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  • Bob Hadfield

The New Mac Computers: Has the next step in Home Computing Arrived?

Before we start, I’ll state my allegiances first and foremost! At my heart I consider myself a PC/Windows person rather than a Mac person. I’ve been building PC since the 90s - my first foray with Windows was Windows 3.1.

However much more recently I became a Mac user. It was inevitable for me as video and photo work is a more natural fit on a Mac, especially when colleagues use the same ecosystem. But my 2015 MacbookPro was starting to get long in the tooth when I found myself editing 4K video more often.

Something had to be done, but top of the range Macs are so flaming expensive I’d been putting it off for a while.

Then I had heard interesting news about the latest generation of Apple machines which are no longer using Intel based architecture. What Apple have done instead is to move in a completely new direction which completely re-writes the manual on how a computer works. They’ve, drawn on their years of experience in making phones and tablets and applied those lessons learnt to fully fledged desktop and laptop machines. They adopted a 'System on a Chip' approach.

But what does this mean?

In a nutshell, on a conventional computer you’ll have the motherboard (think large circuit board) and on it you’ll have the CPU – the brain of the computer. At another location you’ll have your memory. At another you’ll have the graphics card etc. Information has to go from one to the other, and although this happens extremely fast, there’s still a ceiling in terms of the circuitry involved that limits how quick information speeds around.

Now, imagine if everything were on the same physical structure. Joined together. As one. That’s what Apple have now done. By blurring the distinction between separate components, you get a tremendous performance uplift.

I was a little sceptical at first - but then articles and youtube videos started to appear online about these new macs. For example, a Mac user had bought an iMac last year. It was maxed out with 40 GB of RAM and cost him about $4,000.

He watched in disbelief how expensive iMac was being demolished by his new M1 Mac Mini, which he had paid $700 for.

So….I took the plunge and purchased one of these new Mac mini’s. And I can tell you, I am not disappointed. In Final Cut, rendering and exporting time is super fast. I am genuinely in awe of this machine. Furthermore my MacBook Pro used to sound like jet engine going into full whack when it was doing some serious number crunching and used to get pretty hot. My MacMini is silent and cool. Always. And this is on a machine that cost £650.

There are downsides to this approach. In order to run older Mac software, built with the previous x86 intel-based architecture in mind, these Mac’s also need to run an emulator called ‘Rosetta 2’.

However, tests have shown that even in this emulator mode, it’s still performing better than their older native counterparts!

Because Apple are now using a completely different architecture, you can no longer run boot camp and have Windows 10 installed alongside the Mac OS. I know this will be an issue for some. Additionally, on previous Mac Mini’s you could use a thunderbolt 3 port and connect it to an external graphics card to give it some serious ‘graphics welly’, which you aren’t able to do on these latest machines.

This isn’t an issue for me as I have a high spec Windows gaming PC which is connected to the same ultra-wide monitor as my Mac Mini. It’s very easy for me to instantly switch between Mac and Windows. I use a USB switch and stereo mixer to ensure I only need one set of peripherals for both machines. It’s a set up that has really transformed how I work.

There is however one area which may become a problem down the line. New Mac users are reporting they are seeing significantly more usage on their hard drives than usual and worry the hard drive life expectancy will be much more limited. Given the hard drives are soldered onto the chip, it’s not a straightforward process anymore to replace them.

I’m watching this area closely – some are saying an update to the Mac OS will fix this. I’ve run a few tests on my new mac mini and things seem fine at the moment with it's hard drive.

At the end of the day I’ve got a powerhouse of a machine for a fraction of the cost, which has enabled me to work on my projects with ease. I think this will fundamentally change modern home computing for the next few decades. I would be very surprised if we didn't see other computer manufacturers following suit in the months and years to come.

These are exciting times as it's been decades since there was such a paradigm shift in home computing.

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