Apple delivered some of the rumored goods during their Unleashed event with a few unexpected surprises. The audio warm-up involved the introduction of new blue, orange, and yellow colors for the HomePod mini. The initial color expansion doesn’t necessarily align with all of the available color options for the iMac. The potential to add the missing hues of purple, pink, and green may be realized at a future date. The third generation AirPods were fairly interesting due to the improvements related to sound processing, battery life, pairing, and charging. The retention of the second generation AirPods with a lower price point was an interesting choice. There’s still a non-trivial gap in price as one moves up the product stack from the AirPods Pro to the AirPods Max. The earbud form factor is fully addressed with multiple options for those in the Apple ecosystem. It would be nice to see an “AirPods Max SE” product to fill in the price point between the AirPods Pro and AirPods Max.
The primary showcase involved the rumored MacBook Pro. The fourteen and sixteen screen sizes, along with mini-LED backlighting, were known in advance. The last-minute rumor about the webcam notch also turned out to be extremely accurate. The clarity and partial surprise offered within the event involved a differentiation of the upscale M1 SoC that many had been anxiously awaiting. The M1X rumor was missing product names for the delineation of CPU and GPU capability. The official M1 Pro and M1 Max nomenclatures were supported by thoroughly impressive peak configurations. There’s far more variation in this space when compared to M1.
For the M1 SoC, there were two primary configurations:
- 8 Core CPU, 7 Core GPU: This configuration was relegated to the entry-level iMac and MacBook Air models
- 8 Core CPU, 8 Core GPU: This option filled out the balance of the initial Apple Silicon lineup and is found in more premium configurations of the iMac and MacBook Air along with all models of the Mac mini, MacBook Pro 13″, and iPad Pro.
Memory and storage configuration options were finite for M1; system memory topped out at 16GB and storage scaled to 2TB. The later introduction of integrated 10Gb networking on the Mac mini makes it the only current M1 option that does not require a Thunderbolt adapter for environments where the faster network speed will be utilized in tandem with applicable storage solutions.
In comparison, the M1 Pro and M1 Max provide a greater degree of variation which will add up quickly at the time of purchase. For the M1 Pro, layouts include the following configurations:
- (M1 Pro) 8 Core CPU, 14 Core GPU: This lower end option is only available in the fourteen inch MacBook Pro at this time. Depending on yields and defects related to the M1 Pro, the potential exists to see this SoC as an option for the 2022 twenty-seven inch iMac refresh or the 2022 high-end Mac mini. MacBook Pros that utilize this configuration will be paired with the lowest-wattage power adapter option (67 W).
- (M1 Pro) 10 Core CPU, 14 Core GPU: This mid-tier option is only available on a configure-to-order fourteen inch MacBook Pro. The $200 USD upgrade provides the peak CPU capability of the SoC yet trims two GPU cores from a fully operational M1 Pro SoC. This option is viable for CPU-intensive workloads that may lightly or moderately tap the GPU for an assist, but the fully enabled SoC on the entry level configuration can be had for $100 USD more.
- (M1 Pro) 10 Core CPU, 16 Core GPU: The fully-enabled option, which is included in the entry-level sixteen inch MacBook Pro and the upgraded fourteen inch MacBook Pro, would be the sweet spot for most use cases. The speeds and feeds provided in the Unleashed event will reference this fully enabled product. The primary caveats here involve a maximum system memory limit of 32GB, half of the overall bandwidth of the M1 Max, and half of the GPU capability of the M1 Max. Systems containing this chip will ship with a larger power adapter (96W). The entry price, regardless of MacBook Pro size, for a fully enabled M1 Pro is $2,499 USD.
The M1 Max follows a slightly more simplified progression when compared to the M1 Pro through two distinct configurations. The doubling of bandwidth and ability to double the maximum memory via upgrade applies to both options.
- (M1 Max) 10 Core CPU, 24 Core GPU: The entry-level M1 Max slots in as a $200 USD upgrade over a fully-enabled M1 Pro. This may be the sweet spot for the majority of customers. The probability of being able to walk into your local electronics retailer of choice to purchase and walk out with a MacBook Pro containing this option is extremely low. Micro Center is one of the few local options (for applicable regions) where it’s possible to purchase a higher-than-baseline Apple Silicon Mac. The closest store, which is ~100 miles away, does have current M1 models with 16GB of system memory on the shelf. One can only hope that a retail SKU for the entry M1 Max configuration becomes available at big box retailers once existing demand is fulfilled. Systems containing an M1 Max chip will ship with the largest power adapter (140W).
- (M1 Max) 10 Core CPU, 32 Core GPU: The fully-enabled option will align with the speeds and feeds provided in the Unleashed event. The further $200 USD upgrade over the previously noted M1 Max provides the final eight GPU cores.
With a total of five combinations of CPU and GPU configurations for the fourteen inch MacBook Pro, decisions have consequences in this space. Official benchmarks, which may begin to appear tomorrow, should be consulted as a point of reference if one has not ordered a MacBook Pro at this point. With over a year of time with an entry-level M1 Mac mini, the only suggestion we’d highlight and reinforce involves getting the maximum unified memory. No matter which SoC fits your work style, there’s no upgrade path once the laptop ships. 32GB of unified memory will be the recommended baseline for M1 Pro purchases. Additionally, 1 TB of SSD storage would be recommended to provide sufficient capacity for applications, to handle excessively large cut-and-paste operations with Continuity enabled, and to reduce the need to leverage higher-performance external storage solutions at a later point in time.
If the information from MacWorld involving restrictions for the use of High Power Mode is accurate, the M1 Max would perform slightly worse in the fourteen inch form factor when compared to the sixteen inch form factor. Again, we’re at the mercy of benchmarks which will start flowing in tomorrow. On the off chance that this development is indeed valid, there may be a similar situation that unfolds with the 27″ iMac and Mac mini refreshes. The panel size and surface area available in next year’s iMac exceeds the dimensions of the sixteen inch MacBook Pro. The expectation is that High Power Mode would be available for that platform. The rumors of height reductions in the Mac mini would present some challenges in fitting a capable cooling solution into something with smaller dimensions than the fourteen inch MacBook Pro. The alternative would involve the Mac mini refresh being M2-based, which would easily support the rumored changes while still offering a notable uptick in performance.