In reviewing the M1 Mac mini, I discussed my experience with Apple’s most affordable M1-enabled Mac. Is Apple’s compact desktop computer worth it? Watch my M1 Mac mini diary for more details.
The entry-level Mac mini with 8-core CPU, GPU and 256GB storage starts at $699. More importantly, the entry-level Mac mini has only 8GB of unified memory, and it cannot be upgraded after the Intel-based models are available.
Apple still sells the Intel Mac mini for $1,099, but despite it being able to carry out a money-saving RAM upgrade, plus two additional Thunderbolt ports and an optional 10Gb Ethernet port, it is difficult for me to Recommend Intel-based Macs. Apple Silicon makes performance possible. But this is not a positive comparison between Intel Mac mini and Apple Silicon Mac mini, but my long-term experience of using Apple mini desktops.
Video: The Rewind-M1
Mac mini diary?
sponsor: Get AirBuddy 2 to upgrade AirPods on Mac. The top 100 9to5Mac readers/viewers will get 20% off AirBuddy 2!
Subscribe to 9to5mac on YouTube to get more videos
The most important upgrade
I originally bought an M1 MacBook Pro with 8GB RAM because I wanted to get the machine as soon as possible, and the 16GB configuration is not immediately available. I know this decision may be a mistake, but I am impatient.
The result of my decision is not surprising, but because of the way I use my Mac, I almost immediately regretted buying the 8GB model. If you just plan to use it to browse the Web and do spreadsheets and word processing, then the basic model is absolutely capable. This is a good everyday computer that can handle basic content. However, if you plan to do heavy work (which is definitely how I use a Mac), then I suggest you choose the 16GB upgrade.
Final Cut Pro, Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo and Motion (all the applications I use frequently) perform better with additional memory. Shocked? The same is true when connected to a high-resolution display such as Pro Display XDR.
Just like Apple’s laptop, the RAM configuration is final.If you choose an 8GB Mac mini, then you will only be able to use 8GB, and you can no way upgrade. Considering that the RAM upgrade from 8GB to 16GB is “only” $200, I suggest you upgrade to 16GB if you plan to use your computer for so-called professional workflows, or even if you tend to be on the multitasking or Safari tab quite busy.
My hands-on experience found that if you have 16GB of RAM, then this machine can do almost anything within a reasonable range. This means that 4K 10-bit HDR videos, RAW photos, music projects with a large number of audio tracks, etc. can be easily edited and exported in Logic Pro.
Storage is a more flexible upgrade option, because the use of USB and Thunderbolt SSD can increase storage space. The configuration of the Mac mini is better than its notebook counterparts because it includes two USB-A ports for connecting external peripherals such as SSDs. This means you can choose to keep precious Thunderbolt I/O for other uses.
Thanks to an external solid-state drive, the basic 256GB storage capacity of the Mac mini is relatively easy to obtain, but I recommend at least the next storage tier to appear. 512GB provides more swing space, especially if you want to install a Windows virtual machine. Coupled with the RAM upgrade, the price of the Mac mini will reach $1,099, or the same price that Apple charges for the basic Intel version. The M1 Mac mini with 16GB RAM and 512GB SSD is the best choice. This is the configuration I recommend to most users.
To supplement the internal storage of the Mac mini, I used the OWC Mercury Helios 3S case and my 24TB Amfeltec Squid PCIe SSD setup. OWC Mercury Helios is very reliable, relatively quiet, and even includes a second Thunderbolt port for connecting other Thunderbolt devices in a daisy chain. I have never reviewed this shell for 9to5mac, but regarded it as my official endorsement. For portable storage, I like to use Samsung T7, which is still one of the best mobile SSDs on the market.
This is a comparison of M1 Mac mini with M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro:
- 2 Thunderbolt
- 3.5mm headphone input
- 2 Thunderbolt
- 3.5mm headphone input
- HDMI 2.0
- 2 USB-A
- Gigabit Ethernet
In contrast, in terms of I/O, the Mac mini is more powerful than the M1 laptop. Of course, you can connect the dongle to your MacBook, but Mac mini provides a cleaner solution.
Due to the versatility of the Intel Mac mini, I admit to losing the sting of two Thunderbolt ports, and I often find myself having to replace the Thunderbolt connection. This is not a big problem, but it is a big annoyance for me, especially because Pro Display XDR permanently occupies one of these Thunderbolt ports, and the display lacks an additional Thunderbolt port for daisy chain setup. This is one of the reasons why I expect the next generation of Mac mini to be uncompromising.
The biggest difference between Mac mini and MacBook Air/Pro is the form factor. For Mac mini, you obviously have to provide an external monitor. You can connect your Mac mini to a variety of displays, from HDMI displays to TVs, to displays such as Apple’s Thunderbolt-enabled Pro Display XDR 6K display.
Related: Pro Display XDR main functions
As a Pro Display XDR user, when paired with this monitor, I am satisfied with the performance of the M1 Mac mini. I think this makes the Mac mini a good companion because the M1 GPU can drive a 1660 x 3384 resolution display at full resolution at 60 fps.
External display connection is another example. In this example, I found that 16GB of unified memory has a significant difference in performance. When running applications such as Final Cut Pro, animations occur (for example when switching to full-screen mode), and the overall performance is smoother compared to the 16GB M1 Mac equipped with the 8GB version.
Since Mac mini does not come with a mouse or keyboard, you need to provide your own mouse or keyboard. I rotate between Magic Mouse / Magic Trackpad and Magic Keyboard / Keychron K2. Unfortunately, due to Bluetooth issues, all these devices sometimes experience intermittent connections.
Intermittent disconnection is the most common Bluetooth problem I have encountered, and although it is not always the case, it seems to happen at the most inopportune time. I have tried all the so-called remedies-disconnect all USB 3 devices, cancel Wi-Fi, etc., but still no problem.
Admittedly, Apple’s macOS 11.2 update seems to provide a lot of help. Compared to earlier versions of macOS, my Bluetooth issues on the M1 Mac are far less bad, but they have not completely disappeared, and I still occasionally experience frustrating Bluetooth disconnections.
Mac mini speakers are outrageous and frightening, but this is not surprising, because it has always been this way. Apple basically includes a speaker in the Mac mini, the sound is audible enough, nothing more. With this in mind, you will need to rely on a pair of headphones or connect a pair of external speakers or displays.
Pro Display XDR lacks built-in speakers, and I have no plans to use a pair of monitors that are small enough to fit in a compact work space. I may finally introduce another pair of iLoud microdisplays in episode 16 of “Back to Mac”. In addition, I can use the HomePod mini stereo pair, but due to the inherent latency issues, this is only useful for music playback.
Apart from the inoperability of Microsoft Windows, the main reason I prefer to use a Mac computer is that I can access Final Cut Pro. Like all Macs that support M1, Mac mini has a powerful CPU and GPU and is surprisingly good at editing videos. Even more impressive is the ability of these machines to handle my specific workflow. If you haven’t noticed, we have largely transitioned to HDR video on 9to5Mac’s YouTube channel, thanks in large part to the M1 system on the chip and the way it handles the HEVC (H.265) 10-bit workflow . As cameras become more powerful and software workflows become easier to use, I doubt you will see more content creators transition to HDR video in the next few years.
Like the chip that powers the Apple iPad, the M1 chip in the Mac mini is very good at encoding 10-bit HEVC video. I use 10-bit Compressor settings and directly export my HDR timeline to the easy-to-digest H.265 format for uploading to YouTube.
When paired with a HDR-enabled display, the Mac mini is an excellent companion to the HDR workflow and makes it very easy to handle this type of video. Of course, this only applies to my specific workflow, but you will find these sentiments echoed in various disciplines online.
Perhaps the most impressive thing for me is the performance of the 8-core GPU on the M1 Mac mini. It’s great, I don’t even have to think about it. Unless you have an external GPU connected, trying to edit 4K video on an Intel-based Mac mini is more or less futile. Editing videos or performing any other graphics-intensive operations is only available for M1 Mac mini. What is shocking is how capable Apple Silicon is in these areas.
That being said, the Mac mini is still the first-generation product, with occasional bugs and crashes, and overall weird things that have never been seen on other Intel machines. It also does not support running Windows via Boot Camp (but running Windows on ARM via Parallels) and external GPUs (although you may find that they are not needed). If these are things you often use at the moment, then you will need to stick to Intel or look for alternative paths.
In general, M1 Mac minis like the M1 MacBook Pro and MacBook Air are outstanding and provide incredibly powerful features for very little money. For everything I do, including rendering and exporting large, complex 4K HDR videos through Final Cut Pro, it’s almost silent.
Before the Mac launched Apple Silicon, no one doubted Apple’s hardware capabilities or chip design capabilities. I think we all expect Apple Silicon to perform well, although I think even these expectations have been eclipsed. The biggest question mark entering the Apple Silicon era on the Mac is around software. Will there be enough software support on the first day? What will the transition be 6 or 12 months after launch?
In fact, this is not what I really thought of when I was writing this article, and thus answered this question. Since the native versions of most applications were available on the first day, and everything else was handled through the amazing Rosetta 2 translation, Apple eliminated them with software support. Of course, there are exceptions, but unless you use obscure applications or utilities, most software can run normally on the M1 Mac. In fact, due to Apple’s involvement in the entire design stack, many applications (such as Apple’s professional applications mentioned above) perform better than ever.
Is the M1 Mac mini worth it? Absolutely, as long as you consider that this is the first iteration of Mac mini and Apple Silicon, and the upcoming version will have more powerful chips, more powerful configuration options, and more I/O. However, even in its current form, the Mac mini is still the most versatile of all machines in the Apple M1 series, and the price is the cheapest. When paired with the right peripherals, the Mac mini becomes one of the best Macs we have seen in a while. The more I use it, the more I appreciate its excellence.
what do you think? Have you switched to M1 Mac? Please turn off the sound in the comments below.
FTC: We use profitable car affiliate links. more.
Check out 9to5Mac on YouTube for more Apple news: