Apple’s ARM Announcement

I have been a loyal Apple guy for the past few years. As a recovering Windows user, I spend almost all my time using systems either running Linux or MacOS. Almost all my systems at home are either running Linux (all my servers and my Raspberry Pi devices) and the rest are running MacOS. The one exception is my desktop used for doing my ham radio projects, but I’m migrating those applications to Linux when there’s time (with two kids on Christmas break, does this even exist?).

I remember hearing a couple of years ago about Apple’s decision to introduce its own silicon into the Mac ecosystem and I was very upset by this news. As some feared, I too thought that the new Macs would just become iPads with a keyboard. After all, Intel processors were the standard in Macs since 2006, which is also when I purchased my first MacBook while in college. Why would they do something like this? Rosetta, used in the first intel Macbooks to translate PowerPC applications, was horrendously slow and an overall rough experience for users. Was this going to be the death of the Mac?

Pulling the trigger

Fast forward to 2020 when Apple announced its new lineup of Macs. I eagerly watched the new releases and listened to their claims of amazing performance and battery life, even with Intel based applications. The new silicon is based on the ARM architecture, which I have been a fan of for years, as part of my home lab runs Raspberry Pi devices. I was a little bit skeptical of this transition and read almost every review I could about these new devices. It turns out that many were blown away by their experiences with the new Macs and mentioned that these devices lived up to their claims. It was this moment that I decided to bite the bullet and order one of the new 13” MacBook Pros. I opted for the upgraded 16GB/1TB option, which added a month to the delivery time. During this month of waiting, I was glued to any new reviews I could find and became more excited each day.

Insane performance, cool to the touch

In mid-December, the day came when my laptop arrived and my journey with the new ARM based Mac began. Wow, from almost day one I was blown away. My previous MacBook Pro was a 13” model from 2018. That laptop was one of the best I’d ever worked with, but it had terrible battery life and if I used almost any of my dev tools, the fans would kick in and the laptop would run hot. As of today (January 2nd), I have not felt this new laptop get above a slightly warm temperature and the fans only kick in during very intensive applications. To my surprise, my installation of Civilization 6, which is still an Intel based app running in Rosetta2, not only runs on this Mac, but it also blows away the gameplay performance of my 2018 MBP. It’s surprising how well Rosetta2 apps work compared to newer Universal apps. I must give Apple lots of praise here, especially after my previous experience with the Rosetta of 2006.

Now, this migration isn’t something that I’d recommend for all devs coming from Intel Macs. There was some tweaking I had to do to get Homebrew, Go, tmux, etc working and there are still some apps that haven’t been updated to work with the ARM Macs. I’m still waiting to get my beloved NeoVim working natively but it seems every day there are new updates to apps that run natively on this new platform. I’ve been in the Docker preview as well, and it’s encouraging to see that coming along smoothly. GoLang’s 1.16 release coming up soon will feature native ARM support for Macs. Some of my other developer tools are not yet running as Universal Binaries, like JetBrain’s GoLand IDE, VSCode, etc but they are working just fine so far in Rosetta2. Things are coming along, and I don’t mind doing some extra work expected of an early adopter.

Battery life lives up to Apple’s claims

One thing that I need to mention in closing is that this laptop’s battery life is absolutely incredible. I’m a power user on my devices and in turn, they tend not to last too long on battery. When I heard about the 20hr claim from Apple, I was super skeptical. I’m happy to say that these claims live up to the hype too. I’m typing this post on the M1 Mac, and I’ve been using it for over 10hrs without charging. I still am at 60% battery life! It’s so weird for me to think about being able to take this device around with me without needing to identify a power outlet right away. Once the pandemic winds down and I’m traveling more, I look forward to using this device on a plane without having to drag out my bulky charger.

Conclusion

If you don’t mind being an early adopter and dealing with a few quirks here and there, I highly recommend the M1 Macbook Pro! These devices live up to their claims and more. I’ve heard even more powerful ARM based Macs are planned for later this year, but if you want to dive in early and like the 13” form factor, this device should keep you happy for years to come.