M1 Air Early Impressions 11/17/2020

2020 M1 Macbook Air on wooden desk

Macbook Air 13" M1 Early Impressions

I'm coming from a 2016 touchbar 15" MBP which was a nice enough machine, but I do have some biases around it:

  • Touchbar has never resonated with me
  • The flat keyboard doesnt do it for me at all
  • I probably should have gotten a 13 in terms of overall size

The Amazing

They arent lying about the performance. Even the traditional 'you just started spotlight indexing' was barely noticable. Its a fantastically fast machine.

I installed via x86 steam one of my favorite windows games Battletech and it was actually astonishingly playable despite having a reputation for being very poorly optimized. (on my windows box it maxes out an i7 with a 1080TI) In some cases it was actually fluid. Absolutely stunning for a machine with no fan. Performance wasn't better than my desktop but it was close enough that I was absolutely blown away. Legit gaming on a fanless ultraportable is possible apparently.

The Good

I know these keyboards have existed on previous models, but its a distinct improvement over the previous 'flat' keyboards. I still prefer a mechanical but I feel like I can actually use this laptop as a laptop without being constantly sad about typing on it. Also no touchbar is a bonus.

Intel apps seem to work pretty seamlessly. In particular I was interested in node.js and vscode both of which work as i'd expect via rosetta2. I didn't try brew yet, waiting until the general consesus on 'best approach' for x86 brew solidifies some.

I was actually super surprised by how much I enjoyed ipad apps on the mac. Particuarly community apps that I would have previously used a website for.

The Awkward

External display support? I have a startech usb/thunderbolt 3 dock with dual 4k monitors attached and unlike my intel mac, only 1 display lit, and it had a very odd distortion in the output, almost like a mirrored effect. Unplugging that particular monitor over displayport seems to have worked, but it was still a dissapointing start when apples marketing materials claim their GPU can drive dual 4k. Perhaps that will improve with drivers in the near future, but from what I have read it may be a limitation of the thunderbolt 4 interface they are shipping with so I am not getting my hopes up.

I know some people are upset about the eGPU limitations, which I suppose I agree with even though it doesnt affect me personally, but I did have higher expectations around display compatibility.