My Thoughts on Switching to the M1 Mac from Windows

My History with the Mac

I’ve been a Windows user my entire life. Since I was a little kid, I was instantly drawn to electronics, especially the computer. We had an old Windows computer, and I quickly picked up using the mouse, and the basics of using Windows just so I could play a computer game.

Then when I went to elementary school, I found a new fascination: The Mac. My school had iMacs in the classrooms and the computer lab, and I loved any opportunity I could get to use them. They were cool. First of all, they weren’t the standard beige color like every other computer. Our school had ones that were green, blue, or white. Second, the whole computer was inside where the screen was, something I had never seen before. Third, the CD was slot loading like a car, which is awesome. Fourth, the keyboard and mouse. Just look up the Apple Pro Keyboard and Mouse from the time and compare it to your standard PC peripherals. And fifth, the Mac OS. Even back in the days of Mac OS 9, I just liked the way the Mac worked from the menu bar on top to dragging CDs to the trash can to eject them.

As I entered middle school and high school, the Mac was always a dream that I could never afford. Especially when you can get a really nice PC for a lot less than a Mac. Then I realized as I was in college, the Mac seemed to no longer be a priority for Apple. This was after 2014, a time where the iPad and iPhone were selling at a much higher rate than the Mac. As such, updates to the Mac happened fewer and fewer. I remember thinking the trash can Mac Pro from 2013 was so cool, until it became clear Apple had no intentions of ever updating the hardware in it. Apple sold that exact same 2013 computer all the way through 2018, and worse, at the same price. The same held true for the Mac mini and the iMac, which saw sporadic updates every few years, with the Mac mini going four years without an update.

The only computers seeing regular updates were the MacBooks, and sometimes for the worse. Apple released a new keyboard using butterfly switches, which turned out to have a near 100% failure rate with buttons no longer functioning from dust entering the key. Even the prices were outrageous for the performance. Apple would throttle the hardware so heavily to maintain lower temperatures and better battery life at the expense of speed, something pros weren’t too thrilled about when buying a MacBook Pro. I was ready to declare the Mac dead, but then in 2018, the new Mac Pro, iMac Pro, and Mac mini released, and it seemed Apple was ready to revive the Mac line. Then in November 2020, Apple did much more than a simple revival, and finally revealed a long time rumor.

For years, many have speculated that Apple would switch from using Intel processors in their Macs for Apple’s own processors. They had been using their own silicon in the iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Apple TV, and doing it very well. When comparing the performance of a competitor to the iPhone or iPad, you’ll regularly see the Apple device can outperform it with less fuss. If Apple can develop their own silicon with rave reviews for the rest of their lineup, why can’t they do it with the Mac?

Thus, Apple’s M1 processor was unveiled in November 2020, and the first computers to use it would be the MacBook Air, MacBook Pro, and Mac mini. For months, I kept seeing rave reviews, with these amazing benchmarks comparing more expensive Intel and AMD machines to the M1 and the Mac seemed to win nearly every time. Even better was the energy they would consume. The MacBook Pro could easily reach 20 hours of battery life, and the Mac mini at idle would just consume 6 watts. Wow. And even under heavy load, the fans would barely even need to turn on.

This all got me thinking about my setup. I had a Ryzen HP Pavilion Gaming desktop that had been working just fine, but was large and the fans would run all day as I use it for a media server. Plus, I had several Windows laptops that were fine, but all didn’t do anything particularly well, and even though I love hoarding technology, I really only need one good laptop. So, I listed the most valuable laptops, my desktop, and other junk on eBay and switched entirely to M1: the Mac mini and MacBook Pro.

My Thoughts So Far

Switching to a Mac isn’t really that hard these days. Most of the applications I use are either internet-based or cross platform. There are some things I had to let go off, like games, but I’ve been testing Nvidia GeForce Now, and although there is a very slight delay, it’s nothing too terrible. One thing I totally understand now is the Apple ecosystem. It just works. Whether it’s Airdropping photos from my phone to the Mac, or getting my text messages on the Mac, or opening an email on my phone which shows that email in the dock on the Mac, it all just works seamlessly.

Plus, this thing is just fast. My Ryzen HP was damn fast too, but this thing just feels much quicker. On a Mac, when an application opens, it bounces in the dock and stops bouncing when it is open and ready. On the M1, applications barely require a second bounce. And when this thing wakes up from sleep mode, it’s ready in less than a second. The M1 actually makes me excited to use a computer again. I also have a VM of Windows 10 for ARM and Ubuntu for ARM, and it’s amazing how fast those run. I actually forget they’re running in a virtual machine when I use them.

As far as the differences between Windows and the Mac, there are a few I’ve gotten used to. I do miss snapping and maximizing applications. The red and yellow buttons on a window close and hide applications, but the green button makes an app full screen, unless you hold the option key, then it turns into a mystery zoom button, which resizes the window in an inconsistent way. It’s possible to tile and maximize on the Mac without going full screen, but it isn’t as easy to do, at least for a person like me who is still learning the keyboard shortcuts.

Speaking of which, it’s very easy to learn keyboard shortcuts with the menubar at the top of the screen in every application. Clicking the menus gives you a list of commands to choose from, and shows the keyboard shortcut associated with the task. Also, keyboard shortcuts are universal, meaning any application will have the same keyboard shortcut for the same task.

Services are also a nice feature inside MacOS. Selecting text in any application will allow you to, for example, add that text to a note, or search the built-in dictionary or Google. There are a ton of power tools built right in MacOS that I am very fond of. And installing applications is a breeze. Yes, there is the Mac App Store, which also allows iPhone and iPad apps from developers who have allowed this to occur, but if the app you need isn’t in the store, just download it from the developer’s website, and once it is downloaded, drag it to the applications folder. To uninstall, drag it from the applications folder into the trash can. It’s that simple (Okay, some apps do have an install wizard, which requires an uninstall wizard, but this isn’t the normal situation).

In terms of the hardware, they are both unchanged from their Intel predecessors. The Mac mini still has the same design since 2010, which is interesting because those who have taken apart their M1 Mac minis found the logic board takes up less than half the space inside the case, meaning much of the inside is just empty space. The Mac mini isn’t a big seller, and those that do buy it are either education or businesses who mount the Mac in specific hardware that fit the mini, so they will be pleased. I wish it had an SD Card reader, but hey at least I have an Ethernet port and full-size USB ports.

The MacBook Pro is the same 13" design Apple has had for a while, although I must say that isn’t an issue for me. I totally understand why people buy these things now. The keyboard is a joy to type with, the trackpad is industry leading and phenomenal, and the display is top notch. The whole thing just feels premium, down to the lid which when lifted doesn’t also lift the base, and glides closed calmly. Anyone who has used a cheap laptop knows exactly what I’m talking about with the lid. The Touch Bar is useless, but a cool party trick I sometimes use when I remember it exists. The problem is mainly the fact that I have to look at it to use it. I can touch type the keys without taking my eyes off the screen, but to use the Touch Bar, I have to look down and figure out what is on the screen to use it, so it certainly doesn’t same time to use. Would I like regular ports instead of just USB-C? Sure, but for thinness, I’ll take plugging in an adapter when I need them, which isn’t often in my use case. Would I like a battery meter on the outside of the laptop, something that Macs have had since the late ’90s, and MagSafe, a fantastic feature? Yes, yes I would.

There are some hiccups with the M1, or possibly Big Sur. There have been reports of MacOS writing insane amounts of data to the SSD, which can prematurely kill the soldered expensive storage device. However, I haven’t noticed this on my devices, so I’m not sure how widespread this is, but it is something to note. Plus, no matter how fast the M1 is, it has its limitations. You can’t connect an external graphics card, and you can’t natively have more than two displays. I had to buy a DisplayLink adapter to get all my three monitors back, and DisplayLink takes up extra system resources, so that’s a drawback if you had three monitors with an Intel Mac mini. Plus, if what you do isn’t yet M1 native, you’ll be using Rosetta 2 to translate the code from Intel to M1. It’s impressively fast, but you still won’t get the most out of your new Mac until some important developers like Adobe port their Creative Cloud to Apple Silicon. And if you need specific Windows apps, apps that are undoubtedly for x86 code (not ARM), you can’t boot into Windows directly, so everything you do will be through a Windows 10 for ARM virtual machine, inside which Windows will translate x86 to ARM, so bottleneck after bottleneck. Ergo, stick with an Intel Mac or PC.

Conclusion

Is a Mac the end-all-be-all? Of course not. Am I nervous about using computers with soldered parts? A little, but at the end of the day, I just really like using these computers. Multitasking on a computer without the fans ramping up is a relaxing experience I never thought I’d care about. I’ve never used a laptop with the battery life this thing has. The MacBook Pro sits in a bag for days, and not only does it maintain its battery life, it turns on instantly. My old Windows laptops would need to enter hibernation to pull this off. Not to mention the computers are just effortlessly fast.

Simply put, I am very happy.

I’m a communications major passionate about technology, video production, and how the world works. http://anthony.guidetti.me

I’m a communications major passionate about technology, video production, and how the world works. http://anthony.guidetti.me