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.
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.