Is MacBook Air M1 Good For Computer Science Students?

So, you’re wondering if the MacBook Air M1 is good for Computer Science students? Well, you’ve come to the right place! Today we are going to discuss the pros and cons of using the M1 MacBook Air as a compsci student.

If you want to check out the MacBook Air review for web development, check this out.

What Is The M1 In The New MacBook Air?

Before we discuss if the M1 MacBook Air model is worth using for a Computer Science student, we should first clarify what it is.

Despite what many people believe the M1 is not a CPU! Instead, it is a collection of an 8-core CPU, 7-8 core GPU, and a unified memory system. What makes the M1 so powerful is that the CPU and GPU can directly share memory resources. This means that the M1 MacBook Air can think and perform tasks much faster than previous Intel-based MacBook models.

In the past, I reviewed using a MacBook Air for web development. Ultimately, I stated that the intel-based MacBook Air would be a terrible choice, but it is possible to use the M1. Mainly because it is a much better machine.

However, is the MacBook Air M1 really ideal for computer science students? Let’s find out!

Pros of The MacBook Air M1 For Computer Science Students

1. Greater CPU & GPU Power

According to MacRumors, the M1 allows up to 6x better GPU performance, 3.5x better CPU performance, and 15x faster machine learning capabilities compared to prior Intel-based models.

That is a significant improvement! Even with the 8GB RAM model, this should be sufficient.

As I mentioned in my web development review, I was able to run some tests on the M1 MacBook Air with two Docket containers, Visual Studio, multiple chrome tabs, and a few complementary apps like Spotify. Even with all that, the machine was still running strong! This test makes me believe that the MacBook should be able to handle the average workload for a compsci student pretty easily.

2. Lightweight + Slim

In addition to having good specs, the device obviously also benefits from being lightweight and slim. This is a must-have for any student.

When you are a student, you are going to be spending a significant part of the day on campus. Having a laptop that is easy to carry around and takes up minimal space is definitely ideal.

I never thought much about this when I had my first laptop, since it was a MacBook Air, but know that I have a gaming laptop, I realize how heavy and clunky they can be!

3. Great Battery Life

Battery life is also incredibly important if you are going to be on campus all day. Although many lecture halls have a place to plug your laptop in, many do not.

Being able to last many hours coding with CPU-heavy applications is important. Another major flaw with using a gaming laptop, since the battery life is usually pretty poor.

Luckily, the MacBook Air M1 has a very good battery life! According to my friend, he can go all day without charging his Macbook Air M1 with light use and roughly 14 hours with heavy use.

This should be more than sufficient and about as good of battery life you can expect out of a laptop.

4. Quality Camera

The MacBook Air M1 also features a high-quality 720p camera. Although cameras are not the most important part of a laptop, it is definitely nice to have for a school laptop. Especially as we see more and more classes turn to online courses and you will likely have many virtual group projects.

Cons of The MacBook Air M1 For Computer Science Students

1. Historically MacBook Air Is Not Meant For Programming

The main issue I have for the MacBook Air M1, is that historically the Air models were never meant to be machines for programming. Rather, they were meant for light text editing, browsing the web and doing all the things an average student would do. Not what a computer science student would be doing.

Additionally, I cannot find anywhere were Apple actually recommends using the M1 for programming tasks.

Remember, the Air M1 doesn’t even have a fan! Which is usually installed to keep your laptop cool and undamaged when working on heavy tasks.

Instead of high fan speeds warning you that your device is working hard, you will get thermal throttling, and a warmer and slower device. Which can be harder to catch and could potentially cause damage to your device.

2. Not All Schools Allow MacOS

Although this surprises me, there are still a lot of schools out there that don’t support MacOS for their students. Since the software you are using has to be compatible with everybodies machine, some schools only promise that the curriculum works with a windows machine.

For example, the University of Kentucky doesnt recommend using a MacBook for your personal laptop. Stating you will need to use a library computer instead if the software you need isn’t supported. Trust me, this will be a pain!

Although I believe every curriculum should be cross-platform, it obviously isn’t my decision. So make sure to check with your college/university before pulling the trigger on a MacBook Air M1.

Alternative Option:

If you really wanted to, you could run a virtual machine on your computer to emulate a windows machine. However, it probably wouldn’t be very performant, since your computer will now have to support two environments.

3. Macs Are Expensive!

This one should be obvious, but MacBook’s are expensive! I do think that MacBooks are high quality and worth the investment. However, you can get a laptop with better specs for a similar or better price than a new MacBook Air.

Some options you could look into are:

All of which have great specs for a fraction of the price of a MacBook Air M1.

Further Tips For Computer Science Students

Here is a few additional things I recommend for you Computer Science students.

1. Get A Secondary Monitor

The first thing I recommend is getting a secondary monitor for your laptop. This has been absolutely game changing for me. As a programmer, you benefit substantially from having two monitors. That is the biggest drawback to having a laptop. Luckily there is a solution! A monitor that attaches to your laptop.

Personally, I use the Mobile Pixels monitors and they have worked beautifully for my productivity. I actually do all of my coding both for work and for fun on my laptop. I also travel a lot. Both of which have made the investment for these monitors worth it. I’m even using it now as I write this article.

Honestly, if I had a secondary monitor when I was in school my entire life would have been so much easier.

You can read my full review on the Mobile Pixels brand here. You can also check out some other options here.

2. Double Check Your Curriculum Software Is Supported By M1

Another thing to note is that you can check here if the software you are using in your curriculum has been optimized for the M1. If it has, you probably don’t need to worry much about it putting stress on your laptop.

Final Thoughts

The MacBook Air M1 does look to have the specifications that would make it a great laptop for computer science students, such as a quality CPU, GPU, long battery life and lightweight design. However, I don’t know if the laptop has ever been officially promoted as such and you may run into some performance issues with heavy use. Not to mention, you could probably buy a more suitable laptop for a better price. You would also need to check with your university if certain software would be supported by MacOS in the cirriculum.

In addition, you should seriously think about a secondary monitor for coding purposes. It will make your development a lot more enjoyable!

So that about wraps things up, as always, happy coding!

Grant Darling

Grant is a full-stack / frontend software developer passionate about writing & coding. He has many years experience working in the tech industry both as a freelancer and as an employee.

The Code Bytes is all about providing people with honest information about programming. To learn more about Grant, read his about page!

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