Apple M1 vs. Intel: Should You Trade in Your Old MacBook for a Slick New Processor?

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Photo: Caitlin McGarry/Gizmodo

MacBook Air With Apple M1 Chip | $982 | Amazon
MacBook Pro With Apple M1 Chip | $1,400 | Amazon

If it hasn’t happened to you, it’s probably happened to someone you know: As if triggered by your purchase, a new Apple product seems to appear just as you’ve gotten your shiny new gadget set up just right. Best case scenario, the upgrades are minor and you don’t have to sweat it too much, but every so often something comes along that makes your recent purchase feel obsolete before you’ve even had the chance to enjoy it.

That’s what happened to me after I ordered a MacBook Pro in June of last year. I’d spent the past year-and-a-half doing all my freelance work and hobby writing on my iPad Pro, but my workflow eventually pushed that to its limits and I needed something capable of more multitasking. At the time, Apple had already announced its plans to transition to ARM, so I knew that new laptops might be on the horizon, but I’d assumed there would be enough first-generation hiccups to make it worth holding off for a while.


After the reviews started to publish in November, it quickly became clear I’d made a mistake. Sure, my MacBook Pro was perfectly adequate for my daily flow of reading the news, writing, and the occasional bit of illustration work—my purchase had more than paid off. Still, the praise for the M1 laptops’s wildly impressive battery life and speeds couldn’t be ignored, and my computer started to feel a bit older than any fresh purchase ideally would.

So, I weighed my options. I could take the L and go through the next few years with a pretty solid laptop that got the job done with less-than-perfect battery life, or I could find a way to cover most of the cost of an M1 MacBook. Before the pandemic, I would’ve listed my MacBook Pro on Craigslist or Facebook Marketplace for a few hundred bucks less than what I paid, gotten the entry-level MacBook Air that I’d picked out based on reviews, and pocketed the extra cash. I’m not too keen on the idea of meeting up with a stranger right now, so that got ruled out pretty quickly. I didn’t want to go through the hassles and frustrations of eBay, either, so my options felt pretty limited.


I’d quickly ruled out eBay as I didn’t want to deal with the hassle of making a listing nor worry about the company’s various fees. So, I decided to check-in on how much I could trade my laptop in for. Best Buy’s trade-in program offered me about $450, which felt pretty disappointing for something less than 6 months old.

Next, I hopped over to Apple’s program to see if they might have a bit more to offer. If everything checked out, they’d give me $750—about half what I paid for it less than a year ago—in exchange for my MacBook. Since I’d been eyeing the $1,000 entry-level Air, which seemed to offer plenty of speed and battery life to suit my needs, I’d only have to shell out $250 out of pocket for battery life that could get me through over a day’s worth of work without having to fret too much about staying near an outlet. That would be in addition to the $750 I’d already spent on a new computer, but that money wasn’t coming back anyways, so it came down to whether I’d be willing to spend that extra couple hundred dollars for the improvements offered by the M1 chip.


I switched to the iPad Pro for two reasons: to produce better illustrations for my newsletter, and for its long-lasting battery life. While the MacBook Air doesn’t offer any way for me to doodle on it, its edge on the already-impressive iPad Pro’s battery life seemed tempting enough. When I’m struggling to focus, I like to take my laptop to the park for a bit and try to knock out at least a few solid paragraphs for whatever I’m working on. It’s a small thing, but in a time when things like focus and motivation have felt really difficult, every little bit counts, so that extra expense felt worth it. I ended up grabbing the Air I’d had in my cart for over a week, and I couldn’t be happier—its battery never fails to get me through even a long, hectic day, and there’s no task it hasn’t been able to handle with grace.

That said, I wouldn’t classify it as a necessary upgrade. If you’ve got other expenses to worry about, your tasks still require apps that don’t support the new laptops, or you’re just more cautious with your money, there’s no reason to sweat taking a pass on this round of speedy Macs. If you bought a new MacBook recently, it’ll still be just as fast as it was the day before Apple’s announcements, and it’s not going to slow down simply because Apple announced yet another round of wildly fast laptops. So go ahead and hit that buy button if you must, but if you’re feeling a little less than certain, there’s still plenty to love about what you’ve already got.