M1 Mac mini diary, handson with my favorite Apple product

In this look back at the M1 Mac mini, I discuss my experiences with Apple’s most affordable M1-enabled Mac. Is Apple’s compact desktop computer worth it? Watch my M1 Mac mini diary for more details.

The Mac mini starts at $699 for the entry-level model with 8-Core CPU, GPU, and 256GB of storage. More importantly, the entry-level Mac mini comes with just 8GB of unified memory, which cannot be upgraded after the fact like the Intel-based models can.

Apple still sells the Intel Mac mini starting at $1099, but despite its ability to accommodate money-saving RAM upgrades, along with two additional Thunderbolt ports and an optional 10Gb Ethernet port, it’s hard for me to recommend Intel-based Macs given the leap in performance made possible by Apple Silicon. But this isn’t a head-to-head comparison of the Intel Mac mini vs. Apple Silicon Mac mini, it’s a longer-term look at my day-to-day experience with Apple’s petite desktop.

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The most important upgrade

I initially purchased the M1 MacBook Pro with 8GB of RAM, because I wanted the machine as soon as possible, and 16GB configs weren’t immediately available. I knew that this decision was probably a mistake going into it, but I was impatient.

The result of my decision was far from surprising, but because of how I use my Macs, I almost immediately regretting buying an 8GB model. If you just plan on using it to browse the web and do spreadsheets and word processing, the base model is definitely up to the task; it’s a good everyday computer for basic things. But if you plan on doing work that’s heavy in nature – which is definitely how I use my Macs — then I recommend that you opt for the 16GB upgrade.

Final Cut Pro, Affinity Designer, Affinity Photo, and Motion — all apps that I use on a regular basis — perform better with the extra memory. Shocker, right? The same is true when connecting to a high-resolution display like the Pro Display XDR.

Like Apple’s laptops, RAM configurations are final. If you choose the 8GB Mac mini, you’re stuck with 8GB, and you can never upgrade. Considering that the upgrade from 8GB to 16GB of RAM is ”just” $200, I recommend that you upgrade to 16GB if you plan on using your machine for so-called professional workflows or even if you tend to be heavy on the multitasking or Safari tabs.

What I found in my hands-on experience, is that if you have 16GB of RAM, this machine can pretty much do whatever you throw at it within reason. That means easily editing and exporting 4K 10-bit HDR video, RAW photos, music projects with tons of tracks in Logic Pro, etc.

Storage

Storage is the more flexible upgrade option because more storage can be bolted on using USB and Thunderbolt SSDs. The Mac mini is better equipped than its laptop brethren, in that it includes two USB-A ports for connecting external peripherals like SSDs. That means that you have the option to retain precious Thunderbolt I/O for other uses.

Thanks to external SSDs, it’s relatively easy to get by with the base 256GB storage amount in the Mac mini, but I recommend at least springing for the next storage tier. 512GB provides more wiggle room to work with, especially if you want to install a Windows virtual machine. When coupled with the RAM upgrade, that brings the price of the Mac mini to $1099, or the same amount that Apple charges for the base Intel version. An M1 Mac mini with 16GB of RAM and 512GB SSD is the sweet spot, and it’s the configuration I recommend for most users.

To supplement the Mac mini’s internal storage, I utilize an OWC Mercury Helios 3S enclosure paired with my 24TB Amfeltec Squid PCIe SSD setup. The OWC Mercury Helios is super reliable, relatively quiet, and even includes a second Thunderbolt port for daisy chaining other Thunderbolt devices. I’ve never reviewed this enclosure for 9to5mac, but take this as my official endorsement. For portable storage, I love using the Samsung T7, which continues to be one of the best mobile SSDs on the market.

I/O

Here’s how the M1 Mac mini compares to the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro:

MacBook Air/Pro

  • 2 x Thunderbolt
  • 3.5mm headphone input

Mac mini

  • 2 x Thunderbolt
  • 3.5mm headphone input
  • HDMI 2.0
  • 2 x USB-A
  • Gigabit Ethernet