Teardown of M1-powered MacBook Air and Pro shows very little has changed

The new M1-powered MacBooks promise a computing revolution, but it seems that said revolution is entirely concentrated into the M1 chip. The rest of the laptop is more or less the same.

iFixit took apart the new MacBook Air and MacBook Pro and put them side by side with the Intel-powered models that they replace. And, well, see for yourself, you’d be hard pressed to say what has changed. Even the fan in the Pro is the exact same component.

MacBook Pro: Intel (left)
MacBook Pro: M1 (right)
MacBook Pro: Intel (left) • M1 (right)

Why is it much quieter than the Intel version then? Simple, the Apple M1 is so efficient it barely needs a fan in the first place, so Apple kept the RPM low to reduce the noise.

Speaking of not needing a fan, the new MacBook Air doesn’t and so Apple swapped it with an aluminum block to guide heat away. There is no heat pipe here, just a plain block of metal. It’s a testament to M1’s efficiency that this is even possible. Some of Apple’s older designs, the ones with Intel processors, had poor cooling and suffered from thermal throttling.

MacBook Air: Intel (left) MacBook Air: M1 (right)
MacBook Air: Intel (left) • M1 (right)

Finally, a close-up of the star of the show, the M1 chip. There are two other chips position as closely to it as possible – that is the RAM, two 4 GB LPDDR4X chips by SK Hynix. This is an optimal design from an engineering standpoint as frequency signals don’t like to travel a long distance. However, the disadvantage of this design is that the RAM is not user-serviceable.

A close-up of the Apple M1 chipset Note the two RAM chips right next to it
A close-up of the Apple M1 chipset • Note the two RAM chips right next to it

Not a disadvantage in Apple’s view, of course, the last Intel-powered Air also had soldered RAM. Not because it had to, because it could. By the way, this design with the chipset and RAM nestled together can be seen in the iPads too, M1’s mobile heritage is evident.

One chip you won’t find in the new laptops is the T2 security chip. It’s no longer needed as its functionality has been integrated into the M1 itself.

Anyway, it’s interesting to note that the MacBook Air and the Pro have different motherboards. We wondered if this will be an iPhone 12/12 Pro situation where it’s basically the same hardware, save for the extra camera. That is not the case, as it turns out.

We can understand why Apple kept changes to a minimum. The transition to its own silicon was already a massive hardware and software undertaking, so any changes not related to getting macOS to run on an Apple-designed ARM chip would have been an unnecessary risk.

Check out iFixit’s teardown for more details on how the M1 Macs were put together.