Two months ago, in late August, when it was plain that Apple was going to release new Apple Silicon models in the coming three months, I detailed some of the shortcomings of the initial M1 models. Now that we know about the M1 Pro and M1 Max models just about to ship, I consider whether Apple has addressed them.
The most obvious shortcoming of current M1 Macs is their limitation to a maximum of 16 GB memory. […] many Mac users do need more than that, and this must be one of the main hardware features in future Apple Silicon Macs.
With options for up to 32 GB (M1 Pro) and 64 GB (M1 Max), Apple has addressed this.
[The ability to drive two or more external displays is] essential for many users who wouldn’t consider themselves in the least bit ‘pro’. Support for a single Pro Display XDR has made for some excellent demos, but only serves to emphasise the need to drive multiple external displays.
The M1 Pro can drive up to two external 6K displays, and the M1 Max up to three with a fourth up to 4K. Apple has exceeded my expectations.
Bootable external disks
Booting M1 Macs from external disks has been a long and sorry saga […]. Even now that it’s relatively straightforward to install and boot from a copy of macOS on an external disk, I’m unable to find any Apple support document which explains to users how this can be done, and guides them past its pitfalls and problems.
I look forward to Apple documenting this properly at last.
Improving macOS updates
Many users are unhappy with the burden of macOS updates and the more limited range of updating options which the Sealed System Volume has brought. […] Considerably more work remains to make this new macOS updating system better for all users, particularly those with Apple Silicon Macs.
This isn’t possible to assess during beta-testing, and must remain one of Apple’s goals for release versions of Monterey.
Although not generally common, some users have reported repeated kernel panics on their M1 Macs which don’t appear to be related to third-party hardware. […]
There are indications that at least some of these issues are being addressed in Monterey, and I’m confident that Apple will continue to make progress.
As the M1 is Apple’s first in-house chip supporting Thunderbolt, it’s perhaps only fair that it’s limited to two ports, but that isn’t sufficient for many users, who end up having to use third-party docks, or one of the new Thunderbolt 4 hubs. It’s imperative that any successor to the M1 can support four Thunderbolt 3/4 ports.
The new MacBook Pro models address this in a different way, but achieve rather better for most users. Although they only have three Thunderbolt ports, these are now full Thunderbolt 4, and are supplemented by a MagSafe charging port, which effectively frees up one Thunderbolt port, and an HDMI port, which will free up another for some users. In the right situation, these equate to as many as five USB-C ports, of which three are Thunderbolt 4. That’s better than I had expected.
Choice of macOS version in 1 True Recovery
One significant improvement which [1 True Recovery] could offer, at minimal cost, would be a choice of currently available versions of macOS rather than just the current one.
Although I still doubt whether we’ll see that, we won’t know until Monterey ships. What I wasn’t expecting was the change in location of 1 True Recovery. This makes excellent sense: when booted in Big Sur, M1 Macs use a Recovery container on the internal SSD, regardless of whether the boot system is on an external disk. Monterey uses a more conventional Recovery volume in the same container as the current boot system, similar to that on Intel Macs, but within the scope of Secure Boot. This ensures that 1 True Recovery is paired with the current boot system.
And there’s more
While these M1 Pro and Max models address all my concerns over hardware, they go much further too. With twice the number of Performance cores, GPUs which stretch far beyond anything I might use them for, and even faster internal SSDs, it’s hard to think of anything more I might wish for. When my M1 Pro with 32 GB and a 2 TB SSD arrives in a couple of weeks, I won’t be gazing at its notch wondering whether I like it or not.
They do leave one big question unanswered, though. As someone who has been a fairly dedicated desktop user since 1985, is there any compelling reason for a desktop Mac, or are they now outclassed in every respect by the new MacBook Pro?