The M1 Mac mini is blessed with many things. Super-faster performance, incredible thermals and the ability to outperform far more expensive Intel-based Macs.
One thing where it’s lacking, however, is ports.
Watch or read any review of the M1 Mac mini and you’ll be informed that one of its greatest shortcomings is the fact that it only comes with two USB-A ports and two USB 4 (or thunderbolt, to be exact) ports.
It’s not quite such a big deal for me. Indeed, after my first two weeks of owning an M1 Mac mini, I barely noticed the missing ports.
It’s a wonderful machine. But, equally, I know that some people need more than four ports. It also lacks an SD card reader, which, as a video creator, is pretty irritating.
There are currently two solutions. You either attach numerous dongles to the back of your Mac mini, or you buy something like the Type-C Aluminium Stand & Hub from Satechi.
What is it?
At the time of writing, the Type-C Aluminium Stand & Hub is a smidgen under $80 on Amazon and is compatible with Mac minis from 2018 onwards (so yes, it works with Intel machines, too).
It’s exactly what it says it is; a stand and USB hub for the Mac mini. Simple.
Installation is equally straightforward. You simply place your Mac mini on top of the hub and connect the two via the included USB-C cable. This leaves you with a slightly taller Mac mini with a sudden abundance of connectivity at the front, from USB-A to – yep, you guessed it – an SD card reader (two, in fact).
For $80, Satechi’s hub is beautifully designed. It’s spookily Apple-like and perfectly matches the fit and finish of the Mac mini, thanks to that aluminium casing and rounded design.
The dimensions perfectly match the Mac mini and it simply makes Apple’s definitive desktop computer look like some kind of ‘special edition’ when attached. You can get the hub in both silver and Space Grey, too, therefore it’ll match both of Apple’s traditionally dour colour options.
I’m a big fan of tidy cabling, and Satechi has done a neat job with the hub in that regard. The USB-C connection at the rear of the device is made available via a tough flattened cable which is no longer than it needs to be.
When it comes to design, you’re getting a lot for your money here.
Once connected, the Satechi hub offers three USB-A 3.0 ports, one USB-C port, an SD card reader and even a micro SD card reader. There’s a headphone jack, too.
As far as data transfer is concerned, this equips your Mac mini with a total of five USB-A ports, two SD card readers and, yes, still just two USB-C ports.
This is important to note – the Satechi hub doesn’t offer any more USB-C connectivity; it simply extends one of the exiting ports to the front of the machine.
Therefore, if you’re looking for more USB-C connections without a dongle… you’ll still have to buy a dongle.
However, for me, it’s that SD card that makes the hub a valuable addition to my desk. Before the Satechi, I’d have to awkwardly feed my SD cards towards the back of the Mac mini and into a Sandisk SD card reader hanging inelegantly from the rear end of the machine. This is a task I undertake several times a day, and it never fails to be annoying.
With the Satechi, I have an SD card slot immediately available. Just note that, for some bizarre reason, you have to insert the SD card upside down (it’s worryingly easy to insert it the wrong way, as I did at first).
So, the Satechi stand and hub simply extends one of the USB-C ports and provides, arguably, more USB-A ports than most people will need. Add to that the SD cards and a more accessible headphone jack, and it’s pretty well connected for the price.
Satechi’s USB-C data port is rated at 5Gb/s – considerably less than the 40Gb/s port to which it connects on the back of the Mac mini.
In real-world testing, this didn’t appear to matter. I connected my 1TB Sandisk Extreme Pro external SSD drive to the Satechi’s USB-C port and happily edited 4K video with zero issues.
It was a similar story with the SD card reader. Transferring a 13GB video file via my trusty Sandisk SD Card reader took 2 minutes, 26 seconds. When plugged directly into the Satechi’s SD card reader, that transfer time increased by just three seconds.
Put it this way – I’ll be using the Satechi to transfer the many gigabytes of video footage I work with each week. It won’t slow me down.
I haven’t tested the USB-A performance, but that is rated at “up to 5 Gb/s”, and I have little to doubt that it’ll achieve that.
What you use these ports for is entirely up to you, but their function is pretty clear to me. They’re for ad-hoc data transfer. Got a USB-A thumb drive from which you need to transfer some stuff? Just stick it into the front of the hub. The same goes for SD cards and external drives; this hub excels at one-time data transfer convenience.
It’s also important to note that the USB ports on the Satechi aren’t powered, and they make quite a big thing in the documentation about avoiding the temptation to charge devices via the hub. In my experience, it’ll charge a phone, AirPods Pro case and power small devices such as desk fans, but I wouldn’t expect it to juice up your MacBook Pro.
What about heat?
There is no fan inside the Satechi hub. Open it up, and there’s nothing more than a void between the metal casing and plastic top.
There are, however, vents which are, one assumes, designed to dissipate heat from the Mac mini.
My Mac mini is of the M1 variety. Thus far, I’ve not once heard the fan kick into action and it always remains stone-cold throughout the day. Sure, it’s winter as I write, and things may change in the summer, but my experience of the M1’s thermal performance is pretty atypical. Therefore, I have very little concern about the Satechi’s ability to keep the computer cool – because it doesn’t need to.
It might be a different story for Intel-based Mac minis. That requires further exploration, but at $80, the Satechi is compelling enough to at least trial if your Mac mini doesn’t get particularly hot under the collar.
Should you buy it?
If you lament the M1 Mac mini’s lack of connectivity, the Satechi stand and hub is a compelling upgrade. Unless you’re after more USB-C ports, it delivers more convenience thanks to the front-loaded design and the addition of those three extra USB-A ports.
If anything, I wish one of those USB-A ports was another USB-C port, but for me, the presence of those SD card readers is the step-up in connectivity I wanted. For that reason, it’s game-changing for me, productivity-wise (any video creator or photographer will know why).
Concerns over the thermal performance of the Satechi stand and hub are understandable, and I’d therefore proceed with caution if you live in a hot country and own an Intel-based Mac mini. But if you’re in the M1 club, it’s not something that’s worth troubling yourself with.
I really like this hub. Beyond that glorious SD card reader, its solid construction and superb design really do add an air of exclusivity to the Mac mini. I certainly won’t be removing it from my desk any time soon.