Mac Silicon Envy - Buy now or wait for 3nm

I need some buying advice and could not think of a better set of people to ask. Let me start by telling you a bit about who I am. I am a tech/gadget guy, I am an early adopter and love buying the latest tech, whether it be home automation stuff or cool desk accessories (I have a very loving and understanding wife who tolerates me). I am also a huge self-confessed Apple fan boy, I am completely bought into the Apple ecosystem (Watch, phone, iPad, MacBook, iMac, Apple TVs, HomePods, AirPods, etc).

I work in IT as an independent consultant and since Covid I mainly work from home. Before Covid my main driver was a 2016 MacBook Pro (yes I am one of those that liked the touch bar), but since I have been working from home I mainly use a 2017 iMac 27inch 5k with an i5 processor, 40gb RAM and the 1TB Fusion Drive. When I have meetings with clients I pull out my MacBook Pro and use that. Most of my files are synced with iCloud so the two machine model has worked ok for me. I don’t do any video/music editing or coding, most of my work is large MS Word documents, software architecture diagrams spreadsheets.

I saw all the amazing reviews of the M1 MacBooks and was very tempted to replace my full setup with a 14 MacBook Pro and an Apple Studio display. This would allow me to move back to a single machine (simpler maintenance and lower cost for some apps) and I could sell my iMac and give my MacBook Pro to my wife to replace her 2015 MacBook Nothing.

I would probably go for a Pro chip with 1TB of storage, can’t decide if I need 32gb RAM or 16gb will be enough (although coming from 40gb on the iMac I am leaning towards the former). I know this is probably a bit overkill for my use case but I want to future proof my setup and like the idea of having spare horsepower.

I will be getting the Apple Studio Display from the Apple Refurb site to reduce the cost (Apple have it on for £1269 regularly).

So here are the questions (finally)

  1. Will I notice a huge difference from my current Intel iMac in terms of performance and snappiness or will I end up spending £3.5k for pretty much the same setup (albeit with the machine now being portable).
  2. should I wait until next year in case the 3nm processors come out and also an update to the Studio Display.
  3. if not, should I buy a M1 MacBook Pro from the Apple Refurb site rather than the M2?
  4. Would you recommend the 32gb upgrade.

I will be putting this through my company as a business expense so will be able to claim the tax back which should help soften the blow.

1 Like

I agree with @anon20961960. If you need a new Mac buy it now. Otherwise why spend the money?

I worked in I.T. and always used 8GB ram MacBook/MacBook Pros. And none of my “typical office workers” had a Mac with more than 16GB ram. One way to see how much ram you might need is launch everything you would normally use and see how much of that 40GB is actually being used.

Even an M1 MBA will be more “snappy”, the new Macs are amazing. But Word and Excel, once open, seem to run about the same as they have for years. YMMV.

2 Likes

I’m also considering buying a new Mac M2 Mini. I am currently running on a 2013 iMac with 16GB RAM and a 2TB internal SSD that was added later.

I hit over 15GB memory in use according to the activity monitor and performance was very slow. I’ve been looking at a system with at least 32GB RAM for me and a minimum 4TB SSD because my current iMac already has a 2TB drive and I continually get messages about disk space running out with less than 20GB left. And that is after moving a bunch of regularly accessed files off onto our Synology servers. Those files comprise another TB of data. My top candidate now is an M2 Pro with 32GB memory and a 4TB SSD. Since I keep machines for a very long time I tend to want to max them out at the beginning.

3 Likes

IMHO, the big “bump” with Apple Silicon was Intel → Apple Silicon, and future years’ bumps are likely to be smaller and more incremental. Looking at Geekbench the difference between an M1 and an M2 MBA looks to be about 5-10% on their benchmarks.

So personally, I wouldn’t be worried about the upgrade in terms of a “oh, what if the new M3 comes out next year and it’s way, way faster” perspective.

8 Likes

I ran the same software as the majority of my users and never had a problem. And I never had anyone complain about their Mac/PC, as long as no one had a larger monitor than them :grinning:

I had a graphics team that ran the Adobe suite, etc. so I worked with a couple of the senior people in that department to determine their needs. Ultimately the user of a computer is the best person to decide if they have enough ram, etc.

If you can, save the money and buy a 14" M1 Pro. It doesn’t sound like you’d benefit from the M2x line. Things like app startup and IO should be way faster than your Fusion Drive.

The only bit that tells me to wait a bit is the monitor. There were a couple of interesting announcements at CES (no price but apparently confirmed to be shipping) regarding 5K/6K displays. If the pixel density is important to you, read up on those options and see if it’s worth waiting. They’re likely to be cheaper while being perfectly suitable for office work. There are also rumours about Apple refreshing the Studio display but those are just rumours at this point with not much timeline. It seems like there’s finally some evolution and potentially some competition in this space so you may want to hold off on a monitor purchase for a bit.

3 Likes

Thanks for the advice everyone. Looks like the step up will be noticeable from my iMac

3 Likes

I would not be updating for the sake of it if your current computer supports the workloads you throw at it. Are you seeing spinning beachballs on your iMac? While the performance jump from Intel to Apple Silicon is very substantial, I have both a 2018 15’’ i7 16GB MBP at home and at work I have a 2022 MBP 32GB M1 Max and in terms of “snappiness” they are basically the same, although the Intel laptop will blast the fans during summer days. It’s not that hard to find CPU intensive stuff that will show the AS prowess: for example, running Stable Diffusion obviously gives a noticeable difference, but it’s not like Intel CPUs suddenly became slower when AS launched. I would be waiting until your current computer does not efficiently support your tasks.

3 Likes

Do you want to get the Studio Display because of the Apple-Logo, or because you have a special need for that certain display?
If it is the first, I would have a lookout for an alternative display, with similar features (or even a better equipment), but a way lower price.
I run two Samsung 32’’ displays with my 2017 5K 27’', and I am absolutely fine with the quality, for a fraction of the price for a StudioDisplay.
The “Apple” could always be added as a sticker. :wink:

2 Likes

Agree. And if you buy iPhones or literally anything else Apple sells there are typically even a couple of free stickers in the box - just look for them before throwing away the paperwork. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Yes, you will notice a significant difference between any Apple processor and your Intel Mac. Normal rule of thumb used to be that it required at least 20% increase in speed for a user to notice.

As to memory, Activity Monitor is your friend. Run your normal workflow with it running and see what the memory pressure is. I have 16gb and never run into memory problems. Based on what I see when running certain tasks, I would probably see some slowdown with 8gb. Going higher than 16 would yield little, if any, benefit.

Do not wait - or you will keep waiting. There will always be something better coming up eventually (and do not read too many rumors). The Mx processors are a game changer. You will definitely notice this jump (even more so because you are not only coming from an Intel CPU, but also from a Fusion Drive).

Regarding the RAM: there are already many suggestions. I had a hard time to decide if I should go for 16 GB or 32 GB when I ordered my new Mac mini. I ordered 32 GB, right now my memory pressure is at 7%, 2.23 GB are reserved, 12.48 GB are “active”, a little more than 16 GB are free. I think that almost anyone can get by with even 8 GB, if you only need more RAM occasionally. Yes, there are other opinions. So, why did I go for 32 GB? 8 GB would have meant a lot of swapping going on given my use. 16 GB would have been enough (!), but 32 GB is getting me a lot of leeway for the future. And my choice of an M2 Pro Mac mini made the upgrade to 32 GB an easy one. The RAM upgrade comes with Apple tax :wink: , but it is feasible.

I am typing this on a Mac mini M2 Pro with 32 GB and a 1 TB SSD. It is an incredible computer. Extremely energy efficient and blazing fast. And quiet. :slight_smile:

2 Likes

Regarding the RAM-Discussions:
I wonder if there are any known evaluations regarding the dependence between faster processor, and reduced RAM-Pressure?

Yes, they are. A friend just got himself a Studio Display and an M1 MacBook Air (16GB 1TB) to replace his aging iMac Pro that has a rat’s nest of external drives hanging off it. He likes the display but pronounced himself unimpressed with the MBA and its lack of ports. He has returned the MBA and ordered an M1 Max Mac Studio (32 GB 8TB). He’s a photographer and videographer who will still need a 6TB external drive even with the 8TB of internal storage. Specs really depend on each person’s needs. :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

I don’t know of anything formal, but it’s absolutely logical.

At its root, a computer is just a stack of requests that the computer is working through as quickly as it can. And while the requests pile up waiting to be addressed, they have the potential to be consuming unnecessary RAM. So the faster the computer works through them, the faster RAM can be freed up.

If you don’t mind, which monitors? I am looking at possibly getting a pair of 32” displays.

No, I don’t mind… :grinning:

These are the displays I bought about a half a year ago, and they are doing a pretty good job for me every day.

I have them mounted on these arms

to the right and left of my iMac 27’‘.
To shorten the ways I have to go with my mouse, I placed them in the Preferences in a Triangle shape, with the 27’’ on Top, and the two Samsung below that, so I could get with the mouse from one Samsung to the other by moving sidewards, and to the 27’’ by going up.
A little bit unusual at the beginning, but after a week you got the muscle memory for that.
CleanShot 2023-02-07 at 14.01.43

2 Likes

Thank you all for your amazing advice. I came across a deal at Costco which gave around £350 off the retail price and included 2 years warranty so I could not resist. I ended up going for a 14inch MacBook Pro M2 Max with 32GB memory and 1TB storage.

I will look out for a Apple Studio Display on the Apple refurb site to complete the setup.

Looking forward to seeing what all the Apple silicon fuss is about.

Now to sell my iMac

6 Likes

Its been a few months, so I thought I would come back here and give a quick update on what I settled on.

I bought the M2 Maxbook Pro from Costco with the Max chip but found it an overkill for my needs and I struggled to justify the £3k cost for what I was using it for. I also found that I missed the space grey (I went for silver). Right about this time my contract ended so I was out of work, I decided to return the Macbook Pro and wait a while.

A month or so later I came across a secondhand Space Grey M1 Macbook Pro with the Pro chip, 32GB RAM and 512GB SSD, I would have liked more disk space but I thought I should be able to manage with the use of external SSDs. I managed to get this for £1,225, I then bought an Apple Studio Display from the Apple Refurb store for £1,260.

So for less the price of the M2 Macbook Pro I now have an M1 Macbook Pro which has more horsepower than I am likely to need for the next few years and a nice 5K display.

7 Likes