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Apple’s MacBook Pro laptops now come in two flavors: those powered by Apple’s own M1 chip, and other models that run on Intel’s processors.
The newest 13-inch MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are among Apple’s first computers to run on its own silicon, offering benefits like longer battery life and improved performance. Much like the iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch all run on Apple’s own processors, the company is transitioning its Mac lineup away from Intel and toward its own in-house chips.
You face a choice. Buy the new, trendy laptop with Apple’s latest and greatest hardware, or go with the tried-and-true Intel option with room for more storage and ports?
MacBook Pro 13 (Apple M1) vs. MacBook Pro 13 (Intel Core): Which is best?
The MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 has a few important advantages. It’s the most affordable model,at $1,299, and it has twice the battery life of Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 with an Intel Core processor. The cheapest Intel-powered model you can get, by comparison starts at $1,799. Taken together, the M1-powered MacBook Pro’s lower price, superior performance, and longer battery life make it the right choice for most people.
But Intel models have an edge in high-end specifications, however, as they can be configured with more memory and more storage. Intel hardware is also a known quantity that can support all current Mac apps. Developers need to update their software to fully support Apple’s M1 chip, though Apple claims that process is quite simple through its Rosetta 2 translation software.
In our testing, popular apps like Microsoft Office,
, and Cisco WebEx worked just fine through Rosetta back when Apple’s M1-powered laptops launched in November. However, if your job relies on using specific software that goes beyond basic web browsing and word processing, it’s worth looking into whether the programs you need are M1-optimized.
The M1-ready version of the app development platform Docker, for example, is still under development and in preview mode, according to the company’s website. So an M1-powered Mac probably isn’t the right choice just yet for computer programmers who rely on that software.
But on balance, the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 is now the better option for most people, but it’s not the obvious choice for everyone.
MacBook Pro 13 Specifications
Performance, storage, and memory
Apple’s M1 processor is intimidating on paper. It’s an 8-core CPU with four performance cores and four efficiency cores, and comes with an 8-core GPU, plus the 16-core “Neural Engine” that enhances certain machine learning algorithms.
Graphics performance is also a strength for the Macbook Pro 13 with Apple M1. Recent MacBook Pro 13 models have struggled with graphics because they relied on Intel’s weak Iris Plus graphics. Apple’s M1, however, has an 8-core graphics processor (GPU) similar to that found in the latest iPad Pro, a device known for impressive 3D graphics performance.
The differences are certainly noticeable in everyday tasks like gaming and encoding video. The M1 MacBook Pro is capable of encoding a 25-second
MOV video clip to a 1080p MP4 file in one minute and nine seconds, while the Intel-powered MacBook Pro does so in one minute and 17 seconds.
Apple’s M1 MacBook Pro is also much better at rendering graphics when playing “Shadow of the Tomb Raider.” You shouldn’t expect the M1 MacBook Pro to behave like a gaming rig by any means, but it holds its own when running the game at 1,650 x 1,050 and 1,200 x 800 resolutions.
Graphics look much noisier with a lot more distortion on the Intel-powered MacBook Pro by comparison. (For reference, the Intel-equipped MacBook Pro I’ve been using for testing purposes launched in 2020 and has a quad-core Intel Core i5 processor with 16GB of memory.)
The MacBook Pro with Apple’s M1 chip also creams the Intel version in benchmark tests. On tests meant to evaluate the performance of a single processor core and how the cores work together, the M1 MacBook Pro scored an average of 1,754 and 7,699 respectively. The Intel MacBook Pro scored 1,097 on the single core test on average and 4,142 on the multi-core test.
In another Geekbench 5 test that measures GPU performance for tasks like gaming, image processing, and video editing, the M1 MacBook Pro scored 19,423 on average while the Intel MacBook Pro scored 8,707.
On the other hand, the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 faces limitations in memory and storage. It can only be configured with up to 16GB of memory (RAM) and up to 2TB of storage. Intel models can be upgraded to 32GB of RAM with up to 4TB of storage, and they also have four Thunderbolt 3
ports while the M1 MacBook Pro only has two Thunderbolt/USB-4 ports.
Most people reading this don’t need these upgrades, but they matter to professional videographers and photographers working with very large files and running multiple memory-hogging apps at once. If that sounds like you, you may want to skip Apple Silicon until the M1 is available with more memory and storage.
In short, battery life is the real reason to buy Apple’s M1 Pro laptop. The MacBook Pro 13-inch with Apple M1 doubles the quoted battery life of the MacBook Pro 13 with Intel hardware. The Apple M1 model claims up to 20 hours of battery life, while the Intel model promises up to 10 hours of time between charges.
Both figures are a best-case scenario, so you can expect slightly less battery life in real-world use. Still, it’s clear the Apple M1 chip is far more efficient. The size of the battery in each model is (almost) identical, so the endurance gains are coming from lower power draw, not a larger battery capacity.
Twenty hours exceeds not only the endurance of most laptops, but also most smartphones and tablets. We haven’t tested the M1 MacBook Pro’s battery life yet, but the M1 MacBook Air blows our minds with more than 12 hours of battery life, which is nearly double the longevity of the Intel-powered MacBook Air. Portability is the big, huge, obvious reason to buy the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 over the Intel version.
Design and display
Aside from the difference in ports, the Apple M1 and Intel versions of the MacBook Pro 13 look identical. They’re the same in size and thickness. They offer the same color options (silver or space gray). The Apple M1 model is technically a tenth of a pound lighter, but that’s a minor difference you’d struggle to notice even in a side-by-side comparison. They even use the same 61-watt USB-C power adapter.
Both laptops also have the same 2,560 x 1,600 Retina display with True Tone white balance, support for P3 wide color, and 500 nits of brightness.
In other words, don’t expect anyone to know you have the latest-and-greatest Mac with Apple Silicon. It looks like any other MacBook Pro 13.
The Apple M1 MacBook Pro has most of the previous MacBook Pro 13’s key features, such as the Touch Bar and TouchID fingerprint-based login security.
But the Apple M1 has an edge in wireless connectivity. Intel-powered models of the MacBook Pro 13 only support 802.11ac, or Wi-Fi 5, while the Apple M1 model supports 802.11ax, or Wi-Fi 6. This will only matter if you own a Wi-Fi 6 router, but including the latest Wi-Fi standard will help future-proof the laptop’s connectivity.
The M1 MacBook Pro also has a much better webcam than the Intel version, which is important now that we’re socializing and holding work meetings virtually. Although both laptops have a 720p camera, Apple’s M1 computers also have the company’s image signal processor inside.
When testing the Intel MacBook Pro’s webcam alongside that of the M1-powered MacBook Pro, the difference was massive. The selfie taken on the M1 MacBook Pro’s webcam had much better lighting, bolder color, and noticeably less grain than the one captured on the Intel MacBook Pro.
Another perk that comes with M1-powered Macs is that iPhone apps can run directly on these laptops since they share a common architecture. That’s not enough to significantly influence your buying decision, especially since Macs don’t have the touchscreen support that bodes nicely with mobile apps, but it’s still worth considering.
The bottom line
Apple’s MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 is best for most buyers
The M1 MacBook Pro’s speedy performance and long battery life alone make it the best choice for most people. In a sense, Apple is making your decision for you, because the MacBook Pro 13 with Apple M1 is the new entry-level model. You can’t buy a new MacBook Pro 13 with Intel hardware for less than $1,799.
True professionals, especially more stationary ones, are likely the exception. If you need the most storage, ports, and memory you can get in an Apple laptop, your best bet is an Intel MacBook Pro. Similarly, if having the certainty that Intel’s platform offers when it comes to app compatibility is important, the M1 MacBook Pro also isn’t for you.
It’s also worth noting that Apple is expected to release two new MacBook Pros in 14-inch and 16-inch sizes sometime this year that run on a new version of its chip, according to Bloomberg. If your current laptop is still working well, it might be worth waiting until the next version comes out.
Although there are some circumstances in which the Intel-based models are a better choice, the big gains Apple’s M1 chip brings in performance and battery life make it the best option for most people. The new laptops provide a first glimpse at what the Mac experience can be like when Apple has complete control over the enabling technologies that power it, and it’s impressive so far.
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