The M1 Mac mini. The only desktop Apple Silicon, at least for now. Ultra low power. Entry level. But with performance that beats Intel and rivals AMD’s latest and greatest. Just… with… no new design. At least not yet. Starting at $699.
I’ve been reviewing it since it first came out, and I’m going to tell you whether or not you should get it now… or wait for the M1X or M2 Mac mini that’s rumored to be coming later the year or sometime next.
First, my usual advice. Always wait as long as you can to buy, then buy when you really need to and enjoy the hell out of whatever it is you buy — with zero regrets — because there’ll always be something new and next.
Especially when it comes to Mac mini updates, because Apple has a spotty track record with them to say the least. You can lay a large portion of the blame for that on Intel’s roadmap, which was and is just the worst.
But with the in-house M1 chipset, Apple’s put the entry-level back into the mini Mac. No change in casing — they wanted to keep things simple to start, and silver again, but this round really was all about the Apple Silicon.
Now, M1 doesn’t take up nearly as much room as the old Intel chips did, so the Mac mini is just all shades of empty inside. So, could Apple make an M1X version that fills it up with more of… everything? A new space gray Mac mini Pro, so to speak? Or could Apple — would Apple — make an M2 version that’s even smaller, like Apple TV smaller?
Either way, if the current design is cool with you, then you can go ahead and get the M1 Mac mini now.
But if you want something fresh and new, or just… more, you’ll have to wait for whatever, whenever Apple does with the mini next.
The M1 Mac mini was a huge upgrade in terms of processors but also a step… diagonally sideways and kinda back in terms of display support? Instead of up to three 4K displays or one 5K and one 4K, like ye old Intel Mac minis of yore, the M1 version supports only one 6K and one 4K. Albeit that 6K is the Pro Display XDR. That’s just the trade-off, the limit for M1 at the moment.
So if that’s fine for you — and it probably is for the vast majority of you — than go ahead and get the M1 Mac mini now.
But if only three screens or more will do it for you, then wait and see what the higher-end Mac mini will do.
And, since the stats say many people don’t even go with multiple displays, let me know how you’re feeling about this one in the comments below.
The M1 Mac mini rocks… the M1. Apple’s first generation custom Mac silicon. It’s based on the same IP and architecture as the A14 Bionic in the iPhone 12, just with more performance and more graphics cores. And those performance cores are among the best performing cores in any computer, anywhere. Especially with the Mac mini’s thermals, which lets all those cores run at max… basically forever. It’s not magic, it’s just really good design, and it means even the the entry level model is still a beast.
A theoretical M1X Mac mini — or whatever Apple calls the beefed up version of the current generation chipset, the one expected to debut with the next MacBook Pro updates — and I’ve got a whole video up on that, link in the description — well, it would keep the same single core speed, which again is already excellent, but add even more performance and graphics cores for even better multicore action.
A theoretically M2 Mac mini, would probably be based on A15 architecture and IP, what we’d expect to see in the iPhone 13 next fall, and get the same kind of year-over-year increase to single core speeds we’ve seen from the A-series over the last few years.
So, if M1 is already everything you need, go ahead and get the Mac mini now and enjoy.
If you need more multicore, wait on a M1X. If you need more from every core, wait on an M2. Even if it may take another year or more.
One of the things that sets Apple Silicon apart in the desktop world is unified memory. A giant pool of 8GB or 16GB slapped right on the chipset and shared between the CPU, GPU, neural engine, and image signal processor. Combined with everything from memory compression to ultra-fast swap it really lets the 8GB or 16GB be all they can be. But 8GB and 16GB is all the M1 Mac mini currently offers. There are precisely zero options for 32GB or 64GB right now, not unless you stick with Intel.
The M1X, though, is rumored to support even more memory, those same 32GB and 64GB options that the old Intel models currently enjoy.
There are even reports of a new mini Mac Pro, something like the old G4 Cube, and if that interests you, I’ll link to it in the description as well.
But, if up to 8GB or 16GB is already more than enough for you, then the M1 Mac mini will be more than enough.
And if you really need more, like 32 to 64GB more, then you’ll really need to wait on the M1X or M2.
As much the M1 Mac mini was an improvement over Intel, it was also a major regression in one aspect — a critical aspect for some. Ports.
Both have two USB-A ports, one HDMI 2.0 port, and a gigabit ethernet port. But where the space gray Intel Mac mini had an option for 10 gigabit ethernet, the M1 does not. If you want 10 gigabit ethernet on it, you’ll need to get a thunderbolt dongle. And that brings us to potentially the bigger problem — biggest problem even — where the Intel Mac mini had 4, count ‘em 4 USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports, the M1 Mac mini only has two.
They’re USB-4 ports and since the thunderbolt controllers are on the SoC, they’re as blazing fast as they can be, but there are still only two of them. For anything more, you’ll have to break them out into hubs.
So, if two USB 4 Thunderbolt 3 Ports and gigabit ethernet are enough for you, or living that hub and dongle life isn’t a show stopper, go ahead and get the M1 Mac mini.
But if more on-board ports are life, are critical, are absolutely something you need, then you’ll need to wait on the M1X or M2.
M1 brought Wi-Fi 6 to the Mac, which… is better than Wi-Fi 5.
There are rumors the M2 might bring Wi-Fi 6E, which adds 6GHz and makes it actually really better.
So, if that’s also something you need, you’ll also need to wait on the M2 and see.
The silver M1 Mac mini starts at $699, ever-so-slightly less with an education discount, which makes it, currently, the most affordable Mac. Even if it’s not yet back down to that magical $599 price of eld. The space gray Intel Mac mini starts at $1099, which is a lot more bucks for an arguable amount of bang.
A theoretical M2 Mac mini with otherwise the same specs could end up being the same price for those same specs. Apple often holds the line generation and generation, sometimes even through redesigns. There’s just not telling when that’s coming.
A theoretical M1X Mac mini, with more cores, more ports, and space gray back on board… well, I’d expect that spec-out also to be priced out, by several or many more hundreds of bucks. In other words, sooner, but more expensive.
So, if money and especially time matters, you want the M1 Mac mini, available now.
If you don’t mind waiting, the M2 could give you slightly more for your money, even if you lose out on using an M1 between now and then.
If money is no object the M1X could give you even more Mac in the mini. If and when it comes out.
And while you’re waiting, check out this playlist, where I take a closer look at the M1 Macs and preview the M2 MacBook Airs coming next. Just click on the playlist and I’ll see you next video.