2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage) review

2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage) review

Is 2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage) better than Intel mini PC? This new Mac Mini delivers a lot of performance at a price hundreds below the iMac. The computer is wicked fast, even when compared with my MacBook Pro I7 3.0GHz (about the same price if you buy used). Connect the Mini to a monitor 27″ monitor and a Logitech webcam (better than the built-in Apple webcams) and you’ve got the functional equivalent to a new iMac for about $900 less. Know more in 2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage) review.

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In the box

  • Mac mini Desktop – Apple M1 – 8GB Memory – 256GB SSD
  • Power cord

Pros & cons – 2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage)

Pros

  • Existing apps run very well on M1 chip
  • Now with Wi-Fi 6
  • Much improved overall performance from 2018 model
  • Seamless support for most software
  • Especially promising bench results with native “Universal” apps
  • Surprisingly quiet and cool operation under load
  • More affordable than ever before

Cons

  • Boosting RAM and SSD capacity at purchase time is pricey
  • Fewer Thunderbolt ports than previous Mac mini
  • Fewer USB-C ports than Intel model
  • Doesn’t support external GPUs
  • Memory no longer upgradable post-purchase
  • Compatibility not one hundred percent, but has improved
  • Only two Thunderbolt ports
  • Unified memory tops out at 16GB
  • Truly awful speaker

Specs

Price: $699 (starting)
CPU: Apple M1 (8-core, 8-Core GPU)
Memory: 8GB / 16GB
Storage: 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
Dimensions: 7.7 x 7.7 x 1.4 inches
Weight: 2.6 pounds

Price

Apple has dropped the starting price for the M1-powered Mac mini down to $699, which is $100 less than before. For that money, you get an eight-core CPU, eight-core GPU, 256GB of storage, and 8GB of RAM. The review unit I received costs $1,299, as it increases the SSD size to 1TB and doubles the memory. 

The 512GB model costs $200 more, with 1TB and 2TB options available for $380 and $740, respectively. All told, the top configuration of the M1 Mac mini can be bought for $1,599.

2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage) review

Build

The aluminum chassis is still milled out of a single block of metal, and finished in the silvery bare aluminum it’s used for years. The body is milled aluminum, with a satin finish, four rounded corners, and no seams in the metal.

Design

The computers are the same size and shape, coming in 7.7 inches deep and wide, and 1.4 inches thick. 

The Mac mini’s square shape and rounded corners are iconic, literally like an icon rendered in 3D aluminum. On the bottom of the compact machine is a black round plastic disc. This serves several purposes, acting as a foot for the PC, elevating it slightly for ventilation, and providing internal access for the tiny desktop.

Connectors

Apple has gone from four USB-C / Thunderbolt 3 ports to just two — plus the pair of USB-A ports that are still present. Technically, the USB-C ports are more advanced (USB 4), and you can daisy-chain Thunderbolt devices to your heart’s content. 

With all the ports grouped on the back side of the chassis in a black plastic I/O panel, the M1 mini is outfitted with an ethernet port, dual Thunderbolt 3 ports, an HDMI connection capable of handling up to 6K resolution, dual USB 3.0 ports and a headphone jack.

M1 chip

The chip itself is a 3.2 GHz processor with 16 billion transistors squeezed onto its silicon. It combines processing and graphics onto the same system on a chip (SoC) and also packs in other features, like a secure enclave for security, unified memory for utilizing RAM more efficiently, and an integrated storage controller with accelerated cryptography for faster, more secure storage.

Memory and storage

The M1 is available in four configurations, with a seven- or eight-core graphics processor, and with 8GB or 16GB of integrated RAM. In the Mac mini we tested there were eight graphics cores, and 8GB of memory. This is the same configuration as the 13in MacBook Pro we tested, but in our benchmark tests, the Mac mini consistently managed to perform better, both in terms of CPU and graphics performance.

Graphics card

Apple uses an M1 with an octa-core GPU in the Mac Mini, resulting in a performance that is again on par with or slightly above that of the MacBook Pro 13. The Geekbench results also show that the graphics performance is about 40% higher than that of the internal Intel Iris Xe Graphics G7 96EUs of the Intel Core i7-1165G7 in the Intel NUC11PAQi7.

Game in 2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage)

In Civilization VI, the Mac mini turned in a respectable 31.5 frames per second at 1080p resolution, and 17.3 fps when dialed up to 4K. That’s in line with both the M1 MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, which managed 37 and 38 fps at the in-between resolution of 1440 x 900 that was usable on the MacBook display.

But while the Mac mini offered a playable 31.5 fps with its integrated graphics capability, it was outpaced by both the Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n (73.6) and the Intel NUC 9 Pro (100.1 fps) despite the fact that only the NUC had a dedicated graphics card.

Speaker

Apple has installed a single internal speaker in the Mac Mini. It reaches a medium volume level and offers a sound spectrum dominated by high tones. Overall, it’s more suitable for signaling system events, and it shouldn’t be used for reproducing media content.

2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage) Performance review

Our informal evaluation starts with web browsing, and when browsing across more than a dozen Safari tabs and watching 4K video on YouTube, there was no noticeable slowing of performance. Even while writing this review with more than 30 tabs open, I never once saw the slightest lag.

In Geekbench 5.3 multi-core benchmark test, which has been optimized for Apple Silicon, the Mac mini scored 7,683 points. That’s roughly identical to both the 8GB MacBook Air (7,581) and MacBook Pro (7,571), with the difference being statistically negligible. 

Rerunning the Handbrake test with the Intel-friendly version using Rosetta 2, the Mac mini did the same task in 12:38, significantly slower than when using the Apple-optimized version. But it again falls in between the slower Lenovo ThinkCentre M90n (20:23) and the faster Nvidia Quadro-equipped Intel NUC 9 Pro (8:23) The Mac mini was faster with the native app.

Can you do upgrade 2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage)?

Beyond the SSD, the two main configurations of the Mac mini are the same. You get the M1 CPU, 8GB of not-user-upgradable “unified” memory (more about that in a moment), and the 256GB or 512GB SSD, depending on the base model you select. Each of the two base models can be kicked up to 16GB of system memory for $200 more. The 256GB base model can be upgraded to a 512GB (+$200), 1TB (+$400), or 2TB (+$800) SSD, while the 512GB base model can go to a 1TB (+$200) or 2TB (+$600) SSD. The only other configurables are whether to pre-install Logic Pro or Final Cut Pro on the system.

2020 Apple Mac mini with Apple M1 chip (8GB RAM 256GB SSD storage) customer review

Tiny, powerful, fast hunk of aluminum

I, as most “new old school” computing enthusiasts were, was suspect about Apple’s claims of the M1 being the “new big thing.” Well, they sure were right. This thing is EXTREMELY fast. Like, possibly the snappiest device I’ve ever used. Is it the most powerful? Definitely not, my “standard” x86 desktop with more memory and a discrete GPU could most likely toast this thing in most performance benchmarks. BUT, this thing wins hands-down in the power-to-performance benchmark, at least in the “traditional desktop” respect. Maybe part of it is the insane level of hardware-software coordination going on under the hood in MacOS 11 and 12. Maybe part of it is the optimization of apps. Or, maybe it’s just that Apple has actually innovated for once.

Is the memory size small? Yes. Do you ACTUALLY need more than 8GB of RAM (well, UMA in this case) with the workloads the M1 is “designed” to run? No! I dunno how they’ve done it, but comparing this to my previous workstation (Xeon E3-1268L v3 with 16GB of RAM running Fedora Linux) the memory usage is almost A QUARTER running the exact same apps. Again, part of that may be app optimization due to a larger market share of Mac than Linux, but regardless, I’m seeing <2GB of RAM usage vs. 8+GB on Linux, with roughly the same amount of swap space being used. But enough of that nerdy stuff.

Disk space is meh. I know, I bought the 256GB model, but still. Would be nice to upgrade but I think these SSDs are some special PCIe Gen4 drives so I give Apple a little slack on that. Apps open fast and when they swap they come back fast. That’s pretty much all I can ask for.

RAM, again, I wish was larger/not soldered but again, I purchased this particular unit (open box, mind you) and could’ve gone with a larger one but frankly didn’t see the need. This seems to have been fixed with the M1 Pro/Max chipsets. Mac mini Pro next year?

Keep in mind that is is an ARM CPU, not a traditional x86_64 like Intel or AMD. Lots of things won’t work initially. Virtualization of other OSes is…not great. It kinda works, but also kinda doesn’t. Soon(tm) something will be worked out. Most programs will run with Rosetta at a slight performance hit, but likely not noticeable to the average user. I’m a sysadmin so as long as the terminal and some other programs work I’m good.

Build quality is usual Apple. Solid, quiet, and silver. Do I wish it was the Space Grey color? Oh well, something about “you can have it any color you want, so long as it’s…” rings a bell. The system itself is VERY quiet, I can’t say I’ve heard a peep from it besides the “BOOOONG” on startup. Thermals are great too, exhaust air is slightly over room temp but nowhere near what other systems of its size (much less horsepower) put out.

Port selection is…meh. HDMI is nice but the 2 Thunderbolt ports necessitate having adapters. I personally have one HDMI going to a monitor, then another monitor hooked up via USB-C to HDMI. USB-A is a plus though, that lets me hook up my dongle for my keyboard/mouse as well as any USB storage I’d like. Haven’t tested a Thunderbolt external drive yet but from what I hear they’re pretty darn fast. Eventually!

Networking: 1GbE is nice, but I haven’t used it yet as my workstation isn’t near a jack and haven’t felt like adding a jack there. Wifi is fast (I think it’s Wifi6 compatible but my AP isn’t capable) and has good reception where other devices don’t. I’d bet the whole chassis is an antenna or something like that. Get ~400Mb/s download on a gigabit connection which is pretty par for the course with a Wifi5 AP.

I guess the takeaway is, this thing is probably the best bang for your buck to get into the M1 ecosystem. If you’re on the fence, try it! I knew it was fast, but man, was I surprised at how fast it was. Great little system!

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