This article will try to answer two key questions whether you should buy the Macbook Pro M1 or the Air M1. Secondly, should you get an 8 GB ram Macbook or the 16 GB variant?
I have studied the topic in detail over the last 10 days and have gone through several Youtube Videos, Reddit comments from actual buyers, and also several details shared by users on Twitter.
Let’s get to the point of this article and address the elephant in the room.
MacBook Pro M1 Vs. MacBook Air M1 – Which One to buy?
Choosing the right Macbook M1 is a nightmare, thanks to Apple for making it super hard this year.
The Air used to come with a low-end processor and had a lower display resolution in the past. It was cheaper but inferior to the Pro in most ways.
The choice was pretty simple if you have the money, get the Pro, and if you want something affordable that will get the work done, get the Air.
Things are not so simple in 2020!
The MacBook Air is closer to the Air in more ways than it has been in the past.
We are getting nearly the same processor and GPU and a very similar high-resolution Retina display.
Also, there is a 300$ price difference, which is pretty hard to justify. Considering how good the Air is this year.
And this $300 becomes Rs. 30,000 in a country like India where you can easily buy a Windows laptop for that much money.
Advantages of Buying Macbook Pro M1
- The biggest advantage is active cooling, and lower temperatures as the Pro M1 comes with a cooling fan.
- A slightly bigger battery offers you additional 2 hours of work time.
- A slightly brighter display may be useful if you are sitting outdoors and working on the Notebook.
- If you are buying the Macbook Pro M1 base model, you get the 8 Core GPU vs. a 7 Core GPU if you purchase the MacBook Air M1 base model.
For all general day-to-day tasks like doing anything in Chrome or Safari, opening photoshop or Pages, numbers, Excel, Keynote, PowerPoint, and similar applications, there will not be any slowdown.
Both the Macbook Air and Pro will run very fast, and it is hard to pick any of these based on the performance.
Pick the Pro if you want and value any of the 4 advantages that I have listed above.
The downside of buying the pro other than the massive price increase is the dreaded touch bar. I will any day pick the physical buttons over it, but that is a personal preference.
You can get the Pro if you like the touch bar over the physical keys.
Is there a performance advantage for the actively cooled Macbook Pro M1?
Yes. It has an advantage in scenarios where you are pushing the GPU and CPU to the max for more than 5-10 minutes.
As both machines score the same for Geekbench or even Cinebench when run for a minute or two clearly shows that it takes some time for the M1 chip in the air to get hot and start throttling.
Also, the fans on the MacBook Pro M1 don’t kick in very easily. It takes a lot to stress the CPU and make these fans whirl.
So, what type of workloads will benefit from using the Pro over the Air?
Using Final Cut Pro, Logic, or other video editing software like Premiere Pro and Da Vinci Resolve will perform better when using the Pro.
However, if you are not editing very long (greater than 10 minutes) videos, you can still do that easily on the Air. The only time you will see a slightly lower performance is during the export or too much rendering.
The difference is not day and night between the Pro and Air for smaller timelines and videos that are not too taxing.
But if you just exported a 10-minute video and want to export another one just after the first, the Air can have an increased export time even more than 30% if it has become hot from the previous export.
To be frank, with Air, we are saving a lot of money and also getting a very similar performance as the Pro, but for longer edits or tasks which require your GPU and CPU to max out for a long duration, you need the Pro with active cooling.
But if you are a casual video editor and don’t make videos every day – MacBook Air M1 is the better choice.
Now even if you pick the Macbook Pro M1 – will the 8 GB ram version be sufficient for you? Let’s get to that.
MacBook M1 With 8 GB Ram Vs. 16 GB RAM – Which Is better?
How much ram do you need with the new MacBook Pro M1 or the Macbook Air M1? Apple has introduced a new super speedy unified memory with these new Macbooks.
The benefit of the high bandwidth unified ram is that it can be used by the CPU and GPU when required. So your GPU is not limited to a paltry amount of Ram that usually happens with integrated graphics.
Also, the read and write speeds on the SSDs on these Macbooks are over 2000 Mbps that means a speedy cache system and virtual memory.
So in case, your system runs out of physical ram (unified ram in this case), it can use the SSD swap as a cache for storing the files and serving them super fast.
It is not as fast as Ram, but for most tasks, the difference is indistinguishable. The 8 GB ram is sufficient for opening a 20+ chrome tab, using photoshop, MS office, Keynote and Pages and Numbers, and Spotify simultaneously.
But one common problem that we have seen so far in several videos is Macbook Air M1’s limitations in video editing.
Not for smaller 4-5 minute videos with fewer effects.
The problem comes with using transitions, text titles, color grading, and 4k footage in longer videos with a complex timeline and very long.
There are two problems – 1. Thermal throttling in longer exports. 2. Lack of ram for edits or when dropping the footage to timeline and transcoding.
The first problem is solved if you are using the MacBook pro but if you are editing 4K or higher resolution videos, do you need more ram?
For most people doing regular office or college work, pick up the 8 GB ram version of the Macbook Air M1 or the Pro M1 that suits your need and budget.
However, if you are professional and do video editing, coding, or photo editing that typically needs more ram on your existing machine, you must consider this decision carefully.
For video editing, the 8 GB will show some limitations from time to time, either due to larger clips getting rendered or your system reserving some ram for the browser, or the excel spreadsheets you have opened.
Same way for code compilation, there will be some limitations if your work requires 16 or 32 gigs of ram on the Intel system.
It will not be very slow on these 8 gigs unified memory due to lower latency and higher clock speeds, but there can still be tasks that can impact timing.
For such professional work, the 16 GB ram version is good, and also, I am sure you plan to keep the machine for 3-5 years or even more. The ram is not expandable, you can still use a drive like Samsung T7 for high-speed external storage. But the ram is non-expandable.
For creative workloads, development, and professional work, I will pick the 16 GB ram version if I plan to hold on to the machine for a long duration.
Should You Buy the 16 GB Macbook Air M1 or the 8 GB MacBook Pro M1?
This is a tough choice as the price for the 16 GB Macbook Air M1 is lower than the base model of the Macbook Pro M1.
The Macbook Pro M1 will work better if you need to push the CPU and GPU for a long leading to excessive heat. The Air starts to throttle and will impact the performance in such cases. Also, if you are doing such tasks multiple times a day – the Pro M1 with an 8 GB ram is better.
The downside of getting the Pro with 8 Gb of Ram will show in video editing where the ram is max out, and the system is constantly using the SSD swap and compressed files.
The Air with 16 GB is a multi-tasking beast and can handle everything you can throw at it and future proof. For complex timelines in video editing, which are not too long (over 10 minutes), the Air may perform better due to more ram.
The export times are going to be better on the Pro M1 due to the active cooling. Now it depends entirely on what you are doing when picking either of these.
The Pro M1 with 16 GB of Ram is the best choice but is very expensive. You can pick the Air with 16 GB for some of the workloads that don’t require CPU and GPU to be stressed for longer durations for better performance.
I hope this brings clarity to the buying decision and help you with the purchase.
If you have any queries, can share with me in the comments. I read and answer all comments on Candytech.
Previously, I wrote a very detailed article comparing the Macbook Air M1 and Pro M1 specs and features.
Also, there is a fascinating piece covering how Apple M1 compares to the Ryzen 4000 and Intel 11th Gen processors if you want to read that later.