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Today — January 22nd 2021Your RSS feeds

Apple reportedly planning thinner and lighter MacBook Air with MagSafe charging

By Darrell Etherington

Apple is said to be working on a new version of the MacBook Air with a brand new physical case design that’s both thinner and lighter than its current offering, which was updated with Apple’s M1 chip late last year, per a new Bloomberg report. The plan is to release it as early as late 2021 or 2022, according to the report’s sources, and it will also include MagSafe charging (which is also said to be returning on Apple’s next MacBook Pro models sometime in 2021).

MagSafe would offer power delivery and charging, while two USB 4 ports would provide data connectivity on the new MacBook Air. The display size will remain at its current 13-inch diagonal measurement, but Apple will reportedly realize smaller overall sizes by reducing the bevel that surrounds the screen’s edge, among other sizing changes.

Apple has a plan to revamp its entire Mac lineup with its own Apple Silicon processors over the course of the next two years. It debuted its first Apple Silicon Macs, powered by its M1 chip, late last year, and the resulting performance benefits vs. their Intel-powered predecessors have been substantial. The physical designs remained essentially the same, however, prompting speculation as to when Apple would introduce new case designs to further distinguish its new Macs from their older models.

The company is also reportedly working on new MacBook Pros with MagSafe charging, which could also ditch the company’s controversial TouchBar interface – and, again according to Bloomberg, bring back a dedicated SD card slot. All these changes would actually be reversions of design changes Apple made when it introduced the current physical notebook Mac designs, beginning with the first Retina display MacBook Pro in 2012, but they address usability complaints by some of the company’s enthusiast and professional customers.

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Silicon Valley Bank just made an even bigger push into wealth management

By Connie Loizos

SVB Financial Group agreed today to buy Boston Private Financial Holdings in Boston for $900 million in cash and stock.

It’s a big deal for SVB, which has earned a reputation over its 37-year history as a bank that’s friendly to startups, as well as venture and private equity investors. Boston Private, founded in 1987, has roughly $16.3 billion in assets under management, compared with SVB Asset Management’s $1.4 billion in related assets.

SVB, which formed its wealth advisory business in 2011, has been pushing more aggressively into wealth management for several years, hiring Yvonne Butler, who’d previously led wealth strategies at Capital One, in the middle of 2018.

Butler has since been adding members to the bank’s wealth management team, telling Business Insider last year of the job that “I see my job primarily as a retention strategy . . .Clients are already here. We’ve helped them grow their fund or business — and I see our role as private bank and wealth advisory as retaining.”

Underscoring SVB’s bid to strengthen its relationship with wealthy individuals who already have business dealings with the bank, Greg Becker, its president and CEO, said today in a release about the tie-up: “Our clients rely on us to help increase the probability of their success — both in their business and personal lives.”

Butler will lead the combined private banking and wealth management business with Anthony DeChellis, who has been the CEO of Boston Private for the last two years. DeChellis joined the outfit after a short stint as president of the crowdfunding platform OurCrowd and before that, as the CEO of Credit Suisse Private Banking (Americas) for more than seven years.

As part of the deal, Boston Private shareholders will receive 0.0228 shares of SVB common stock and $2.10 of cash for each of their shares.

Bank stocks were generally battered in 2020, but as the Boston Globe notes, SVB’s stock is up more than 60% over the past three years because of its focus on the tech world, while Boston Private’s shares have fallen by 45%.

Liberis, the embedded finance provider for SMEs, raises additional £70M in debt

By Steve O'Hear

Liberis, the U.K.-based fintech that provides finance for small businesses as an alternative to a traditional bank loan or extended overdraft, has replenished its own coffers with £70 million in funding. The round is a mixture of debt and venture debt, although the company is declining to disclose the percentage split, so we can likely chalk this up as mostly debt to fund the loans Liberis issues.

Providing the financing are previous backers British Business Investments, Paragon Bank and BCI Europe, along with new partner Silicon Valley Bank (SVB). It brings the total funding raised by Liberis to £200 million, including more than £50 million in equity funding. “The new funds will be used to fuel company growth, launch new products and markets, and provide additional customer financing solutions,” says the fintech.

To date, 2007-founded Liberis has provided over £500 million in financing to 16,000 SMEs across Europe, the U.S. and the U.K. (the product is available in five new countries: U.S., Finland, Sweden, Czech Republic and Slovakia). However, lending has really picked up lately, with £250 million lent in the past two years alone.

Liberis provides SMEs with funding from £1,000 to £300,000 based on projected credit and debit card sales. However, the clever part is that the loan is paid back via a pre-agreed percentage of the business’ digital transactions. In other words, bar any minimum monthly payment agreed, the repayment schedule is directly tied to the size and pace of a business’ card transactions.

Noteworthy, the go-to-market strategy has shifted toward B2B2B — or “embedded finance” — with Liberis now predominantly partnering with marketplaces, software providers and acquirers, such as Worldpay from FIS and Global Payments. These partners integrate with Liberis to offer personalised pre-approved revenue-based financing to their end customers.

“Liberis’ core business is to enable partners to offer embedded business finance to their customers,” Rob Straathof, CEO of Liberis, tells TechCrunch. “Back in 2015, we launched one of the world’s first embedded business finance partnerships with Worldpay from FIS, and have significantly expanded our partnerships across the globe over the past years, including Global Payments, Opayo (Sagepay), EPOS Now and Worldpay U.S.”

Straathof says that by integrating Liberis’ business finance platform into a partner’s existing ecosystem and customer experience, the fintech is able to provide “instant value” for its partners and the SMEs they support.

“Through our single API integration, we receive privileged data from our partners which enables Liberis to offer hyper-personalised and pre-approved finance to SMEs,” he explains. “By making finance more personalised, intuitive and accessible for SMEs, we in turn empower our partners to unlock greater customer value by improving engagement, satisfaction and loyalty which lowers churn. Ultimately, everyone wins”.

Comments Folake Shasanya, SVB’s head of EMEA warehouse financing: “We are pleased to become a new funding partner to Liberis and have been impressed with their ability to embed financing solutions across technology platforms, payments providers and more. At SVB, supporting innovation is in our DNA and we are delighted to provide this global growth opportunity to Liberis through our warehouse and venture debt products”.

Orca Security raises $55M for its cloud-native security platform

By Frederic Lardinois

Israeli cloud security firm Orca Security today announced a $55 million Series B funding round led by ICONIQ Growth. Previous investors GGV Capital, YL Ventures and Silicon Valley CISO Investments also participated in the round, which brings the company’s total funding to date to $82 million. This includes Orca’s $20.5 million Series A round, which it announced in May.

What makes Orca stand out is not just its focus on cloud-native technologies but what it calls its SideScanning technology. This enables it to map a company’s cloud environment and reconstruct its file system by looking at how workloads interact with the block storage services they use. Based on this, in combination with the cloud metadata it collects, it can map and scan a company’s entire data estate and its cloud assets — and find potential security issues. Because of this system, Orca also immediately discovers new hosts in the cloud without anybody having to maintain this part of the system.

This means the system can work without any agents, too, and hence without introducing any additional overhead into the existing systems. That, Orca Security CEO Avi Shua argues, wouldn’t have been possible in an on-premises setting.

“The way it works is that — without installing any agents or running anything on the environment — it reads the block storage of your flow from the side to deduce the risk and it builds maps of your environment so you can see it in context,” Shua, who spent 11 years working at Check Point before launching Orca, explained. “Both of these things simply were not possible in the on-premise environment because you need to install agents to see. And when you install an agent, it sees the tree, it doesn’t see the forest. It isn’t able to understand where traffic comes from, it doesn’t understand that if it sees a key, what that key opens.”

Orca Security Team

Orca Security Team

He also noted that Orca wants to be as comprehensive as possible so that companies don’t have to use different tools for detecting misconfigurations, malware, vulnerabilities, etc. The company also aims to make the process of getting started with its technology frictionless. Indeed, Shua argues that the Achilles heel of the whole industry is that companies get to maybe 50 percent of coverage if they work hard, but then hit a brick wall because deploying a lot of security tools can be quite hard. “Usually people are not getting breached because the walls are not high enough but because they are not covering the thing that they’re trying to protect,” Shua said.

Orca also aims to provide security practitioners with relevant alerts based on the context of the exposure and business impact. A company may be running a lot of software that is vulnerable to remote code execution in the NTP service, for example. But the environment doesn’t expose NTP and it’s blocked by default in all of the company’s security groups, so while this may look like a major vulnerability in the overall stack, it doesn’t actually represent a real risk. Shua told me of a customer who, after installing Orca, found more than a million critical issues. The company’s tools helped the security team reduce those to 33 that it should focus on.

“The common denominator amongst just about every company we see is that the solutions are very complex — the problems they’re trying to solve are complex and the solutions tend to be complex,” GGV Capital managing partner Glenn Solomon told me. “One of the amazing things about Orca is — and I think that this is a result of Avi and Gil [Geron] and the rest of the co-founders having a lot of experience at Check Point — they understood from day one like that a big part of the value here is being able to install and just provide value really quickly and seamlessly.”

The service currently supports AWS, Google Cloud Platform and Microsoft Azure and their various container services.

Image Credits: Orca Security

Clearly, Orca has hit on a winning formula here. Shua tells me that the company grew more than 10x this year already and instead of growing the team to about 50 employees, it’s already at 70 now. At one point this summer, simply scheduling a call with a salesperson at Orca could take three weeks. Given this, it’s maybe no surprise that Orca wanted to raise to continue to accelerate this growth (and that VCs would want to put more money into the company).

“This massive $55 million round will really help propel Orca to cloud security dominance,” YL Ventures managing partner Yoav Leitersdorf told me. “Already year-over-year growth is stunning — higher than anything I’ve ever seen — literally hundreds of percent. They are incredibly unique in the market with their SideScanning technology.”

The company plans to use the new funding to increase continue building out its product and increase its sales and marketing efforts. In addition, Orca plans to increase its R&D efforts and open a number of new sales offices around the world.

Apple reportedly testing Intel-beating high core count Apple Silicon chips for high-end Macs

By Darrell Etherington

Apple is reportedly developing a number of Apple Silicon chip variants with significantly higher core counts relative to the M1 chips that it uses in today’s MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and Mac mini computers based on its own ARM processor designs. According to Bloomberg, the new chips include designs that have 16 power cores and hour high-efficiency cores, intended for future iMacs and more powerful MacBook Pro models, as well as a 32-performance core top-end version that would eventually power the first Apple Silicon Mac Pro.

The current M1 Mac has four performance cores, along with four high-efficiency cores. It also uses either seven or eight dedicated graphics cores, depending on the Mac model. Apple’s next-gen chips could leap right to 16 performance cores, or Bloomberg says they could opt to use eight or 12-core versions of the same, depending primarily on what kinds of yields they see from manufacturing processes. Chipmaking, particularly in the early stages of new designs, often has error rates that render a number of the cores on each new chip unusable, so manufacturers often just ‘bin’ those chips, offering them to the market as lower max core count designs until manufacturing success rates improve.

Apple’s M1 system on a chip.

Regardless of whether next-gen Apple Silicon Macs use 16, 12 or eight-performance core designs, they should provide ample competition for their Intel equivalents. Apple’s debut M1 line has won the praise of critics and reviewers for significant performance benefits over not only their predecessors, but also much more expensive and powerful Mac powered by higher-end Intel chips.

The report also says that Apple is developing new graphics processors that include both 16- and 32-core designs for future iMacs and pro notebooks, and that it even has 64- and 128-core designs in development for use in high-end pro machines like the Mac Pro. These should offer performance that can rival even dedicated GPU designs from Nvidia and AMD for some applications, though they aren’t likely to appear in any shipping machines before either late 2021 or 2022 according to the report.

Apple has said from the start that it plans to transition its entire line to its own Apple Silicon processors by 2022. The M1 Macs now available are the first generation, and Apple has begun with its lowest-power dedicated Macs, with a chip design that hews closely to the design of the top-end A-series chips that power its iPhone and iPad line. Next-generation M-series chips look like they’ll be further differentiated from Apple’s mobile processors, with significant performance advantages to handle the needs of demanding professional workloads.

MacBook Air M1 review: The right Apple Silicon Mac for most

By Brian Heater

Reviewing hardware is an act of minutia. Occasionally something new or potentially earth-shattering comes along, but on the whole, it’s about chipping away. Documenting small, gradual changes designed to keep product lines fresh and — if you play your cards right — differentiating yourself from the competition.

Apple’s as guilty of this as anyone, of course. That’s just the nature of a 12 to 24-month product cycle. Every refresh can’t be a revolution. Every so often, however, a game-changer comes along — something undeniable that sets the scene for a more profound shift for a product line. The trio of Macs launched at the company’s third major press conference in three months certainly apply.

It’s been 15 years since Apple made the jump to Intel processors from PowerPCs, a chip technology it had relied upon for more than a decade. That move came as the company was butting up against the limitations of its chosen technology. PowerPC took them far at the time, but it couldn’t deliver on the processing power it desired for the next generation of portables.

As with that transition, the move toward Apple silicon has been years in the making. The company has been making a concerted effort to wean itself off of third-party components. Among other things, it’s increasingly difficult to differentiate your product when you’re essentially using the same parts as everyone else on the market. Creating your own processors is, of course, a long and difficult process. Thankfully, however, the company had a head start.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

The Arm-based chips that power the company’s mobile devices are a great starting point. The company can build on several generations of learning, while moving ever closer to that perpetual Holy Grail of Apple software: perfect cross-ecosystem compatibility. Elements of iOS have been trickling down into MacOS for years now (a trend that includes, and arguably accelerates with, Big Sur), while the company eased the transition for Intel Mac owners with the Catalyst.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

After countless rumors and months of wait, the first three Apple Silicon Macs are finally here. And the results are, in a word, impressive. You’ve no doubt seen some of the benchmarks that have popped up over the past several days that have left many in the community taken aback. While it’s true that Apple talked up performance in its own presser, it’s easy enough to discount those numbers without more specific benchmarks. We’ve split our testing of the three systems among three editors — and it’s pretty safe to say we were blown away by what the systems can do.

Okay, so, a brief break down of the M1:

  • Eight-core CPU with a stated 2x performance gain
  • Seven- or eight-core GPU (depending on the Air model you go in for) with up to a 2x graphical upgrade
  • 16-core neural engine
  • Increased power
  • Improved image signal processing

The Air, in particular, presents some truly robust gains of the most recent versions of the system, released back in March. That may feel like forever ago, given everything that has transpired, but that’s a mere eight months. The system excels at two benchmarks in particular: battery life — measures by a simple video playback — and Geekbench, which tests a system’s CPU and GPU performance by simulating real-world situations. Anecdotally, things are just faster all over the place.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Apps open almost instantly and resource-intensive tasks like editing 4K video are surprisingly zippy. Some of these are changes you’ll likely notice right away, even if you’re not pushing the system to the limit. Take the neat trick of waking up instantly from sleep. It’s something we’ve taken for granted on mobile devices but haven’t seen as much on desktops.

These advances, perhaps unsurprisingly, arrive in the same package. Like the new Mac mini and 13-inch Pro, the Air is identical to the one released early this year. Perhaps the company is seeking to maintain consistency on the outside as the products undergo rather dramatic changes under the hood. Maybe a redesign didn’t line up with the move to Arm. Or, hey, maybe Apple thinks the current design represents some sort of platonic ideal for thin and light laptop.

Whatever the case, you’d be hard-pressed to pick the new Air out of a lineup. I’ve been using the system in public, and no one’s been any the wiser that I got a slight head start on the next generation of Macs. If I’m being honest, I’d have liked it if Apple had ushered the moment in with some befittingly dramatic redesign — but at least no one can accuse Apple of introducing change for the sake of change. And let’s be honest, while the physical design of the Air hasn’t changed much in recent generations, it remains one of the most iconic and better-looking laptops on the market.

That includes the same thin and beveled design that differentiates the product from the rest of the MacBook line, and at 2.8 pounds, it’s 0.2 pounds lighter than the 13-inch MacBook. That’s not a huge spread, but it’s something that will make a difference to your lower back over time — I say that as someone who lugged the system around on a 15-mile walk over the weekend.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Once again, there are two USB-C ports, both positioned on the same side. I’m always going to argue for more ports, especially given the fact that one will semi-regularly be monopolized by a charging cable. I’m also a fan of spreading them out a bit more — preferably on either side of the machine for those instances when you just can’t get enough slack from the cable or have something a bit wider plugged into the port. Of course, there’s no surprise on that front, unlike the new 13-inch Pro, which lost two ports in the process of upgrading.

That will likely sting for some users attempting to figure out whether to upgrade here. The change appears to be connected to some limitations of the new M1 SOC. If I was a betting man, however, I would suggest that there’s a pretty reasonable possibility that whatever pro-focused version of the chip comes next will support more ports for upcoming devices like the first Apple Silicon 16-inch MacBook Pro.

In fact, the company is likely reserving a number of upgrades to differentiate this round from some new pro-focused devices likely to arrive at some point next year. It’s all part of a kind of configuration of Apple’s Mac strategy that we’re seeing play out in slow motion. The new Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac mini represent the entry-level tier for the Mac line. It’s a category that’s become an increased focus for the company in recent years — and one we’ve seen play out across the iPhone and Apple Watch lines.

There is, of course, still truth in the longstanding notion of the premium “Apple Tax,” but the company has expended its approach to improve things on the lower end. One of the more surprising aspects of this strategy on the Mac side is just how much the company has closed the gap between the MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook. There are differences between the two devices, of course. For many or most, the biggest is the $300 price gulf between the $999 starting price for the Air and $1,299 13-inch MacBook Pro.

So, how does Apple justify the price difference? And more to the point, will the upsell make a difference for a vast majority of users? Before we go any further, let’s break down the key differences between the new Air and Pro.

  • Stated Battery – Pro: Up to 20 hours, Air: Up to 18 hours
  • Display – Pro: 500 nits of brightness, Air: 400 nits
  • Microphone Array – Pro: Studio-quality three-mic array, Air: Three-mic array
  • Touch Bar – Pro: Yes, Air: No
  • Speakers – Pro: Stereo speakers with high dynamic range, Air: Stereo speakers
  • Fan – Pro: Yes, Air: No

The last bullet is the most important when it comes to performance. The arrival of the M1 made a fanless MacBook Air a possibility — something that was unheard of in early models. It bodes well for the thinness of future MacBooks, and more immediately, it means extremely silent performance. And, indeed, no matter how much stress testing I’ve managed to do over these past few days, the system has remained eerily silent — though I’d caution you that the passive cooling system can result in a rather toasty Air if you really push things. And, more importantly for a workload standpoint, the system will throttle during resource-intensive tasks — but you’ll have to push it.

Take, for example, the five-minute, 8K clip we exported in Final Cut Pro. At 33:13 minutes on the Pro and 32:59 minutes on the Air, the end result was, honestly fairly negligible (the Mac Pro, meanwhile, blew them both away at a blazing five and a half minutes). Ditto for running a WebKit compile. That took 25 minutes and five seconds on the Air and 20 minutes and 43 seconds. That’s not entirely negligible, but both systems beat out the 2019 16-inch MacBook Pro’s 26 minutes and 56 seconds. And both systems took far less of a battery hit, losing around 9% during the process, versus the 16-inch’s 39%.

The new M1 chips are remarkably energy efficient, even when performing more resource-intensive tasks. In a video playback test, I got 16 hours of life. That’s less than the maximum 18 hours stated by Apple’s numbers, but it’s an impressive figure, nonetheless. I would certainly feel comfortable leaving the house without a charge.

Per Matthew’s numbers, the Pro fares even better. He was able to get right around the stated 20 hours. That higher figure likely comes due a higher capacity battery courtesy of the thicker laptop footprint. In both cases, however, the systems blew away last year’s 13 and 16-inch Pros, which got eight hours and eight minutes and six hours and 40 minutes, respectively. That’s a tremendous bump in an important metric.

So let’s break down those Geekbench 5 numbers. The new Air and Pro’s numbers are quite similar. That’s to be expected given their respective internals. Again, you’re going to have to really push the system — likely for a prolonged amount of time — before the Air take a noticeable hit due to its fanless design. The Pro scored a 1711 on single core and 7549 on the multi-core. The Air got an average of 1725 and 7563, respectively (for good measure, I’ll add that the the Mini hit a similar 1748 and 7644).

Here’s some more historical context from Geekbench. A few relevant examples: the Core i7 MacBook Air from earlier this year averaged 1136, while the 13-inch Pro hit 1240. Running the Intel version of the benchmark (using the Rosetta 2 emulator), the numbers predictably took a hit, but still best the Intel systems. And, indeed, Intel-designed apps performed quite smoothly.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Most of the benchmarks we ran found the two systems scoring remarkably close to one another. In other words, I think it’s a safe bet a majority of people searching for systems at this tier won’t be bumping up against those kinds of limits too often. Those who do find themselves frequently performing tasks that challenge those hardware limitations are going to have the difficult choice of buying the new 13-inch Pro now or waiting the see what models like the 16-inch have in store. For more information on that front, spend some time with Matthew’s review of the new 13-inch.

Image Credits: Apple

What I can say with more certainty, however, is that Apple’s got a much stronger case for its rediscovered focus on creative pros. While the category has long been its bread and butter, a case can be made that the company has surrendered some of that market to the likes of Microsoft’s Surface line and others. Apple made the case that the Touch Bar found it rekindling that relationship, but I think there’s a much stronger case to be made for a MacBook Air that can process much heavier workloads than its predecessors.

And, frankly, I haven’t missed the Touch Bar. My primary laptop is a 15-inch Pro with Touch Bar, but it’s a feature that hasn’t really impacted my workflow — and it’s not for a lack of trying. I suspect that for those attempting to distinguish between the Pro and Air the missing feature will barely register. And besides, my favorite part of the Touch Bar addition — TouchID — is here as it was on the last Intel version of the Air. On a whole, I’ve found the ability to log in with a fingerprint more useful than scrolling through photos or emojis on the thin touch strip.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Speaking of touch — there’s another elephant in the room here. Obviously the touchscreen Macs some predicted didn’t arrive at the event early this month. Even so, it seems reasonable to expect that they will at some point in the not so distant future, with the lines continuing to blur between macOS and iOS. Look no further than Big Sur, which continues the recent trend of adopting key features from the mobile operating system.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As I noted in my recent writeup of macOS 11.0, a number of features are practically begging for touchscreen interaction. Take the sliders in the newly added Control Center. Sure, the trackpad works fine, but it sure would be satisfying to swipe them over with a finger. This becomes even more pronounced when playing certain iOS optimized games, which now play natively on the M1. Take “Among Us.” I played the wildly popular social game on the new Air — and while the gameplay was predictably smooth, playing with the trackpad feels less natural than touch.

In this implementation, you either have to use the pointer to control an on-screen joypad or simply point the character in the right direction. There’s also the fact that the game occupies a fixed window that you can’t expand to take up the full display. The M1 chip goes a long ways toward opening up the available Mac ecosystem, making porting an iOS app as simple as ticking a box to make it available through the Mac App Store, but in many cases, additional optimization for these systems is warranted particularly for more professionally minded applications.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

As for the other primary input device, the keyboard is pretty much the same as the latest Intel Air — which is to say head and shoulders above early versions. That’s no doubt a dark couple of generations of keyboards Apple would like to forget. They were solid as a rock, and insufferably loud. They also caused a lot of users undue stress by getting jammed. The latest version of the scissor mechanisms are far superior to the early butterflies. I won’t go so far as saying it’s the best laptop typing experience, but it’s like night and day compared to early models.

Another aspect that warrants mention is the webcam. It’s a feature that rarely warrants a sentence in most laptop reviews, but this is 2020. It’s a weird year with weird demands and here we are carrying out the vast majority of our interaction with other human beings over Zoom. It sucks, but it’s life. Many people have no doubt already invested in external webcams as part of the shift toward working from home. For the first time in — well, probably ever — webcams are an important factor in purchasing for many or even most people.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

Apple has, indeed, upgraded the camera for the latest Air — but not entirely. That is to say the sensor is the same, and the camera is still stuck at 720p. But the new image signal processor (ISP) included as part of the M1’s SOC design does result in a better image. You can see the difference above. Frankly, neither is great to be honest, but one is decidedly less bad than the other. On the left you’ll see the Air’s image.

The resolution is still low, but the color — among others — is certainly improved. The white balance is more inline with reality and it handles shades better. I’m going to still defer to my external webcam for things like Extra Crunch panels, but for a quick meeting, sure, I’m fine letting the Air do the job. This would have been a perfect time for Apple to go all-in with a webcam refresh on these systems. Common wisdom says there are limitations on camera hardware give the thickness of the laptop lid, but if I had to venture a guess here, I’d say the company is looking at webcam video as another point of differentiation for Pro models.

The microphone, meanwhile, remains a point of distinction between the Air and Pro. I’ve included voice recordings from the Intel and Arm Airs above. See if you can tell the difference. Honestly, I can’t, really. As with the webcam, they’re fine for a casual chat, but I wouldn’t want to, say, record a podcast on the thing.

These three new systems represent the first step toward Mac’s future. And there’s a lot to be excited about when it comes to the potential of Apple Silicon. The M1 chip already displays some pretty dramatic performance gains for a lot of tasks, coupled with substantial increases in battery life, courtesy of decreased power consumption.

Image Credits: Brian Heater

There are some limitations worth noting on these models. Two USB-C ports appears to be the maximum in the current configuration and all three models currently top out at 16GB of RAM. If either of those are dealbreakers, the company will happily still sell you an Intel model for the foreseeable future.

When Apple Silicon was announced at WWDC back in June, Tim Cook noted that it would take two years to transition the full line. That means we’re very much at the beginning of this journey and there’s a lot left to reveal, including how dramatically different the true Pro tier of MacBooks look.

For most users with most needs, the Air is a fine choice. If I had to buy a new MacBook today I would pull the trigger on Air and upgrade the memory and storage for good measure. It’s a surprisingly powerful machine in a compact package.

Apple announces the M1, the first chip in its Apple Silicon family

By Frederic Lardinois

As expected, Apple today announced its first Arm-based laptops, the MacBook Air, Mac mini and Macbook Pro, and, with that, it also announced its family of Arm-based Apple Silicon chips. When it first announced Apple Silicon, the company didn’t provide a lot of details, but in today’s presentation, we learned quite a bit more. The first chip in this family is the M1, based on a 5nm process.

“We’ve been making Apple Silicon for more than a decade. It’s at the heart of iPhone, iPad, and Apple Watch – and now we want to bring it to the Mac, so the Mac can take a huge leap forward with the incredible performance, custom technologies and industry-leading power efficiency of Apple Silicon,” Apple said.

The M1 will feature four high-performance cores and four high-efficiency cores, following what has long become the standard for Arm chips.

Apple argues that the M1 is its highest-performance chip yet and that low-power high-efficiency cores deliver similar performance to its current Intel-based dual-core MacBook Air (though to be fair, that’s not a performance machine by any stretch). The high-performance cores are significantly faster, of course.

Maybe more importantly, these chips also offer a better performance per watt than other systems.

On the GPU side, the M1 will feature up to eight cores with 128 execution units. It’ll be able to handle up to 24,576 concurrent threads and peak performance of 2.6 teraflops. This, Apple argues, makes it the world’s fasted integrated graphics experience on a laptop.

As expected, the chip will also feature Apple’s neural engine for accelerating machine learning workloads.

Image Credits: Apple

The first set of developer units that Apple shipped out earlier this year were powered by the A12Z chip, a variant of the A12 that made its debut in the 2020 iPad Pro earlier this year. It doesn’t look like Apple really modified that eight-core A12Z chip for its so-called “Developer Transition Kit,” but even without doing so, these developer kits also hit performance levels comparable with an entry-level MacBook Air.

And while Apple has obviously modified this chip design to suit its own purposes, it’s worth noting that Arm itself has spent the last few years building an IP portfolio of server and desktop/laptop-ready chips. On the laptop side, it had a few wins, with Microsoft betting on Arm for some of its Surface devices, but overall, this remains a niche market. In the server space, though, Arm has clearly shown that it is able to offer its partners the right designs to build chips with the right power and performance trade-offs.

Image Credits: Apple

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