The first Macs running the M1 processor are crazy fast, making lots of MacBook and Mac mini users consider dumping their Intel-based Macs. Before you do, here’s everything you give up when buying a computer powered by Apple Silicon.
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1. No guaranteed app compatibility
For more than a decade, macOS software was written and compiled for Intel chips. Now, third-party developers need to recompile their applications for the M1 processor. This could have been a huge problem but Apple created Rosetta 2, which allows M1 Macs to run software created for Intel Macs.
Early indications are that Rosetta 2 works very well. And devs are quickly moving to recompile their apps for Apple Silicon. Still, the need to run Intel apps on M1 Macs affects every user. And it’s early days for the M1, so there’s time for software problems to emerge.
Update: If you’re curious whether an app you depend on plays nice with the M1 chip, this handy website offers crucial compatibility info.
2. No more 32GB of RAM
A 13-inch MacBook Pro running an Intel processor can utilize up to 32GB of RAM. That’s not an option with the Apple Silicon version, though, which tops out at 16GB. Same goes for the M1 MacBook Air and Mac mini, which start at 8GB and can be configured to up to 16GB.
A long-held truism states more RAM is always better, but there’s early evidence that the unified architecture of Apple Silicon handles memory so efficiently that very few people will need more than 16GB. The YouTube channel Mac Tech ran benchmarks and did side-by-side comparisons between a pair of new MacBook Pros, one with 8GB of RAM and one with 16GB, and found few differences in performance.
Of course, there are still situations for which more RAM is better … even necessary. So make your Mac choice carefully.
3. No MacBooks with multiple external displays
The first M1-based Macs can only handle two screens. The specs for the M1 MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air say they support “one external display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz” in addition to the laptop’s built-in screen. The M1 Mac mini can handle a 6K display and a 4K display.
For comparison, an Intel MacBook Pro can handle two external 4K displays, or a single 6K display, in addition to the built-in one. So heads up: If you intended to hook multiple external displays to your MacBook, don’t get the Apple Silicon version.
4. Half as many USB-C ports
The M1-based 13-inch MacBook Pro includes a pair of Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. The same laptop running an Intel chip sports four Thunderbolt 3 (USB‑C) ports.
Despite the difference in names, these ports are essentially the same. But the Intel device has twice as many. Anyone who needs plenty of ports should think hard before going with one of the first-generation Apple Silicon Macs. (Of course, a quality USB-C hub can help you out of the port jam.)
5. Bye-bye, Boot Camp
Intel-based Macs give you the option of using Boot Camp to run Windows, since Microsoft’s operating system was created for Intel chips. But the switch to Apple Silicon brought Boot Camp to an end.
However, that doesn’t mean there are no other options. CrossOver from Codeweavers allows Apple’s newest machines to run x86 software built for Microsoft’s platform. And a version of Parallels Desktop is in development to allow Windows 10 and macOS Big Sur virtual machines to run simultaneously on an Apple Silicon Mac.
Still, anyone who truly depends on Windows might consider holding onto their Intel Mac for a while.
6. No support for external graphics processors
External graphics processors bring additional graphics performance to computers doing high-end rendering or 3D gaming. But they don’t work with Apple Silicon Macs. Apple itself left no room for doubt, stating on its support website, “To use an eGPU, a Mac with an Intel processor is required.”
But the M1 processor all on its own is no slouch in the graphics department. It outperforms a number of midrange GPUs from both AMD and Nvidia.
M1 Mac: Please stand by…
To be clear, these are not arguments against ever getting a macOS computer with Apple Silicon. They’re just limitations found in the first-generation M1 Mac models. It’s possible the second-generation will offer 32GB of RAM, add support for additional external displays and come with more Thunderbolt ports. And Apple could add support for eGPUs. Microsoft might even make Book Camp possible again.
Never forget, Apple Silicon is undoubtedly the future of the Mac. The amazing performance of the M1 makes it clear that going back to Intel would be a mistake.