I’m still selling my 16” MacBook Pro. The M1 Mac mini has rendered it nothing more than the laptop on which my girlfriend undertakes her weekly Zoom yoga classes.
Yes, I’m aware of how wasteful that is; a £3,500 laptop acting as, essentially, a private yoga teacher.
My time with the M1 Mac mini hasn’t been perfect. There was the M1 Mac mini Bluetooth problem and the need to get used to a non-retina monitor. The Mac mini also, arguably, doesn’t have the cachet of the Mac Pro; it’s a brilliant entry point into the Mac ecosystem, but that’s a bit like praising the A3’s place in Audi’s lineup when the same company owns Lamborghini.
However, the more I use the M1 Mac mini, the more I realise that there’s an inherent issue which has already kicked the “what will I replace it with?” part of my brain into action.
I didn’t think that would happen this early, if I’m honest.
Yeah… it’s the ports
I thought I could look past the M1’s inability to drive more than two Thunderbolt ports.
I’ve attempted to address it with a Satechi stand and hub, but that only provides additional USB-A connectivity and the SD card reader I so badly need on a daily basis.
It’s also a third party add-on, and while I noted in the article above that it gives the Mac mini an air of a ‘special edition’, I’m increasingly the sort of person who just wants out-of-the-box convenience.
I’ve replaced the Satechi recently with another hub which I’ll be reviewing soon. But that too is a third party device which, after a while, feels like a bit of a sledgehammer approach to what shouldn’t really be an issue.
The SD card sits at the heart of the problem for me, but I didn’t realise quite how much I’d need those additional Thunderbolt and USB-A ports.
What I’m connecting to my M1 Mac mini
Hands up: I didn’t think I’d need to connect much to my Mac mini. But here’s the roster of peripherals I’ve found myself attaching as its place in my business has cemented:
- HDMI: 34” widescreen MSI monitor
- Thunderbolt: SanDisk Extreme Pro external SSD
- Thunderbolt: USB hub
- USB A: Logitech MX Master 3 mouse dongle (it still won’t play ball with the Mac mini’s Bluetooth connection)
- USB A: Kanto YU2 desktop speakers
- USB A: Logitech webcam
- USB A: iFi Zen DAC
You don’t have to be a mathematician to work that I’m way beyond the number of ports Apple offers with the M1 Mac mini.
The result is an ugly USB A cable poking out of the front of one of the ports on the USB hub and the inability to connect anything else USB-C related – unless I switch something out or add another hub.
It’s a mess, to be honest. And it’s really, really not the out-of-the-box experience I noted earlier.
So, what’s next?
I’m not the sort of person to ditch a Mac after just a few months’ use, but I can see that happening with the M1 Mac mini.
This is for two reasons. Firstly, I’m now running a fast-growing YouTube channel which demands that I keep hands-on with the latest Apple tech (I know – go and grab your violin). Secondly, it’s those ports – plain and simple.
I should probably note at this juncture that I haven’t maxed out the M1 Mac mini’s performance – far from it. In fact, I’m still shocked by how incredibly performant it is on a daily basis.
But its lack of expandability when it comes to built-in connectivity is more of an issue than I ever thought it would be. I don’t want to continually invest in hubs; I want to connect as many peripherals directly into the back of the Mac mini as possible.
Looking at the Intel Mac mini (which you can still purchase today), that offers four Thunderbolt ports and two USB-A ports. Now, Apple, just chuck in another two USB-A ports, add in an SD card reader, and I’d be a very happy boy.
Better still, give us something which is truly modular; a Mac mini which can be upgraded, I/O-wise yet, which still arrives as an all-in-one box.
Is that too much to ask?
Does this make the M1 Mac mini a bad purchase?
No. It’s a brilliant computer. In fact, if you don’t need to be mobile, I’d always recommend it over the M1 MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.
If you can’t wait to see what Apple does next with its own silicon Macs, the M1 doesn’t offer much connectivity – that’s a fact you can only address with hubs and dongles. But for a great many people, it simply isn’t an issue.
I’d just think carefully about how much you need to connect to yours and, indeed, how much you might need to connect in the future. I genuinely thought I wouldn’t need to use all of the ports on this thing. How wrong was I?
The possibility of us seeing a worthy replacement for the M1 Mac mini during the first half of 2021 is pretty low, but I suspect that later this year, mine will be making way for something rather different.