The Mac mini has been a staple in Apple’s desktop lineup since 2005. Originally introduced as an easy way to get the Mac-curious into Apple’s ecosystem, the new Apple Silicon Mac mini might now be the most compelling purchase for anyone looking for a new Mac.
What Is the Apple Silicon Mac mini?
The M1 Mac mini is Apple’s smallest desktop computer, and it also happens to be one of the fastest. The latest model is powered by Apple’s M1 system-on-chip, which uses a different processor architecture and instruction set than older Intel Macs.
The base Mac mini is an M1-powered computer that has 8 CPU cores, 8 GPU cores, 8GB of Apple’s “unified” memory, and a 256GB solid-state drive. You can pick these up from Amazon or from retail stores like Best Buy, or you can go through Apple and upgrade to an 8-core GPU, 16GB of RAM, and up to 2TB of storage at checkout.
Apple 2020 Mac Mini M1 Chip (8GB RAM, 256GB SSD Storage)
Powered by the M1 processor, the entry-level Mac mini has 8 CPU and 8 GPU cores, 8GB of unified RAM, and 256GB of storage.
The Mac mini provides a barebones Mac experience. All you get for your $699 is the computer itself, housed in an aluminum case, with Apple’s trademark rounded corners and a power cord. Inside the case, you’ll find a system-on-chip and logic board, the same power supply found in the old Mac mini, and a cooling fan.
Unlike the old Mac mini, the new Apple Silicon models aren’t user-upgradeable. RAM is “unified,” which means that it’s built into the system-on-chip. This provides a single pool of fast memory that the system can use however it wants (no need for VRAM on a separate graphics chip), but it comes at the cost of your ability to buy and install additional RAM yourself.
Who Is the Mac mini for?
The Mac mini is perfect for anyone who doesn’t explicitly need a laptop. It’s a desktop computer, so it has little appeal if you value portability.
At the time of writing, the 24-inch M1 iMac is the only other desktop computer that’s been updated with the new ARM-based Apple Silicon architecture. The base iMac only has 7 GPU cores (compared to the full 8 cores on the Mac mini), but it also comes with everything you need to get started: a beautiful display, a keyboard, and a mouse.
If you already have peripherals and a display and you want an upgrade, the M1 Mac mini is the perfect choice. Most Windows keyboards and pointing devices will work with your Mac, even if the layout isn’t identical.
Mac users with older MacBook Pro or iMac Pro models might be curious about the new M1 chips and how they shape up against existing hardware. The M1 Mac mini is an affordable jumping-on point for anyone who’s curious about the new architecture. Like most Apple hardware, the mini can be easily sold for minimal loss if you decide later that it isn’t for you.
The Mac mini is also perfect for anyone who’s tired of Windows or Linux, or anyone who’s looking for an easy way to use Mac apps like Final Cut Pro, Logic, or Xcode. Not only can the Mac mini provide better performance than a comparable M1 MacBook Air (which already wipes the floor with older Intel models), it’s $300 cheaper.
The new iMac styling has divided opinion, too. While the white bezels are designed to “melt away” against a light-colored wall, they don’t mesh well with the way that TrueTone adjusts white balance on the desktop. Apple also chose to keep the “chin” on new all-in-one models, which isn’t to everyone’s taste.
If you don’t like the styling and would rather have a monitor with thin black bezels, the Mac mini is perfect. You’ll miss out on Apple’s excellent speakers, and you probably won’t find a 24-inch 4.5K monitor that comes anywhere near what the iMac delivers, but you’ll still get a lightning-fast macOS experience and at a cheaper price point to boot.
Unbeatable Performance-to-Price Ratio
The M1 Mac mini has a fan in the chassis, which allows the processor to run under load without succumbing to thermal throttling as per the M1 MacBook Air. In designing its smaller laptops, Apple opted to leave the fan out for truly silent operation, but this means that the M1 might have its clock speed limited in some operations that generate a lot of heat.
That isn’t a problem for the Mac mini M1, which has comparable performance to a similarly specified 13-inch MacBook Pro and a 24-inch iMac. For the money, the Mac mini presents the best price-to-performance ratio since you don’t need to commit to the laptop form factor, Apple display, or Magic peripherals.
You have the same upgrade paths available to you as these machines, too: 16GB of RAM and up to 2TB of solid-state storage. What’s more, the Mac mini M1 has a greater variety of ports than other current Apple Silicon Macs, with two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, a dedicated HDMI-out port, and two USB-A ports for any older peripherals you might have.
By comparison, the new iMac has up to four ports (and only two on the base model), two of which are Thunderbolt/USB 4s, while the others are regular USB 3s.
Things You’ll Need to Buy
You should consider the M1 Mac mini as a value proposition. A base 24-inch M1 iMac is $1,299, compared with $699 for an entry-level Mac mini that has better performance. That means that you’re getting a nice 24-inch 4.5K display, a Magic Keyboard, and a Magic Mouse for $600.
This is a great deal considering the quality of the display and peripherals, but you can do better by shopping around. You’ll probably want to look at a 27-inch 4K monitor if you’re looking to save some money, with value options like the Dell S2721QS available for around $300.
Dell S2721QS 27 Inch 4K UHD (3840 x 2160) IPS Ultra-Thin Bezel Monitor, AMD FreeSync (HDMI, DisplayPort), VESA Certified, Silver
The Dell S2721QS is a 27-inch curved 4K monitor with fairly high pixel-density for sharp text and images, AMD FreeSync support, and 99% sRGB color coverage.
You’ll also need a pointing device. We still recommend Apple’s own Magic Trackpad 2 for the best macOS experience possible, but buying a mouse independent of Apple offers far more choice. Consider which mouse is best for you and don’t forget about ergonomic options like the Logitech MX Vertical, which just might save your wrist.
Logitech MX Vertical Wireless Mouse – Advanced Ergonomic Design Reduces Muscle Strain, Control and Move Content Between 3 Windows and Apple Computers (Bluetooth or USB), Rechargeable, Graphite
The Logitech MX Vertical is ergonomically-shaped to reduce wrist strain. It has up to 4000 DPI high-precision tracking, can be used with up to three computers at once, and should last for up to 4 months on a single charge.
You’ll also need a keyboard. While Apple’s Magic Keyboard has a Touch ID button that might appeal, if you’re a serious typist, you should consider investing in a mechanical keyboard instead. You can get low-profile mechanical keyboards with Mac layouts, like the Keychron K1, with your choice of Brown, Red, and Blue switches.
Keychron K1 87 Key Ultra-Slim Wireless Bluetooth/USB Wired Mechanical Gaming Keyboard, TKL Tenkeyless RGB LED Backlit Low Profile Brown Switches for Mac Windows, N-Key Rollover, Version 5
The Keychron K1 is an 87-key low-profile mechanical keyboard with a choice of red, brown, and blue switches. It features a Mac keyboard layout and media bar, RGB backlighting, and your choice of wired or wireless operation.
The Mac mini might have a wider variety of ports than other M1 models, but more could be necessary, especially on a desktop model. The Elecife USB-C Hub sits below your Mac mini and adds a card reader, additional USB-C and USB-A ports, and space for a SATA solid-state or a hard drive to expand your available storage.
USB-C Hub with Hard Drive Enclosure for Mac Mini M1, Type C Docking Station with SATA SSD/HDD Slot, Dual USB 3.0/2.0 Port, TF/SD Card Readers, Compatible with Mac Mini 2018/2020
Add a SATA drive bay, card reader, two USB 3.0 ports, one USB 2.0 port, and two USB Type-C ports to your Mac mini with this stylish hub.
This is one of the cheapest and easiest ways of adding more storage to your Mac mini, and unlike with a laptop, you don’t have to worry about plugging things in all the time.
The Best-Value Mac on the Market
The Mac mini lets you get your foot in the Apple Silicon door at a sweet $699 price point. Upgrade the RAM and storage, and you’ll have a formidable desktop computer that will last for years. You can make the experience your own with a good mechanical keyboard, an ergonomic mouse, or an ultrawide monitor.
It isn’t for everyone, and if you want the best monitor you can buy for the money, then the 24-inch iMac is going to be hard to beat. But if you’d rather bring your own peripherals and save some cash, the M1 Mac mini is an excellent choice and is only going to get better with the release of macOS Monterey later in 2021.
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