14" MacBook Pro M1 Max Review for developers and content creators

I have been using the new MacBook Pro for about a week and wanted to give you my initial thoughts from a developer & content creator perspective. If you're looking for an in-depth review full of Geekbench benchmarks you aren't going to find them here. Instead, I will share with you what I like or don't like about it some day-to-day workflows I am using it for.

๐Ÿ“– TLDR; If you are not the patient type and want me to get right to the point, here it is. This is by far the best laptop I have ever used and it has me excited for the future of Apple Silicon.

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If you are new around here I have been a software developer for over 20 years now. I have used everything from custom-built desktops to the laptop I am talking about today. I have used Linux, Windows, and macOS and for whatever reason, I have just really enjoyed my time on the mac. I also create content in the form of articles like the one you're reading now, videos for my YouTube channel, and courses that are consumed by students worldwide.

14" MacBook Pro M1 Max

This is the custom configuration I ended up ordering:

  • Apple M1 Max with 10-core CPU, 24-core GPU, 16-core Neural Engine
  • 32GB unified memory
  • 1TB SSD storage
  • 96w USB-C Power Adapter
  • 14-inch Liquid Retina XDR display
  • Three Thunderbolt 4 ports, HDMI port, SDXC card slot, MagSafe 3 port
  • Backlit Magic Keyboard with Touch ID - US English
  • Accessory Kit

When Apple announced that both the 14" & 16" would be able to be configured with pretty much the same specs It was an easy decision for me to choose the 14" model. My laptop is usually on my desk where it is hooked up to 2 external monitors so the screen size wasn't important. If you're curious about the monitors or other peripherals found on my desk here are a few:

What's on my desk:

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When I am not sitting at my desk I am using my standing desk or I am on the move and I appreciate the portability. When I am on the go whether it's doing some work at a coffee shop or traveling I like the smaller form factor.

Those were my initial thoughts when ordering the laptop and I'm super happy I went with the 14". It's a really great size and it's got a little weight to it which, in a pro machine I appreciate. The XDR display is nothing short of amazing. Speaking of the display I heard a lot of people complaining about the notch and I can honestly say that after a day or two I haven't noticed it at all. When you move an app into full-screen it's totally gone and when you're not in full-screen it's not a distraction.

The keyboard is new and so far it's been a great experience. Usually, I prefer using my external keyboard (Apple Magic Keyboard) but I actually prefer typing on this one. The keys are smooth and have made for a really good typing experience. I was never a big fan of the touch bar so I was excited to see the physical function keys return. There is Fn key on the lower left-hand side of the keyboard that also serves as an emoji picker which I have found to be really handy.

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I was also really happy to see the return of the ports. This laptop comes with 3 Thunderbolt 4 ports, an HDMI port, an SDXC card slot, and a MagSafe 3 port. When I'm presenting it's nice to have quick access to an HDMI port without having to use one of the many dongles I have to carry in my bag. When I am shooting a video it's nice to have quick access to an SD card reader. I think one of the knocks I heard most on the M1 laptops from a year ago was that they only had 2 Thunderbolt ports, having that extra one makes a big difference. The theme here is doing as much as we can without having to carry all of those connectors.

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MacBook Pro M1 Max Performance

Everything I have mentioned before is great but the real star of this laptop is Apple Silicon and the performance. I heard this was similar on the previous M1 laptops but the first thing you notice is how fast the laptop starts up when you open it up, almost instantly.

From day-to-day use, everything just feels smooth, fast, and snappy. The other thing I have noticed is that the fans either are not kicking on or I am just not hearing them. This isn't the case with my 2015 & 2019 MacBooks which during the wintertime double as a space heater.

Developer Productivity

I think the biggest thing I have noticed from a software developer standpoint is the speed at which everything moves. I find myself waiting around less for things to happen. It's particularly more responsive when I fire up my IDE IntelliJ and the project has to get indexed or when I have to build something. I tweeted this out recently but I pulled down the Spring Pet Clinic project and I was able to run it in 1.95 seconds.

The other thing I have found is that I am less worried about running resource-intensive applications like Chrome while I am coding. In the past, I would try and limit the number of tabs or extensions running but it's not something I am paying attention to now.

I think the build times are going to be the biggest time savers when it comes to developer productivity. I came across this tweet and thought it was right on the money. Laptops are cheaper than developers!

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Content Creator Productivity

When it comes to creating content this machine is a dream come true. The biggest improvement for me is when I am both recording and editing videos. In my previous setups whenever I would record my screen or try and live stream the fans would go into overdrive and the machine would get sluggish making it hard to multitask.

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With this machine, I am able to run my recording software (Ecamm Live) and the fans are not in my way and everything still feels snappy.

Editing videos is where I feel like I am seeing the biggest performance gains and getting back time in my day. In previous setups when I would drag footage onto my timeline It would take up to 10 seconds to render and scrubbing through footage would be choppy. Now, everything is just instant and snappy.

Finally, when it comes to exporting I have found videos that were taking me 15 min to export now take me 4-5 minutes. During the course of a day or a week, these things really start to add up!

Developer Setup

I originally wanted to create videos around each step of my setup process and quickly realized that would take way too long. I wanted to get it set up and start playing with it as soon as I could. What I have been doing over the past few years is documenting my step-by-step setup. I like doing this because it might help others and you might come across a new tool or application that can help you out. You can find the link below and as always, feedback is welcome!

new-macbook-setup/2021 at master ยท danvega/new-macbook-setup

MacBook 2021 Price

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If there is a con it's the price of these new machines, they aren't cheap. I feel pretty fortunate to even be in a position to buy one because for most of my tech life I have never been able to buy the latest tech. The only reason I am in this position is that I have a business where and it's almost the end of the year which means I am looking for tax write-offs.

I haven't actually used the MacBook Air or the MacBook M1 from 2020 but from everything I have seen and heard they are amazing machines. In fact, if you aren't creating content I might recommend going that route if the price is an issue.

That said if you are live streaming, editing video, and producing content I think it's worth every penny. I also think there is a way that you can talk your boss into buying you one if you're building larger software projects.

Conclusion

I'm usually a pretty patient person but I don't like waiting for my computer to perform builds or exports videos. While we haven't reached the ultimate goal of instant gratification It is incredible what this machine can do. I think the biggest thing for me is that this is only the 2nd iteration of this chip. I am excited about the future of Apple Silicon and can't wait to see what they do next!

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Dan Vega

Dan Vega

Iโ€™m a Husband, Father, Curriculum Developer and maker of things from Cleveland Ohio. I created this website as a place to document my journey as I learn new things and share them with you. I have a real passion for teaching and I hope that one of blog posts, videos or courses helps you solve a problem or learn something new.