M1 MacBook Teardown Reveals Surprising Similarities Between New and Outgoing Models

iFixit M1 MacBook Teardown Credit: iFixit
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As Apple’s new M1-equipped Macs begin to land in customers’ hands, iFixit has naturally gone through and started its customary teardowns of the new MacBooks, revealing surprising similarities between the new models that feature Apple’s own Silicon and the Intel models that came before.

In fact, as iFixit’s teardowns reveal, the new designs really are all about Apple’s M1 chips, with little else having changed from their Intel predecessors.

In fact, in the case of the new 13-inch MacBook Pro, iFixit noted that the internal designs were so similar that they found themselves questioning whether they had purchased a new MacBook Pro rather than an old one; it wasn’t until they dug inside and found the new smaller logic board with the M1 chip on it that they were able to breathe a sigh of relief and confirm that they did in fact have an Apple Silicon version.

Notably, however, iFixit indicates that the new MacBooks don’t have the consolidation of MacBook parts and design that they had expected to see. Whereas the iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro use many interchangeable parts — especially on the two 6.1-inch models — the new MacBook Pro and MacBook Air still “hail from completely different evolutionary lines.”

Less Is More

In fact, in the case of the MacBook Pro, even the thermal design remains identical to the prior Intel model, despite the fact that the new Apple Silicon M1 chip quite obviously runs a great deal cooler than its Intel counterparts.

This is evidenced by the fact that the biggest change that iFixit found — other than the logic board itself, of course — was in the MacBook Air, which no longer includes the fan found in the prior Intel model.

The biggest physical change to either of these machines is also the punniest: The Air no longer actively moves air.

iFixit

Instead, the MacBook Air now features a simple aluminum heat spreader that hangs off the edge of the logic board, and while iFixit concedes that there’s some room for skepticism, as the Intel MacBook Air has had a poor history of thermal management, but of course the M1 also heralds an entirely new era of cooler chips, and of course we’ve already seen how unnecessary fans are in Apple’s ultra-powerful A-series chips found in its iPad Pro.

So as iFixit notes there’s no need to worry that the fan is “the new headphone jack” — the removal of a component for the sake of making an even slimmer and lighter design rather than engineering.

In this case, both Apple’s iPad Pro and early reviews of the new MacBooks have suggested there the new thermal arrangement really is enough to handle the M1 chip, and of course from iFixit’s perspective, this is ultimately a win as it’s one less point of mechanical failure, and means less maintenance overall.

Will anyone actually miss having to open their laptop to de-gunk or replace a dusty old fan? Maybe somebody will. Maybe even us. But let’s be real: the best repair is the one you never have to make in the first place.

iFixit

Beyond the new logic board and cooling system, however, the rest of the MacBook Air remains identical to the Intel version. Although it does use a new model of battery, the specs are “minimally different” and the overall repair procedures should basically be identical to the prior model.

In the case of the MacBook Pro, there are even fewer differences, since that model still includes a fan, with an extremely similar cooling setup to that found on Intel models — a copper pipe to carry the heat way from the M1 chip toward a small heat sink that’s adjacent to the fan.

In fact, even though early reviews have pointed out how remarkably quiet the fan is on the new MacBook Pro, it seems that this is not the result of any magical new cooling technology — the single fan in the M1 MacBook Pro is identical in every way to the two-port MacBook Pro 2020 that it replaces. It’s not merely similar — it’s exactly the same fan.

iFixit speculates that the reason the fan is so much quieter in the M1 MacBook Pro is simply that it never needs to spin quite as fast as it did on the Intel models. Since the MacBook Pro uses the same M1 chip as the fanless MacBook Air models, the fan simply doesn’t have all that much to do, even under the heaviest loads.

The M1

Of course the high point of the entire teardown is the introduction of the actual logic board containing Apple’s phenomenal new M1 chip, which is smaller overall than prior logic boards.

Notably, the integrated “Unified Memory Architecture” memory on the M1 chip is actually visible as two small silicon rectangles next to the shiny silver chip, with includes either 8GB or 16GB of RAM, depending on the configuration ordered. It’s the same design used with the A-series chips in Apple’s iPads, so it’s not really a big surprise, but of course it pretty much closes the door on every having user-upgradable RAM in Apple Macs.

Granted, Apple’s MacBooks haven’t offered this ability for years, but Apple’s Intel Mac mini did; this is no longer the case for the M1 Mac mini, and we can expect the same to happen with future desktop Apple Silicon Macs such as the iMac; only the Mac Pro remains a question mark here, and it’s likely something that Apple is still trying to figure out.

The logic board still contains a supporting cast of chips, although these have been reduced in the transition to the M1, notably excluding the separate T2 chip which of course has now been baked into Apple’s Silicon. Despite Apple’s consolidation of many functions into the M1, however, secondary chips are still used for Wi-Fi 6, Bluetooth 5.0, SSD flash storage, and power management.

At this point, iFixit has only done a preliminary teardown, so it hasn’t yet assigned a repairability score for the new MacBooks, although it suggests that they’re going to be difficult to repair outside of Apple’s own service provider network, however it’s also hard to argue with the design tradeoffs in terms of what Apple has actually accomplished here, and it’s not like Apple hasn’t been making difficult-to-upgrade computers for years, so arguably this is just the next step in that evolutionary process.

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