Apple M1 or Intel

I’m sorry if this question already exists on this forum, but my computer is not in good shape and I need to buy a new one ASAP. I’ve had a Mac for years, so will likely stick to Mac as I’m already quite entrenched. I am a new graduate student and I will be doing quite a bit of image analysis. A lot of it will be done on in-lab PCs with faster processing, but for basic things like writing Python scripts, viewing or analyzing data in napari or Fiji, I hope to use my Mac.

I am wondering what problems people have run into with the Apple M1 chip and whether others would advise sticking with the Intel chip for now, even if they will be obsolete in the future. Thanks in advance for any insights!

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Oh boy what a can of worms.

I’ve heard and seen great things about M1 macs, BUT if you are planning to need a lot of memory beware! They are limited to at most 16GB RAM, and should a process need more they’ll magically use space on their SSD for that. That is not much a problem in terms of performance, as far as I understood, but it generates lots more read/write for the SSD than normal usage. The question that nobody has of today answered is whether that is so much more to compromise the longevity of the drive, as SSDs have a life span of a certain number of read and write operations. If you know you’re not dealing with huge files so often, that’s one less concern!

I had to choose whether to go for M1 or Intel right the week the M1 were revealed, I ended up choosing Intel, mostly as I read that M1 were not supporting multiple displays. I didn’t have the courage to check if it’s still the case nowadays :slight_smile: but I’d recommend you to find out in case that could be an issue as well.

My 2 euro cents, in case it can help! I can’t say if the software is all already 100% functional on Big Sur, hopefully someone else can.

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Thanks for your response! Definitely helpful to think about the RAM.

And yikes, that sounds like an even rougher time to make the decision!

You should also consider support from Apple. I am not an Apple User, but from the sidelines it seems like Apple is all-in on M1 and afaik they have not been too specific about how many years they will continue to support Intel CPUs for.

Thank you! I was thinking about this too. I bet support lasts less time for the Intel chip macs being sold now.

Just fyi right now people have had mixed success with napari on M1. @AlisterBurt has it working but @uschmidt83 gave up. See this Zulip thread for more (requires free login):

It does look like Apple has knocked it out of the park with performance-per-watt with M1, but I would still be wary of an M1 Mac for scientific software. :man_shrugging: Sorry!

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Also, re: support, Apple typically support laptops for 7 years, and they are still selling Intel laptops today, so I wouldn’t worry too much about obsolescence.

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Thanks so much and sorry for my delayed reply! I ended up going with the Intel chip and may upgrade sooner than I normally would. Luckily, I had a budget from my program to help fund my laptop purchase :).

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I conducted several neuroimaging benchmarks of the M1 versus competing Intel and AMD CPUs. In addition to stand-alone applications, I evaluated Python and R. I also list some of the transient and inherent weaknesses of the this platform. This might help other scientists making these decisions.

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