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Will Apple Redefine What Laptops Can Be in 2021?
The prospect and the threat are both real, fans and competitors will be watching closely
The invites are sent, the rumors were true and it’s officially happening: Apple will host an online-only event on October 18th — most probably its final one for the year, although that’s far from certain right now — where the Mac will take center stage at long last. The Cupertino giant will “unleash” its most powerful processor yet, the M1X ( the “big brother” of last year’s undeniably successful M1) along with new computer models sporting it. If this was happening in the world of Windows and Intel/AMD CPUs, it would be “business as usual”. In this particular case, it isn’t: the M1X may very well be exactly what Intel, AMD, Microsoft, HP, Dell, Asus and everyone else from that camp was afraid of. Question is: can it be all that?
If leaks are to be believed, it probably can. Last year’s M1 processor was extremely impressive by any standards but, as it turns out, it was the “efficient” version of this microchip design. It is pretty fast, but what the M1 strived to achieve above all else was to be powerful while not consuming a lot of power, helping devices based on it conserve battery life. The M1X processor, on the other hand, is said to be the “performant” version of the same design, offering more processing cores (probably clocked higher too) and, most importantly, a much, much more capable graphics processing unit. Projected estimates not only paint the picture of the most powerful CPU/GPU combination in a small form factor computer ever, but they put it in the same ballpark as the Mac Pro (!) in certain benchmarks.
This is, of course, unheard of and actually what the Microsoft/Intel/AMD camp was right to be concerned about: if the MacBooks sporting the M1 chip often manage to outperform most laptops based on Windows and Core iX or Ryzen chips, what would MacBooks based on the M1X chip be able to do? We are all about to find out, it seems, as Apple will unveil two new MacBook Pro models based on the M1X chip, supported by much more memory than the current M1 MacBooks (32 GB or even 64 GB). There’s evidence that the company may also introduce a new Mac Mini model based on the M1X, as the current M1-based model is limited in a few areas important to IT workers, programmers and content creators.
In many respects, Apple was already so ahead of the curve that it has the luxury of playing it safe this time around. Even if the M1X is not all that and it offers just modest performance gains (it is unlikely but let us entertain the thought), the new MacBook Pros could redeem Apple in the eyes of its loyal Mac customers in other ways. The company undoubtedly “owes” them a superior pair of professional laptops that right all the wrongs of the previous Pro models and make necessary changes: get rid of the useless TouchBar, bring back an HDMI output and memory card slot and incorporate a better webcam while retaining the four Thunderbolt ports. There’s even talk of a higher-res, MiniLED display akin to the one used on the new M1 iPad Pro 12.9 (at a 120 Hz refresh rate no less!), as well as rumors about the return of MagSafe, which would make sense for the Pro models.
There’s always room for a few surprises, too: many people are expecting these new MacBook Pros to sport a different, refreshed design compared to the current Intel-based models, while quite a few are of the opinion that it’s time for a 30-inch, M1X-based iMac to complement the smaller, M1-based ones already out since April. There’s also talk about new AirPods (although they do not fit the “Mac” theme all that much and will appear only if Apple has no other events planned for 2021) or even the fabled Apple game console, which would of course now be M1X-based. What we’ll probably get instead is the release date for the new macOS Monterey and the availability of Apple Music for Sony’s PS4 and PS5 systems.
It’s hard not to get excited about the new M1X MacBook Pros, though. There’s a feeling that we have actually come to that point in time now where modern laptops really can pack the punch of desktop workstations and that Apple is the one better positioned to offer it to consumers this year. If it does, we may be spending all of 2022 marveling at how these thin and light laptops crush much heavier, bulkier laptops or even full-size desktops in extremely demanding tasks (assuming that the M1/M1X software has caught up). Here’s hope that the Cupertino giant really does pull that off: the ARM architecture seems to be much more future-proof right now and Apple flagship laptops showcasing it may convince other manufacturers to finally, seriously start working on theirs. Not a bad prospect, that, is it?