David Lewis Talking Tech & Audio
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Mac – now there’s 1 for everyone

We need to take stock – this is a golden moment for Mac users

Mac with M3 Apple silicon

The Mac is back!

It never went anywhere I know, but for a time it floundered – let’s be honest.

The butterfly keyboard was not exactly a shining moment for us Mac users to be proud of and the Jony Ive inspired form before function years of those slim MacBook Pros was equally nothing to shout about. And then there was the touch bar…I’ll leave it there…

But you get my point – for a while, and not too long ago Macs were struggling to find their identity and retain their crown as the go-to laptop or desktop for creatives.

But that has changed and boy are we living in a golden age. Not only are the Macs now back to being designed in a way that makes them a sheer joy to use but there is also a Mac for everyone, with any budget and any user case.

The barrier to entry has never been lower or more achievable than it is today and that has to be a good thing.

When it all changed for the Mac

The renaissance for the Mac is pretty easy to pinpoint. November 2020 was when the comeback to glory started when the first M1 Apple silicon Macs were announced. Those first MacBook Pros, MacBook Airs and M1 Mac minis paved the way for the future of Mac.

Because of the efficiency of Apple silicon, the laptops suddenly had batteries that seemed to last forever and across the range, laptops and desktops alike now had serious amounts of power and grunt and the best thing of all is that they are silent.

It’s amazing how quickly we become accustomed to new tech – the new norm.

Honestly, I’d forgotten about fan noise until a reader commented on it recently and reminded me of it. I’m one of the fortunate ones to have been working on Apple silicon Macs for a few years now and have just gotten used to working silently and never think of taking a charger brick out with me.

And it’s not only on the inside that the usability of Macs is back on point now. The MacBook Pros come with SD card slots and an HDMI port along with Thunderbolt ports. Even my latest MacBook – the M3 15-inch MacBook Air has MagSafe and two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports.

Our Macs are functional once again – fast, powerful and functional.

One for all

With Apple silicon inside it’s almost impossible to buy a bad machine these days…almost!

Base spec machines are capable of most tasks that the majority of people want from their machines.

Assuming that you have a spare monitor, keyboard and mouse you can buy into the Apple ecosystem for £649 which is ridiculous value for money. That entry-level mini will currently get you an M2 chip with an 8-core CPU, 10-core GPU, 256 GB of storage and 8 GB of unified memory.

For pretty much the same spec you can buy a 13-inch M3 MacBook Air for £1099 and only £999 if plump for the M2 version instead and £1399 gets you a base M3 iMac.

MacBook Pros now start at £1699 for a 14-inch M3 model with 512 GB of storage. The Mac Studio looks like great value – a 12-core CPU, 30-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine Mac Studio with 32 GB of memory and 512 GB is only £2099. I know that’s a chuffing lot of money, but looking at those specs just think of what it would be capable of!

And don’t forget – there is still the Apple silicon Mac Pro for the very few of us that would ever need it. Yeah, even at the base price it’s stupidly expensive – but if your workflow requires it the Mac Pro is sitting there waiting for you and compared to its predecessor it’s way cheaper. Fully kitted out (including the wheels) it will only cost £12,399 which is a fraction of what the previous Mac Pro would have cost when similarly spec’d.

Almost perfect

I’ve used machines from all three iterations of Apple silicon.

My main workhorse is an M1 Max MacBook Pro, until recently I had an M2 MacBook Air, I have a base model M3 iMac and a 15-inch M3 MacBook Air.

Of those the only one I didn’t get into was the midnight blue M2 Air – but I think that was more me than the laptop – I found the 13-inch screen and keyboard too small to feel comfortable working on for any length of time. Today I’m writing this on the 15-inch Air and I couldn’t be happier. For some reason, I love this Mac to bits and it’s my current goto.

Having been in the lucky position of using Apple silicon Macs for so long I can tell you there is one word of caution I’d throw at you – and that is RAM or unified memory as we now have to call it.

My iMac is the 8 GB model and it’s fine…to a point. I still use it almost every day and I’d still call myself a massive iMac fan but the 8 GB that Apple offers as its entry point on many Macs is fairly limited – it’s actually a little embarrassing in honesty.

Storage wars

The 256 GB storage on that Mac and many Macs is stingy but ultimately it can be worked around.

Apps are way more optimised now than they used to be and alternate external SSD storage is an easy, convenient and fairly cheap solution to the problem. OK – I’ll admit that on a laptop external SSDs are a bit of a pain to have hanging out the side of them, but on a desktop, once it’s plugged in you forget about it.

If you were sitting here with me now and were looking to spec out a computer – I’d be pushing you to spend your money on memory and not storage. With Apple silicon you have to get that part right at checkout – there is no going back.

I’d say the 8 GB models are OK for basic needs. A younger student for instance who is just writing Pages documents, emails and surfing the web – for that the 8 GB is cool. But not long after that, you’ll soon notice it chugging a little. If you have too many Chrome tabs open and start to leave apps open – you’ll be in memory swap territory pretty quickly.

Apple silicon computers are still too young to know for sure what damage memory swap is doing but the suggestions are that it’ll have a long-term detrimental effect on your Mac. The other issue is future-proofing. I’m always banging on about that, but that is to help save you money. It’s bitten me in the arse before and it’s a painful and expensive mistake to make.

Never assume that your current workflow will be the same in 2, 4 or five years. It has a nasty habit of changing and becoming more intense. But if you buy with one eye open you’ll be just fine – trust me.

Ticking boxes

I’m gonna choose to spec an iMac for no particular reason- but the rules would equally apply to any of Apple’s current lineup

If I were going to buy an iMac to see me into the future I’d start by picking the £1799 model – with 512 GB of storage and four ports. Then the first thing I’d do is change out that limited 8 GB of memory for 24 GB which takes the price to just a tickle over £2000. If the budget allowed the 1 TB of storage would be a great luxury but not essential.

After nearly a month of working on this M3 MacBook Air with a 512 GB SSD and with everything I need on it, I still have 385 GB of storage free – and that’s with some MotionVFX plugins installed, Final Cut and three other four Adobe apps installed as well.

But unlike my iMac, this Air with its 16 GB of memory hasn’t faltered – I find I’m treating it more and more like my MacBook Pro – and I can’t offer any greater compliment than that. The changes to Apple silicon may be iterative and fairly minor but they are noticeable. There is a price delta of around £2500 between this MacBook Air and my MacBook Pro – and it’s pretty hard to explain the differences or account for that right now.

Apple silicon is simply that good.

The only problem

And that is the problem – Apple silicon is that good – but luckily that is not our problem. Apple has created a beast with its chip and it’s up to them to find ways to convince us to swap and change.

Because of what I do I forget that swapping laptops & computers is not something most people do regularly. It’s an expensive investment that should last for years and if chosen & spec’d correctly will last for years. This MacBook Air may feel to me as if I’ve had it forever but there could be a host of folks out there reading this who are still debating on what to choose and if it’s worth their while to change.

If you find yourself in that position, I’ll leave you with this summary. Spend as much as you comfortably can and always choose memory over storage. The money you spend now will pay you back for years to come – I promise.

With Apple silicon, we can now have our cake and eat it too.

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