The New Apple Silicon Machines Are Here

Credit: Apple
Apple has announced its new lineup of ARM-powered Mac machines, available next week.

Back in June, Apple finally announced something rumored for years. They are moving to ARM-based processors for their Macintosh systems.

This is huge news for a lot of reasons, the biggest of which is that apps are going to be able to move seamlessly between mobile devices, laptops, and desktops. This will make life much easier for developers (once everything gets up to speed) and will have some benefits for filmmakers, with some of our favorite filmmaking apps like Artemis.

But the big question for filmmakers is will these new chips have the horsepower to handle professional workflows, which are more demanding than running iOS apps?

Credit: Apple

Today, Apple announced its lineup of new Apple Silicon powered computers, running on the new M1 chip. They're starting with a relatively low-powered lineup, with a MacBook Air, a 13" MacBook Pro, and a Mac Mini. These machines are less common with filmmakers, who tend to lean more towards the 16" MacBook Pro and the Mac Pro.

However, the promise Apple is making here is that these machines should have the horsepower required for even tasks like video editing, even though they are more affordable.

Credit: Apple

The machines most interesting to filmmakers are the Mac Mini and the 13" MacBook Pro. The Mac Mini has always been an underrated machine, especially since it has a T3 port, so you can attach an eGPU for more horsepower if you need it. The last generation even offered 10GB Ethernet and workable graphics.

The new version is offering six times the graphics horsepower of the previous version, while keeping all the original ports, meaning both USB-C/T3 and also original USB-A ports, along with an Ethernet port.

Best of all, it starts at only $699, which makes it an actually affordable Apple system. 

Credit: Apple

They have also refreshed the 13" MacBook Pro, which remains popular with film students and some filmmakers for its smaller footprint compared to the more powerful 16" machine.

While we've traditionally recommended going for the larger machine for its discrete GPU, in recent years the 13" Pro has worked harder to earn its Pro nomenclature, and this revision shouldn't slow. They've finally added the studio quality microphone that the 16" got in 2019, which is a welcome addition (it really does sound very nice) and have added better video quality to the camera for video conferencing.

They have also improved the speed on the internal SSDs and claim up to twice the speed in accessing data. That should make apps open more quickly and should make dealing with internally stored media even faster.

Credit: Apple

The MacBook Air is really intended just for writers and executives, but it's worth mentioning since it will have an absolutely insane battery life due to the low power use of the M1 chips. They expect 18 hours of use, which is absolutely astounding for such a lightweight machine and should power you through a long writing session on a train or somewhere else without a wall adapter.

The machines also feature Thunderbolt/USB 4. USB 4 is in many ways just the expansion of Thunderbolt 3 speeds (up to 40gb/s) to a wider array of users. This is exciting since we're likely to see some interesting devices come about that take advantage of that bandwidth without the price premium you typically pay for certified Thunderbolt products. As NVME storage media gets cheaper and cheaper, a USB 4 storage device stands a shot at being both affordable and absolutely blazing fast.

That is it for now. While some were expecting that there might be a 16" MacBook Pro, that never seemed likely. Apple has announced a two-year program for moving to exclusively ARM systems, and it was always going to start with the smaller systems before we see the more powerful machines running on new chips. The 16" is their marquee device and it seems more likely that it will come next fall.

Will these be powerful enough to run filmmaking software? Apple is claiming some pretty impressive numbers here.

We were surprised to discover that the previous generation 13" MacBook Pro was actually powerful enough for editing 4K ProRes footage. They're claiming 5X graphics performance in the new model compared to the previous model, which, if true, should make this plenty powerful enough for film students and filmmakers in a variety of workflows. Not the machine to edit an 8K RED RAW project in, but definitely enough horsepower for film work.

That, in a laptop that starts at $1299, is amazing.

Credit: Apple

Also interesting is that Apple is talking about RAM as unified memory, meaning it's designed to be accessible to both either the CPU or the GPU, instead of having separate memory for those chips. As more of the work processing video moves to the GPU, this offers a huge potential processing bonus.

As we discussed back in June when this was announced, for these machines to really deliver for filmmakers comes down to the success of Rosetta 2, the software that Apple has created to enable users to run vintage Intel software on the new systems. While most mainstream apps will be fully running on the new chips at launch, filmmakers love weird old software. We're looking forward to getting our hands on the system as soon as we can and evaluating them in terms of how well older plugins and software run in the new environment.

The new MacBooks will be available next week.     

Your Comment

8 Comments

None of the new Apple machines introduced today are good enough for video editing. They only go up to 16 GB of RAM. Premiere does just about ok in that amount, but if you add AE, it needs more RAM (they suggest 24-32 GB). Resolve runs better at 32 GB of RAM, and they suggest 64 GB if also using Fusion.

The biggest, and least mentioned problem is that this quoted amount of RAM is a UNIFIED ram, not just RAM for apps. What this means is that the graphics card, and other parts of the machine (e.g. neural engine chips), share that RAM. Mac/iOS might not need more than 8 GB of RAM to run itself and simple apps, but video editing apps require a lot more. Resolve throws 'out of VRAM' errors if you try to add effects on a 4k video, on anything less than a 6-8 GB VRAM gfx card, for example. And people should not have illusions that their eventual native ports of these apps would auto-magically require less V/RAM.

So, yeah. This is a major disappointment for editors. I held high hopes, because the Apple gfx chipsets are the only ones in the market that can hardware-decode 4:2:2 in 10bit h.265 (as found on the new Canons and A7S III), but the amount of RAM they offer is just not suitable for video editing. They needed to offer the option of 64 GB of unified memory for this to be workable.

EDIT: Was just discussing that with my husband, who's a software engineer, and he had the same gripe. You need 32 GB of RAM to run Xcode properly. So with the unified memory model, he'd also need 64 GB to get the same ability as before. Sure, Apple might release some Mac Pro or some expensive iMac with much RAM, but having the MacBook Pro at least not even reach as much RAM, is just weak planning from Apple.

November 10, 2020 at 1:47PM, Edited November 10, 2:03PM

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Eugenia Loli
Filmmaker, illustrator, collage artist
742

As a filmmaker who still regularly uses his Macbook Pro 2013 when on the go, I find it hard to believe you're a serious editor. Most of the problems you have above can be solved with a better workflow. There's nothing wrong with using proxies. If you can't tell stories with just 16GB of RAM then 64GB will not help you. That said, this is obviously a very low-risk rollout by Apple by updating first it's low-end machines. It makes sense and I fully expect them to roll out much more interesting machines next year.

November 11, 2020 at 11:01AM, Edited November 11, 11:04AM

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Noah Leon
Filmmaker @ Moosefuel Media
477

It would be a tragedy to create proxies when the machine can actually playback these files without a hiccup speed-wise, and only have to use proxies just to save 2-4 GBs of RAM. Besides, proxies won't save you when you do the final export. You will still need the full required VRAM to export. And Resolve is quite slow on 16 GB of RAM. Blackmagic themselves suggest 32gb of ram for resolve, or 64 for fusion if also using that. I've tried both configurations, and the 32GB laptop is by far the faster of the two. 16 GB laptop lags.

November 11, 2020 at 11:52AM

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Eugenia Loli
Filmmaker, illustrator, collage artist
742

To add onto letdowns, the 2018 Mac Mini had 4(!!!!!) Thunderbolt 3 ports and you were able to go up to 64gb of ram! This new version only has 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports, maxes out at 16gb ram and you can't even get a 10gig ethernet port added on. WTF APPLE

November 10, 2020 at 2:47PM, Edited November 10, 2:47PM

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Taylor Morgan
Contract Filmmaker
148

Oh and don't forget breaking in all the reconfigured software we depend on. I made sure to get a good MBP before they switch chips, don't need the headaches of bugs and emulation. No thanks.

November 10, 2020 at 7:50PM

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This article almost willfully ignores Apple's own positioning statements for this crop of machines. They highligh four market segments: home office, gaming, music production, and digital signage and art. Which of those covers video editing? NONE!

I'm sure that subsequent models will address, and when they do, Apple will shout that from the rooftops. But today, it's Digital Signage-level video ability. It's home office-level video capability. It's music production-level video capability. It's "Do you want to play a funny game?"-level video capability.

NFS: please be a bit more critical in your editorial viewpoint!

November 11, 2020 at 5:00AM

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Seem like nice machines, but of course as filmmakers we are hoping for something a little beefier, and of course they started with lower-end, less demanding machines because it is much lower risk. I fully expect some cool Mighty-Macs next year.

November 11, 2020 at 10:56AM

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Noah Leon
Filmmaker @ Moosefuel Media
477

Nice! now they are completely useless. After reading many resources they will not be able to take on the power of an eGPU because once again apple has blocked out GPU's altogether now. No NVIDIA, No AMD... and on top of that maxing the ram on these machines at 16gb. They had opened the gates for us with eGPU support to only put us back in bondage. It was a plan and its the same with history... they make you feel like you are free to only remind you that they are still in control of the market. On top of that who knows what software would be no longer compatible and those that will need to spend a year working out the kinks. I tilt my hat to the innovation but you can not close the door on a path already paved. It's pretty silly...

November 12, 2020 at 8:13AM

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Mustafa Johnson
Director/Videographer/Editor
134