My first computer with an Intel 286 processor was three decades ago, and my last was the MSI gaming laptop I split the cost of with my son featuring an Intel Core i7-11800H. In between I’ve had various flavours of Intel and AMD CPUs, overclocked most of them, and all have behaved in basically the same way: the harder you push them, the more power they need, the more heat they generate, and the louder the fans get to keep the chips from heat damage. As the Mandalorian would say “This is the way.”
When I recently purchased my Mac Studio with the M1 Max processor (10 CPU Cores, 32 GPU Cores), it was my first foray into the world of Apple Silicon in the desktop/laptop realm (my M1-powered iPad Pro 11 doesn’t really count). I’d been using an aging Core i7 iMac workhorse from 2015 until this purchase, and it behaved like any other machine with an Intel CPU: max speed = heat + noise. h265 video exports from Final Cut Pro would take forever.
Enter the Mac Studio. It behaves in ways I don’t understand, seemingly breaking all the rules we’ve accepted as immutable over the past 30 years. For instance, when the Mac Studio is idle, the fans spin at around 1326 rpm. In a perfectly silent room, I can hear it – but just barely. At first this irritated me slightly because my 2015 iMac was 100% silent when idle. It’s certainly not loud — the fan on my Google wireless charging stand is louder — but I can hear it.
That slight irritation faded immediately when I put the M1 Max processor under load…because what I saw didn’t make sense.
What you’re seeing above on the left is me using Handbrake to transcode a 50 GB 4K MKV file to a smaller h.265 4K 10-bit file. It’s punishing to the CPU — all cores are firing hard, but temps are only up about 20%…and the fan speed increased by a mere 12 rpm. This isn’t a one-off glitch either: I’ve done 50+ MKV transcodes on my Mac Studio and no matter how hard I push it, I never hear the fan get any louder. And the total power draw while under max load? About 52 watts. 🤯
Apple’s M-series silicon isn’t the best possible maximum performance silicon out there — the top-tier chips from Intel and AMD will match or beat it in some circumstances — but on a per-watt basis, and while staying cool and quiet…Apple has done something really special with their M-series chips and I’m thrilled with my Mac Studio so far.
My transition to being mostly Apple hardware has taken a few years, starting with an iPod Touch years ago. I still use an Android phone, but my desktop is an iMac, my laptop is a Macbook Pro, and I have three iPads in my home. My wife has inherited my trusty Dell XPS 13 though, so I still have access to a great Windows laptop. ?
I’ve decided that at this moment in my life, the benefits of what Apple offers is worth what I have to pay for it…but that doesn’t mean I can’t get a little grumpy as I watch how Apple updates – or, more accurately rarely updates their Mac product line. The iPad is, in my opinion, the best tablet you can buy today. The iPhone is an excellent product. But Apple’s Mac products? They alternate between stale to compromised, outdated to ridiculously expensive. And yet because they are the only way to get macOS, people who want to use that platform have no choice.
Above is what Apple’s site navigation looks like today. They add the word “New” in orange when there’s a product update. What would it look like though if they were a little more honest? This. ?
I’d created the graphic below months ago, so wouldn’t you know it today was the day that Apple finally put 8th gen Intel CPUs in their Touch Bar-based Macbooks and updated a few other key things (more max RAM and SSD options). The new Macbooks might have better battery life, and they might have fewer keyboard problems. We’ll see!
If you’re a Mac user, what do you wish Apple would update next?
I have a new Mac-related post coming up, but I wanted to finish off this series first (yes, it’s long overdue!). After month four, I started getting into a groove, and had fewer questions and issues – thus fewer things to write about. There were a few things though that came up, and so I give you the final entry in this series. In some cases I’ve added updates if things have changed since I first wrote these 6-10 months ago. It’s fair to say that things have smoothed out since the first six months.
Although I didn’t buy the iMac for gaming, I saw the promo for Wasteland 2 and the comments about it being similar to Baldur’s Gate, a game I used to spend hours playing. I bought it, let it install, fired it up…and squinted in dismay at the incredibly blurry text. There’s just no way around it: when you have a display showing 5120 x 2280 pixels over 27 inches of screen, and a game that caps out at only half that (2560px) you’re getting a lot of stretched pixels. The cut scenes in particular were extremely blurry; it got better once I was in the game, but even then the in-game text was pixelated. I spent about 5 minutes playing it, but the controls were awkward with the Magic Trackpad. I’m grateful for Apple’s refund policy, though it’s entirely unintuitive because the process looks like you’re asking for tech support until the final step where a refund option is presented. That’s very likely the last time I pretend an iMac with a laptop GPU and a 5K display can do any gaming. 🙂
After this post I’ll be switching to a weekly format as my explorations wind down (or become less public at any rate).
Airdrop is really interesting. On my iPad I turned it on, then on the iMac I searched for Airdrop in Spotlight. The first result was the Extensions panel as part of System Preferences, which didn’t help. Then I remembered that Airdrop was on the left Favourites panel in Finder. Sure enough, there was my iPad, and it was ridiculously easy to transfer a few JPEGs and MP4 files. So fast, and so, so much better than what I have to do on my Windows machine with a cable and iTunes. This is a very tangible example of how Apple’s ecosystem works better the more Apple stuff you have. They could of course enable iTunes to act as a Airdrop bridge on Windows, but they won’t.
I transferred a .MTS file (a type of video file) over to the iPad, and got this interesting prompt (above) saying I needed an app from the app store to open it, or I could put the file in iCloud. I selected the app option, and I’ve been staring at the app store loading for over a minute. I don’t think it worked. Interestingly, my iMac said that my iPad “declined my request.” I tried again twice more, and the “Get App” button never worked. Looks like I’ll just use Handbrake to transcode to MP4 to go this route. It would be slick if Apple did a transcode to supported formats when you did the Airdrop…
Another two days, another series of discoveries and questions. Yay for cheap(ish) RAM!
My new RAM arrived, so I was able to do the upgrade to 32 GB. This time, it worked! I didn’t want to unplug all the cables from the iMac, so after removing the power cable I performed the RAM upgrade with the iMac vertical. It was slightly tricky, but Apple put in strong guide-rails so once I got them in there a gentle push was all that was needed. When I hit the power button the first time, nothing happened. Oh, I forgot to plug the power back in. #PEBKAC Power in, power on, I mutter “Please boot…please boot….YES!”. OS X boots up, 32 GB of RAM installed. I wonder though, will it make the iMac feel any different?
I spent time time pondering the insanely great 5K display, and figuring out how hot – really hot – Apple lets this Skylake CPU get.
I’m intrigued by the way Web sites are delivering content for ultra-high resolution screens as part of a push for not only mobile responsive, but mobile adaptive (meaning not only does the layout change based on screen resolution, but different page assets are delivered). I was shocked at the clarity of this image of Samuel L. Jackson on the iMac display. Digging in, I find it’s a huge (for the web) 2200 x 1467 pixel image. That’s 3.2 megapixels! It’s 193 KB, so a bit hefty, but on a desktop or laptop, it’s fine. At 10.5 inches across on my iMac display, that’s a 252 PPI image. No wonder it looks so insanely good!
I thought at first that I couldn’t edit appointments in Calendar that were created via Exchange, because I kept looking for an edit button. Turns out I just tap what I want to change and change it. My brain evidently expects things to be more complicated than they are. 🙂
Looks like not all apps can do split-screen on a virtual desktop? I tried to put bbEdit and Word 2016 beside easy other and got the little “No you can’t” icon. I wonder if there’s a way to know before hand, or if you’re supposed to just try it and see what works?
Another two days, another batch of comments, question, thoughts and general pondering…
It’s really slick that TextEdit has a built-in spell checker – I’m guessing it’s system-wide in OS X? When I exited TextEdit, it didn’t ask me if I wanted to save the text file I had open. That was convenient for me in this case, but not prompting a user to save a file – and instead overwriting it – could be problematic in some cases
The fan in the iMac is starting to bother me a bit. It’s not loud, but it is noticeable when I’m in my office late at night and there’s no music playing. It spins at 1200 RPM when the Mac is idling; at full tile when rendering using Handbrake it hits a very loud 2747 RPM. The tone of it – that small fan tone – is a bit irksome. I’m sure a big reason why I can hear it more easily than my desktop is because the iMac is much closer to my ears, and my desktop uses bigger, slower RPM fans (I specifically installed multiple ultra-quiet 800rpm fans). I wish Apple had gone the opposite direction with cooling: instead of treating it like a laptop and putting in a tiny, loud-ish fast-spinning fan, they could have taken advantage of the larger chassis space and done something interesting. Water cooling perhaps? It’s not a deal-breaker by any means, more of a slight disappointment and a missed opportunity.
A Sunday with not much to do meant I could dig in and learn more about my iMac, but also fire up iMovie for my first video editing project on the new machine. It was a little…bumpy.
When I have three virtual desktops – email on the left, desktop in the middle, and Chrome on the right, and I’m in email and click on a link, it drops me into the Chrome virtual desktop (makes sense) but then it moves the Chrome virtual desktop over to the email virtual desktop (which makes no sense). I wonder if Apple does that to avoid the whiplash effect of going past your real desktop? I’d prefer to keep my virtual desktops in place though, because if I’m learning to lean on them when they move it defeats the purpose of the muscle memory of swipe left = email, swipe right = Chrome, etc. Is there a way to lock the virtual desktops in place?
I finally have a bit of quite time to fully edit a video in iMovie. Despite my earlier reported behaviour on import, the program is incredibly fluid and fast to edit the clips. I’ll be interested to see how it feels once I jam some 4K footage in there, and how good the 4K output quality is. Will Apple be thrifty on the bit-rate? can I even adjust it in iMovie? (yep, there’s a custom output)
I didn’t realize until now that the dock is hiding at the bottom in a virtual desktop – that’s slick.
Another two days, another batch of learnings and questions. I’ve enjoyed the feedback and comments I’ve received to my previous posts in this series (thanks Janak!), so keep them coming!
Display scaling I’m incredibly impressed that so far I haven’t come across a single app or UI element in OS X that isn’t optimized for a 5K display. This is exactly the right way to deal with high resolution displays: make it seamless to the user. You just give them the advantage of a high-res display (increased sharpness) without the headaches. Windows 10 still struggles to make highDPI mode work. Even at “only” 1080p, there are a bunch of apps on my Dell XPS 13 that have blurry text or jumbled UI elements (Evernote, 1password, etc.). I think it’s mostly because Microsoft carries the torch of “backward compatibility” which is simultaneously Windows’ strongest features and also its biggest weakness. Unless I’m wrong, Apple changed an API and told developers to support the change or their apps would break.
I’m surprised the Escape key doesn’t do what I’d expect it to in OS X. If I have an email open, I’d expect ESC to dismiss it. If I’m looking at a JPEG file in Preview, I’d expect ESC to dismiss the window. Weird that it doesn’t.