ICYMI: An in-depth look at Apple's MacBook Air M1

Plus, AMD's latest Radeon GPUs are solid -- with one specific flaw.

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Amber Bouman
November 21st, 2020
Apple MacBook Air M1
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Although there weren’t quite as many new products to review this week as there were in the previous couple of weeks, the devices we did get our hands on were impressive. We put Apple’s new MacBook Air with M1 system-on-chip to the test, as well as AMD’s latest graphics cards, the Radeon 6800 and 6800XT. The gist for both is that they’re powerful and quite competitive. The new MacBook Air runs like similarly to an iPad Pro, which is to say that it’s speedy and smooth and now silent thanks to its new fanless design. The GPUs are strong competitors in the gaming space with excellent performance and good cooling. We’ve collected the week’s reviews here, so read on to learn more about each new device.

The MacBook Air M1 is fast, smooth and fanless

Apple MacBook Air M1
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

Apple has been working towards the MacBook Air M1 for a while now; the company has spent a decade building its own mobile chips and the M1 is their first system-on-a-chip for their laptop line. Much like their mobile devices, the M1 provides users with a smooth, unified experience between hardware and software. Devindra Hardawar said it reminded him of working on an iPad Pro; start up time was instantaneous, apps were immediately responsive and even bogged-down web pages loaded easily in Safari. He was particularly impressed with his gaming experiences, an area where Apple’s laptops usually feel insufficient. 

An eight-core chip based on ARM design, the M1 SoC will require developers to rebuild software to take full advantage of its processing power. However Apple has included a Rosetta 2 emulator in the M1 laptop so users can still run older Intel x86 based apps. The physical build of the MacBook Air M1 is similar to its predecessor: lightweight at 2.8 pounds with a sturdy unibody case, a keyboard with good depth and the same impressive 13.3 inch Retina display. The only features that Devindra found lacking were the 720p webcam and the number of USB-C ports. 

And to top it off, the new MacBook Air is already a bit cheaper than it started out. Amazon cut $50 from the price of the 512GB gold model, bringing it down to $1,199. It’s not a huge discount, but it’s better than nothing on a brand new laptop.

The Radeon 6800 and 6800XT are AMD’s new heavyweight GPUs

AMD Radeon 6800 6800XT
Devindra Hardawar / Engadget

There’s been a great deal of back and forth in the AMD/NVIDIA battle for who gets space in your PC build, and AMDs latest throw-down is the Radeon RX 6800 line. Devindra Hardawar found two of the three new GPUs (RX 6800 and the 6900 XT) to be high-end, solid competitors that provide excellent gaming performance and efficient cooling. All three cards feature the same RDNA architecture that is found in the PlayStation 5 and both the Xbox Series X and Series S. 

Both cards feature more RAM than the competition: 16GB of GDDR6 memory vs the 10GB found on NVIDIA’s RTX 3080 and the 8GB on the NVIDIA 3070. Devindra found the 6800 XT to be incredibly fast, though it didn’t quite beat the ray-tracing performance on the NVIDIA card. Likewise, his testing found the RX 6800 capable of outperforming the RTX 3070 and easily able to handle 4K gaming — but again, the ray-tracing performance left him underwhelmed. And at $579 for the RX 6800 and $649 for the 6800 XT, both GPUs are clearly priced to compete with NIVIDA’s offerings.

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