Home Accessories Apple’s Mac mini with M1 processor surpasses expectations

Apple’s Mac mini with M1 processor surpasses expectations

A wobbly MacBook Pro with a diagnosis of battery swelling leads to a radical change: Out with the laptop, in with Apple's new M1-chipped Mac mini. Initial impressions are good...

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The Mac mini has always been a compact desktop option and the new M1 version is no exception. It can be stored under the desk or, as here, nearby and out of sight.

Last month, I wrote about the temporary demise of my late-2018 MacBook Pro with its swollen battery and distended bottom. Apple reacted quickly when I explained the situation, collecting and returning the repaired computer within seven days. I suppose it helped that I had Apple Care and our area was at the time in lockdown, so there were no convenient Genius Bars. Say what you like about Apple, the service is good.

In the meantime, I had ordered one of the new M1-powered Mac minis, the higher-specification version with 16GB of memory and a 1TB solid-state disk. The initial reviews of the M1 chip have been astounding, and I had no doubts about swapping to what is, on the face of things, a less accomplished device.

The petite computer arrived twelve days ahead of schedule, and I spent yesterday afternoon installing it. First, I should say that my previous misgivings about not having an old-fashioned wired keyboard and mouse were unnecessary. The installation was quick and painless, the mini recognised by Bluetooth peripherals before the process started. And Migrate Assist worked faultlessly (which is something that isn’t always the case).

First impressions of the new Apple silicon, the M1 processor, are very positive. It is faster than my old MacBook Pro, which was certainly no slouch. Only two years old, with the i9 Intel processor and twice as much memory (32GB) as the mini, the MacBook Pro is definitely a slower beast. Part of the slick impression given by the M1 is the instant start. I have not yet tried processor-intensive tasks, such as importing and editing large photo files, but I will report back on that later.

Some applications, including, for instance, the essential 1Password, have not yet been updated to work on the M1 processor. But Apple’s Rosette translation application kicks in and, so far, has done the job efficiently. Some reports I’ve read maintain that applications run even faster under Rosetta than they do natively on an equivalent Intel processor.

It’s strange to think that the original Mac mini was my very first Apple computer back in 2005. It cost £299, and I bought it purely for trial, convinced that I would be handing it back it within Apple’s generous no-questions-asked two-week returns policy. Instead, I was hooked, and it was my Windows desktop and laptop that were consigned to eBay.

The mini itself is the same size and profile as the Intel Mac mini, with just a different array of ports—two Thunderbolt/USB 4, one Ethernet, two USB-A and a headphone jack. I have it connected to an OWC Thunderbolt dock and a 24in LB UltraFine monitor.

The computer itself is parked out of sight (although not out of mind) by the side of the desk. It has been running now for 12 hours, including constant Dropbox downloads and Time Machine running in the background. Amazingly, there is no heat. The body of the computer is actually cold to the touch. With no fan and solid-state storage, this is a totally silent device.

It all makes for an elegant desktop. Previously I was using the MacBook’s 15in display as a second monitor, I’ve now rigged up a 12.9in iPad Pro using Sidecar. It works well, and the size of the second screen is only a tad smaller.

The MacBook Pro is sold already, so for the first time in many years, I have no portable Mac. During 2020 I have come to appreciate the iPad as a portable computing device and, because of the pandemic, I have done no serious travelling. For the time being, I am perfectly content without a portable Mac. This doesn’t mean that I don’t cast eyes over the new MacBook Air which uses the same Apple-designed ARM processor as the mini.

The Mac mini has always been a compact desktop option and the new M1 version is no exception. It can be stored under the desk or, as here, nearby and out of sight.
The Mac mini has always been a compact desktop option and the new M1 version is no exception. It can be stored under the desk or, as here, nearby and out of sight.

In one fell swoop, Apple has raced ahead of the opposition with its surprise announcement of M1-powered computers. Not only did the announcement come sooner than expected—most pundits thought these computers would arrive in 2021—the performance has confounded the sceptics.

Coming from an iMac or MacBook, the obvious omissions in this tiny desktop are microphone and camera. In the old days of bulky desktops, these were always plug-in accessories. But I haven’t used a true desktop for 15 years, so it’s something you don’t think about.

Even the speakers in the mini are atrocious. They are there only to warn that something is happening, not for actually listening to. So you will need external speakers, camera and microphone. These could be built into your monitor, of course.

Of more concern is an intermittent break in Bluetooth connections between keyboard, mouse and computer. This is despite both peripherals being with 15 inches of the computer. I have read of other similar instances and, while it is a nuisance, I am sure Apple will sort this out soon.

I have also noticed a strange repetition of a display glitch I’ve had on the iPad when using the site’s WordPress editor in Safari. A couple of menu items are overlaid; it has been happening on the iPad for a couple of months, and now it is occurring on the mini. No doubt this is because the same architecture is used in the processors of the iPad and the new M1 mini. Again, it is a temporary problem that will be sorted out.

No doubt I will find more snags in the weeks ahead but, whatever they are, I am sure Apple will soon move to put things right. Good move, Apple. I think the M1 will attract many users away from other operating systems and that Apple will enjoy substantial growth in desktop and portable computers over the next two quarters.

12 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for the update Mike, I am still cogitating on getting the MacBook Air version and will probably do so once my finances recover from a few other outgoings of late.

    Dave

    • They are now talking up the faster M1X processor for new 16in MBP, but I would be very happy with the new M1 Air if I wanted a laptop. Indeed, if I get to do some serious travelling, I might get one myself. Good as the iPad is, I still find certain things are better done on a Mac.

      • I have to say work provided me with an intel based MacBook Air. It is considerably better than the Windows option, based on the number of my team who drop out for days needing IT repairs, or recovery. So if the M1 holds up against the intel version which is no slouch in daily use. My current crazy work hours lead me to believe the Intel version is doing sixty hours minimum per week, and has been since mid-August. That is some going given the PC variant I was offered are routinely keeling over. The only blip’s have been around updating Google Suite, which I am sure the u in suite is a silent h, but that is a separate matter that is beyond Apple’s control.

  2. Thanks for the update. Certainly be interested in how the Mini handles ingesting and managing 47MP image files such as from the Q2. I think there is a minor typo. You refer to using a 12 inch iMac Pro as your second screen. I assume this should be an iPad. Intrigued by that, what is Sidecar ? I had only come across that phrase in relation to sidecar files like XMP files.

    • Thanks Tom, I will answer that. It should have been 12.9in IPad Pro. Sidecar is the system that lets you connect to an iPad as a second screen.

  3. Thanks for the review of the new Mac Mini. I saw a Guardian review of the MacBook Air with the new chip. I suspect all of us with 24mp and greater cameras will wind up with the M1.

    One question: how are you holding u with migrating from a MacBook to the 24” monitor? Are you finding yourself pixel-peeping by default? Sitting 2ft back from the screen to judge he photo?

    • Hi Steve, you are right and my mistake. Sloppy writing, or perhaps just initial enthusiasm! I still haven’t heard the fan, though. Then again, I’ve been doing very minor stuff and haven’t pushed it.

      • The fan tends to become more apparent as the computer ages. My MacDustbin, was silent for the first couple of years, it now makes a not too intrusive sound, but it is definitely audible.
        Mike will never get to this stage though, a new Mac will be wheeled in to Evan’s Towers well before that.

  4. Mike, if you need a new speaker for your Mini, look no further than the “Linn Series 3”.

    It would be the logical path for an Apple/Leica afficionado.

    If you don’t wish to go to the expense of a stereo pair, you can buy just one.

    If you want the best…. Fit Everest.

    • Thanks, Stephen. I really don’t need brilliant speakers. It’s just for occasional use and I mentioned it only because other people contemplating purchasing a mini might not realise this aspect. I have some B&W speakers hooked up, but I am also using an Apple HomePod.

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