At this point... I kind of feel bad for Intel. First they got whipped by AMD's Ryzen processors, with their once-overbearing desktop performance getting blown away by AMD's 7nm processes. With Zen 3, each of the Ryzen processors performs better than the next-step-up offering from Intel. For example, the Ryzen 7 5800X outperforms Intel's i9 10850K. Pretty crazy stuff. However, the one advantage Intel still has over AMD is that they still have overwhelming market share for laptop processors... right?
Well, at least one of their biggest consumers, Apple, announced a few months ago that it was stepping away from Intel to build their own chips, called Apple Silicon. And now, their first processor, called the M1, is here.
This processor is currently being sold in their Macbook Air, Pro, and Mac Mini models. You can choose between the Intel option or the Apple Silicon option. And the M1 is vastly superior to the previous Intel processor models. It packs 4 "e-cores", and 4 normal cores. The normal cores are used for more intense applications such as video editing, while if there isn't enough processor load required, only the e-cores will be running.
I really appreciate this design aspect. For me, I am usually using my laptop for pretty light work, such as google docs, browsing the internet, checking email, etc. Most people do not use their laptop for video editing or gaming, at least not often. While using e-cores, the power consumption is significantly reduced.
Another intriguing part of the M1 is the "system-on-chip" technology. This essentially means more functions such as security, i/o, etc, being on the main part of the chip. This isn't a major breakthrough, but this will help "snappiness", with faster communication between parts, and power consumption.
However, one of the biggest parts of this M1 processor is that it uses 5nm transistors. This is currently leading the industry. Something you should note is that this does not make the M1 the most powerful mobile processor in the industry, it makes it the most efficient.
The M1, in my humble opinion, is by far the best laptop processor right now (It's still pretty good in the Mac Mini, but not as suited for what you do with a desktop). It is built with the "Macbook Air mindset"; you don't need amazing performance on a laptop, you just need snappiness and efficiency. And this processor is definitely efficient. On the M1 Macbook Air you get about 20 hours of average video playback out of the box (Macbook Pro).
Apple does advertise that the M1 has vastly improved performance, and for a mobile processor, the performance is quite good. However, the crazy performance increases you will see are in Apple apps (Final Cut, garageband, xcode, etc). This is because Intel processors use the x86 structure architecture, but with M1, Apple could optimize the architectures to their apps. This makes each core in the M1 perform spectacularly well in Apple apps and is a good example of how hardware/software integration can create amazing performance. The M1 also seems to perform quite well in most content creation apps.
This isn't a massive con, but Apple advertised "neural engine" iGPU really isn't something to write home about, especially because there is almost no cooling in the laptops, and very little in the Mac Mini. Another thing: the Apple Silicon, with half of its cores being "e-cores", isn't really optimized for massive workloads the way a Ryzen 7 or 9 is. However, I'm sure Apple is already working on a more robust version to put in their Mac Pros and high-spec Mac Minis.
Another thing to note is that the devices are all the same price, the performance is just better. Also, would it really be Apple if they weren't charging $200 for 256GB more of SSD?
Overall, this is an extremely exciting new technology. Customers of Apple are finally getting a performance-related reason to buy an Apple computer, which is the raw power in Apple applications and the incredible battery life. With their signature hardware-software integration, Apple laptops, to me especially the Macbook Air, are going to be the laptop to beat in the coming years.