The first generation of Apple Silicon, called Apple M1, has been a wildly successful launch. As someone who likes to avoid first-generation hardware, I did not plan to get a Mac running Apple M1 chips.
However, raving reviews of breakthrough performance and incredible battery life improvement have won me over. I broke my own rule of not getting a first-gen product. I got myself a 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1, the first generation of Apple’s own processors.
I’ve since upgraded to M1 Pro on my desk (tethered to two monitors) and an M2 MacBook Pro for on-the-go computing, but I’ll always look back on the M1 MacBook Pro with love.
I have very little to complain about the base model 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro that I purchased. It’s almost everything an Apple fan may have wanted from a Mac. It’s something many of us have been waiting for ever since the Mac laptop lineup took a downfall beginning in 2016 with that godforsaken butterfly keyboard.
Now, in 2023, M2 chips are on the newest MacBook Pros and Airs, and there are rumors that M3 is going to be in production soon. So, for budget shoppers, especially first-time Mac buyers, it’s a genuine question: Should you buy a MacBook Pro/Air with M1 in 2023?
I’m here to answer your question.
Before diving deeper into the full review, here’s the short answer: It is absolutely okay for you to buy an M1 MacBook Pro or Air in 2023.
As long as your computing needs are basic to intermediate — such as office tasks, productivity, browsing, watching content, and even some basic photo and 4K video editing, the M1 processor remains as capable as ever.
M1 MacBook Pro Review in 2023
Obviously, you can read or watch all of the original reviews people have published when the M1 MacBook Pro came out.
But I’m writing this in 2023. And I’m taking into account my own experience of using a much more powerful M1 Pro and an even newer M2 on a MacBook Pro and Air, respectively.
M1 MacBook Pro Base Configuration
Shortly after the positivity hit the web, I took the plunge and decided to go with the base model 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1.
This had only 8 GB RAM and 256 GB of storage. I wasn’t bothered by the low storage capacity since I use external SSDs anyway, but I was unsure about having only 8 GB RAM.
After all, software today is RAM-hungry, and I use Adobe Photoshop and Lightroom fairly regularly (not to mention Chrome, but we’ll come to that later).
I went with the 8 GB RAM model not just to save money, but also because I was convinced that 8 GB RAM on M1 Macs is sufficient for most basic to intermediate work. The RAM on Apple Silicon works differently than previous Intel-based Macs. So I thought it’d be okay.
How does the 8 GB M1 MacBook Pro perform?
I was surprised, to be honest. Despite going from a 32-GB RAM on an Intel i9 processor to a mere 8-GB RAM on the Apple M1, I somehow got better performance. Even compared to the newer, 2020 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 10th-gen Intel Core-i5 processor with 16 GB of RAM, the M1 MacBook Pro was better.
On Macs, Google Chrome is my primary web browser. It’s common knowledge that Chrome itself is as heavy as an asteroid, and with the many extensions and scripts I have running, coupled with the fact that some of the sites I work on are heavy themselves, the fans used to spin up on my 10th-gen Intel MacBook Pro almost daily.
I also use Adobe Lightroom and Photoshop a few times weekly. I do some basic 4K video editing on Final Cut Pro from time to time. And I use a number of other smaller apps (they all add up to some medium load in the background). The fan noise on my Intel-based Macs was louder than the ceiling fan in my room.
On the MacBook Pro with M1, it’s like being in a whole different dimension. It’s all calm and quiet. I was going through hundreds of RAW photos on Lightroom (running natively on M1) and the M1 MacBook Pro’s fans never made a noise.
No matter how many heavy Chrome tabs I have open (Chrome also runs natively on an Apple M1 chip), the fan never made its existence known.
In everything that I’ve done on this Mac since I got it, I have never, not once, heard the fans spin up.
Is 8 GB RAM enough on the M1 Mac?
The performance on this base model M1 MacBook Pro with only 8 GB RAM was unlike any other computer with 8 GB RAM that came before it.
Most people are going to think that less than 16 GB of RAM is not going to be enough for them. I want to assure them, that is no longer the case.
Let me just say, the money I spent on the 13-inch MacBook Pro with a 10th-generation Intel processor and 16 GB of RAM was a complete waste. Everything runs faster on the M1 with only 8 GB RAM. Take my word for it, even apps that were written for Intel run better on M1 MacBook Pro — a laptop that doesn’t even have an Intel inside.
(Read this: How to see which apps are running on Apple Silicon)
It’s just fascinating.
So, in short, the 8 GB RAM, at least for my type of work, which I’d label as medium load, is enough. I’m confident that 8 GB RAM is enough for the majority of buyers who want to get a new MacBook as an everyday device.
If anything, Apple is redefining how much RAM you need on your Mac. And if iPhones are any indication, you already know, you don’t need that much.
M1 MacBook Pro vs. M1 MacBook Air, which one should you get?
Apple released the first-gen Apple Silicon chips on three new devices, the 13-inch MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, and Mac Mini. If you’re looking for a laptop, your obvious choices are the MacBooks. But how do you decide which M1 MacBook is right for you?
For me, the choice was simple. I was extremely unhappy with the poor battery life on the 10th-gen Intel-based 13-inch MacBook Pro. Between the M1 MacBook Air and M1 MacBook Pro, the latter had a clear advantage when it comes to battery life.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 packs more battery power than the MacBook Air with the same chip. Reviewers proved that if battery life is your top priority, the M1 MacBook Pro is the one to get. So that was a no-brainer for me.
I also wanted to get a little bit more power than what a base model MacBook Air has been traditionally known for. Of course, Apple has broken the idea of ‘traditional performance’ on MacBook Airs. With the M1 chips onboard, just how much of a performance difference is between the Air and the Pro is now almost indistinguishable except in synthetic benchmarks.
The most prominent difference between the two is that the M1 MacBook Air does not have a fan inside. I’ve owned and loved a fanless MacBook before (the ridiculously-tiny 12-inch MacBook), so the fanless nature of the M1 MacBook Air doesn’t bother me.
But, given that I’ve never heard the fans on my MacBook Pro either, I don’t really think the existence — or lack thereof — of fans should be a deciding matter anymore.
As you can see, both Mac laptops have become a great choice with the introduction of Apple Silicon. Since battery life mattered the most to me, I went with the MacBook Pro.
And boy, was I in for a surprise!
Battery life on M1 MacBook Pro
I used to rave about the battery backup on my 12-inch MacBook. It was small, ran on an ultra-low-voltage CPU, and had a small screen; so they all added up to good battery life.
The new MacBook Pro equipped with M1 blew my mind. I remember when 12 to 13 hours of battery life on a thin and lightweight MacBook Air was the industry standard. Apple hasn’t delivered that level of battery life with Macs for a while now (at least, in my experience).
Except for now, when an M1 MacBook Pro has delivered more than 15 hours of battery life!
And it still had about 15% of battery left in it. During those 15 hours, I had an hour of Zoom call, the screen was consistently on at about 60% brightness, Chrome was doing what it does best — carrying too many tabs to count, and I also watched several YouTube videos and listened to a few songs on Apple Music.
You probably already know this if you read enough reviews, Apple reinvented what it meant to have a full-day battery life (and then some) with the M1 Macs.
Design and Build Quality
Not much is there to say about the design and build quality of the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 chips inside. I had the Mac that came right before it (with the Intel processor), and they are pretty identical. Most of the exterior remains the same with the major changes being tucked inside.
If you ever used a Mac before, you’d be familiar with it. If it’s going to be your first Mac, all I can say is, there’s nothing that’ll disappoint you.
How’s the keyboard on MacBook Pro with M1
Apple’s had some pretty terrible years with Macs. Between 2016 and 2019, they shipped Macs with keyboards that were faulty. Of course, it worked as expected, but not for long.
Called the butterfly mechanism, Apple tried to fix the issues by modifying it for several generations before ultimately deciding it wasn’t worth the effort anymore. They went back to the scissor switches, and things have been better since.
M1 Macs do not come with butterfly switches. So if you have any concerns about keyboards failing, you can put them to rest. Mac keyboards are great again. And I’ve had zero issues with it so far.
Apps Running on M1
A concern new buyers may have is about the apps. When M1 Macs first launched, people worried apps not updated to work on M1 wouldn’t work well. They were proven wrong.
Apple included something called a “Rosetta 2” — an underlying program that ‘translates’ apps made for Intel processors. When you install an app that was developed to run on an Intel-powered Mac, you’d get a prompt to install Rosetta 2.
You install that for the first time when you install an Intel-based app. Any new app/software you install, they just work.
Apps written for Intel work phenomenally well on M1 and subsequent M-series chips. In fact, some reviewers demonstrated that those apps worked better on M1 Macs than their native Intel-powered Macs. How the turntables!
I can vouch for that. I did have many software and apps (these terms are interchangeable, at this point) that had poor performance on my Intel Mac. But on the M1 MacBook Pro, they ran flawlessly.
Of course, developers were quick to update apps to run natively on Apple Silicon. Nowadays, nearly all apps run natively on Apple M1 and M2 chips. If there are a few, that haven’t been updated yet, they work just as fine through Rosetta 2.
There may be exceptions, though. I’d suggest doing some Googling to see if the specific apps you’ll be using run well on M1 Macs. But the most popular ones already do.
Accessing NTFS drives on M1 Macs
One particular area that was a little annoying was accessing NTFS drives that were formatted for Windows computers. It’s nothing new; you needed a special app on your Mac to access flash drives, SSDs, or hard disks that were formatted in NTFS. But on M1 MacBook Pro, I had to do a little extra dance to ‘make my Mac compatible.’
There are many apps out there. I use iBoysoft NTFS for Mac, an app that’s bundled with my Setapp subscription (which I highly recommend for Mac owners). If you’re using something similar, you can follow their instructions here to see what exactly you need to do.
It wasn’t a huge issue, though. I no longer have any NTFS-formatted disks. But if you do have a Windows computer at home or work, and you need to connect NTFS-formatted disks, just be prepared of doing this extra bit of work.
Why 2023 is the best time to buy an M1 MacBook Pro or Air
You get all the benefits of using a state-of-the-art computer that can power through nearly every kind of daily task you throw at it, but you spend much less of what it cost when it came out.
In other words, you save a lot of money and still get a great computer that will last you for years to come!
Particularly for most office and productivity work, including those who are working from home, and for students, the M1 MacBook Pro remains a great choice in 2023. You don’t get to brag (probably), but you can get the job done!
What should you upgrade in M1 MacBook Pro in 2023?
You can’t buy the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro from Apple anymore, so your customization options are limited. But when looking at your options, you may come across different variants that already have some hardware already upgraded. What should you pay attention to?
I’d say, look at 512 GB SSD if you’re looking at an upgraded model. You could always get an external SSD, but having an internal SSD saves you a lot of hassle. And 256 GB storage may become full soon, especially if you’re a content creator or juggling a ton of large files.
Next would be, obviously, RAM. I know I said 8 GB RAM was enough, but higher can be better. You give RAM-intensive software some more breathing room. So the ideal variant would have 512 GB SSD and 16 GB of RAM.
But if you’re tight on budget, don’t feel you have to go for that variant. The 256 GB storage with 8 GB RAM works fine.
I’m happy to answer any questions you may have about my experience of using the 13-inch MacBook Pro with M1 and whether buying one makes sense for you. Leave your comment below, and I’ll answer your questions! 🙂