Updated May 12, 2021

Following extensive testing by many Penn constituents, Information Systems & Computing (ISC) is approving Apple's M1-based Macs for general use. The current Mac mini (M1), iMac (M1), MacBook Air, and MacBook Pro 13-inch (M1) are now considered appropriate choices for the University's Mac users who are buying in those product classes.

However, these Macs are not appropriate for all potential University Mac purchasers. Many will find their low to mid-range positioning limiting—RAM maxes out at 16 GB, ports are restricted for the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, and mobile screen size is 13-inch only. Other limitations include the lack of discrete video card choices. For users who need more capable or flexible systems, Intel-based Macs remain an approved choice. ISC expects Apple to add substantially to Apple Silicon-based product options over calendar 2021.

Though actual functionality is astoundingly good for a complete processor transition, there are some significant compatibility issues with these new M1-based systems. Perhaps most importantly, the ability to use Apple's Boot Camp technology to run Microsoft Windows has been lost and is not expected to return. Along with that, virtualization technologies such as Parallels and Fusion are currently cannot virtualize mainstream versions of Microsoft Windows. Many application plug-ins, audio/video tools (such as Panopto for Mac), and some developer environments are also likely to be problematic. Box Drive is functional in a public beta, but there are so many workarounds required that ISC does not consider the current version (2.21.x) as supportable.

For those intending to purchase an M1 Mac, these are the current RAM specifications:

By definition, this approval of M1 hardware also means that macOS 11.x Big Sur (ARM) is now supported, as M1 Macs require at least Big Sur. macOS 11.x Big Sur (Intel) was approved in early December 2020.

My thanks go out to many testers across the University who assisted with this evaluation, including Dan Cipolla, Nate Cosgrove, Matt Frew, Matt Gauntt, Jim Miller, and Doug Smullens.