When Apple announced that it will once again jump architecture and go from Intel to its own silicon, I was not sure what to think. We all knew A chips from Apple are fast and good, but iPhone and iPad are one thing, and Mac is something totally different. In desktop CPU architecture Intel and AMD are kings when it comes to performance. and ARM (which Apple is using) is best known for power efficiency, not performance. So, how on earth is Mac Mini on ARM going to be better/faster than its Intel powered counterpart?

I was eager to see what Apple had in its sleeve with this transformation, and when Apple announced its special event for 10.November 2020 I was very impatient to see what is coming.

My main concerns were Thunderbolt support (so far Intel specific) and of course how these new machines will stack in terms of performance with Intel based Macs. Also let’s not forget about app performance in Rosetta 2 – will Intel apps work ok on ARM based Macs, how will performance be?

And so, I watched special event in November almost in one breath, and after it finished I had mixed feelings, I was even disappointed. Why?

The M1 was announced, and all performance charts were really vague – 3x faster, 8 times better… It really felt just like bunch of marketing mumbo jumbo. I was starting to fear that these general, meaningless charts are meaning only one thing – in reality M1 is mediocre chip. That is just my feeling every time is see marketing that hyped – usually that means that product behind the marketing is not that great. Just look at the car manufacturers with their fuel consumption figures, and electric counterparts with overly optimistic range assumptions.

(In the meantime we all know how M1 turned out to be, you all have seen it all over the internet by now, it is my fault I’m so late with my content.)

Still, I ordered Mac Mini

Within a few days of announcement I ordered M1 Mac Mini. I wasn’t sure how M1 is going to be, but still – transition to ARM with Apple is imminent so I decided to order something and see for myself if M1 is any good. I just wasn’t sure what to get – M1 MacBook Air/Pro or Mac Mini?

In the end I decided to go with Mac Mini, since I really don’t need another laptop at this moment and I have a shelf for a M1 Mini.

I ordered Mac Mini M1 with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage. It was supposed to arrive at the beginning of December 2020, but in the end it arrived early enough for Christmas.

M1 Mac Mini is also significantly cheaper than its Intel counterpart.

Intel i5 Mac Mini is 224,20€ ($273) more than M1 Mini with same configuration. If you upgrade CPU to i7, then difference is even bigger and Intel I7 powered Mini is 458,20€ ($558) more than M1 Mini.

and it arrived this week

with time passing and all the reviews out, I was pretty excited to get mine, and it finally arrived… Few weeks later, but anyways, nice Christmas present…

soo, what do I think of it?

Hardware wise, it has the same looks as the Intel Mac Mini. Few USB/Thunderbolt ports less than in Intel based Mini, and it does not have 10Gbit network option which I can make use of, since I have 10Gbit network. I know 10Gbit is still not important to most of the people…

Also, limit of 16GB of RAM is not that great, hope that will approve in the future.

It is important to notice that there are no more “do it yourself upgrades” – everything is soldered to motherboard or inside Apple Silicon, so have that in mind when ordering your MacBook Air, Pro or Mini. Amount of disk space or RAM you order is what you will have – you cannot upgrade later.

Ok, now that we have physical stuff out of the way, time to talk about performance and “feeling” of the M1 machine. M1 Mac Mini feels very quick in everything that it do. Subjective feeling is that this is very, very quick machine, and I’m coming from Mac Pro powered with 28 core CPU and almost 400GB of RAM.

I was really impressed with M1 Mini since I first booted it. 

I will not give you extensive benchmarks results, you can find them all over the place. I run just two quick benchmarks. Geekbench 5 for CPU, and Unigine Heaven for graphics.

I have i7 (8700B) powered 2018 Mac Mini (6cores) , i7 (9750H) MacBook Pro 16 (6cores) and 28 core Xeon (W-3275) powered Mac Pro from 2019 to compare with.

Geekbench 5 (higher is better)

Single Core MultiCore

I 7 Mac Mini (2018)   1143 5517

i7 MacBook Pro (2019)   1051 5756

Xeon Mac Pro (2019)   1109 20523

Mac Mini M1 (2020)   1739 7689

So, my subjective feeling wasn’t fooling me, M1 Mini is really quick, especially when you look at single core performance.

Lets just quickly see how is graphics performing in new M1 Mini.

I compared again with the same machines as I mentioned above. i7 Mac Mini (2018) is powered by Intel 630GPU, MacBook Pro (2019) is powered by AMD Radeon Pro 5300M, and Mac Pro (2019) is powered by Radeon VII (16GB model).

All machines are running at different resolutions, so I compared M1 Mini on all three resolutions.

Unigine Heaven 4.0 (higher is better)

1792 x 1120

MacBook Pro i7 (2019)  1663

Mac Mini M1 (2020).   1243

3840 x 1080

Mac Mini i7 (2018)   160

Mac Mini M1 (2020)   596

5120 x 1440

Mac Pro (2019)   1327

Mac Mini M1 (2020).   313

M1 has decent graphical performance, but obviously it is loosing breath at higher resolutions. Have in mind that Unigine Heaven is very old benchmark now (2009). 

One thing I noticed is that M1 Mac Mini was colder and quieter during benchmarks and testing than other Intel based Mac machines. Impressive.

Apps are running great on M1, and there is no difference if you run Intel based software via Rosetta 2 or apps that are already re-written/optimised for Apple Silicon. Apple really did great job there.

Huge plus is that you can also run iPad/iPhone apps on your M1 Mac now. However, all iPad/iPhone apps are not automatically available on M powered Macs, since developer of the app chooses if he/she wants app to be available on the Mac or not.

This is something I wished for years, because I have few iPad apps I would love to use on the Mac – Narwhal is one, namely.

Some iPad/iPhone apps are working great, others have scaling, stability issues. We are at the beginning of the road with this, and overall I think this will be a great feature in years to come. 

One thing that I will be further discussing is virtualisation. Since I use a lot of OSes for my labs, I need this to work on my Mac.VMware that I’m using as my main virtualisation software still doesn’t work on M1 machines. I also know that a lot of people still use Windows alongside MacOS for a lot of work. “Classic” Windows will not work on M1 Mac. You will need Windows for ARM. There is a “technical preview” of Parallels software and “Insiders” version of Windows for ARM which will work on your M1 Mac, but be aware that this software is still in at least beta phase and cannot be considered reliable for mission critical apps.

I will be writing on this Windows on Mac topic more extensively in near future.

and what would be my conclusion on new M1 Mac?

To wrap up this early preview – it think Apple did great job, since changing complete compute architecture is huuuge task, and this so far looks like a project that was planned and executed very well. It looks even better when I compare Microsoft ARM adventures with this Apple transition. I can also see that developers are following transition and many apps are being ported very fast to Apple based Macs. Rosetta 2 which is translating Intel code to Apple Silicon is also working great and “old” apps are working seamlessly, so to this date I had no troubles with apps that are still natively written for Intel.

I also find iPhone/iPad apps as a huge plus in the future, and lacking of virtualisation as a minus since it is necessary in my line of work.

All in all, I haven’t regretted my decision to buy M1 Mac Mini so far.

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