Opinion

Why I'm switching to Mac

David Lee
14.01.2021
Translation: Patrik Stainbrook

Macs are adopting ARM architecture, making my eventual move unavoidable. With this, Apple has pulled off a major win. One that its competitors can't keep up with.

Towards the end of 2020, I realised I needed a new computer. Both my desktop PC and my company notebook aren't powerful enough for video editing. The vintage 2015 desktop can't run Adobe Premiere at all. It does run on the notebook, but it sucks at 4K, and the fan noise reminds me of a drill.

Around the same time, I read and watched the first reports about the new Apple computers with M1 chips. I could hardly believe my ears. Not only do the Macs easily handle 4K editing – they max out, even with a measly 8 GB of RAM.

Only 8K RAW videos start revealing the gulf between 8 and 16 GB.

In short: the cheapest Mac Mini, available now for 700 francs, easily handles video editing. In addition, it should be near silent. The MacBook Air with the same chip doesn't even have a fan installed in the cheapest variant.

So for me, the obvious choice is to buy a Mac instead of a new Windows PC.

A Mac? Seriously?

Right off the bat: I have zero interest in ideological trench warfare between Apple fans and haters. I only seek to work pleasantly and efficiently. And I couldn't care less whether I do it with a Mac or a Windows PC. My first three computers were Macs. After that, I worked on Windows for 17 years and was mostly satisfied. But now it seems to me that the time has come for another change.

Even though testers are almost gushing with enthusiasm, it's still not an easy decision for me. Switching to a new system involves a lot of busy work and hassle. Many things will no longer function as usual. I'll have to learn a lot and reorganise myself. And I know that not every Apple product runs as smoothly as is often claimed.

Nevertheless, I'll take the risk. Still, I weighed up a lot of options before deciding, some of which I'd like to share with you.

Mobile chips versus PC chips

The M1 is closely related to the A14, installed in the iPhone and iPad. Apple uses most of the research and development for both chip families. An important detail, as developing a new chip from scratch costs a lot of money. A Mac exclusive wouldn't be worth it at all. Macs traditionally get a lot of attention, but they're a niche product. Apple sells only about half as many Macs per year as iPads. The number of iPhones sold is ten times higher.

Although the M1 is virtually a byproduct of the iPhone chips, it's a design that's specifically tailored to the needs of Macs. And that will have an impact on performance, so much is already clear.

Until now, Apple has used ordinary PC chips from Intel. Apple is a relatively small customer in this segment and obviously not in a position to make special requests. I'm sure they've had to hear «You get what you get, and you don't get upset!» more than once.

In addition, Intel has had massive problems miniaturising its chips for years. The M1 uses the 5-nm manufacturing process. Intel is still tinkering with its 14 nm architecture in desktop PCs. As a result, the formerly unchallenged leader has to share the market with AMD.

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Even if AMD and Intel manage to produce them with 5 nm, they're still classic processors and not a system on a chip (SoC) in the style of the M1. To me, it looks very much like the future lies with PC SoCs as well. They require less power, less space and are cheaper.

An ARM SoC for Windows?

Why shouldn't a smartphone chip manufacturer fill the gap and serve the PC market? Theoretically, the Windows world could catch up with Apple this way. In fact, Microsoft has developed the ARM chip SQ2 in cooperation with chip manufacturer Qualcomm. It's what the Surface Pro X uses.

However, Windows and ARM don't seem to go together very well. Microsoft has been trying to port Windows to ARM for many years. Anyone else remember Windows RT? The Windows OS that didn't run Windows programs? Back in 2012, Microsoft apparently preferred to release a pointless Windows for ARM than none at all. Meanwhile, 32-bit programs run on Windows on ARM, but 64-bit applications do not. That should be coming soon. But it's still not nearly fast or good enough to compete with Apple right now.

Similar to how the iPhone chips and the new Mac ones are related, iOS and macOS also share some similarities. They use a common basic system called Darwin. And since iOS has always run on ARM, I suspect Apple had to make significantly fewer adjustments to bring macOS to the architecture as well.

What counts is practical experience

Market strategy considerations are one thing; Apple are in a very good position here. But admittedly, none of this is of any use if things that are urgently needed in practice don't work properly. The question is: can I work productively with the Mac Mini? Will everything work how I want it to?

I've had the Mac for a few weeks now, working away tirelessly. I even used it to write this report. But by no means is everything working as desired. It's partly me, I have to relearn a lot of things. But there are also a few annoying bugs that get to me.

More about my changeover will follow soon. If you follow my author profile, you'll be notified about it by email.

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My interest in IT and writing landed me in tech journalism early on (2000). I want to know how we can use technology without being used. Outside of the office, I’m a keen musician who makes up for lacking talent with excessive enthusiasm.


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