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Apple M1-powered MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are same from inside, says iFixit

Apple recently launched its own ARM-based M1 chipset that powers the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

twitter-logoShubham Verma | November 20, 2020 | Updated 16:37 IST
Source: iFixit

Highlights

  • Apple's MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are not different from the inside.
  • The MacBook Air does not have a fan inside but the Pro does.
  • The M1 chipset has a memory module that is similar to iPad's.

Apple M1 chipset-powered MacBooks are now available to buy in certain markets. It is a radical change over the previous-generation MacBooks but you will not see it on the surface because it is internal. The M1 chip replaces the Intel chipset that Apple claims is revolutionary in the PC world. Most reviews point out that the M1 chip delivers on these claims, in fact, pushes the boundaries on how fast a laptop can become. It becomes even more fascinating to know that, thanks to the latest revelations by folks at iFixit who performed full teardowns of the latest MacBook Air and MacBook Pro.

In their respective teardowns, one of the main points about MacBook Air and MacBook Pro was that they are not very much different from each other. Of course, the biggest difference between the two MacBook models is the fan that Pro has but Air is devoid of. And this difference has more to do with the performance than the size and footprint of these MacBooks. According to iFixit, the place of the fan has been taken by an aluminium heat spreader that is hanging off the logic board to dissipate the heat generated by the processor.

iFixit has noted that this system works all perfect for the MacBook Air but, in turn, introduced performance capping that is something that MacBook Pro can push through because it has a fan. "There's just not much to go wrong here. A thick cold plate over the M1 processor draws heat via conduction to its flatter, cooler end, where it can safely radiate away. Without a fan, this solution may take longer to cool off, and may cap out sooner, but by foregoing heat pipes or a vapour chamber, the sink also has more mass to saturate with thermal energy. There are no moving parts, and nothing to break. You'll want new thermal paste occasionally, and that's about it," noted iFixit in its teardown report for MacBook Air.

The MacBook Air is also a little different from its Intel-based predecessors. The battery is differently sized from its previous counterpart, along with the placement of some other components. But the overall repair process for the M1-powered MacBook Air will "remain almost totally unchanged." This means that the MacBook Air will be repaired using the same method that Apple engineers employ for the Intel-based MacBooks. Apple is also likely to charge the same fee for repairs that it does for the Intel-based MacBooks, in case the warranty has expired.

The MacBook Pro, on the other hand, has the privilege of having the fan cooling down its innards for when they get toasty while handling heavy workloads. The fan, however, is not any different from the one equipped inside the predecessor. There was speculation that the fan on the MacBook Pro will be quieter than its previous model but that is not the case.

According to iFixit, "M1 MacBook Pro's single fan is identical to the fan in the two-port Intel MacBook Pro 2020 we picked up earlier this year. Not similar—identical." But while that is true, the fan does have some noise subdued and that is because of the fact that Apple M1 chipset is very much capable of handling maximum workloads without generating much heat. "Remember, this same M1 chip performs well in the fanless MacBook Air, so this fan likely doesn't have all that much to do even under extended load."

The superstar, M1 chip, looks the way Apple has displayed it in several promotional materials. It is a 5-nanometre processor that features an 8-core design, four of which are reserved for performance cores and four for efficiency cores. The memory chips used with the M1 chip are similar to what the recent iPad models have. "If it looks familiar, it might be because you've seen one of our recent iPad teardowns. It's no surprise that Apple copied some of its own homework here. By baking RAM into the M1 package, each part of M1 (CPU, GPU, Neural Engine, etc) can access the same memory pool without having to copy or cache the data in more than one place," noted iFixit in its teardown.

But while several things are hunky-dory, Apple has not made these memory modules user-accessible. This means that they will be replaced along with the processor and there is no way you can just pluck them out from the complete module. But that is something that Apple may fix in future. This is the first generation of Apple's ARM-based chipsets. The transition from Intel to M1 will itself take around two years and that is a lot for Apple to address a few things that might be in its favour.

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