Soundbyte 310 – December 2020

ChristopherNews, Podcast

M1

Welcome to this bumper edition of Soundbyte! In this issue:

  • December meeting and quiz
  • Brew and Byte Episode 6
  • Big Sur released
  • iPhone 12 Pro Max and Mini
  • Future Shock! The Apple M1 chip
  • The new MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro
  • The new M1 Mac Mini
  • OK – so what about running Windows on M1?
  • And M1 gaming?
  • Offers for members

December meeting and quiz

Join us on Monday December 14 at 7pm in Zoom for our monthly meeting. We’ll start with our usual round up of what’s happened this month in Newsbyte. Then, our quizmaster Martin will host our annual Christmas Quiz! Questions will be on general knowledge and Apple trivia. When you join the meeting, Martin will place you into a team led by a committee member and the winning team members will win an Apple Gift Card, just in time for Christmas shopping. Please feel free to have some seasonal drinks and food during the meeting to get into the mood. Look in the email this Soundbyte came with for the Zoom invite.

Brew and Byte Episode 6

https://heliumcine.com/

Hopefully you have been listening to our great new podcast. Our next episode (number 6) features an interview with the CEO and product designer of iPhone accessory brand Helium and a chat with the ExaMug (Exeter Area Mac User Group) Chairman. This week’s podcast focuses on iPhone photography and photo management.

Find us on Apple Podcasts (and also other podcast apps). Please subscribe and join us fortnightly when we discuss all things Apple: software, hardware and technology. Submit your questions to us on Twitter @londonmacgroup or send us an email at Podcast@lmug.org.uk. You can also send us a voice message here.

Big Sur released

MacOS 11 – Big Sur (click the image to open the encyclopaedic Ars Technica review)

Mac OS 11, Big Sur has been released to Mac users worldwide as a free update. This is a major upgrade and the list of supported Macs moves forward to certain models from 2013 and newer. Mac OS finally moves up a version number from 10 (macOS X) to 11. The change marks a number of significant transitions. This is the first version of MacOS to work on Apple Silicon, as well as Intel computer chips. Apple Silicon chips for Macs are the same computer chips that power Apple iPhones and iPads and Big Sur can now run their apps! That means (subject to developer support) if there is a particular app you like on your iPad, you might be able to run it in a window on your Mac. This might mean many more games coming to the Mac for example. It might also mean business software created for iPhones but not Macs, could come over too, check in the Mac App store to see what you can find!

Big Sur refreshes the look and feel of macOS. But there are also significant changes under the hood. You will want to check with the makers of anything you plug into your Mac like scanners and printers and specialist software like backup to check they have updated support for Big Sur. You can hear more about Big Sur in Episode 5 of Brew and Byte. But if you want to read the definitive break-down, including the technical details, read the famous Ars Technica review here.

iPhone 12 Pro Max and Mini

The final (and perhaps most exciting) models of iPhone 12 were released in November. As mentioned last month, the Pro Max (from £999) has significant new features for photographers. These include in-body stabilisation to reduce camera blur and support for uncompressed raw photos to support advanced image editing.

And then there is the mini. There’s isn’t much mini about the feature set in the mini, it matches the regular iPhone 12 in every respect except for having a smaller battery – because of its smaller size (and it has a lower price: from £699). The size compares to older iPhones and it is the smallest flagship phone available. It has broken the nostalgic hearts of many of its reviewers.

A downside of the new phone designs is concerns about repairability. Make sure you protect your phone in a case or with Apple Care if you can. You can read a detailed review of both new iPhones on Daring Fireball.

Future Shock! The Apple M1 chip

They have finally gone and done it. Apple has replaced the Intel computer chips in the MacBook Air, the cheapest MacBooks Pro and Mac Mini with Apple’s own chip called the M1. The big question from last month was: we all know that iPhones have powerful ARM chips, but can the same sort of chip really be fast enough to run macOS and professional Mac software like Photoshop?

The answer is an emphatic and industry shocking yes! The Apple M1 is a beefed up version of the same Apple A14 ARM chip in the latest iPhone. The beef is extra cores – 8 processors working in combination, and the same for the graphics. But why the Future Shock? Look at this trajectory from Anandtech which shows how Apple has up caught and and looks now to shoot past Intel:

Now that reviewers have tested out the new Macs, there is good news and bad news. The bad news is for anyone who bought a Mac with an Intel chip in the past year. In some tests (relevant for everyday computing like spreadsheets and web browsing), the M1 chip and the Macs they are in (starting at only £699 for Mac Mini) are faster than ALL OTHER MAC CHIPS. The good news (for the planet) is that they do this, most of the time, using up to 10 times less electricity (as little as 5 watts!). What does this mean? One thing found is that some apps written for the Intel chips, where the M1 has to translate the code from Intel to ARM in Rosetta, actually run faster on the new M1 Mac than the intended Intel chips! Apple is giddy with delight. As are some Mac professionals:

So that’s all good in Apple’s garden, but what is over the garden wall? Also announced this month was the ARM chip powered Raspberry Pi 400. Made in Wales and sold for under £100. This could be great for computer geeks, children learning to code and maybe some home working [in Linux, not Windows]). But this as well as Microsoft and its partner’s ARM Windows laptops are a lot slower than the M1. What does this mean if ARM is the future for mainstream computing (remember 10x less electricity use) and PC makers are stuck with slow ARM chips or less efficient Intel chips? I suspect big shifts and change are coming for PC chip makers.

The new MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro

Apple announced and released new M1 powered versions of the MacBook Air (from £999), and the MacBook Pro 13-inch with 2 USB ports (from £1299). The 4 USB-port 13-inch MacBook Pro remains on sale with Intel chips.

Both new laptops feature much longer battery life and high performance. The main difference between them is that the MacBook Air now does not have a fan. It is now a silent laptop, which is incredible for the power it has. It also has a slightly less powerful graphics chip. The MacBook Pro has a fan to support sustained heavy performance that’s needed editing a long movie, lots of photos at once, 3D design or computer programming. Have a look at the unboxing video below. The external designs have not changed, but the internal performance is surprising, even on the lower powered MacBook Air

Here is a comparison to a competing Windows laptop:

The new M1 Mac Mini

Similar to the Air and MacBook Pro above, there is not much different about the Mac Mini external design. The main changes are internal. In terms of ports, all of the new Macs come with a headphone socket and two USB 4 ports. USB 4 runs at the very fast (40Gbps) and is compatible with Thunderbolt 3 devices (as well as USB 3 and 2). These ports are the rounded USB-C type. The Mac Mini also comes with two older USB-A (rectangular) ports, a HDMI TV/monitor port and Gigabit Ethernet. Similar to the MacBooks, it is faster than most Intel Macs and most PCs too. And as Mac apps are updated to work natively on Apple Silicon, they will only get faster and in some cases, such as machine learning, dramatically so. [Editor: this is the Mac that (after 10 years with just an iPad) I intend to buy].

So is it ARMageddon? Time to chuck everything including last year’s Mac Pro’s out? Because the M1 is even faster at some tasks than them?! No. Top-end Intel-based professional desktops and the most powerful (e.g. gaming) laptops have either: even more processor cores than the M1 or more powerful dedicated graphic cards. They can also use external graphic cards (eGPUs) which do not yet work with the M1 Macs. Before you buy a Mac Mini for heavy work like high-end professional video editing, watch this:

You can read a review of all the new Macs, in their full context against the most powerful pro Macs on Six Colors, here.

OK – so what about running Windows on M1?

Apple Macs with M1 chips do not come with Bootcamp. So you cannot install Windows. Microsoft isn’t even selling a version that can work on ARM processors like the M1 anyway. Meanwhile, M1 support has been promised by VMWare and Parellels. These tools create a virtual PC inside your Mac, where you can install a different operating system. But it is not clear how these will work with Windows. Will they have access to Apple’s Intel translator Rosetta? Or will Microsoft will sell a version of Windows that works on ARM and can emulate the intel chips for Windows programs itself. Nothing is clear yet.

Are there any alternatives? Unofficially, a developer has managed to get Windows 10 working on the M1. That shows, if Microsoft choses to sell Windows for ARM in the future it should work. But first out of the gate with official support is CodeWeavers with their CrossOver app. Applying some ‘think different’ philosophy; rather than emulating or translating an Intel PC, it simulates the layer of Windows that Windows programs sit on. This means you might be able to install your Windows program directly on top of the CrossOver app on the M1 Mac. Microsoft Office 2007, for example appears to work. You can check in their compatibility checker to see if your Windows program is there or test it yourself using a free trial.

And M1 gaming?

To some surprise, some Intel macOS games are also working faster than expected despite running under translation on the M1. Part of this is due to the graphics layer used in macOS, called Metal, being carried over by Apple into the M1 in Big Sur. But some gaming is bypassing Metal and being run with good performance, on top of CrossOver (to their surprise). This means Windows games on the Mac not just iPhone games! This video shows the performance that is possible due to the power of the M1:

With potential performance like this, who knows what the future will bring.

Offers for members

Find below this month‘s special offers. As usual these discounts are only available with paid memberships and can be accessed via the website in the members area.

  • Eve Products: 25% Discount
  • TechTool Pro 11: 50% Discount
  • AgileBits 1Password 7: 25% Discount
  • MacCleanse 8 Software: 20% Discount
  • EverWeb by RAGE Software: 50% Discount 
  • Opus ][ Complete Collection: 25% Discount
  • Que Publishing Products: 35-45% Discount
  • Take Control Books: 30% Discount on All eBooks
  • Teams ID, a Password Manager for Teams: 33% Discount
  • TidBITS Content Network for Apple professionals: Get a free month of tips and articles!