Product Reviews

Brawn on a Budget: The New Mac Mini With Apple Silicon

A lot of this success has to do with the fact that Apple has strongly nudged its ecosystem into embracing the M1, and it came out of the gate with a huge number of applications that have been upgraded to run as “universal” apps, programs which can run natively on the M1 and take advantage of its architecture in full. Naturally, all of Apple’s own applications are fully M1-ready, but so is a significant portion of the rest of the market. The good news is that a new version of Apple’s Rosetta emulator is always on standby to fill in any gaps, so you can still run Intel-designed applications on the Mac Mini, just a lot slower than native code. But at least it runs.

Adobe’s Creative Cloud—just as it was with Microsoft’s SQ1 chip—is the big holdout here, but a beta version of Photoshop for M1 is already out (it shipped at the same time as the version for Microsoft’s ARM chip), with a final version slated for next year. An M1-native Lightroom will also be released by the end of 2020, per Adobe. Given the importance of the Mac market to Adobe, it’s hard to imagine these apps won’t be hustled out as quickly as possible, but note that there are currently no official release dates for native versions of any of Adobe’s other apps.

Rosetta can’t run everything—any kind of Intel-era system extension won’t work on the new Mac Mini—but it didn’t choke on anything I threw at it, including games, few of which have been updated for the new hardware. I never encountered a crash during my testing and invariably found the system peppy and responsive in daily use.

All Mac Mini models include the 3.2-GHz M1. The base Mac Mini gives you 8 GB of RAM and a 256-GB solid-state drive for $699. The other base model is the same, except it ups the SSD to 512 GB, for $899. Both RAM and SSD can be further upgraded, but only at purchase—the Mac Mini is not user-upgradeable, nor even upgradeable at the Apple Store—all the way up to the model which was sent to me for testing, featuring 16 GB of RAM and a 2-terabyte SSD for $1,699.

That’s getting pretty heady in price for a system that’s no bigger than a hearty sandwich, though I honestly can’t imagine many shoppers will have a need for multiple terabytes of internal storage and can readily pare down the specs (and price). Better to plug in an external drive here, as the connectivity options are decent enough, including two Thunderbolt/USB 4/USB-C ports, Ethernet, HDMI, and two USB 3.1 ports. It’s worth noting that the 2018 Mac Mini had four USB-C ports, the halving of which is perhaps the only real negative to be found on this device.

Otherwise, it’s tough to raise complaints. Apps run fast, stability is rock solid, and the price (at least for more entry-level configurations) is decidedly tame. It’s even got Wi-Fi 6 in the mix.

If you need a half-dozen monitors, quadrophonic sound, and bleeding-edge performance, this isn’t the system for you, of course. For those teeming masses who want a solid Mac (one that doesn’t need to be mobile) without breaking the bank, you really won’t go wrong here.

 

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