Rounding out 2020, Apple made the first move in its transition from Intel to Arm-based Apple silicon processors. The MacBook Air, the 13” MacBook Pro, and the Mac mini are the first Macs to feature the new chip.
As I have been using an M1 MacMini with 512gb drive to replace my 2013 8-core MacPro for the past 3 weeks, I can say that owners of that model of MacPro and lesser will find themselves generally experiencing a faster FCP workflow. Of course third party plug-ins don’t all work right now. The one place where the 2013 MacPro seems to still work faster is with CPU heavy programs like Handbrake or DCP-O-Matic. I have been using a beta of Handbrake that uses the unusual M1 CPU layout better (roughly twice as fast compared to the official version) but I haven’t made a direct comparison to the MacPro yet. My occasionally malfunctioning 2013 MacPro will now be used as a render machine for CPU/GPU heavy tasks such as DCPs (if I ever get a request for those again) and Topaz AI upres projects.
One aspect of the new M1 devices, which is often overlooked, IMHO, is the 8GB ram versus 16GB ram. The primary reason why the performance difference is not huge, is that swapping to the SoC SSD is so fast, HOWEVER - and this is really important - SSD has a limited lifespan, unlike ram. In the case of the M1 boxes, it is obviously impossible to replace the SSD when it wears out, so you can toss your device in the bin!
So my advice is, if you are actually planning to use your M1 box for "real" work (or play), for a few years, then ALWAYS go for the 16GB ram model.
I'm not sure where your lifespan info comes from regarding SSDs. The M1 Macs use the NVMe versions and not standard SSDs to start with. I have been running various Macs - all with SSDs - and at this point, no issue with lifespan. Witness the many 2013 Mac Pros still in service with the original internal drives. You can also assume 3-5 years with spinning disks, yet many last far longer.
Just to add some info on SSDs. For grins I did a quick search of current SSD lifespan info. The general estimate is that SSDs have a rated lifespan of 10 years. Since this is based on read/write cycles, you may get more or less time. Google ran a study that showed 25% less replacement with SSDs than HDDs. However, they also reported higher error rates as SSDs aged. The bottom line is that you will likely get better life from an SSD or NVMe than an HDD under regular use. In any case, it's moot, since modern Macs don't come with user-replaceable main, internal drives. I certainly concur with the 16GB RAM recommendation. Hopefully even more in the next M-series Macs. And I also suggest running external drives for media and cache files. Leave the internal for apps and basic document files.
I understand what you are saying. The review mini was the base model and that's what I was supplied to work with. That being said, I didn't find a huge detriment to having 8GB. The general belief - and my testing seems to confirm this - is that SoC RAM roughly equates to double that of an x86 machine. So that 8GB is comparable to 16GB in an Intel Mac. If you ignore render times (which weren't bad, all things considered) then performance was excellent with optimized apps and codecs. For example, 8K ProResHQ was smooth as silk in FCP. With external storage, you could easily cut a feature film on this machine. The only app that I tested that is considered RAM-hungry was After Effects. It's render times were poor on both Macs - especially when compared with Motion. So having 96GB of RAM on the iMac didn't seem to matter all that much.
I'm waiting for someone to load up a 2.5 hour long documentary with 8 GB RAM on an M1 and see what actually happens.
And RAM isn't so much speed, but how much data can be buffered into it, so I don't see how any 8 GB RAM on any machine can equal 16. You'd need to do a text of a project that eats up a ton of RAM, really. Then see what happens.
It wasn't a 2.5 hr doc, but I did load up my Holiday project which had an 80 minute timeline - lots of layers plus text for subtitles. Mainly 1080p/29.97 ProRes. No issues. In terms of real-time layers, it did better than the iMac Pro that I'd edited it on. One big factor not to be overlooked is drive speed. My media was all on a fast TB SSD. But, yes, different project types will tax a machine in different ways.