WWDC 2021: What we think we know about an M1X MacBook Pro

Will they, or won’t they? Business-class Apple users are waiting with bated breath in hopes the company will introduce a new breed of Macbook Pros based on M-series processors at Apple’s online WWDC event next week.

Why it makes sense

Apple only unveiled its plans to put its own processors inside Macs at WWDC 2020. One year later and you’ll find these chips inside the MacBook Air, Mac mini, the all-new and colorful iMac, and the 13-in.  MacBook Pro. This leaves just two Mac models without an M-series chip: The Mac Pro and the larger 16-in. MacBook Pro. (There are expectations Apple will add a 14-in. MacBook Pro to the line-up, too.)

Even the iPad Pro now has an Apple chip, which means the company is running ahead of its originally advised two-year transition schedule — just in time for its Worldwide Developers Conference (WWDC).

Of course, Apple wants to tell developers more concerning the migration. It makes sense for it to introduce a new pro product for that pro audience to reinforce that message.

Towards a new language of silicon

Be warned, as of now there is speculation the new Macs might not be available immediately. That’s no bad thing; Apple could quite easily use an early public appearance as a way to evangelize its chip design achievements, particularly if it is already preparing to introduce a second-generation M-series processor. That chip is most likely to be called the M1X, as it’s an iterative evolution of the design.

What to expect from the chip?

Recall earlier speculation when we learned of a 3.2GHz chip with 16GB memory, 8 CPU cores and 16 GPU cores with support for 64GB of RAM running at an impressive 45 watts. Since then, Bloomberg has claimed we can also expect a 32-core GPU configuration.

When discussing these processors, don’t neglect nuance. We know Apple is navigating toward 3nm Mac chips, but we also know the industry is reaching a point at which processor evolution will be replaced by on-chip engineering advances to yield future power and performance gains once it becomes impossible to further miniaturize the silicon.

In that regard, check for references to improvements in the memory architecture, bandwidth, latency and multi-threaded performance, and enhancements to the capabilities of the sundry systems (Neural engine, CPU, GPU) included on the chip.

As an iPhone user, I’ve been slightly spoiled and now expect to see around a 20% improvement in overall performance every year. As we look at the evolution of the M-series, I can’t help but ask if this is what’s happening to Macs?

What to expect from the new MacBook Pro

On current speculation, Apple is thought to plan both a 16-in. and (maybe) 14-in. configurations. The latter seems unusual given the 13-in. M1 MacBook Pro is less than a year old, but I’m willing to bet any size increase will be enabled by slimmer bezels and a design similar to the new iPad Pro.

What about battery life?

The current 16-in. model delivers up to 11 hours “wireless web; while the 13-in. M1 gives up to 17. I’m anticipating battery life will increase on strength of a MacRumors report saying the batteries in both models will be on par with their existing counterparts.

However, we know the Intel chip used inside 16-in. MBP’s consumes far more power than M-series processors, so longer battery life, brighter screens and outstanding performance-per-watt will feature here. These Macs will be whisper-quiet — except when playing music through the much-improved six-speaker audio system.

What about the display?

There is some expectation Apple will introduce Mini LED displays in these Macs. This would make for brighter, more power efficient screens. However, there has been a great deal of speculation that these displays may not be available in sufficient quantities yet. (Recall how constrained the iPad Pro with Mini LED has become.)

Bear in mind, however, that the latest Digitimes report suggests Mini LED displays may be available in larger quantities later this year, perhaps a few weeks after WWDC. Apple may not introduce Mini LED displays this year, but if it does the Macs may ship a few weeks later than the developer show.

What about the webcam?

Last month, developer Dylandkt made waves with claims the M1X-powerred MacBook Pros will feature a 1080p webcam. At last.

What about the TouchBar?

Everyone thinks the TouchBar will be abandoned. That seems a shame given how useful it promised to be. You’ll still have Touch ID.

What about the interconnects?

Expect an SD card reader, three Thunderbolt USB-C ports, an updated MagSafe port, and an HDMI port. Given the cost of these Macs, many of us will be pleased to see the return of the port-protecting MagSafe connector.

One more thing…

We keep hearing Apple may offer a redesigned high-end Mac mini equipped with the M1X processor. This is thought to be slimmer than the existing model, may offer additional Thunderbolt/USB 4 slots, and perhaps deploy a MagSafe connector similar to that used in the 24-in. iMac.

If this speculation is correct, then this configuration of Mac mini will be an incredibly good value Mac.

The existing M1 Mac mini is a really outstanding machine that handles anything I throw at it. Apple is delivering on all the promises it made with the M-series and I’m confident its new pro machines will deliver the performance pro users need to get things done.

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