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MacBook Pro, MacBook Air, Mac Mini run on Apple's self-designed M1 silicon

The company has integrated its first chips for Macs across its computer lineup. And the devices sport long battery life.

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The new MacBook Air features Apple's first processor for its computers, the M1. 

Apple

Apple's long breakup with Intel is official. The tech giant on Tuesday unveiled its first Mac computers that use Apple's own silicon -- the MacBook Air, Mac Mini and 13-inch MacBook Pro. The devices all sport improved battery life and either cost the same or less than their Intel-powered older siblings. 

The computers' designs are essentially the same but feature something very different inside: Apple's new M1 processor. The MacBook Air will start at $999 for the general public -- the same price as the older version -- or $899 for educators. The Mac Mini will retail for $699, which is $100 lower than the previous generation. And the MacBook Pro will start at $1,299, or $1,199 for educators, the same level as before. Preorders begin Tuesday, and the computers arrive Nov. 17. 

"The Mac is having its best year ever," Apple CEO Tim Cook said during the event. "More customers than ever are choosing the Mac." 

The computers use Apple's new M1 processor. It's based on 5-nanometer technology, the most advanced semiconductor manufacturing technology in the world. The M1 has an eight-core CPU -- four performance and four efficiency cores -- and an eight-core GPU, making it both powerful and battery efficient, said Johny Srouji, Apple's senior vice president of hardware technologies. It's twice as powerful as a rival laptop chip (likely one from Intel) while consuming a quarter of the battery life, he said. 

The MacBook Air has 15-hour battery life for wireless web browsing and 18 hours for movie playback, while the 13-inch MacBook Pro can surf the internet for 17 hours on a single charge or play back video for 20 hours -- 10 hours longer than its predecessor. 

And Apple customized Mac OS Big Sur "to fully take advantage of all the capability and power of M1," said Apple's head of software, Craig Federighi. The software is available for Mac users Thursday. 

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Apple made the announcement during its third event in the past three months. The tagline for the latest launch was "One More Thing." It followed September's introduction of the revamped iPad Air and Apple Watch Series 6 and October's unveiling of the iPhone 12 lineup

Apple silicon for Macs is the latest effort by the company to control all of the hardware and software on its products. It designs its own application processors that act as the brains of its iPhones and iPads, a Bluetooth chip that quickly links its AirPods to its iPhones, and security chips that protect personal data and biometrics from hacking attempts. By designing its own chips, Apple is able to better control the features it releases, as well as better manage the timeline for introducing new devices. 

"With the move to in-house capabilities, Apple is looking to regain control over the pace of the technology road map on the processor chips, and create a common architecture across all Apple products, making it easier for developers to write and optimize applications for the product ecosystem," JPMorgan analyst Samik Chatterjee noted.

Apple's breakup with Intel

Apple has used Intel chips in its computers for over a decade, when it moved away from its previous partner, IBM. That decision changed the PC industry and helped Intel become the world's dominant computer chipmaker. But Intel has stumbled in recent years. It has struggled to move to the highest-end processor technology, and it abandoned its efforts in mobile chips and sold its 5G phone modem business to Apple last year. At the same time, Apple's been working on processors to replace Intel's chips in Mac computers for several years. 

Losing Apple as a customer will deal a big blow to Intel but will give Apple more control over the features and release date of its computers. While Macs make up only a small percentage of the total PC market -- 8.5 percent in the third quarter, according to IDC -- Apple remains one of the biggest and most powerful companies in technology. Macs tend to command higher prices than Windows-based PCs, and while many PC companies have seen their market share slide, Apple's has been rising. 

The new Apple silicon-based computers are expected to have a big advantage over Intel machines when it comes to battery life. They will also go up against new Windows machines that have been designed to be more like mobile devices. Qualcomm has partnered with Microsoft and PC makers like Asus to create what it calls always-on PCs, but the devices haven't sold in huge numbers. They may have great battery life and constant connectivity, but they haven't been able to match the performance of processors from Intel and AMD. 

Apple's newest Macs come as millions of people around the globe upgrade their computers for working or learning from home. Laptops have been selling well across the board. In the third quarter, global notebook and mobile workstation shipments soared 28% from the previous year, helping push overall PC shipments up 13% to 79.2 million units, according to Canalys. Shipments reached levels not seen since 2011, the firm said. 

While Apple has updated three of its computers, its highest-end Macs are sticking with Intel chips, at least for now.

The revamped Mac lineup

The new MacBook Air is three times faster than the best-selling Windows laptop on the market and is faster than 98% of all PCs notebooks sold in the past year, said Laura Metz, Mac product line manager. It sports a 13.3-inch retina display and doesn't need a fan to cool the machine. 

"With M1 and Big Sur, we've taken the MacBook Air and transformed it into something far beyond any other notebook," she said. 

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Apple's first computers with its M1 processor are the MacBook Air, 13-inch MacBook Pro and Mac Mini.

Apple

The Air contains a 49.9-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery and comes with a 30-watt USB-C power adapter. There are two versions of the computer, with the higher-end product retailing for $1,249. And it's available in three colors: gold, silver and space gray.

The Pro and the Air are similar to each other. Both have two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. They come with 8GB of RAM and can be upgraded to 16GB, and the solid state drives start at 256GB and can be configured up to 2TB. Both machines also have 720p FaceTime HD cameras and TouchID sensors to unlock them. 

The Pro has a slightly better screen, better speakers, bigger battery (58.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery) that boosts the battery life by two hours over the Air, and comes with a 61-watt USB-C power adapter. It's slightly heavier than the Air, weighing 3 pounds versus the Air's 2.8 pounds. 

It comes in silver or space gray options, and the higher-end version retails for $1,499. The Intel versions of the MacBook Pro cost $1,799 and $1,999.

The Mac Mini, meanwhile, also comes in two versions, for $699 and $899. It packs in 8GB of RAM that's configurable up to 16GB, and the SSD starts at 256GB and goes up to 2TB. The Mini has a built-in speaker, 3.5mm headphone jack, two Thunderbolt/USB-4 ports, two USB-A ports, an HDMI 2.0 and a gigabit ethernet port. The Intel version retails for $1,099. 

CNET's Alfred Ng contributed to this report.

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