M1 Macs Really Are ‘Always-On’

Apple’s new M1 Macs use the same ‘always-on’ processor technology that mobile devices have been using for years. It has always been imperative that a mobile phone must be permanently sitting and listening, waiting for a call or message to come in, so it can sound the ringtone. Modern tablets such as the iPad evolved from this line of thinking and so are naturally always-on too.

Laptops and Desktops have however have never taken this route. Recent versions of Windows and macOS will wake up periodically to perform certain tasks, or in response network events, but I’ve never noticed them doing much in realtime.

I was surprised then to notice that my new M1 MacBook, while apparently asleep, was busy running rules on incoming mail seconds after it had arrived. My phone buzzes as a new email is received, and I open the mail app on my phone to see the message has been flagged, moved or whatever else I have set as a rule on my Mac. This would happen with my old 2013 MacBook, but the rules would only run every few hours. It’s not a bug as far as I can tell, as the battery life when the MacBook is sleeping is still outstanding. I’m yet to explore how this works, or how much 3rd party developers can take advantage of this always-on state, but the possibility of having powerful devices, which aren’t locked down in the same way as iPads and iPhones, performing useful tasks in near realtime while using hardly any battery, is pretty exciting.

Update: As of macOS 11.3, Apple has restored hibernation support to M1 Macs. Hibernation mode is a lower power state Mac laptops go into after being asleep for around 3 hours. I’ve not noticed any difference in behaviour yet, let me know about your experience in the comments.

3 thoughts on “M1 Macs Really Are ‘Always-On’

  1. That is rather interesting and a hair concerning. I like the idea it can handle a few things while sleeping but I wonder at what cost to remaining battery time? In the “real” world I doubt this is much of a concern but as a nomad roaming full time in a tiny camper, I have limited access to electricity so I’d want to maximize whatever battery charge I have for writing, processing photos, etc.

    Seems the easy thing for me to do is to just power completely off in situations where I know I’ll be out of the loop for extended periods or there’s no sun for solar charging.

    Ray

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    1. Hi Ray, thanks for stopping by! I’ve not had any issue with idle battery drain, maybe a few percentage points per night, that’s all. Way better than my old Intel Mac (even with power nap turned off). What’s the connectivity situation like in your van? I would imagine if the Mac is offline most of the time then it will be even less. If you’re not using it every day then it probably makes sense to power down any way. There will be a point at which the power required to go through the full boot process will be greater than the power lost while in sleep mode, I’ve no idea what that is but at a guess I would suggest if you’re not going to use it for more 3 or 4 days, best to shut it down! Cold temperatures (< 5ºC) can also be an issue for lithium ion batteries (it can cause them to show a lower remaining charge than they really have) which I guess may affect you too.

      Cheers,
      Marc

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    2. I generally turn it off since I don’t know when I’ll use it again, better to be safe that way. As you say, if it’s a couple days I’ll let it sleep as it’s no biggie.

      As for connectivity if I am in range I use cellular via hotspot devices. Or local libraries/cafes.

      Take care,
      Ray

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