I’ve made my feelings about the M1 MacBook Air pretty clear. I love it. Despite a recent wobble about the battery life, it has completely revolutionised mobile working for me.
Following this wonderful, nascent experience with my first-ever Apple silicon-powered Mac, I began thinking about my next desktop computer and quickly set my sights on the iMac.
The beautiful 27” 5K screen and convenient form factor have always won it for me when it comes to Apple’s all-in-one. Many regard it as the best device in that class, and I completely agree; you just can’t get anything at the same price point that combines such a wonderful screen and powerful internals.
Or can you?
On my desk now sits a brand-new M1 Mac mini and a 34” MSI ultra widescreen monitor. I’ve only used this setup for around a week, but it has immediately changed my mindset about… well, everything.
Let me explain. Here’s why I think the M1 Mac mini changes everything.
I plumped for the 16GB version of the M1 Mac mini with a 512GB hard drive. That brought it in at £1,099. Adding the MSI monitor, a Keychron K2 keyboard and Logitech MX Master 3 mouse set me back £1,630 in total for a complete set up.
Now, speaking as a business owner who relies on his computer for relatively heavy duty tasks such as 4K video editing and audio production, that is an absolute steal.
In terms of a return on investment, it’ll pay itself back within a month or two. The same can’t be said for my £3,500 16” MacBook Pro, which _has_ given me a decent return, only over a much longer period of time.
The Mac mini has long been known as one of the most affordable entry points into macOS, and the M1 version continues this trend. I’m so glad Apple kept the faith with this computer (we can see now why its future was never in danger); it’s the only device they sell which doesn’t include an ounce of ‘Apple Tax’, in my opinion.
Let’s not forget, too, that it starts at just £699.
It’s the Mac mini we’ve always known and loved
Classic Apple. They haven’t touched the design of the M1 Mac mini; it’s the same little slab of aluminium we’ve known for many years.
But what else are they going to do with it, anyway? Add a beveled edge? Paint it pacific blue? Make it pointlessly thinner?
It’s a classic design and one which just works. It’s also relatively timeless and, unlike the current, ageing MacBook design, one which still fits handsomely into any modern computing set up.
The power is effortless
Onto what matters: the power of this thing.
In case you’re new to my analysis and reviews, I should probably note at this juncture that I have zero interest in benchmarks or stress tests. They have their place, and I totally understand why some people enjoy delving into them, but for me, they’re too far removed from real world usage.
I’m far more interested in how a device benefits – or frustrates – me each day.
It just so happens I have a case in point with the M1 Mac mini.
Last weekend, I edited my most recent video entirely on the Mac mini in Final Cut Pro. I also processed the audio in Logic Pro and edited the image for the thumbnail in Lightroom.
Here’s the rub. It felt identical to my super-expensive, fully decked-out 16” MacBook Pro. I’m yet to test the Mac mini’s rendering and export speeds against the latter, but neither process held me up or frustrated me during that first edit.
Let’s consider this. If we take the addition of a monitor, keyboard and mouse out of the equation, I spent nearly £2,500 more on the MacBook. If I’d used it for this edit, it would have of course sailed through just as competently, but it would also have got ridiculously hot and the fans would have been blaring away for the duration. Which is annoying.
By comparison, the Mac mini just sat there, silently twiddling its thumbs while I created my 14 minute 4K video from import to upload.
Trust me – as a video creator, this changes everything. I’ll be offering lots more insight into how this machine performs with specific tasks, but I’m absolutely bowled over by its performance.
The fact I’m even comparing it to the 16” MacBook Pro says all you need to know.
Stuff I’m not so enamoured with
It’s not all roses. There are two things I’m not particularly impressed with.
- Ports: You get two USB-A ports, an HDMI port and two thunderbolt/USB 4 ports. A lot has been said about the lack of connectivity on this initial round of Apple silicon machines, and it’s clearly a limitation of the platform at the moment, but it is a shame. There’s plenty of space on the back for more, alas, it looks like we’ve got to wait for that.
- No SD card slot: Many moons ago, the Mac mini used to have an SD card slot, but while the iMac has retained this incredibly useful input, the M1 mini maintains its absence. Yes, I can use a dongle, but nothing beats the convenience or speed of a built-in SD card reader. Why, Apple? There’s space!
- The internal speaker: Given Apple’s new found prowess in the field of audio, why is the M1 Mac mini’s speaker so dreadful? You realise how far they’ve come with this stuff when you hear it chime pathetically for the first time.
That’s it, though. Thankfully, none of the above are dealbreakers.
So, what’s next, Apple?
Dan Hansen recently noted that we’re probably more likely to see a ‘Mac mini Pro’ than the rumoured ‘smaller’ Mac Pro.
I really like this thought, although I’d argue they’re technically the same thing.
I think most people will agree that this initial round of Apple silicon-powered Macs paint a rather exciting future for the platform – to put it mildly. The MacBook Air immediately confirmed this for me, but the Mac mini has raised my expectation levels even higher.
The challenge arrives when you start to think about where the additional improvements are going to come. For instance, RAM is becoming a more divisive topic than it ever has been, therefore I question the merit of simply giving us increased gigabytes to add to our basket.
That leaves more cores, faster clock speeds (although Apple never discloses, officially, at which speed with M1 runs), and higher storage options.
For creatives like myself, there’s definitely a performance ceiling. I have no doubt I could potentially push this Mac mini, but it would probably take a switch to 8K video to do so, and I’m not about to do that any time soon.
So, while I’m undoubtedly excited about the future of Apple silicon, I am fascinated by the decisions available to Apple and how they’ll attempt to lure people like myself from this first batch of M1 machines. When is ‘too much power’ simply too much power?
There are use-cases where raw RAM abundance has merit.
For example, my workflow necessitates heavy use of virtual machines. Need RAM for that. Mass quantities of RAM. Not more-efficiently-utilized RAM, not cleverly-swapped-to-NVMe RAM. Acres and hectares of RAM.
16GB just isn’t enough. And so I wait.
Fair point, Scott – there are definitely instances where as much RAM as possible is still needed. And I guess that’s why this initial round of Apple silicon machines aren’t for people like you. Let’s see what comes next…