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  • Newsletter Issue #1029

    January 10th, 2022


    When I first started using Macs in the 1980s, I did not for a moment consider what I’d be using as my gadgets of choice in 2022. Or even that I’d still be alive.

    In any case, I adopted the platform early on because of its relative ease of use and stability. Compared to today’s Mac, there is no comparison. The 21st century Mac is  just incredibly faster, but regular system crashes rarely occur, and when something goes awry, it’s mostly due to an issue with a specific app that can be cured by getting the new version.

    Apple’s third processor transition is moving forward, and there have been few complaints. Well, some of the critics tried to imply that the amazing benchmarks that have been published were either fake or taken out of context. There was always a way to fudge the numbers to one’s advantage.

    Of course, that was the same media reaction during the days of the PowerPC, when Apple would demonstrate, at a Macworld Expo (remember them?) or other public presentation, that the chip could eat Pentiums for lunch.

    Apple explained their methodology in the fine print, listing the configurations and the apps they used, which included Adobe Photoshop. Well, I happened to have a Mac that was very much in line with their test on one of those occasions, and thus I went to a PC maker (HP) and asked for an equivalent desktop computer. They agreed.

    Over the next few days, I carefully ran Apple’s test suite on both computers, and the results were very much in line with their published claims.

    Understand that using different Photoshop filters and changing a few other odds and ends might skew the results the other way. But I had no doubt Apple was playing the spec and benchmark game fairly.

    As i recall, it was the early 2o00s, and it wasn’t long before the PowerPC came on hard times, largely because Apple’s chip partners, IBM and Motorola, didn’t see the wisdom of developing personal computer chips for just one manufacturer. They were focused on embedded chips for cars and other products.

    Unlike traditional PC makers who have delivered gear with AMD or Intel Inside, roughly equivalent silicon, Apple has not depended on just one type of CPU. So when the PowerPC began to fail to live up to expectations, Apple partnered with Intel until the fall of 2020, when the first Macs with Apple Silicon debuted. Suddenly an entry-level MacBook Air, listing for $999, could deliver performance that wasn’t so far removed from the fastest MacBook Pros with Intel chips.

    With Rosetta 2, even emulated apps reportedly fared quite well.

    With the arrival of the M1 Max and M1 Pro chips (such awkward names) on the new MacBook Pros, Apple claims performance rivals the very fastest desktops. Meanwhile, Intel is trying hard to say it can do much better, citing the 12th-generation Core processor as an example of a processor family that beats Apple’s M1 Max.

    Now to be fair, the preliminary specs from Intel for a 14-core Core i9 are probably correct. But it requires sucking up 115 watts, which is far more power than most laptop computers would handle and still deliver reasonable battery life. Apple has emphasized stellar battery life on its M1 series CPUs. More to the point, by embedding ProRes in its M1 chips, it can handle many heavy-duty workloads far faster than the raw power of the processor would normally deliver.

    Besides, you cannot compare theoretical specs with performance in shipping products, so we’ll have to see how Intel manages its new lineup in the real world. Don’t forget that Apple knew Intel’s roadmap for upcoming silicon releases before they announced the switch to Apple Silicon. Clearly there was a reason to make the change, and if the decision turns out to deliver inferior performance overall, that would be a huge blot on the Mac’s potential.

    In any case, speculation about the upcoming 2022 Macs continues at the usual pace. There’s talk of an M2 chip, the possibility of multiple chips in high-end gear, such as the next Mac Pro, to deliver performance that exceeds that of the current models, which can cost more $52,000 in a maxed out configuration that includes the Afterburner card.

    Note that the maxed out MacBook Pro can largely replace the Afterburner when it comes to the specific workflows it can enhance.

    In any case, what’s most interesting about Apple’s current lineup — and what’s expected to come — is that any Mac is capable of fulfilling the performance needs of most users, depending on display size and storage space. That is quite a difference from the old days where an entry-level Mac was strictly limited on what it could handle efficiently, and it was common to end up with a machine that was mostly suited to word processing, email, online visits and not a whole lot more.

    Consider that the 2021 24-inch iMac, which, based on the benchmarks and reviews I’ve pored through, is capable of running twice as fast as my Late 2014 27-inch iMac and then some in most instances. Indeed, assuming that losing three inches in screen real estate won’t seriously impact my work routine, I’ve seriously considered it as a potential replacement. I can still get a decent (well adequate) trade in on the old model.

    For 2022, Apple is expected to introduce an updated 27-inch iMac, presumably with the faster M1 chips that debuted in the 2021 MacBook Pros. For me that would probably be overkill, but assuming performance meets or exceeds the laptops, it would be a suitable iMac Pro replacement. I wouldn’t even be surprised if it gets that moniker.

    As to the Mac Pro, I do remember when it was critical for anyone in any aspect of the content creation business to buy one. Lesser Macs wouldn’t get the job done near as efficiently.

    Over time, that changed. I remember selling off an early-generation Mac Pro for a Late 2009 27-inch iMac. With the money I received for the Mac Pro and a 30-inch display, I was actually able to buy the iMac with enough spare cash left over to get a backup drive.

    I traded up to the Late 2014 27-inch iMac with 5K Retina Display after making a decent deal with a client to sell my older iMac, which had been upgraded with a 1TB SSD and extra RAM, and some other gear that I was no longer using.  I ended up paying very little for my new purchase.

    In any case, the fast pace of performance improvements with Apple gear have made my upgrade options less expensive. I very much suspect that applies to most of you, and that the higher-end machines will reach a smaller, more sharply focused audience that doesn’t want to wait long for huge image and data files to be processed.

    Now if I did movie editing and special effects, that would be another thing. Yet even the “basic” M1 chip evidently does those tasks very well.

    When it comes to the Apple Watch and the iPhone, the 2021 upgrades were quite minor, so perhaps there will be more changes this year. Maybe the dreaded iPhone notch — something to which I’ve never quite grown accustomed — will vanish and a pin hole will replace it?

    Regardless, perhaps Wall Street will wonder when Apple will become the first four trillion dollar company. More to the point, would Steve Jobs have expected such developments if he were still around?


    Gene Steinberg’s Mac Radio Newsletter is a weekly information service of Making The Impossible.

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