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  • Newsletter Issue #1022

    October 19th, 2021


    Forgive me for being naive about it, but I honestly expected Apple to be able to reduce the price of new Macs as a result of the switchover to Apple Silicon. You see, they no longer have to pay a third-party provider for those CPUs, and thus they should not have to concern themselves with prices that were high enough to ensure a profit for the manufacturer, Intel.

    Instead, the new 16-inch MacBook Pro starts at $2,499 for the entry-level model, $100 more than its predecessor with Intel Inside. With all the goodies, which include the 32-core GPU, 64GB of unified memory (shared by the CPU and GPU), and an 8TB SSD, it maxes out at $6,099.

    Now to be fair to Apple, there are no doubt billions of dollars in development costs to build the new Mac processor family even though it’s based on the existing lineup of A-series chips for iPhones, iPads, and the Apple Watch. So I’m not begrudging Apple’s right to cover its costs and earn profits, but those higher-end Intel chips aren’t cheap.

    At any event, yet another source of higher production costs is the new display technology, Mini LED, which assembles the screens with tinier pieces, thus producing higher brightness and a higher contrast. Blacks are blacker, and the result is said to be close to that of an OLED with fewer downsides.

    Until I have a chance to examine the new gear, I don’t know about the viewing angle. That’s where an OLED is so much better, since it’s unlimited. But with a personal computer, when you’re looking usually straight at the display when you’re working on it, it’s not quite as serious a matter as it is when you’re in a large room with a 55-inch TV set.

    In any case, the worldwide supply chain woes caused by the pandemic have certainly caused higher production costs. So even if there are efficiencies from Apple Silicon, don’t expect to see it impact your purchase price. Apple remains at the mid-to-high-tier of PC pricing. Then again, a $2,499 16-inch MacBook Pro does appear to be a better deal than the Intel-based $2,399 version that it replaced.

    Echoing what I wrote in the previous issue, Apple has gone a long way to giving you near-instantaneous response to your commands on a Mac, and even rendering chores that used to take quite a while take much less time to complete. I’ll be real curious to see reviewers put the top-of-the-line models through their paces with apps that task the capabilities of the M1 Pro and M1 Max and see how they fare.

    Looking at it from a distance, I am inclined to give Apple its due when it makes claims of superior performance. They provide an explanation to the asterisked claims that indicate what hardware they used for comparison. So supposedly it should be possible to duplicate the tests.

    In years past, when I reviewed products for CNET and other publishers, I did run my own comparisons, and Apple’s claims were largely borne out.

    That said, most reviewers will simply rely on Geekbench 5 benchmarks, which are good for bragging rights but only superficially related to the performance you’ll get in the real world. The custom video hardware accelerators, for example, which make such chores as editing movies speed along at a higher pace for 4K and 8K footage, may not be totally measured in a canned benchmark. But they will certainly show up with a stopwatch.

    Apple is building this gear for pro users, and a 16-inch display may be large enough for most of you for just about any sort of work. Being able to run the battery day and night before it needs a recharge is also promising. I remember the days when a Mac notebook would run out of juice in just a few hours even with light work loads.

    I also wonder how the Apple critics are going to react. The M1 Macs got pretty good benchmarks for entry-level gear, but there was skepticism as to whether Apple could expand the joy. Clearly the Pro and Max chips, assuming they perform as advertised for the most part, appear to vindicate Apple’s decision to go it alone with its silicon.

    True to its word, the transition from Intel is moving along well. Apple needs to upgrade the larger iMac and Mac Pro — perhaps a new version of the iMac Pro — to complete the transition. I suppose that will happen in time for the 2022 WWDC. That will make two years from the original announcement, just as promised.

    Speculation has it that the remaining hardware will get souped up chips with 20 or 40 cores or even more. Right now, the most expensive Mac Pro, costing about the same as a Tesla 3 or BMW 3 Series, has 28 cores. Apple will clearly want to soar past that in performance, and support hundreds of GB of RAM in the process.

    Indeed, if past is prolog, a 2022 Mac Pro with Apple Silicon will also cost as much as $50,000 and then some. A lot of that will be the price of high-performance ECC RAM and an 8TB SSD. But that assumes several thousand dollars for the high-end Apple Silicon.

    The real question is whether professional users will be willing to abandon the familiar Intel environment and embrace a totally new processor configuration? Based on the apparent acceptance of the M1, and assuming performance will scale up proportionately, I expect it will. Apple has already demonstrated that can manage processor switches with relative efficiency and few glitches.

    So far, I haven’t heard of huge issues with M1, just scattered bugs here and there. In large part, it has gone quite well, smoother than the Intel transition in 2006 where the first MacBook Pros would run real hot.

    As I look to what sort of Mac I want to buy as funds permit, I have no problem whatever considering the move to Apple Silicon. Back in 1994, I embraced PowerPC even though that processor switch was troublesome. Even though Apple had been undergoing business problems, I believed in the company. Or at least I believed in the work I was doing, which was done far more efficiently and effectively on Macs.

    As mentioned above, the Intel transition didn’t have as many downsides, and the Rosetta emulation app provided pretty decent performance for older apps. Rosetta 2 appears to be even more efficient.

    More to the point, I wonder how the loss of Apple will impact Intel’s choices going forward. It has failed in building chips for mobile gear. Its efforts to create a baseband chip for 5G failed, and that project was sold off to Apple at a reduced price.

    Even if Intel can meet or exceed Apple Silicon in power efficiency and performance, Apple will never return. Other PC companies may even decide to attempt to roll their own, perhaps by poaching some Apple employees or, as Apple did to get into the CPU business, buying an existing company if one has the technology they need.

    Or maybe it won’t matter. The majority of the market will still embrace PCs with Windows and Intel or AMD Inside. Apple will continue to see improvements in Mac sales. It will never dominate the market, but will still mostly offer the apps people need to get work done.

    In other words, things won’t change very much until the time comes when the PC itself is passé even as a pickup truck.


    Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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