There must be a catch. Can not be. A team of 800 euros cannot be more powerful (in almost everything) than equipment several times more expensive. And yet it is. Welcome to a review of the Mac mini , a computer that is probably the “ugly duckling” of Apple’s new family of computers. It can boast an M1 chip, but not so much (or so visible) of one of the clear advantages of these revolutionary SoCs: energy efficiency.
That leaves the Mac mini theoretically at a disadvantage, but this analysis tries to prove the opposite: we are facing a compact desktop computer that is capable of leaving behind much more prepared PCs (theoretically). This little guy may seem simple and even small, but be careful, because he comes with sharp claws. Those on your M1 chip , of course.
Mac mini datasheet: welcome to the Apple M1, the first of a line
We are facing a spectacular renovation of the internal hardware of Apple equipment, and this Mac mini is one of the first examples along with those 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro that have also been chosen for the launch of the teams based on the ‘ Apple Silicon ‘(Apple Silicon).
As with the laptops that accompanied it at launch, this Mac mini stands out essentially for integrating the Apple M1 chip, a SoC based on ARM architecture that represents a radical leap for Apple laptops and desktops.
In terms of connectivity, this minijack is accompanied by two USB-C ports with Thunderbolt 3 / USB 4 interface (Apple uses both names interchangeably, something that is perhaps a bit cumbersome), a 3.5 mm connector, two USB-A ports (USB 3.1 Gen 2), one RJ45 GbE connector, and one HDMI 2.0 connector.
Wireless connectivity is also served thanks to the Broadcom chip that provides both support for Wi-Fi 5 (802.11ax) networks and for Bluetooth 5.0 devices.
Here it should be noted that curiously, the first start-up and start-up of the Mac mini cannot be completed with a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse : we will need to connect devices via the USB cable or, as was my case, connect wireless devices with their own USB receiver. We had no problems with a Logitech mouse and keyboard connected via the Unifying receiver, for example.
Many have been the criticisms that Apple has received with this first generation of equipment with the M1 chip in terms of design. The essence of all of them was the same: why has Apple not taken advantage of an internal revolution to also make an external revolution?
Those in charge of Cupertino have not commented on this, but it is likely that these first products are just a kind of spectacular initial salvo : one that serves to prepare us for everything that will come later, which by the way, it seems that it will be a lot and good.
We will then see if Apple actually gives a twist to the design of its equipment, but until it does – if it does – the truth is that there is little to tell about the design of the Mac mini , which maintain exactly the same exterior design of its predecessors.
We are facing a compact chassis of 19.7 x 19.7 x 3.6 mm that has a weight of 1.2 kg and that maintains that construction based on aluminum and that is absolutely smooth in all the visible part except for the logo of Apple on top.
At the bottom we find a circular plastic support foot, while at the back we find both the power button and the connection ports already mentioned in the specifications section.
The only element present on the front is the small white LED that indicates that the equipment is on, and in essence we are dealing with a device exactly the same – except for the connection ports – to what Apple already had on the market.
The differences, of course, are on the inside. And those are important, especially when we see how in reality the Mac mini could have been much more mini .
This is demonstrated by the exploded view that appeared a few days ago on YouTube and which allowed us to see how there is a lot of free space in that chassis, especially considering that the motherboard with all the components occupies a very small portion of the equipment.
That reality makes us think not only of the possibilities that are open to Apple in terms of new formats, especially in its desktop computers, and although the Mac mini is certainly not surprising on the outside, it does so on the inside. Of course: there is also some bad news.
Many lights, but there are also shadows
Before going to the expected analysis of the team’s performance, we wanted to make an important stop. One in which to emphasize that not everything is good news in these unique specifications.
Thus, with this new approach, the ability to expand memory or storage is over. This was more normal to see in Apple MacBooks for a long time, but now the expandability of Mac mini, although it was not exceptional, disappears .
What you buy is what you will keep for the life of the product, so before you do, make sure that you will be happy with the configuration chosen, because there will be no going back .
This small tragedy -which may not be for many- joins another that does concern some users: in Mac mini, as in its launch brothers, we can only opt for a maximum of 16 GB of memory (not RAM ” pure “, we insist, but UMA memory).
That might sound like enough to most users because it is, but there are certain scenarios where owners of these computers want more leeway and would like to have 32 or even 64 GB of memory on these computers.
That is not possible today with these Mac minis, but there is absolutely no reason to think that Apple does not prepare future members of its new family of chips with those 32, 64 or even more GB of RAM.
The same thing happens with the storage capacity: the SSD units integrated in these teams are not replaceable either, although here we are better covered with models that reach up to 2 TB and that therefore should meet the needs of most users.
The problem both in one sense and the other is in, as we said previously, all these configurations are absolutely closed, and once chosen there will be no way to expand or change them except, of course, in the case that we connect external disk drives through the ports USB-C or USB-A from the computer.
There is a note -and never better said- striking on the equipment: the Mac mini has, like its version based on an Intel micro, a speaker , something that is somewhat surprising in a computer with these characteristics, but in reality maybe Apple could have saved: its quality is very poor .
In fact, it is out of step with Apple tradition in the care of details, and although it can save us from some trouble, the sound quality is poor . Fortunately in the Mac mini we have a headphone port that we can use to connect it to speakers or headphones (although in both cases we can take advantage of Bluetooth devices).
The connectivity section is interesting, but it has some drawbacks. The Thunderbolt 3 ports (which are two and not four, as in its 2018 predecessor based on an Intel CPU) are probably one of the clearest, because although they offer the ability to connect many devices that take advantage of their high width of band, eGPU boxes are not compatible with them .
Thus, it will not be possible (at least, for now) to connect an external graphics as up to now allowed the MacBook or Mac mini based on Intel processors, something that again distances these teams from the world of video games. The door is not completely closed for a future support of this type of accessories, but of course those who need this type of support will have to choose other alternatives .
In addition, the RJ-45 port offers support for Gigabit Ethernet networks, but not 10 GbE as with the Mac minis based on Intel microphones, another unique difference that can be important for certain types of users who, for example, want to use the Mac mini. as a file server.
Over the past few weeks I have frequently used the Mac mini as my day-to-day work computer . Although I have used Windows 10-based computers as tools for this area for years, I am very familiar with macOS: I also had a MacBook Air for several years, and this reunion with the Apple platform has been unique thanks of course to the M1 chips.