Apple’s Mac lineup is outshined by its laptops. The MacBook Pro and MacBook Air have taken center-stage, especially over the last few years where they’ve gone through a redesigned chassis and several keyboard adjustments. Its desktop computers have been overlooked in both the iMac and the Mac mini — both consumer-level desktop machines, unlike the Mac Pro. However, the Mac mini has been Apple’s most flexible machine, while the iMac has been more of a consumer-level product.
It seemed only logical for Apple to debut their new silicon, M1, in their laptop machines since they’re the best-sellers. So Apple brought M1 to the 13-inch MacBook Pro and 13-inch MacBook Air. But Apple also decided to bring M1 to the Mac mini, which last saw a refresh in 2018. This was a great move.
After using the new M1 Mac mini, the biggest standout is its value.
2020 M1 Mac mini: purchase here
256GB SSD, 8GB RAM, macOS Big Sur
Apple’s processor history is pretty varied. In the mid ’90s, Apple made a move to PowerPC and in 2005 made the switch to Intel. So now, in 2020, Apple has made the decision to switch from Intel’s chips to their own.
So what does this mean and how does it affect you?
There’s a lot of reasons for Apple to switch from Intel to M1. First and foremost, business is business. By manufacturing their own silicon, Apple control most of the entire process, almost all being integrated within. There’s also the evolution of the Mac itself and it’s good for the Mac (clearly) and users alike.
Before the M1, every component in the system was separate: RAM, processors, controllers, graphics cards, etc. Now, all of these components lie in the same chip. This is the same technology that has made the iPhone and iPad so successful. It’s allowed them to completely further themselves from any competition in the tablet market. It’s why the iPhone can have only 4GB of RAM and still be as fast as a Samsung Galaxy S10, which has 8GB of RAM. This efficiency makes Apple great at what they do.
In order for Apple to do this very hard thing, it will take some time. Two years as a matter of fact. That’s the estimated timeframe Apple has given themselves to switch from Intel-based applications to optimized applications for M1.
Right now, Apple’s native apps run great. If you’re a professional, native apps like Final Cut Pro, Logic, and more run perfectly. You can edit 4K video with no lag or rendering (my “should you buy” for pros is below). Prior to M1, video editing or doing big things on a Mac mini was not impossible. This was not a ‘baby machine,’ even though its advertised as one. However, if you are a professional, it’s much more likely that you’ll settle for a high-end Windows PC or iMac or Mac Pro before heading to get a Mac mini.
Not this time.
The new M1 Mac mini is a horse. It’s a beast. For $100 cheaper than before (just $700!), you can get an eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU, 256GB of SSD storage, and 8GB of RAM.
Compare it to its 2018 predecessor, the 2020 M1 Mac mini is roughly the same product on the outside. One key difference includes less USB-C ports, as the Intel sister product has four USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports instead of just two on this one. Technically you can just string together an external port (and yeah, it has two USB-A ports), or as many as you want, but you can’t beat the convenience of built-in ports. It really limits the Mac mini’s expandability, even now since you can only connect two external displays instead of three.
The Mac mini has a speaker, but you’ll never want to hear it. Ever. It’s tiny and it’s hollow, and considering that Apple’s laptops have the best speakers in the laptop market right now, it’s unfortunate to hear how terrible this thing sounds. The majority of users will probably end up getting a Bluetooth speaker or plug a speaker in using the Mac mini’s headphone jack.
Setting the Mac mini up was nearly painless. I do have Apple accessories for my keyboard and mouse so initially connecting those was no issue. But if you use a third-party keyboard or mouse, those will need to be plugged in until you connect them.
I’ve put a lot on this Mac — 4K video editing in both Final Cut and Premiere, Lightroom, Photoshop, Logic, even After Effects — and I’m not even sure I’ve come close to reaching its limits. All of these — except Logic and Final Cut — are natively built for Intel chips and they run well enough to hardly even notice. During your first install of an app built for Intel, you’ll be prompted to install Apple’s Rosetta 2 software, which is what essentially bridges the gap between Intel and M1. After that, its mostly smooth sailing.
Intel-based apps run well enough on M1 to not notice a difference. But one thing M1 Macs might be lacking in is in the gaming department. And I know you’re asking: who buys games to play on Mac? Well, you’d be surprised.
On my MacBook Pro, I had Windows 10 installed to play both Grand Theft Auto V and Planet Zoo. Both of them a little different, and I’m not much of a computer gamer — most of my time spent gaming is done on a PlayStation 4. But if you do any gaming or live streaming via Mac, there’s a few things you should know.
First of all, these are not meant to be gaming machines… yet.
Apple has brought their Mac lineups closer and closer to the gaming atmosphere as time has gone on, but there will be some obstacles going forward with M1. One game I exclusively play on macOS is The Sims 4, installed via EA’s Origin. Origin had some small hiccups at first and I thought the game kept crashing due to the chip inside. Instead, I had somehow opened three instances of Origin (Origin is required to be open to play any game on the service) and closed two of them so my system thought none were open and The Sims 4 kept failing upon launch.
Other users had been experiencing some issues with crashing and I did read one video encouraging users to turn on vertical sync in the graphics settings for the game to run smooth. And it does.
Going back to my point three paragraphs above regarding Windows 10: you cannot run Boot Camp on these machines yet. Microsoft hasn’t made Windows 10 available for M1 Macs yet. This is a bummer for several reasons, even though only around 5% of Mac users actually install Windows.
On top of that, I own an Elgato HD60S for streaming on Twitch. Elgato’s capture cards are not yet compatible with M1 Macs, even though they are more than capable, as they require at least a quad-core CPU (though it specifically mentions at least an Intel i5) and at least 4GB of RAM. This Mac mini has an 8-core CPU and 8GB of RAM. However, it doesn’t work with my capture card.
If you care about any of this gaming info, I would either buy an actual gaming PC (the lowest-end gaming machines are around the same price) or wait until this hardware is straightened out.
I’ve only had the Mac mini for about a week and it’s already my favorite computer I’ve ever owned.
I haven’t actually had a desktop computer since I was 14, but this is obviously better than my Lenovo laptop I carried around in high school and 1,000x better than my 2017 MacBook Pro when I first received it.
It has a fan, I haven’t heard it yet though. It runs apps reliably and is the perfect companion whether you’re using it for browsing the web and email or creative, professional work. At a starting price of just $699, it’s easily the best machine in its price class. For just $200 more, you can upgrade the solid-state storage from 256GB to 500GB. It’s expandable for 1TB or 2TB.
There aren’t many things that absolutely blow my mind, but this was one of them.
- Insane performance.
- Intel apps run very well on M1.
- Best price in its class.
- Not as many USB-C ports as Intel model.
- Unified RAM limited at only 16GB.
- No external GPUs.
- The speaker is absolutely terrifying.
Starting at $699 from Apple. Not an advertisement.