suite for Windows laptops: The Mac version of Borderlands 3 should run under Rosetta 2 with no known issues as of this writing, but Total War: Three Kingdoms had numerous graphical artifacts that might affect your enjoyment of the game. (For comparison’s sake, though, the battle benchmark averaged about 15fps at our usual settings of 1080p Ultra, and 47fps at Low on the M1 MacBook Pro.)
For games that haven’t been ported to macOS – like Metro Exodus, the third game in our usual batch of benchmarks – you might be able to get them running under WINE with a program like CrossOver, which has been updated for M1 Macs. Compatibility and performance can still vary wildly, which makes sense when you consider you’re running a Windows game in WINE and translating that for the M1 chip. I couldn’t get the Metro Exodus benchmark to launch, but after a day of fiddling, was able to get the game itself up and running at a playable framerate using its lowest settings. I couldn’t get the frame counter to appear, but I’d guess it was around 30 frames per second; maybe a bit more.
If you want to know whether a particular game will run, plug it into this searchable database and see what kind of performance numbers other M1 Mac owners are getting. It’s actually impressive how many games actually run at playable speeds given the technical hurdles involved, but it’s clear that this isn’t really a gaming laptop – it’s just capable of some light to moderate gaming under the right circumstances.
Of course, you could always stream games through Nvidia GeForce Now or Google Stadia (provided you have a strong network connection). In my tests, this ran as well on the new MacBooks as well as it would on any other PC, and allows you to get smoother framerates with higher graphics settings as long as you’re willing to deal with a bit of latency and video compression.
So you have lots of options when it comes to gaming. Just remember that ultimately, this is a first-gen product. While it’s easily one of the snappiest-feeling laptops I’ve ever used, incompatible apps and games may kill that buzz for some users, who might be better waiting one more year to upgrade while developers catch up. Plus, you never know if Apple’s going to make a big performance breakthrough for the second-gen models, or if they’re going to drop support a bit too soon for the earliest M1 Macs. After all, it’s happened before – look at how quickly the first-gen iPad was dropped compared to the long, long life of the iPad 2.
It certainly has its benefits, though. Not only is it fast, but this thing can handle the heat (literally). While many modern Intel-based laptops thermal throttle as soon as you put them under load, the MacBook Pro handled higher temperatures pretty gracefully. The chassis definitely got warm to the touch, but the above benchmarks only hit about 86° C on the CPU and 84° C on the GPU in my 23° C office. That’s toasty, but well within normal limits, and the fan only spun up to its lowest level, which was barely audible. I had to crank the system with both Prime95 and Heaven running simultaneously to get temperatures high enough for the fan to really kick in – it doesn’t ramp up until it gets close to throttling temperature – and even then, I was never able to get the fan running at full speed. As long as it could keep my temperatures in the 80s, it was happy. That’s not to say this laptop won’t ever throttle, just that it’s not nearly as common an event as it is on Intel chips.
MacBook Pro M1 – Battery Life
Again, while we usually run PCMark 10’s battery life test to measure our laptop’s power capabilities, the benchmark isn’t available on macOS – or at least, it wouldn’t be a fair comparison, because we’d have to run it under something like CrossOver. Thanks to Apple’s built-in usage stats, though, I can say that battery life was great on this machine. On days where I was mostly browsing and writing, I could easily reach 12 hours of screen on time with a single charge, while more moderate-to-heavy usage – like when I mixed some gaming and benchmarking in between those browsing sessions – could easily exceed 7 hours. That’s incredible compared to most Intel-based machines, and unless you’re running the CPU full throttle all day long, it’s safe to say this machine will easily get you through a full workday (and then some).
I don’t have an M1-equipped MacBook Air to compare the two on a standardized playing field, but given the extra 10Wh in the Pro’s battery, I’m willing to bet that’s a bit more than you’d get on Apple’s slimmer offering. You do pay for that privilege, though: A similarly-specced air would cost $250 less than our MacBook Pro as reviewed, and you can spec it a bit lower for an even more affordable option. Most people, I’d wager, would be better off saving some money and going with the Air for typical workloads.
That said, the Pro does include the active cooling for more sustained unthrottled performance, which is ideal if you do something like video editing for a living. If you want every ounce of power you can get, not to mention the ability to maximize your time away from outlets, the Pro could be well worth the extra cash. Frankly, it’s hard to go too wrong either way – it’s all about what fits into your budget.