The M1 Mac mini is now my daily driver. It runs every single element of my business.
This is surprising, because I bought it, if I’m honest, as a test. I wanted to try out an M1 Mac with 16GB of RAM and pitch it against the 8GB version found in my M1 MacBook Air.
Little did I know how capable the M1 Mac mini would be during every task I undertake each day. From 4K video editing to audio production, and all of the numerous duties that go into running a content business, it is easily the best computer I’ve owned.
This has left me with one compelling question: where does Apple take this little machine next?
I think they have two options, and I’ve already decided on my favourite.
Option 1: More ports, more cores, more RAM
The more I use the M1 Mac mini, the more the lack of ports frustrates me.
At first, I didn’t think that this would be particularly troublesome. I’m not a big ports user, after all; I have an external USB-C SSD drive from which I edit video, a USB-A Logitech mouse whose dongle I have to rely on due to some lingering BlueTooth issues on the M1 Mac mini, and… that’s it.
Only, it was.
It took me far too long to remember that the Mac mini doesn’t come with a screen, and therefore doesn’t have a webcam.
So, goodbye second USB-A port.
It doesn’t have an SD card reader, either, and given that much of my work involves transferring files from SD cards, that meant I had to wave goodbye to the remaining USB C port thanks to the need for an SD card reader dongle.
In one fell swoop, I’d used up all of my Mac mini’s ports.
I’ve attempted to remedy this with the Satechi hub and stand, which adds a rather glorious SD card reader to the front and three additional USB-A ports. But, of course, that expandability comes with a loss of speed, no additional USB-C connectivity and, as much as I admire the fit and finish of the Satechi, the antithesis of an ‘out-of-the-box’ experience.
The lack of ports on the M1 Mac mini relates entirely to one of the M1 chip’s few shortcomings: it can’t handle any more at the moment. But that’ll change; the next iteration of Apple silicon will handle more ports. Therefore, Apple’s first job with option one of the next Mac mini is to add some additional ports and bring back that SD card reader.
Then, they would inevitably turn their attention to the number of cores available. At present, the M1 Mac mini comes with 8 CPU cores and 8 GPU cores. For me, it appears to work brilliantly – I never feel like I’m pushing it. But, as always, it’s nice to have more headroom.
Final Cut Pro runs like a dream on the M1 mini. But renders and exports could be quicker. So, Apple, once you’re done with the ports, you simply need to increase the available cores to 16 and give us a maximum of 32GB of RAM to add to our basket.
Option 2: Deliver a Mac Pro mini
This is where things get interesting. And you could argue that I’m encroaching on Mac Pro mini territory with the suggested spec upgrades above.
But option 1 lacks something pretty significant for people who want a little more flexibility from their Mac.
When Apple launched the latest Mac Pro in 2019, it returned to the beloved ‘cheese grater’ form factor of old. Gone were the days of the thermally-inefficient and non-expandable ‘trash can’ Mac; this new beast was exactly what most people had been calling for.
The Mac Pro can be modified. You can lift the lid and replace bits inside. You can’t do that with the Mac mini anymore – it has become an appliance.
The more I think about it, the more I love the idea of a Mac Pro mini. As I’ve noted recently, the term ‘pro’ is incredibly subjective – you have every right to define yourself as a professional user if you think you are – but if Apple is going to attach that moniker to its computers, I want to see some compelling reasons for doing so.
Imagine a smaller version of the Mac Pro with the same form factor but running a swappable M chip. Imagine if you could also swap out the hard drive or add an additional one. What if they offered the ability to add in third party graphics modules for those who want greater horsepower in that area (I appreciate that would require some rather clever switching from the embedded GPU).
Imagine if all of that came at a more digestible price for us mere mortals yet which featured multi-core speeds approaching that of the current Intel Mac Pro. It’s not an impossible dream.
Add to that the rumoured lower-cost XDR display and you have an incredibly compelling next step from the brilliant M1 Mac mini. And I think there’s a pretty sizeable audience for it.
What do you think?
Am I massively off course with this idea of a Mac Pro mini? As you’ve probably guessed, my preferred option out of the above is the latter; I’d love to see that computer.
Let me know what you think in the comments. Where should Apple go next with its headless desktop?