Apple is loopy, proper? The Mac simply had its greatest yr of gross sales ever, and Cupertino is hitting the platform with a shock prefer it hasn’t had in almost 15 years—again in a time when the Mac was not having such a great yr. Apple is starting the method of changing industry-standard Intel chips with its personal, custom-designed silicon.

In a manner, we’re not simply reviewing the brand new Mac mini—a Mac mini is all the time a Mac mini, proper? We’re reviewing an ARM-based Mac for the primary time. And this isn’t precisely the identical story as all the opposite ARM machines we have checked out earlier than, like Home windows 10 on ARM—a decent possibility with some severe tradeoffs.

Certain, longer battery life and fast waking from sleep are already on the market on different ARM computer systems. However as you will have seen in our hands-on earlier this week, what we’re encountering right here can be a efficiency leap—and as you will additionally see on this overview, a outstanding success at making this new structure suitable with a big library of what might now, all of the sudden, be referred to as legacy Mac software program.

Not every thing is ideal; we’ll speak about iOS apps on the Mac and another issues, too. But when this Mac mini proves something, it is that Apple was not, in reality, loopy. The M1 makes Apple’s technique appear soberingly sane.

Specs

Apple Mac Mini (2020) with Apple M1 Chip product image

Apple Mac Mini (2020) with Apple M1 Chip

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The massive information specs-wise, after all, is the M1 system-on-a-chip. The M1 is an 8-core CPU with 4 efficiency and 4 effectivity cores, in addition to an 8-core GPU and a 16-core Neural Engine for on-device machine-learning duties.

Primarily based on an ARM instruction set, it’s the primary Apple-designed CPU and GPU for the Mac. For effectively over a decade, Apple’s laptops have had Intel CPUs and both Intel, Nvidia, or AMD graphics. The transition away from that established order begins right here. There’s far more to speak about on that entrance, after all—however let’s get the opposite specs out of the best way first.

By default, the Mac mini ships with 8GB of RAM, however that may be upgraded to 16GB. That’s so much lower than the 64GB cap within the Intel Mac mini, however, for now, that Intel Mac mini nonetheless exists in Apple’s lineup.

Presently, Apple has solely changed its very bottom-end machines with Apple Silicon variants. It appears like we’re going to be ready some time earlier than we get beefier variations with extra RAM and extra ports (the M1 Mac mini and 13-inch MacBook Professional every solely have two Thunderbolt ports, fairly than 4)—which is a really actual bummer for lots of people.

Likewise, solid-state storage begins at 256GB, however you’ll be able to go to 512GB, and even 1TB or 2TB. Doubling the RAM provides $200 to the acquisition value, whereas going to 2TB of storage from the bottom 256GB configuration greater than doubles the price of the machine. That storage bump is the principle cause our overview unit’s buy value is a lot greater than the bottom.

Specs at a look: 2020 Mac mini
OS macOS Massive Sur 11.0.1
CPU Apple M1
RAM 16GB
GPU Apple M1
HDD 2TB SSD
Networking Wi-Fi 6; Bluetooth 5.0
Ports 2x Thunderbolt 3, 2x USB-A, 3.5mm headphone, 4x USB-A, HDMI, gigabit Ethernet
Guarantee 1 yr, or 3 years with AppleCare+
Value as reviewed $1,699

The Mac mini has a built-in speaker—which could be a bit of shocking for a pc like this—however it doesn’t have a built-in microphone. The speaker is dangerous, frankly; it seems like an outdated MacBook Air speaker with the lid closed. There’s a 3.5mm headphone jack, although. Different ports embrace two Thunderbolt 3/USB 4.0, two USB-A, Ethernet, and HDMI.

When it comes to wi-fi, you get Wi-Fi 6 and Bluetooth 5.0.

The field doesn’t embrace a lot—only a energy twine and the pc itself. You’ll clearly want to purchase a show, a keyboard, a mouse, a microphone, and headphones individually. Once more, the Apple adage that the fee balloons as you add necessities holds true right here as ever.

Because the title suggests, the Mac mini has a really low footprint. It measures 1.4×7.7×7.7 inches (3.6×19.7×19.7 centimeters) and weighs 2.6 kilos (1.2 kilograms).

It is available in two default configurations. The primary begins at $699 and contains 8GB of RAM and 256GB of storage. The second ups the beginning value to $899 and easily boosts the storage to 512GB.

The bottom configuration right here is $100 lower than the earlier Mac mini, which is sweet to see. Once more, Apple nonetheless sells an Intel-based Mac mini alongside this one, with a 6-core 3.0GHz Intel Core i5, Intel UHD 630 graphics, 8GB of RAM, and 512GB of solid-state storage. Nothing has modified for the Intel model of the machine this yr, although, so we received’t be going into that.

Design

Should you preferred how the final Mac mini regarded, you’ll like this one, too: nothing has modified. For that cause, we received’t spend an excessive amount of time on the aesthetics on this overview. As earlier than, the Mac mini prioritizes a really low profile. It’s primarily a laptop computer with no display screen inside a 7.7×7.7-inch sq..

It appears good however unassuming. It has that basic Mac silver coloration, whereas its predecessor was grey. The ports are all on the again, so it ought to play good with most cable administration options.

A number of irritating limitations

Earlier than we get into the excellent news—principally something associated to M1 efficiency and software program help—let’s go over some actually irritating decisions Apple has made relating to ports and peripherals.

As famous above, the RAM and storage configurations don’t attain so far as the Intel Mac mini’s do, and that additionally extends to ports. Two Thunderbolt ports is simply okay, to be sincere, regardless that there are additionally two USB-A ports on prime of that. At the very least it is not the brand new M1 MacBook Air or 13-inch MacBook Professional, that are each restricted to 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports complete.

The Mac mini can solely drive two shows at a time, and a kind of needs to be over HDMI. Since that HDMI port is HDMI 2.0, it doesn’t have the throughput to deal with 4K at 120Hz, or 8K at 60Hz. There aren’t many screens like that now, however there more and more might be over the subsequent few years. Typically, we like our machines to face the take a look at of time.

Neither the Mac mini nor any of its M1 brethren help exterior GPUs. That’s fairly disappointing, and it calls into query Apple’s push for eGPUs over the previous few years.

It wasn’t way back in any respect that Apple was signaling that eGPUs have been the way forward for Mac graphics efficiency. Now it’s not clear that they’ll be a part of the Mac expertise in any respect.

The ports on the back of the Mac mini.
Enlarge / The ports on the again of the Mac mini.

Samuel Axon

Moreover, some individuals have used the Mac mini as a file server. A lot of them are most likely going to wish to stick to Intel for now, because the M1 Mac mini solely has a gigabit Ethernet port, whereas the Intel Mac mini is configurable to have a 10Gb port.

Apple sees this preliminary volley of Apple Silicon gadgets as the underside finish of its lineup. So we’re in a really odd scenario proper now the place if you need the slicing fringe of efficiency, you must select low-end Mac configuration choices. If you’d like numerous ports and RAM, you must stick to Intel for now. That is very probably going to alter with the introduction of dearer Macs with a sooner, hypothetical M1X chip or one thing like that—however we do not know but when that’s going to occur. We solely know that, ultimately, it should.

Apple M1

With that out of the best way, it’s time for the great things.

As famous above, the Mac mini (and its new MacBook Air and 13-inch MacBook Professional siblings) has Apple’s M1 system-on-a-chip, which incorporates an 8-core GPU, a CPU with 4 efficiency and 4 effectivity cores, a 16-core neural processing unit (NPU) referred to as the Neural Engine, and an entire bunch of different stuff.

Constructed on the ARM Instruction Set Structure (ARM ISA), the M1 options 16 billion transistors and was manufactured in a 5nm course of. In keeping with Apple, every efficiency core within the M1 qualifies because the world’s quickest CPU core so far, whereas the effectivity cores match the efficiency of some current Intel Macs.

We learn every of the 4 efficiency cores as having a clock pace of three.2GHz, and whereas the iPhone and iPad’s A14 chip has 8MB of L2 cache, the M1’s efficiency cores get 12MB. Not like some earlier chip designs, all of the efficiency and effectivity cores might be utilized without delay, although there are indicators that it will get a bit of extra sophisticated relating to the cache.

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Apple claims that the M1 can obtain its robust efficiency partly due to its unified reminiscence structure (UMA), which permits the CPU and GPU to each simply entry related information with out having to sluggish issues down by copying it round.

We’ll speak particular efficiency testing and outcomes quickly, however spoiler alert: the M1 is kind of quick. That’s very true for graphics in comparison with Intel’s graphics options (which appear unworthy to even be talked about in the identical class as what the M1 provides). These enhancements are due to the entire above, plus methods like tile-based deferred rendering and Apple’s proprietary Steel graphics API, which has been designed to make the most of this structure.

This has gotten much less consideration, however the M1 accommodates a bunch of different stuff apart from the elephants-in-the-die which can be the CPU, GPU, and NPU. It has the Safe Enclave, Apple’s encrypted instrument for dealing with delicate information on machine. It has a picture sign processor, which isn’t tremendous related on the camera-less Mac mini, however it reportedly improves FaceTime digital camera high quality on the laptops. The M1 additionally features a storage controller and {hardware} for driving encryption, amongst different issues.

In 2017, Apple launched the T2 chip on the iMac Professional, and it went to most different Macs over the subsequent couple of years. The T2 dealt with safety features and varied different issues like a few of what we simply listed above, and we speculated when it was first launched that it could be a predecessor to Apple’s eventual Mac SoC plans.

It seems we (and everybody else who picked up on that fairly apparent clue) have been proper. As such, the brand new M1 Macs don’t have T2 chips. It’s all on the M1 now.

In fact, a change in structure suggests all kinds of compatibility complications with older software program, to say the least. The M1 can’t natively run apps made for Intel-based Macs. However surprisingly, that finally ends up not likely mattering usually. Loads of patrons of the M1 Macs won’t ever even understand something modified underneath the hood.

To discover that time, let’s go over the software program the M1 does run.

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