Will an M1 MacBook Air fill the gap when a Mac Pro breaks?

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited March 9
When our video Mac Pro stopped working right, we had to fall back on reserve hardware. For a month, we've been using the 2020 MacBook Air with Apple's M1 processor and here's how it went.

Mac Pro
Mac Pro


Because of a breakdown, I to give up my upgraded base configuration 2019 Mac Pro. Until it went down, I was pretty happy with the 3.5GHz eight-core Intel Xeon W processor's performance and the AMD Radeon Pro 580X graphics card.

Without another choice in the house, I had to fall back on reserve hardware -- which if you're "mission critical," you should have. To fill the gap, I started using the M1 MacBook Air with the eight-core GPU as a daily driver.

Why did I give up my Mac Pro?

I had to give up my Mac Pro -- temporarily -- due to some lingering hardware issues that needed resolution. The problem began more than a year ago, nearly from the day I received my new Mac Pro. Bluetooth would lag, and as time went on, I started to experience unexplained shutdowns and other production-killing frustrations.





I took the machine into my local Apple Store at which point I wrote about how ill-equipped many Apple Stores were to deal with Apple's pro machine that sees limited use outside of cities like L.A. and San Francisco that have tech-heavy workforces.

The initial repair was unsuccessful and led me to rely on wired peripherals and other workarounds. While my unit was in the shop, I decided to spend the time using my M1 MacBook Air.

The experience was both enlightening and frustrating.

A freeing experience

The Mac Pro always had me tethered to my desk. I'd write on my iPad Pro and occasionally edit video in LumaFusion on a portable, but neither was common. Using the MacBook Air, I found myself sitting at my studio desk, lying in a beanbag chair, working outside, sitting on the couch, and just overall being anywhere but in my office.

MacBook Air
The M1 MacBook Air


Clearly, my office was the best place to work, but it was a nice change of pace to be out and about. To my surprise, the M1 MacBook Air could edit and export video just as capably as my Mac Pro.

This speaks mountains about how much Apple has optimized its software -- in this case Final Cut Pro and Compressor -- to take advantage of its silicon and GPU. The AMD Radeon Pro 580X is good and would likely outperform the M1 on a standard graphics test, but Apple's software optimization makes the difference for outstanding performance.

In short, for most users, a $1,249 machine will outperform a $5,999 machine on a video export.

The MacBook Air also had incredible wireless speeds. I didn't miss my ethernet connection on the Mac Pro and instead relied on the Wi-Fi 6 network in my home. This was the first time I had a Wi-Fi 6 device that I did work on, and it makes a big difference when you don't have the luxury of a wired connection.

That all said, I still miss my Mac Pro.

Don't sell the Mac Pro short

At purchase, I only picked up the base Mac Pro and added my own RAM. I had the option to go all the way up to dual Vega Pro II GPUs but instead settled with the entry-level Radeon Pro 580X, with a mind towards adding video power later. Had I gone for any of the more powerful cards, the Mac Pro would still be outpacing the MacBook Air in some tasks.

Additionally, the Mac Pro has the Afterburner card as an option, which provides blistering speed to Apple's apps, like Final Cut. With the Afterburner installed, the Mac Pro would be blowing the MacBook Air away in every regard.

Mac Pro is very ugpradable
Mac Pro is very ugpradable


This compare also comes during a once-in-a-decade processor migration. It isn't often that Apple switches the silicon that its Macs run on. If I were comparing the Xeon W Mac Pro to the Intel-based MacBook Air, it would be a very different story.

Equally true, if I was comparing an as-of-yet-nonexistent Apple Silicon Mac Pro to an entry-level M1 MacBook Air, the Mac Pro would surely win hands-down.

During this rare transition, Apple's entry-level and mid-tier Macs migrated to the impressive silicon first, leaving the high-end pro machines untouched -- for now. But, the migration to Apple Silicon is only part of the story here.

As a video pro, I was dealing with some major storage issues. That MacBook Air has a paltry 512GB inside, which lasted maybe a week or so. I found myself connecting external SSD after external SSD. I continued to fill them up and offload the storage to my mass storage on my desk. If I worked at my desk, it was near the same but not as fast and speedy as the internal RAID SSDs I outfitted my Mac Pro with.

Mac Pro
Mac Pro


After a year and a half, I've made a few modifications to the Mac Pro, notably adding hundreds of gigabytes of RAM. This pays off in a big way as I breeze through piles of open tabs, a dozen documents in Affinity Photo, all while working on an extensive edit in Final Cut. With less RAM, the MacBook Air struggled a bit at duplicating that workflow.

The MacBook Air will never be getting more powerful, other than through software. The Mac Pro can get new graphics, new I/O, more RAM, or more storage at nearly any time.

Ports were also a struggle. It was easy enough to connect the MacBook Air to my desktop Thunderbolt 3 dock but even that ran out of ports easily. Between microphones, storage, audio monitors, displays, card readers, it all just became too much, and I missed the massive port array of the Mac Pro. The two Thunderbolt ports are just a struggle, especially if I left my desk.

Returning to the norm

My Mac Pro is nearly back from its latest detour through Apple service. It will inevitably pull me back into my prior workflow, and I will again rely on the Mac Pro rather than the portable MacBook Air.

Even though I was impressed with the MacBook Air's daily performance, it doesn't make me regret having and using the desk-bound Mac Pro either. I still love the massive machine.

What this has ingrained into me, however, is how impressive Apple's silicon is. I knew and saw how much it could do, but it was hard for me to fully appreciate until I dropped my big iron, and used the new gear for more than a month on a daily basis.

When Apple does update the Mac Pro with Apple Silicon, I'm ready to make the jump.
randominternetperson

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 16
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 8,925member
    Comparing the Mac Pro to the MBA M1? Right.
  • Reply 2 of 16
    dewmedewme Posts: 3,453member
    Thanks for sharing your experience with us. I think this is a clear indication that, in several respects like raw performance, the rules have changed and we’re going to have to recalibrate our expectations - way up. Apple Silicon is a step change compared to Intel legacy chips and future high-end Macs will be at levels we’ve never anticipated after living with incremental improvements for so long. Let’s see how long Apple can sustain the big jumps from version to version as Apple Silicon starts to mature.
    viclauyycwatto_cobra
  • Reply 3 of 16
    Thank you for the interesting article. I am amazed at the incredible performance of the M1 and it looks like it’s only the beginning.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 4 of 16
    I've had the exact same experience, albeit with an M1 MacBook Pro. In my case, I haven't had any problems with the Mac Pro, but it's also not nearly as convenient for me, since it belongs to my church, which is what most of my video production work is for. However, since picking up the M1 MacBook Pro I've been shocked at how easily it can chew through complex multilayered videos (the most common at "wall-of-signing-heads" productions for our choir, which can often have up to 20 or so videos all cropped and arranged in a grid). Before the Mac Pro, we had a 2018 6-core i7 Mac mini that would generally take anywhere from 60-90 minutes to render one of these 3-4 minute videos in Compressor. The Mac Pro cut that down to basically real-time rendering, but the M1 MacBook Pro sometimes beats even that by a slim margin.

    Where the Mac Pro still wins, however, is in multi-core performance, since I can render up to four FCP projects in Compressor at the same time with no performance hit. The M1 MacBook Pro doesn't even allow for that at this point — everything gets processed sequentially.

    Of course, the Mac Pro also wins for expansion, and we use it for more than just FCP; it drives our entire media operation, including presentation graphics and live streaming and recording, and all video I/O is handled through a PCI BlackMagic Decklink Quad 2 card, which is much cleaner than fussing with external TB3 accessories.
    dewmeviclauyycMisterKitfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 5 of 16
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,294member
    lkrupp said:
    Comparing the Mac Pro to the MBA M1? Right.

    Did you even read it?
    pulseimagesviclauyycMisterKitfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 6 of 16
    lkrupplkrupp Posts: 8,925member
    chadbag said:
    lkrupp said:
    Comparing the Mac Pro to the MBA M1? Right.

    Did you even read it?
    Every word. 
  • Reply 7 of 16
    chadbagchadbag Posts: 1,294member
    lkrupp said:
    chadbag said:
    lkrupp said:
    Comparing the Mac Pro to the MBA M1? Right.

    Did you even read it?
    Every word. 
    Your response doesn’t make it sound like you read it. Because you would have seen that it is not a direct comparison of the two, as in, which one is better etc. as a normal comparison would be.   It clearly explains that the comparison is because of an issue with one and how the other had to jump in and cover for the broken one while it was in the shop.  And that overall it worked pretty well.   Not at all obvious from your comments that you got any of that. 
    viclauyycMisterKitfastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 8 of 16
    A month of downtime ???   Right to repair anyone...?  
    Need to upgrade storage on a mba in an emergency ?   Sorry buy a whole new computer...
    Even as a shareholder I ask if it is time for a change in approach or management...?
    elijahgmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 9 of 16
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 2,896member
    The fact that a MBA can even come close to replacing a Mac Pro says either the Mac Pro is grossly overpriced or you really don't need a Mac Pro for the work you're doing.


    elijahgMisterKitmobirdroundaboutnowmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 10 of 16
    XedXed Posts: 768member
    lkrupp said:
    Comparing the Mac Pro to the MBA M1? Right.
    You claim you read it and yet the article very clearly states:

    Without another choice in the house, I had to fall back on reserve hardware -- which if you're "mission critical," you should have. To fill the gap, I started using the M1 MacBook Air with the eight-core GPU as a daily driver.
    edited March 9 watto_cobra
  • Reply 11 of 16
    XedXed Posts: 768member
    MplsP said:
    The fact that a MBA can even come close to replacing a Mac Pro says either the Mac Pro is grossly overpriced or you really don't need a Mac Pro for the work you're doing.
    First of all, claiming a product is "overpriced" has no bearing in this discussion. It would be like saying a quality filet is overpriced baed on the calories when you can get a lot more calories from a 59¢ cheeseburger from McDonald's. Not exactly a fair comparison as the cost materials are even close to being congruous. Does the M-series afford customers benefits over Intel chips that will reduce costs, heat, space, and eventually allow for more HW features? Of course, as we've already seen, but that's not the same as saying it's "grossly overpriced."

    Personally, I think your Boolean options are very wrong. I think this shows just how excellent the M1 chip is and how great the M-series will be for Apple and Mac going forward.
    fastasleepwatto_cobra
  • Reply 12 of 16
    crowleycrowley Posts: 7,510member
    lkrupp said:
    Comparing the Mac Pro to the MBA M1? Right.
    Sure, they're both computers, and if needs must then the former can replace the latter, albeit with limitations.  That's what the article was about, which seems to have gone completely over your while you were busy being instantly indignant towards the headline.
    fastasleepFileMakerFeller
  • Reply 13 of 16
    MplsPMplsP Posts: 2,896member
    Xed said:
    MplsP said:
    The fact that a MBA can even come close to replacing a Mac Pro says either the Mac Pro is grossly overpriced or you really don't need a Mac Pro for the work you're doing.
    First of all, claiming a product is "overpriced" has no bearing in this discussion. It would be like saying a quality filet is overpriced baed on the calories when you can get a lot more calories from a 59¢ cheeseburger from McDonald's. Not exactly a fair comparison as the cost materials are even close to being congruous. Does the M-series afford customers benefits over Intel chips that will reduce costs, heat, space, and eventually allow for more HW features? Of course, as we've already seen, but that's not the same as saying it's "grossly overpriced."

    Personally, I think your Boolean options are very wrong. I think this shows just how excellent the M1 chip is and how great the M-series will be for Apple and Mac going forward.
    The article compared the two machines for doing the video editing work that the author needed to do. Maybe that’s ‘comparing calories  between a cheeseburger and a filet mignon’ in your book, but whatever. The author states that, with the exception of storage space and USB ports the MBA performed quite well compared to a Mac Pro costing thousands more. My options still stand. 
    muthuk_vanalingamwatto_cobra
  • Reply 14 of 16

    ...

    Clearly, my office was the best place to work, but it was a nice change of pace to be out and about. To my surprise, the M1 MacBook Air could edit and export video just as capably as my Mac Pro.
    ...

    In short, for most users, a $1,249 machine will outperform a $5,999 machine on a video export.
    ...
    OK, this is pretty amazing.

    PS: Bummer that the Mac Pro is giving you grief.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 16
    nicholfdnicholfd Posts: 423member
    A month of downtime ???   Right to repair anyone...?  
    Need to upgrade storage on a mba in an emergency ?   Sorry buy a whole new computer...
    Even as a shareholder I ask if it is time for a change in approach or management...?
    Downtime has ZERO to do with right to repair.  If you can't get parts, you can't repair.

    Need upgraded storage on a laptop?  Plug in s USB-C Gen 3.2 10Gb or TB3 storage, and you are good to go.  Or you could plug I a 10Gb TB3 ethernet adapter and you are good to go.

    Stop the nonsense, please.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 16 of 16
    mr lizardmr lizard Posts: 226member
    lkrupp said:
    Comparing the Mac Pro to the MBA M1? Right.
    He’s comparing it because he literally had to use the MBA M1 while his Mac Pro was in the repair shop

    This article is the result of that lived experience

    Not some random ‘hey let’s pitch an MBA and Mac Pro head to head. 
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