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Review of the four-bay QNAP TS-453D NAS device with 2.5GbE networking
by Christopher White
Cloud storage is great for many things, but if you want the absolute fastest performance within your home or office, or if you just want to have more control over your data, then a NAS device is definitely the way to go. I've reviewed many such devices over the years from vendors such as Synology, Thecus, and QNAP. Today, I'm going to take a look at the QNAP TS-453D, a 4-bay NAS device that has one specific special feature: Built-in 2.5GbE for faster network performance. How does it perform? Let's find out!
Powering the QNAP TS-453D is an Intel Celeron J4125 2.0 GHz quad-core processor. By default, the device has 4GB of DDR4 RAM, but with two SODIMM memory slots, you can easily upgrade the device with up to 8GB of memory. My review unit had 4GB of RAM in it, which made virtualization testing difficult.
There's a single 120mm system fan in the back to keep theTS-453D cool. I had it running in my office for over a month and found it to be very quiet, so it won't be distracting in a home office setting. QNAP has it rated at 21.1db.
CPU Intel Celeron J4125 quad-core 2.0GHz, burst up to 2.7GHz, with AES-NI encryption Memory Up to 8GB (2x4GB) SODIMM DDR4 2400 MT/s Disk Capacity 72TB (18TB drive x 4)
Network 2 x 2.5GbE (RJ-45)
USB Ports 1x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps) in front, 3 x USB 2.0 in back, 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 1 (5Gbps) in back
NVMe Slots None Other 1xHDMI 2.0, 1xIR Sensor, 1xPCIe Gen 2 x2, 1xCopy Button Size 6.61" × 6.69" × 8.9" / 16.79 x 16.99 x 22.61cm
Weight 4.98lbs / 2.259kg
From a connectivity perspective, there are two 2.5GbE ports on the back that can be aggregated into one to improve performance. Note that you can't double your throughput from a single stream, but rather the aggregation can be used as either failover in case a switch port dies, or to improve bandwidth on multiple streams, assuming your network equipement supports this functionality.
Back in the day, there was something to talk about with the hardware installation section. It usually required unscrewing a front panel to access the drive bays, and then screwing the actual hard drives into the sleds before undoing the whole thing. Nowadays, pretty much every NAS device has easily accessilble hot-swappable drive bays and the sleds are tool-less, meaning you just snap them into place and slide them into the array.
The QNAP TS-453D falls into the latter category, with the only wrinkle being the device has a plastic shield in front of the drive bays. To remove the shield, there's a slide lock on the left side of the device that needs to be in the lower position before you're able to slide the plastic to the left in order to expose the drives. When the drives are in place, simply slide the cover back over the front - magnets help snap it in place - and then lift the slide lock up to keep it in place. It gives the TS-453D a cool look, even if it doesn't seem to offer any functional improvements, but note that it does seem to have a lot of static electricity that causes dust particles and pet dander to cling to it.
After that, simply plug in the included Ethernet cable, connect the power, and turn it on.
Initial setup is normally pretty straight forward, but I had some issues with the QNAP TS-453D.
My initial test had the NAS device as well as my PC plugged into a QNAP 2.5GbE switch. This switch was plugged into a Ubiquiti US-8-60W, an 8-port switch. The switch, in turn, is connected to a 24-port Ubiquti switch, which ultimately connects to the Synology RT1900ac router that provides addressing via DHCP.
With this configuration, my PC was able to obtain a DHCP lease, but the TS-453D was not receiving an IP address. After some troubleshooting, I disconnected the NAS from the QNAP switch and plugged it directly into the 8-port Ubiquiti switch, and the device was able to obtain an address. I had to then hardcode the IP address (something I would recommend for any server on your network anyway) before plugging it back into the QNAP 2.5GbE switch. Since then everything worked fine, but I still don't understand why it wasn't able to obtain a lease through the initial configuration, and QNAP support was stumped as well. After the initial setup, I was even able to re-configure the device to use DHCP, and everything worked fine.
Other than this minor hiccup, the initial installation was simple. After installing the QFinder Pro application on my desktop, the device was detected and I was given the option to go through the Smart Installation Guide to start the initial configuration.
The system starts by asking you to click a button to upgrade to the latest version of firmware, a process that takes several minutes to complete. The current version is QTS 4, similar to Synology's DSM 6.
Next, you follow a typical installation wizard, where you set the name of the device, set up an admin password, set the timezone, configure network addressing, and determine which file services you want to enable, a combination of SMB/CIFS, File Station, AFB, and NFS.
You're then presented with a summary page to review before clicking apply and setting up your new device.
After waiting a few minutes for the system to configure, you're done with the initial setup!
After the initial setup, the next step is to configure your disks in a way that makes the storage usable on the network. This process, like the initial setup, is also done via a wizard that walks you through each step.
When you first go into the Storage menu, you're greeted with a message noting that you have no volumes or storage pools, and are told to click the "New Storage Pool" button to begin the process.
One of the advanced features that QNAP provides is the ability to auto-tier storage. Called Qtier, it allows frequently accessed data to be automatically migrated to SSDs, while less accessed data can be moved to SATA disks. This would be a useful feature for a larger array, but for a NAS device with only four disks, most people are probably going to simply use four of the same types of disks.
After determining whether you want Qtier (you probably don't on this device), you select the disks to put into the pool and determine the RAID type. For the review, I put the four disks in a RAID-5 configuration. This means that one of the four disks is used for parity, meaning if one drive fails, I won't lose any data. It's important to remember that RAID is not a backup and that you should still have a second copy of your data somewhere else and a third copy offsite.
Next, under the Configure tab, you can enable SSD over-provisioning if you're using SSDs, and when the system should alert you regarding free space. You're then presented with a summary page telling you the settings for the storage pool before you click Create to start the process.
Now that you have a Storage Pool created, you can make one or more volumes that live in that pool. Since I only have four drives, I created a single volume.
There are three types to choose from. The more basic form is the Static Volume. It's created directly on the RAID group and has the best performance for random file access, but lacks advanced features such as snapshots, that you may want to use as part of a backup plan. The second type is a Thick Volume. This volume type provides snapshots, can be easily extended, and is what QNAP recommends for most uses. Finally, you can create a Thin Volume. This type only uses the storage space as data is written to the volume and are useful when creating multiple volumes as they ensure space is used efficiently. The prevailing theme continues here: These are awesome features for larger arrays, but for a small four-bay array, Thick Volumes are the way to go.
After selecting the volume type, you select how much of the pool is allocated to the volume, and what size blocks you want. If you're working with large files, like pictures or video, selecting a larger block size will improve performance, whereas smaller files could benefit from a smaller block size.
As with the other QNAP wizards, you're presented with a summary page that lays out all of your selections before you finalize the configuration. The actual length of time it takes to create the volume depends on the size and speed of the drives.
There used to be a time when different NAS devices had somewhat significant differences in read and write performance on a regular Gigabit Ethernet connection, but those days seem to be gone, with NAS devices practically saturating the connection.
The QNAP TS-453D is no exception. Transferring large (multi-gigabyte) files to and from the NAS device yielded 113 MB/s, while copying smaller (several megabyte) files to and from the NAS was slightly slower, clocking in at around 104 MB/s. Both are very fast and about the maximum you can expect from the network.
Where things get interesting is with the TS-453D's built-in 2.5GbE NIC. In theory, this promises 2.5x the performance, assuming you have a network that supports these speeds. For the review, QNAP sent me the QSW-1105-5T, a 5-port unmanaged switch. Since the switch is unmanaged, there's no configuration. Simply plug it into your network, and you're good to go. The QSW-1105-5T retails for roughly $110.
After running through a series of file transfers, I found that copying large files clearly showed nearly a 2.5x speed improvement. Instead of the copies capping out at 113 MB/s, I saw up to 280 MB/s, a significant improvement. When it came to copying small files, the increase was only 2.2x, increasing from 102 MB/s to 222 MB/s, but that's still a great bump in performance.
If you want to upgrade your network to support 2.5GbE, you'll be extremely happy with the performance of the QNAP TS-453D.
I first explored QNAP's virtualization in the TS-451 back in 2014, and it's clear the company has improved the user experience since then. To get started, simply download the VirtualizationStation from the App store.
The first difference I realized was that there's no longer a need to use the second NIC to access the virtual machines, a welcome improvement. After installing VirtualizationStation or ContainerStation, the system automatically creates virtual switches that manage the internal networking of the devices.
The entire interface of VirtualizationStation 3 has streamlined the process extremely well. In addition to creating your own VMs, there's a VM Marketplace. Similar to the QNAP App store, these marketplace has ready-to-use appliances. To use one, simply select it, provide some basic information like the name, CPU cores, and memory, and QNAP takes care of the rest.
VirtualizationStation also has a button on the main page to "Try a free Windows VM" for browser testing. Clicking this automates the process of downloading a Windows 7 or Windows 10 image with a specific version of Internet Explorer or Edge for your testing. Alternatively, you could use this as a way to build a secure browsing environment, similar to the process I described using VirtualBox.
If full operating systems aren't your thing, you can look into QNAP's ContainerStation, which allows you to pull Docker images from any registry (Docker Hub by default). Simply type what you want and the image is automatically pulled down.
Since I only had 4GB of RAM in the review unit, virtualization was difficult. By default, the Windows 10 image wanted to use 4GB of RAM itself, but after accounting for the QNAP OS, I only had three to spare. I was able to modify the requirements, but that negatively impacts performance: It took over two minutes to boot up the Windows 10 VM. It also means that, unless you're running small instances, you won't be able to do much with the virtualization unless you upgrade to 8GB of RAM.
The review has really only touched upon the main features of QTS, but there are many more I haven't looked at, such as iSCSI targets, snapshots, and HDMI output. There are also a wide variety of apps to make the NAS device do whatever you want, from serving up music and photos, to running a full-fledged Content Management System with Joomla. Many of these features (like Joomla) probably require a much bigger box, but the point is that the only limit to a NAS is your imagination.
Running QTS feels very similar to Synology's DSM, but there are some key differences. From my experience, the DSM interface is a little cleaner and more streamlined, whereas QTS has more features provided front and center. For example, snapshots are a menu option in QTS, whereas in DSM, you have to download the Synology Replication Service. Snapshots can negatively impact performance, as QNAP states a reduction between 5 and 30 percent. Both approaches have their pros and cons.
The one (very minor) complaint I have about QTS is that applications are installed in the middle of the desktop. This means when you're using various tools, the icons are covered up and it's harder to access them, whereas DSM puts the icons on the left side of the screen, out of the way. It's a minor observation, but one that I've often thought should be user configurable.
The other observation I wanted to make is that the black plastic that covers the drive bays attracts dust like no other device I've seen. The material, especially in a Minnesota winter, has a lot of static electricity that just pulls in dust particles. So while it looks sleek right out of the box, if you have any pets at all in your house, expect their fur to cover the front within hours, if not minutes.
Finally, the QNAP TS-453D does support a PCIe Gen 2 x2 card. This can be used to provide 5GbE or even GbE. You can also purchase a QM2 card that allows installation of M.2 SSD slots if you want to add more storage. Although I haven't tested this, but unlike Synology, QTS apparently allows users to configure those drives as extra storage instead of just cache.
The QNAP TS-453D is a robust piece of hardware that supports many advanced features, although many of them won't be useful on this model due to lack of drive bays and RAM. However if you're looking for a small device for your home environment that packs great performance along with amazing transfer speeds at a reasonable price, this NAS device should be on your short list. While most people don't have a 2.5 GbE switch, adding one to your network is a relatively cheap upgrade compared to the performance increases you'll see and is definitely a worthwhile upgrade.
If you have bigger storage needs, or want to do more with virtualization or other features that require more performance, QNAP has other devices that might fit the bill.
By Rich Woods
Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook Enterprise review: A ThinkPad with Chrome OS
by Rich Woods
Lenovo's ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook Enterprise is a mouthful to say, but that's only on account of the redundant branding. Indeed, the 'C' already means it's a Chromebook, and the 'Think' already means it's a business PC, but here we are. I haven't been able to confirm this, but I suspect that it's a requirement that a portable Chrome OS PC has to have the word "Chromebook" in the name.
Anyway, if you think of this laptop as something along the lines of a ThinkPad L13 Yoga running Chrome OS, you wouldn't be too far off. There are some interesting design changes though, such as a pretty blue color that it comes in, a physical volume rocker, and USB Type-C ports on both sides of the laptop.
It also uses AMD's new Ryzen 3000C series processors, and you guessed it, the 'C' stands for Chrome OS there too. Indeed, these are basically Ryzen 3000 processors that are repurposed for Chrome OS, not that that's a bad thing.
CPU AMD Ryzen 5 3500C Graphics AMD Radeon Graphics RAM 8GB Storage 256GB Display 13.3in, FHD (1920x1080) IPS Anti-glare multi-touch - 300 nits Body 12.09x8.35x0.61-0.7in (307x212.1x15.5-17.9mm), 3.3lbs (1.497kg) Ports (2) USB 3.2 Gen 1 (Always On)
(2) USB 3.2 Type C Gen 1
(1) MicroSD card reader
(1) HDMI 2.0
(1) Microphone / Headphone Combo Jack Connectivity Intel Wi-Fi 6 AX200 + Bluetooth 5.0 Camera HD720p camera with ThinkShutter
Optional world-facing camera, 5MP, autofocus, w/ single microphone
Input Chrome 6-row, spill-resistant, LED backlight
TrackPoint pointing device and buttonless Mylar surface Audio HD Audio, Realtek 5682I-CGT codec / stereo speakers, 2W x 2
Dual array far-field microphone and a single microphone on models with 5MP rear camera)
Battery 51 watt-hour Li-ion, supports Rapid Charge Material Aluminum Color Abyss Blue OS Chrome OS Price $975.65
The ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook Enterprise is an interesting mix between a familiar ThinkPad, and a Chromebook. I say this because Lenovo has certain design elements that go into every single ThinkPad, but Google has its own requirements as well. It's a nice blend, and I do wish that Lenovo would bring some of these changes over to the Windows side of things.
Unlike other ThinkPads, this one comes in Abyss Blue, a color I've only seen elsewhere on a ThinkBook 14s Yoga. It's also made entirely of aluminum, another rarity for a ThinkPad. Due to the aluminum build, it weighs in at just under three and a third pounds, which is probably just a bit heavier than what you'd consider to be average.
But while it's a different color and a different material, there's a lot that's familiar, such as the silver ThinkPad logo in the corner with the red dot in the 'i' that lights up.
Another thing that's familiar is the pen garage, a staple of any ThinkPad convertible. That means that the pen is always with you, and it's always charged. It also doesn't get in the way like it does with magnetically attached pens.
On the left side, there's one USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-C port, two USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A ports, a 3.5mm audio jack, and a microSD card slot. First of all, I'm disappointed that we're still seeing so much of USB 3.2 Gen 1 across the industry. It gets 5Gbps data transfer speeds, and the 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2 has been around for a while now.
But there's also a key design change here. ThinkPads typically have two USB Type-C ports on the left side, which is always a pain point to me. You should be able to use whichever side you want, and that's exactly what you get with the ThinkPad C13 Yoga.
Indeed, the right side has a USB 3.2 Gen 1 Type-A port as well. The one on the left has an icon to indicate that it's for charging, which is odd since both ports have the same capabilities. The only real downside to this is that it doesn't support Lenovo's mechanical docking stations like other ThinkPads do.
Also on the right side, you'll find an HDMI 2.0 port, a volume rocker, and a power button. The physical volume rocker is also a change from the traditional ThinkPad look, and like having USB Type-C ports on both sides, this is part of the Google spec.
There's a lot that I really like here, and I wish we saw more of it on Lenovo's Windows PCs. Having USB Type-C ports on both sides is something that I've been calling for for a long time, and it only seems to happen on Chromebooks. I also love the Abyss Blue color and the aluminum build, which passes over a dozem MIL-STD-810G tests.
Display and audio
The Lenovo ThinkPad C13 Yoga Chromebook Enterprise comes with a 13.3-inch screen in either FHD or UHD flavors, and frankly, it's pretty cool that Lenovo offers a 4K variant for this. The model that it sent me, however, is the FHD one.
It's a nice display, but it's a bit dim at 300 nits. It's something worth noting because the 4K model is actually 400-nit, so if you're planning on using this outdoors often enough, you'll want to go for that brighter screen. Other than that though, there's no noticeable pixelation with FHD at this size. While the color accuracy is fine, that feels less important with a machine like this, since photo and video editing is something you'd probably do with an OS that has a native desktop app ecosystem.
It also comes with pen support, obviously, since it has a pen garage. When you remove the pen, a pop-up menu appears (which can also be accessed from an icon in the taskbar) with a series of options, so you can use it to take a note, take a screenshot of either the whole screen or a portion of it, or you can use it as a laser pointer or magnifying glass.
The laser pointer one might seem a bit strange, since the pen actually has to be touching the screen, but if you're mirroring your screen for a presentation, it can come in handy.
Sadly, the display is 16:9, which isn't great for tablets. We're seeing this trend toward 16:10 and even 3:2 screens across the PC industry, and that includes the rest of Lenovo's 13-inch ThinkPads. Sadly, the taller screen that would feel more natural in portrait orientation didn't make it into this one.
As far as audio quality goes, it's not very impressive. I suppose it gets loud enough, but the speakers sound, well, awful. Lenovo recently started using Dolby Audio and Dolby Atmos in so many ThinkPads, but this one reminds me of how ThinkPad audio used to be a few years ago, which was bad.
Keyboard and touchpad
Out of all of the things that are different about the ThinkPad C13 Yoga, the keyboard and touchpad kept what make a ThinkPad a ThinkPad. Indeed, there's a TrackPoint right smack in the middle of the keyboard. And of course, ThinkPads are renowned for their keyboards, so that's not something that you want to change.
The keys feel comfortable and they're accurate, although it does feel a bit small. There's plenty of real estate on the sides, so I'm not sure why the keyboard wouldn't be a bit wider.
As you can see from the image, plenty of the keys are different, thanks to Chrome OS, although one Chrome OS staple that you won't find are lowercase letters. The Caps Lock key is replaced by a search key, and there are no F-keys at the top for different functions in apps; rather, the function keys here are specific.
It's really interesting to me that this thing comes with a TrackPoint, which is a relic from the days when Windows laptops came with terrible touchpads. For all of its faults, Chrome OS is a modern operating system, and yet this Chromebook is shipping with the most legacy of components. If you like it, and it does have a following, it's there. If you don't like it, you can ignore it.
The clickable touchpad is the same too, even if it's blue instead of its usual black. It's got physical buttons across the top, which are really meant for use with the TrackPoint. That middle one can be used for scrolling.
It comes with a fingerprint sensor as well, something that ThinkPads actually did before anyone else, so if this isn't a ThinkPad traditional feature, I don't know what is. Also, it's grgeat to have biometric authentication on a machine like this. I feel like I don't see it too much on Chromebooks.
Finally, above the keyboard, you'll find what's called a world-facing camera. This is something that you'd use if you're using the PC in tablet mode, so it would be rear-facing. Personally, I'd never use it because I don't believe in taking pictures with tablets, but it's there if you need it.
Performance and battery life
The ThinkPad C13 Yoga comes with AMD's Ryzen 3000C processors. Ryzen 3000C is a 12nm chip, which is the last-gen series from AMD. On the Windows side of things, the company is using the 7nm Ryzen 4000 and 5000 now. Ryzen 3000C is pretty new though, as it was announced in September.
Really though, it's repurposed Ryzen 3000 processors, which is fine. Chrome OS requires fewer resources than Windows does, and the battery life is better. That means that the processor not only doesn't have as be as powerful, but it doesn't need to be efficient. The Ryzen 5 3500C that's in the unit that Lenovo sent me is probably about the same as an eighth-generation U-series Core i5.
When using Chrome, performance is fantastic. After all, the Chrome browser is mostly what Chrome OS is, hence the name. It does have the Google Play Store on it though, so you can use it to install and run Android apps. The issue with Android is really more that apps aren't optimized for the big screen. Chrome OS also really just isn't great for multitasking, so if you run a bunch of apps at once, it starts to choke up.
My desktop usage primarily consists of tabs in the browser, and with 8GB RAM and a great processor, this thing can handle plenty of those. Rather than using Android apps, I found myself just using things like OneNote on the web, Skype's web app, and so on. OneNote was a pain though, because the website kept trying to force me to open notebooks in the OneDrive Android app, which tried to force me to open the OneNote Android app. I just uninstalled them all.
I also installed Microsoft Edge twice. Yes, there are many things that you can have several instances of on Chrome OS because since it doesn't really have a native app platform, it has a couple of others, like Android and Linux. Indeed, if you want to use Skype, you can use the web app, the Android app, the Linux app, or all three at once. So yes, I played around with Edge for Android and Edge for Linux on here.
Battery life is fantastic, pushing on 10 hours. It's pretty great, but I also wasn't able to do anything to push it beyond its limits.
The thing that always frustrates me about Chrome OS is that it locks me into the Google ecosystem in a way that no other operating system, desktop or mobile, does. There's no way to install a OneDrive sync client on here, so instead you have to use Google Drive. And running Edge on Linux isn't an optimal experience.
Like the title says, it's a ThinkPad with Chrome OS, which is actually pretty cool. If you love ThinkPads, and the things that make a ThinkPad a ThinkPad, but you want Chrome OS, then this is the machine for you.
There's some bad news too, of course. I'd like to have seen faster USB ports, and I'd really like to have seen a brighter, taller display. 16:9 is fine in a clamshell, but this thing is clearly made to be used as a tablet, at least sometimes.
But again, it's a ThinkPad. That means that it has phenomenal build quality, probably the best keyboard on a Chromebook, and more. It's all-aluminum, and it comes in a beautiful Abyss Blue color. If you want to check it out on Lenovo.com, you can find it here.
By Rich Woods
Surface Pro 7+ review: Iris Xe graphics and 4G LTE make a big difference
by Rich Woods
Last month, Microsoft introduced the Surface Pro 7+, and there were a few surprises included. For example, we all expected it to be called the Surface Pro 8, and then when it wasn't, it wasn't really clear why, being that the Pro 7+ actually has more significant improvements than some other Surface Pro upgrades we've seen.
First of all, there's the spec bump, going from Intel's 10th-gen 'Ice Lake' processors to 11th-gen 'Tiger Lake', meaning that the integrated graphics goes from Iris Plus Graphics to Iris Xe. There's a lot more power there, especially on the graphics side of things. It's more significant of a spec bump than the one that we saw on the Surface Pro 6, and the Pro 6 was only a spec bump.
That's not the only thing that's new though. The Surface Pro 7+ also comes with 4G LTE and removable storage, both features that are found in the Surface Pro X. They're both features that are great for businesses though, offering better security in terms of data and connectivity.
And yes, this PC is aimed squarely at businesses. If you're a consumer buying a Surface Pro in the store, you're going to be getting the Surface Pro 7 with its 10th-gen processors.
CPU Intel Core i5-1135G7 Graphics Iris Xe Body 11.5x7.9x0.33in (292x201x8.5mm), 1.75lbs (796g) Display Screen: 12.3” PixelSense Display
Resolution: 2736 x 1824 (267 PPI)
Aspect ratio: 3:2
Touch: 10 point multi-touch
Memory 16GB LPDDR4x RAM Storage 256GB SSD Ports 1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-C
1 x USB 3.2 Gen 2 Type-A
3.5mm headphone jack
1 x Surface Connect port (USB 3.2 Gen 2)
Surface Type Cover port
1 x nano SIM (LTE)
Compatible with Surface Dial off-screen interaction Cameras,
and audio Windows Hello face authentication camera (front-facing)
5MP front-facing camera with 1080p full HD video
8MP rear-facing autofocus camera with 1080p full HD video
Dual far-field Studio Mics
1.6W stereo speakers with Dolby Atmos Battery life Up to 13.5 hours of typical device usage Connectivity Wi-Fi 6: 802.11ax compatible
Bluetooth Wireless 5.0 technology
LTE Advanced with removable SIM and eSIM support
Qualcomm Snapdragon X20 LTE Modem
LTE bands supported: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 7, 8, 12, 13, 14, 19, 20, 25, 26, 28, 29, 30, 38, 39, 40, 41, 66 OS Windows 10 Pro Material Magnesium Color Platinum Price $1,649.99
There are a few things to note with the specs here. For one thing, if you want 4G LTE, you have to get the Core i5, without LTE is also offered with a Core i3-1115G4 or Core i7-1165G7. That's also because the Core i7 model has a fan, and the LTE module is placed where the fan would be on the i5 model.
This model is also a bit heavier than the 1.7lb Core i3 or i5 model, and even a tiny bit heavier than the 1.73lb Core i7 model with its fan added in. Another thing to note is that 4G models only go up to 16GB RAM and 256GB of storage, although you can get it with up to 32GB RAM and 1TB of storage if you go Wi-Fi only.
Finally, and this might be important to you, the LTE model ditches microSD expansion, something that's been a staple of the Surface Pro lineup since the beginning. It still comes in the Wi-Fi only model though.
On the surface (pun intended), the Surface Pro 7+ doesn't have any design changes. In fact, you'd be hard-pressed to find any significant design changes since the Pro 4. The modern Surface Pro was introduced in 2014 with the Pro 3, and then the screen size was increased from 12 to 12.3 inches in the Pro 4, and the chassis was made a bit thinner. The Surface Pro 6 saw the return of the black color, and the Surface Pro 7 finally saw the addition of a USB Type-C port, replacing the old Mini DisplayPort.
Indeed, there's no real change there. Microsoft sent me the Platinum color again, and it's still got the chrome Microsoft logo on the back of the kickstand. But when you lift up the kickstand, that's where the actual change is.
This is the first Intel-powered Surface Pro to have removable storage, something that we've already seen in the Surface Pro X, Surface Laptop 3, and Surface Laptop Go. While you could technically use this to get around Microsoft's exorbitant prices for storage tiers, that's not recommended. This can be a way to replace defective storage, and in fact, Microsoft is now selling replacement SSD kits so IT can swap out the faulty drive right away.
The other key thing that this allows for is destroying sensitive data. Obviously, this PC won't be around forever, and there will come a time when your business recycles it, and you won't want some bad actor getting their hands on it and recovering any data that was stored on the device. Now, you don't have to worry about it.
The panel to access the SSD opens with a SIM tool, but the nano-SIM slot isn't under that panel like it is on the Surface Pro X. Instead, it's on the side, and as mentioned, there's no more microSD card slot. Personally, I'd take a nano-SIM slot any day.
Also on the right side are all of the ports that you need, including USB Type-C, USB Type-A, and Surface Connect. Unfortunately, the bad news is that they're all the 10Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 2. While I appreciate that in the USB Type-A port, since so many premium PCs are still using the 5Gbps USB 3.2 Gen 1, I really do wish that Microsoft would start using Thunderbolt 4.
With Thunderbolt 4, you can connect dual 4K monitors or one 8K monitor to a single port, or you can connect an external GPU. When you look at the kind of performance that Intel's 11th-gen processors can deliver, this kind of expandability starts to sound more and more attractive.
On the left side at the top is the 3.5mm audio jack, and that means that it's time to talk a bit about port placement, because I'm not a fan. The same goes for the Surface Book. These things are clearly designed to be used as tablets, an odd choice when Windows 10 isn't. Putting ports like a headphone jack at the top means that you have wires dangling while you're trying to use it, and it's a pain point.
Frankly, the same goes for if you're charging via the USB Type-C port, which is the only one I'm willing to use. Naturally, it does ship with a Surface Connect charger, but like all review units that offer USB Type-C charging and ship with a proprietary charger, I just use USB Type-C.
On the top, there's just a power button and volume rocker. This is another design element that clearly comes from an age when Microsoft thought that people buying this would spend a lot of time holding it in portrait orientation, but it's fine.
Finally, on the bottom, we have our Type Cover port, and you can still use any Surface Pro Type Cover (or Touch Cover, for that matter) that's ever existed. If you use a Type Cover that was made for the 16:9 Surface Pro or Pro 2, it certainly won't cover the screen, but the keyboard will still work. Indeed, the Surface Pro 7+ has all of the legacy components that your business needs if it's standardized around Surface, including the same Type Cover port, Surface Connect, and more.
I've spent a lot of time wondering why this is a business PC. Sure, I get that the new business features are awesome, such as removable storage and 4G LTE, which is way more secure than public Wi-Fi. But why not sell it to consumers too, even if it's just the Wi-Fi only model? This is entirely speculation, but it's possible that there's an actual Surface Pro 8 planned that doesn't have some of the legacy components that I described above; it could be a properly redesigned Surface Pro, and it would also explain the off Pro 7+ naming.
Display and audio
As far as this and the keyboard section go, everything is identical to the Surface Pro 7, so if you're familiar with the product, you can skip to the performance section. If not, read on.
Once again, the Surface Pro 7+ has a 12.3-inch 2736x1824 PixelSense display. PixelSense is sort of Microsoft's version of what Apple calls Retina. It has a 267ppi pixel density, which is pretty great, as there's no visible pixelation. In fact, considering how small the screen is, it's pretty high resolution in the world of FHD laptops.
Also, Microsoft is very good at making displays. It's one thing that it always pulls off pretty well. That means that you're getting accurate colors here, something that really comes in handy in photo and video editing work. It's incredibly glossy though, and that actually applies to the entire lineup.
It's also got a full 178-degree viewing angle, as any premium laptop display should. That means that no matter where you're looking at it from, there's no visible color distortion.
But also, it's got massive bezels. Indeed, those bezels really haven't changed at all since the Surface Pro 4's introduction in 2015, so if they make the PC look dated, it's because the design is dated. In fact, it's worth noting that much of the Surface lineup has dated designs. The Surface Book was introduced in 2015 alongside the Pro 4, and that hasn't changed either.
Other companies are improving their designs on a yearly basis, often finding new and innovative ways to chop down the bezels a bit more and make the footprint just that little bit smaller.
The top bezel does include both a webcam and an IR camera for Windows Hello. In fact, the new Surface Laptop Go has the smallest top bezel of any Surface, and Microsoft said it had to ditch the IR camera to do it. Also, the webcam is 1080p, something that's still a rarity in portable PCs.
As for audio quality, it's as good as it can get for a tablet like this one. Microsoft puts two speakers in the bezels on both sides of the display, and while they're not particularly loud for media consumption, they do sound good for calls. Naturally, the latter is pretty important these days while people are working from home.
Like I said earlier, the port for the Type Cover is one of very few things that haven't changed over the years, so you can use (almost) any Type Cover or Touch Cover that's existed, unless it was made for the Surface Go or Surface Pro X, which were the only times Microsoft changed the port. I actually threw in the "almost" because the very rare Music Kit doesn't work anymore.
Microsoft sent me the black Type Cover, which is the only one that doesn't come with Alcantara fabric, so it's not considered to be a Signature Type Cover. Of course, black is a more subtle cover for businesses.
The keyboard itself is pretty good, and it's improved a lot over the years. In my experience, connectivity used to be a big issue for Surfaces. For example, the keyboard magnetically props up against the bottom bezel, and typing would cause a vibration that temporarily disconnects the keyboard. It was a pain point, and I haven't had that issue at all with this model.
But to be clear, this isn't a laptop keyboard, and doesn't feel like one. You should absolutely take note of this when you purchase this product for your business. If you're going to hand this machine to an employee that's going to just place it on a desk and type on it like it's a laptop, then you should probably be looking at the Surface Laptop. If it's going to be used as a tablet rarely, then you should look at the Surface Book. The Type Cover is meant to be removed so the Surface Pro 7+ can be used as a tablet.
I'd like to give a shout-out to Brydge, even though I don't always give call-outs to third-party peripherals in reviews. Brydge is known for making keyboards for tablets and making them feel more like laptops, and the Brydge 12.3 Pro+ is actually the first third-party keyboard that's Designed for Surface.
As you can see in the image, it slides into two clamps on the keyboard and they have a tight hinge. It feels like a proper laptop to use. It does connect via Bluetooth though, so you're giving up that direct connection that you get with the Type Cover.
Of course, a Surface Pro doesn't actually come with a keyboard, so you can buy Microsoft's, Brydge's, or someone else's. You can choose any keyboard that you want.
Performance and battery life
The Surface Pro 7+ comes with Intel's new 11th-generation processors, and that means that it comes with Iris Xe graphics. It's actually pretty phenomenal. With 10th-gen, Intel finally started to get serious about its integrated graphics with Iris Plus, and then it doubled down with Iris Xe.
When you look at a tablet that's a third of an inch thick and weighs in at 1.75 pounds, you probably wouldn't expect it to pack much of a punch, and indeed, it sure didn't back in 2015. But today, I'm truly amazed when I see these PCs in tiny form factors that can do things that I'd have needed dedicated graphics for just a couple of years ago. Intel wasn't lying when it said that you can do FHD gaming on Iris Xe.
Intel's naming is a bit different than it was with Ice Lake though. The G number is for graphics power, but it meant something different. With 10th-gen and Iris Plus, G7 meant it has Iris Plus with 64 execution units (EUs), G4 meant it had 48 EUs, and G1 meant it had UHD Graphics with 32 EUs. In other words, the Core i7-1065G7 and Core i5-1035G7 had the same graphics, which was great news for products like the Surface Laptop 3 where the only difference was CPU power.
With 11th-gen and Iris Xe, the Core i7-1165G7 and Core i5-1135G7 both have Iris Xe, but despite both being called 'G7', the former has 96 EUs while the latter has 80 EUs. It's just something to be aware of when choosing between the two options.
Battery life isn't particularly impressive, which isn't surprising for a Surface like this. I found that it gets around five hours of real-world use, and that really just includes working through the browser while having various apps open like Slack, Skype, and OneNote. This was with the brightness around 30% and the power slider at one notch above battery saver. You might be able to stretch it to six hours, but anything beyond that, you'll have to be doing something that really doesn't use much battery like local video playback.
But let's talk about cellular connectivity, which is awesome. The nice thing is that if you pull this thing out of your bag and fire it up, it's connected to the internet right away. You don't have to worry about handing over your email address to use the Wi-Fi in Starbucks and ending up on their mailing list, and you don't have to hunt down the Wi-Fi password in the airport lounge. You're just connected, and it's a delightful feature.
It's also a security feature. You don't have to worry about connecting to public Wi-Fi networks that are often insecure; moreover, you don't have to worry about your employees doing it.
For benchmarks, I used PCMark 8, PCMark 10, Geekbench, and Cinebench.
Surface Pro 7+
Core i5-1135G7 Surface Pro 7
Core i5-1035G4 Razer Book 13
Core i7-1165G7 PCMark 8: Home 3,521 3,376 4,370 PCMark 8: Creative 4,192 3,749 4,796 PCMark 8: Work 3,403 3,339 4,047 PCMark 10 3,963 4,030 4,897 Geekbench 5 1,358 / 5,246 1,425 / 4,143 Cinebench 1,235 / 2,854 1,426 / 3,837
As you can see, there are some big improvements coming from the Core i5 in the Pro 7 to the one in the Pro 7+. Honestly, it doesn't make sense to me that consumers still have to get the Ice Lake processor if they want a Surface Pro.
One of my biggest issues with the Surface Pro is that it still hangs onto all of that legacy stuff. It's still got the massive bezels, and it still has the Surface Connect port instead of going all-in on USB Type-C. But of course, these things are exactly what businesses want. They want the old chargers they have lying around to work in the new model, and they want their Type Covers to work so they don't have to buy new ones. It all makes sense for a business audience.
Of course, there's no excuse for not having Thunderbolt 4, something that you'll find in any other premium portable PC. If you wanted to connect dual 4K displays to this, you'd probably have to use the USB Type-C port for one and the Surface Connect port with a dock for the other. And just imagine being able to connect an external GPU; after taking this to work, you'd be able to bring it home and with a single cable, connect it to a ton of power that turns it into a gaming rig.
But at least you do get Iris Xe graphics with this, which is quite nice. Indeed, the boost in power from the previous generation is pretty awesome. Intel is seeing some competition these days, and it's absolutely leading to us getting better products.
I also love cellular connectivity, as it's one of my favorite features in any device. Frankly, in 2021, I just think all things should be able to connect to the internet at all times. Removable storage is excellent too, as it's yet another security feature for businesses.
If you want to check it out, you can find it on Microsoft.com here.
Samsung Galaxy S21 review: A flagship that has learned the right lessons
by João Carrasqueira
I got to review a few Samsung phones throughout 2020, and it has definitely taken some time for the company's hardware to really resonate with me. I was very underwhelmed by the Galaxy A51 mid-ranger about a year ago, and when I finally got to review a flagship - the Galaxy Note20 Ultra - the issues it presented were far too significant for it to be worth its massive asking price.
But then came the Galaxy S20 FE, a much cheaper phone that kept the essentials of a 2020 flagship while cutting corners in a few small ways to attain its price point. For what it set out to do, the S20 FE was a fantastic device, and it left me hoping that Samsung would take away some lessons from it and make future Galaxy S phones more appealing.
Samsung announced the Galaxy S21 lineup last month with a significant reduction to its starting price - now just $799, instead of the S20's $999 - as well as some of the sacrifices we saw on the Galaxy S20 FE. After a couple of weeks with the S21, I think it's safe to say that Samsung learned the lessons I was hoping it would and created a fantastic baseline for its flagships in 2021.
CPU Exynos 2100 (Octa-core) - one Cortex-X1 at 2.9GHz, three Cortex-A78 at 2.8GHz, four Cortex-A55 at 2.2GHz GPU Mali-G78 MP14 Display 6.2 inches, 1080x2400, 421ppi, 120Hz, Dynamic AMOLED 2X Body 151.7x71.2x7.9mm (5.97x2.80x0.31in), 169g (5.96oz) Camera 12MP main + 12MP ultra-wide + 64MP telephoto, Front - 10MP Video 8K - 24fps or 4K - 60fps, HDR10+, Front - 4K - 60fps Aperture f/1.8 + f/2.2 + f/2.0, Front - F/2.2 Storage 128GB UFS 3.1; non-expandable RAM 8GB Battery 4,000mAh Color Phantom White (as reviewed), Phantom Gray, Phantom Pink, Phantom Violet
OS Android 11 with OneUI 3.1 Price €849-€879/$799 Of course, this is the European variant of the Galaxy S21, which means it comes with an Exynos processor, but you'll be getting a Qualcomm Snapdragon 888 if you buy this phone in the U.S. I can't personally compare the two variants directly, but I will say that I don't think having an Exynos model is as much of a problem this year as it was last year. I'll get into that more later on.
When you look at it broadly, the Galaxy S21 is a fairly generic smartphone slab. It has a plastic back, one of the compromises it borrows from the Galaxy S20 FE, but it keeps the metal frame and overall feels more solidly built than that phone. It's also a very compact phone by today's standards, thanks to its relatively small 6.2-inch display and the minimal bezels all around. It's actually refreshing to have a phone that's this easy to handle nowadays.
The thing that really makes me swoon over this phone's design is the camera module. I realize that's probably a weird thing to say, but the way it's made of metal and melts into the frame of the phone is just so nice and gives it such a distinct look that I can't help but love it. If you look closely, there is a bit of a ridge between the actual frame and the camera module, but it's barely noticeable and doesn't ruin the look at all. Samsung sent me the Phantom White model, and while I wish I had the Phantom Purple with its golden accents, this look really grew on me. It's classy without being too boring, and I'll definitely say I'm glad I didn't get the gray model.
Moving on from the back and going around the phone, it's all pretty standard. The left side of the frame has no buttons, but there are some antenna bands.
Over on the right side, there's the power/Bixby button along with the volume rocker, with all of the buttons feeling having a nice clicky feel to them.
The top edge is also fairly empty, featuring two microphones very close to each other, only separated by an antenna band.
Finally, the bottom edge has everything else you'd expect to find - a USB Type-C port for charging, a SIM card slot, and the bottom-firing speaker grill. There's one more microphone next to the SIM card slot, and if it's not obvious, you want to push the SIM ejection tool into the hole inside the SIM card tray cutout. You could damage the microphone by poking it with the tool.
Display and sound
Over on the front, of course, is the display. It's a 6.2-inch panel with Full HD+ resolution and a 120Hz refresh rate - another smart move by Samsung to cut costs, which we saw on the Galaxy S20 FE. Samsung phones have had Quad HD+ displays for a while, but I think it's the most obvious way companies can save money without hurting the user experience nearly as much. With the Galaxy S20, you'd have to choose between Quad HD+ resolution or the 120Hz refresh rate, and I would always have recommended the latter either way, so I endorse this change.
The panel is also using Samsung's Dynamic AMOLED 2X technology and it continues to be oh-so-great. Samsung's displays have long been known for looking great, and suffice it to say, that hasn't changed. The colors look absolutely fantastic, the color temperature is great, and of course, because it's AMOLED, blacks are truly black since pixels can be turned off on demand.
The display is only interrupted by a small punch-hole cutout in the middle of the top edge of the display, which houses the selfie camera. Bezels are getting smaller all the time, and they're very minimal here, even smaller than those of the Galaxy S20 FE. Samsung also seems to keep shrinking the grill for the earpiece more and more, to the point where I initially thought there was some kind of under-display sound system here.
But there isn't, and the sound from this phone is actually great. The stereo setup enabled by the bottom-firing speaker and amplified earpiece sounds crisp and clear, and it can get pretty loud without any significant distortion. The Galaxy S21 is truly a great phone if you want a good media experience.
The camera setup on the Galaxy S21 is one of the things that's changed the least from last year. There's still a 12MP main camera, another 12MP ultra-wide lens, and a 64MP telephoto camera with 3x optical zoom, with support for up to 30x zoom. It's not just the resolution either - the pixel size and aperture are all the same as last year's cameras, too.
The video features are also pretty similar here, with support for up to 8K video recording at 24 frames per second or 4K at 60 frames per second. You can record HDR10+ video as an experimental feature, but only at 4K 30fps or lower.
As for the actual results when using the camera, it really depends on the situation. In daylight, all of the cameras do pretty well in my opinion. Shots are bright and vivid, there's good contrast, and they're generally very clear, each object in the frame pops and looks great. There is a bit of oversaturation, per Samsung's tradition, but in general, I didn't mind it.
Gallery: Galaxy S21 samples
Things start to fall apart a bit when it comes to nighttime. Night mode kicks in automatically when it's deemed appropriate, but it's not that great, and the ultra-wide camera especially is evidently not as good as the others. Sometimes night mode doesn't activate for the ultra-wide camera automatically, so you can see major differences in the final shot, though you can always manually use night mode. Pictures, in general, degrade quite a bit in less than optimal lighting conditions, and that's even more true for videos, and while that can be said for all cameras, it seems especially not great here.
I do like the ability to switch between different zoom levels, though, and while the maximum 30x zoom Samsung advertises is pretty bad, 3x zoom is actually really nice, though not comparable to the 10X you can get with a periscope lens.
The phone also comes with the most recent version of Samsung's One UI, so there are some new features in the Camera and Gallery apps that I do find cool. The Camera app has a couple of new video features including multi-mic recording, which lets you record video with audio simultaneously coming from the phone's microphones and a Bluetooth microphone or earbuds. Of course, the quality of the audio will depend on the microphone you're using, but testing with LG's Tone Free HBS-FN6 earbuds, I did find it picked up my voice better while walking down the street compared to just using the microphone on the phone itself. There's also a Director's View mode, which lets you see video feeds from all four cameras on the phone at once and switch between the three rear cameras at will.
The Gallery app, for its part, has an interesting feature for photos called Object Eraser, which does exactly what you think. It does require a consistent background to look convincing, but if you had the perfect shot that got ruined by someone in the background, this can definitely help.
On a final note, while I rarely take selfies on any phone, I did give it a shot here and the front-facing camera is actually among the sharpest I've tried. Overall, the camera experience has some highs and some lows, but you probably already know what you're getting into if you've had a Samsung phone before.
Performance, battery life, and software
Battery life was one of my biggest complaints with the Galaxy Note20 Ultra, and that was almost certainly due to the poor efficiency of the Exynos 990 chipset. That phone struggled to last me through the day with a 4,5000mAh battery, but I'm happy to report that Samsung made great progress with Exynos this year. The Galaxy S21 has the new Exynos 2100 and even with a smaller 4,000mAh battery, it holds up much better. It's not fantastic, and when I push it with longer YouTube sessions or playing games, it doesn't quite last me until bedtime, but for my general use, it's been much more reliable. I have yet to review any phone with the new Snapdragon 888, but general impressions from other reviewers indicate that Qualcomm is still ahead here. Still, if you're in an Exynos market, this is a huge improvement.
I should note that, following in Apple's footsteps, Samsung did remove the charging brick from the box, and you only get a cable now. The idea companies are taking with this is that it's "environmentally friendly", and while I think that's true, it's no secret that companies are always trying to squeeze more money out of their consumers. I do think most users will already have a charger they can use at home, but this step highlights a major need for standardization in USB power delivery. The Galaxy S21 supports fast charging up to 25W, but my 65W charger from OPPO can't activate fast charging for it. Companies would usually ship the most adequate charger for their own phones, and we're going to be losing that. The Galaxy S21 also supports fast wireless charging at 15W and reverse wireless charging.
Moving on to benchmarks, the Exynos 2100 in the Galaxy S21 is overall a pretty solid upgrade over Exynos 990-powered phones. Let's start with AnTuTu, which is a general-purpose benchmark covering CPU, GPU, memory/storage, and overall user experience.
The Galaxy S21's score of 609,292 is a pretty big jump from the Note20 Ultra's 548,110, with improvements across the board. The biggest leap here is in the GPU tests, and to be fair, the Galaxy S21 ran games like Asphalt 9 beautifully. Compared to the Galaxy S20 FE 5G, which had a Snapdragon 865, the difference is less noticeable, but it's still an improvement on almost every front.
Moving on to GeekBench 5, which tests the CPU. The Galaxy S21 manages a 1,079 score for the single-core performance and 3,370 for multi-core.
As expected, the Galaxy S21 has a decent lead on both the Exynos 990 and the Snapdragon 865, especially in multi-core performance.
Finally, there's GFXBench, a series of tests focused on the GPU.
Results here are a bit mixed, with the Galaxy S21 pulling some punches on the Note20 Ultra, but also falling behind in some of the tests.
Overall, though, the performance on this phone is great and there's really not much to complain about. The phone does have a tendency to get warm more easily than others, but it's not a huge deal.
Not a whole lot has changed on the software side with OneUI 3.1, but there are some tweaks with the experience. You can now control smart home devices using the Devices button in the notification shade, assuming you have a smart home app like Google Home installed. Stock Android 11 brought smart home controls to the power menu, but Samsung didn't do that, which is a bummer to me. Some UI tweaks have also been made to the volume flyout and the long-press UI in the One UI launcher.
I will point out that I've been trying to use Dex more in my Samsung reviews, and it's a really cool feature to have. Like I've said before, it's pointless if you have a PC on you, but if you don't, it can turn your phone into a PC easily, though you won't be doing certain things like advanced photo or video editing on it. You need to relearn some shortcuts if you're used to Windows, but it's otherwise an effective productivity tool - I even used it to write a good chunk of this review. Also, if you're wondering, you can't use the Windows 10 Your Phone app (or the Link to Windows feature) while running in DeX, though I don't see why you would want to.
I have to conclude this review in the same way that I started it - by saying that Samsung has learned the right lessons with its phones this year. What stands out the most to me is the inspiration Samsung drew from the Galaxy S20 FE to make its flagship phone way easier to justify. Removing the Quad HD display and swapping the glass plate for plastic are the perfect sacrifices to make, and the $200 you save compared to last year's Galaxy S20 make this so much easier to recommend.
I also love the design, specifically thanks to the meta camera bump Samsung has used, and also because it's one of the most compact phones I've had the chance to try out. And for users outside of North America, the Exynos 2100 is a huge improvement in both battery life and performance. You're truly getting a lot more phone for your money this year.
Of course, there are downsides, battery life still isn't as great as it could potentially be, and the camera experience isn't consistently amazing, especially in situations with less than optimal lighting. And the lack of a charger, while not a huge deal to me personally, might be a problem for some people.
Still, those are relatively small blemishes on a phone that otherwise improved so much on its predecessor. If you haven't upgraded in a while, or if you're simply looking to upgrade and you're already familiar with Samsung, the Galaxy S21 is definitely worth a look. You can buy the Snapdragon variant in the U.S. on Amazon, where it's currently discounted to $699.99, making it an even better deal. In the UK, the Exynos variant (the one we tested), is available starting at £735.80 depending on your color of choice.
By Rich Woods
MacBook Pro 13 (M1) review: A heck of a start for Apple, but not very pro
by Rich Woods
This is the seventh part of our Intel Evo vs Apple Silicon series, where we're taking a look at what each side can do better than the other. The MacBook Pro 13, Razer Book 13, Razer Core X, Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti, Samsung T7 Touch SSD, and CalDigit Thunderbolt 3 dock were provided by Intel. All opinions expressed are a result of our own testing and experience.
I've been using Apple's new MacBook Pro for a while now, and I've been writing about my findings as I go. There's a lot that's good about it, and there's a lot that's bad. One thing that I learned rather quickly was that Apple Silicon isn't the home run that the Cupertino firm would have you believe.
In general day-to-day usage, I don't think that I'd have noticed a performance difference if no one had told me. It certainly doesn't feel any faster than a Windows 10 PC with an 11th-generation Intel processor, although there are certainly some tasks that it performs faster, such as video rendering. But as far as launching apps and general tasks go, I wouldn't have noticed a difference.
Don't get me wrong. What Apple did here is certainly an incredible feat of engineering, and it shines a bright light on what the future of the Mac can look like. But personally, I think that this is a first-gen product that you'll want to skip.
CPU Apple M1, octa-core with four performance and four efficiency cores, octa-core GPU, 16-core neural engine Body 304.1x212.4x15.6mm (11.97x8.36x0.61in), 1.4kg (3lbs) Display 13.3-inch (diagonal) LED-backlit display with IPS technology; 2560-by-1600 native resolution at 227 pixels per inch with support for millions of colors
Wide color (P3)
True Tone technology
Battery Up to 17 hours wireless web
Up to 20 hours Apple TV app movie playback
Built-in 58.2-watt-hour lithium-polymer battery
61W USB-C Power Adapter
Memory 8GB unified memory
Storage 256GB SSD
Ports (2) Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports with support for charging, DisplayPort, Thunderbolt 3 (40Gbps), USB 4 (40Gbps), USB 3.1 Gen 2 (up to 10Gbps)
(1) 3.5mm audio jack Input 65 (U.S.) or 66 (ISO) keys including 4 arrow keys in an inverted‑T arrangement
Touch ID sensor
Ambient light sensor
Force Touch trackpad for precise cursor control and pressure‑sensing capabilities; enables Force clicks, accelerators, pressure‑sensitive drawing, and Multi‑Touch gestures
Connectivity 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6 wireless networking
Bluetooth 5.0 wireless technology
Webcam 720p FaceTime HD camera Video support Simultaneously supports full native resolution on the built-in display at millions of colors and:
One external display with up to 6K resolution at 60Hz
Thunderbolt 3 digital video output
Native DisplayPort output over USB-C
VGA, HDMI, DVI, and Thunderbolt 2 output supported using adapters (sold separately)
Audio Stereo speakers with high dynamic range
Wide stereo sound
Support for Dolby Atmos playback
Studio-quality three-mic array with high signal-to-noise ratio and directional beamforming
3.5 mm headphone jack
Operating requirements Line voltage: 100V to 240V AC
Frequency: 50Hz to 60Hz
Operating temperature: 50° to 95° F (10° to 35° C)
Storage temperature: −13° to 113° F (−25° to 45° C)
Relative humidity: 0% to 90% noncondensing
Operating altitude: tested up to 10,000 feet
Maximum storage altitude: 15,000 feet
Maximum shipping altitude: 35,000 feet
OS macOS 11 Big Sur Material Aluminum Color Silver Price $1,299
You can certainly feel the build quality when you hold a MacBook Pro, but one thing I'll definitely say about the design is that it feels dated. Apple certainly could have redesigned the chassis to make it thinner and lighter given the new ARM processor, but it didn't. This thing weighs three pounds, which isn't exactly light in the world of clamshell laptops anymore. It's also got huge bezels when compared with the rest of the market.
When we see a silver Windows laptop that's made out of aluminum, we call it a MacBook clone. Well, here's the original, and it makes me wonder if it makes it any more exciting to be the original. Either way, that's what it is, a silver laptop with an Apple logo stamped in the lid; it comes in Space Gray as well.
Apple isn't one for including a lot of ports on its laptops, although rumor has it that it may add some back in the future. For now, this laptop comes with two Thunderbolt ports on the left side, and that's it when it comes to USB connectivity. According to Apple, these ports support USB 4.0, USB 3.2 Gen 2, and Thunderbolt 3, getting data transfer speeds of up to 40Gbps.
The only problem is that they're missing a key feature of Thunderbolt, which is the ability to connect dual 4K monitors on a single port. A major drawback of Apple Silicon is that you can't use dual external monitors with this laptop, no matter what the resolution. The only Apple Silicon Mac that supports dual external monitors is the Mac mini, which lets you do it if you connect one via the HDMI port.
There are, apparently, some workarounds for this, such as special accessories that you can buy or using an iPad with the Sidecar feature. I wasn't able to use any of my Thunderbolt docks to get dual monitors to work, and according to Apple's own documentation, it shouldn't work.
On the right side, there's just a 3.5mm audio jack. Indeed, while the port is long gone on iPhones and now even some iPads, it's survived the port exoduses of the Mac.
On a side note, I do wonder what Apple could have planned if it's bringing back ports on its MacBook Pro machines. USB Type-A feels like a big step backward; after all, it's been years since we've been switching to USB Type-C. HDMI is a likely candidate, but that to me seems unnecessary.
Display and audio
The 13-inch MacBook Pro has a 13.3-inch 16:10 display; indeed, while we've been seeing the 16:10 trend across the PC industry for the past six months or so, Apple was doing it before it was cool. The taller aspect ratio makes for a larger surface area, being that the screen is measured diagonally.
The resolution is 2560x1600, which is QHD+, and it's frankly excellent. The colors are accurate, it's bright, it has a full 178-degree viewing angle, and there's no visible pixelation, hence why it's called Retina. It's a fantastic display. Obviously, there's no touch support, something that Apple has been against for some time, although you can use the Sidecar feature on an iPad for that.
One thing that seems clear as day to me is that this thing has massive bezels, at least when compared to modern laptops. Microsoft isn't any better on its Surface lineup, but the rest of the industry is. Companies like Dell and HP are working out ways to have tiny bezels while still including an IR camera above the display, and all Apple fits in that massive top bezel is a webcam. Even the side bezels are larger than the competition.
But Apple doesn't redesign its products much, so that just continues to make me feel like this is an antiquated design. With the newer ARM processor, it's a perfect opportunity to make the chassis smaller and thinner, while chopping down the bezels to reduce the footprint. That's simply not happening in this generation though.
Apple puts the stereo speakers on either side of the keyboard, and they sound great. Honestly, all of the things that have to do with overall quality really hit the nail on the head. It has a pretty screen, clear speakers, a great keyboard, and more. It's clearly designed for creative work where an accurate display and clear speakers are necessary, and Apple's done a great job with that.
Keyboard, touchpad, and Touch Bar
Like I said, the keyboard is fantastic. I never had a Mac in the days of the infamous butterfly keyboard, although it seems like it would have been insane to buy one of those when it was so clear that they were so bad. The new 1mm scissor switches are phenomenal, and they have the proper resistance to feel like they're not so shallow.
While the keys are accurate and comfortable, there's one other thing I want to point out. If you accidentally hit the caps lock key, it doesn't turn on. In fact, it's slightly challenging to hit it on purpose. I noticed this back in 2013 when I bought the only Mac I've ever owned, the Haswell MacBook Air, so it's not a one-time thing. I really wish more PC vendors would focus on this one little thing, because we've all hit that button accidentally before, and it's super annoying.
The top-right button on the keyboard is a power button, which doubles as a fingerprint sensor for Touch ID. However, unlike on Windows, you can't use Touch ID when you boot up the PC, which is probably the time that you want to use it the most. It's similar behavior to what we've seen on iOS for some time.
And then there's the Touch Bar, another infamous feature that Apple is rumored to be getting rid of when it brings back old ports. Personally, I think it's a good idea in theory. It gets rid of function keys which are antiquated, and replaces them with buttons that can be customized by each app. For example, in the Edge browser, I can tap an icon to go to a certain tab.
It's smart. Instead of having to know shortcuts, or for example, that F5 refreshes the page in a browser, there's actually a refresh button in the Touch Bar. The only problem is that I've not touched the Touch Bar in the entire time that I've reviewed this product. Perhaps I'm just not used to it, or perhaps it's because my hand is already on the touchpad.
Speaking of the touchpad, it's big, which is always nice. Indeed, Apple took advantage of the available real estate for this. It's also completely haptic. You'd probably never notice it just by using it, as clicking feels natural, but when you power down the PC, you'll notice that it no longer clicks.
It also has a sort of hard click function, which is more annoying than anything else. This is another thing that I didn't use, unless it happened accidentally. It takes a little bit of getting used to.
I wrote about this already, and it was a much deeper dive, but I wanted to give it its own section here. Hardware compatibility is already an issue on macOS, but it's especially an issue with the new ARM processor. As I already mentioned, you can't connect dual external displays, and that's probably the biggest issue for something that's branded as Pro.
Another key thing that won't work is an external GPU. Intel sent me an Nvidia GeForce RTX 2080 Ti for this project, and it doesn't work with the MacBook Pro. It does, however, work with Intel-powered Macs.
Other items that I used were Xbox controllers, the Samsung Touch T7 SSD, and the Logitech Brio. For the most part, these things worked as expected, although the newer Xbox Series X controller didn't work; support for that's going to be added soon though. You won't be able to use the IR camera on the Logitech Brio, as biometric authentication is reserved for Apple's own Touch ID.
The MacBook Pro can run two kinds of apps. It can run native ARM64 apps, and it can run Intel apps through Rosetta 2. In fact, Intel apps are surprisingly good, and you'll need them since so many apps aren't updated for M1 yet.
Adobe Creative Cloud is the biggest example. You'll find that apps like Photoshop, Premiere Pro, Media Encoder, Premiere Rush, After Effects, Character Animator, and Audition all have betas, and Lightroom isn't in beta but supports the M1 now. If the beta doesn't work for you, you can always run the Intel app side-by-side, taking a bit of a hit in performance.
When I first ran the Photoshop beta, it crashed if I tried to crop an image. Luckily, these things are getting updated pretty frequently. Premiere Pro actually still doesn't have support for MP3 files, so you can't import them into your project. You'll have to convert audio files to WAV before using them.
Now, let's talk about Windows 10, because Boot Camp is gone now, even though there's still a Boot Camp Assistant app that will just tell you there's no Boot Camp if you launch it. You can run Windows in virtualization using Parallels, and frankly, you shouldn't, at least not right now.
Microsoft only publishes VHDX images of Windows on ARM for Insider Previews, because they're made for Hyper-V, and Hyper-V for ARM is something that's in preview as well. And also, apps like the Microsoft Store, Photos, and a lot more don't work in Parallels on the M1 MacBook Pro. The reason is because the chipset actually doesn't support 32-bit ARM apps, which is no surprise because there hasn't been a 32-bit app in the Apple ecosystem in ages. There hasn't been a Windows device with a 32-bit ARM processor either since phones were supported, so it's unclear why those apps haven't been updated.
Parallels has some great integration with macOS though. You can access the macOS file system from Windows, and you can even set Safari as the default browser. Unfortunately, you still can't access an NTFS storage device from inside of Windows 10.
One other thing I just want to draw attention to is that I've been living in the Apple ecosystem this whole time and it's quite nice. Ever since the iPhone 12 series came out, I've been using the iPhone 12 Pro Max as my daily driver along with my Apple Watch, and using all of these things together is quite nice, even if part of the reason for that is because Apple doesn't build out support for other platforms.
Just having a Messages app is super handy. Also, AirDrop lets me send images and videos to the MacBook quickly, a real pain point on Windows 10. And when I use Android, all of that stuff still works too.
Performance and battery life
The model that Intel sent me includes 8GB RAM and a 256GB SSD, so it's the base model. Note that higher-end models of the 13-inch MacBook Pro still come with 10th-gen Intel processors, and there's a reason for that. While what Apple has done here is great, it's just not very pro.
Apple has been designing custom processors for ages, and that's what goes into iPhones and iPads. Indeed, the A7 in the iPhone 5s was the first mainstream 64-bit ARM processor, something that Qualcomm had to respond to with the Snapdragon 810. At the time, many thought 64-bit processors in phones were a gimmick, and that turned out to be untrue.
The Cupertino firm continued to build out its ARM processors, but it was still Qualcomm that first got into the PC market. The bad news is that Apple blew away Qualcomm's accomplishments on its first try. The latest Snapdragon Compute chipset is the 8cx Gen 2, and it was announced in September, after Apple announced the transition to Apple Silicon. And as you're about to see in benchmarks, Apple Silicon really does a lot better.
Unfortunately, the only two benchmarks I could run were Geekbench and Cinebench, since those were the only ones supported. Those only test the CPU though.
MacBook Pro 13
M1, macOS MacBook Pro 13
M1, Windows 10 (Parallels) Surface Pro X
SQ2 Razer Book 13
Core i7-1165G7 Geekbench 1,720 / 7,668 1,398 / 2,697 794 / 3,036 1,536 / 5,405 Cinebench 1,495 / 7,771 1,210 / 3,711
Real-world performance feels like a mixed bag to me. General tasks don't feel particularly fast, and when it comes to things like launching apps and boot time, it even feels sluggish. Video rendering times are quick though, as I've been able to render 4K 60fps videos that are 15 minutes long in under 20 minutes.
Battery life is pretty wild too. You're looking at a solid 12 hours of real-world usage here. One thing that's always impressed me with Apple is that it's pretty good at quoting real-world battery life. When a Windows OEM says 12 hours, that means that you're actually going to max out at around eight hours in real life.
The 13-inch MacBook Pro with Apple Silicon is an impressive product for a variety of reasons. It's just not pro. The M1 processor is fine for the MacBook Air, but if you feel like you need a step up from the Air to the Pro, I feel like that's not what you're getting here.
The fact that this can't support dual external monitors should be a deal-breaker. I really don't think that that's a niche use case. Boot Camp would be nice as well, given that it's clearly possible to run Windows on this thing, even if it is limited. And also, the design just feels so old. Coming from reviewing a variety of Windows 10 PCs, the bezels feel so massive on the MacBook Pro.
The build quality feels solid though, and like I said, Apple really nails down the core components of PC usage, such as the screen and the keyboard. It's also super impressive that the Cupertino company was able to build the custom chipset that it did.
I just think it's worth waiting for the second generation of the product, or getting a Windows laptop for that matter. And if you need a 13-inch MacBook Pro right now, I'd get the Intel one. While the M1 is fantastic and has a bright future, it still leaves a bit to be desired.
Check out the rest of the series:
Part one: Unboxing the MacBook Pro 13 Part two: Unboxing the Razer Book 13 Part three: Setting up the peripherals Part four: Hardware compatibility Part five: Software Part six: Razer Book 13 review Part eight: Conclusion