Mac mini M1 review: Apple restores power and appeal to its ultra-compact mini PC

Mini, maybe, but incredibly versatile and polymorphous. Born with a Power PC G4, then proud carrier of the different generations of Core Intel, the Mac mini was the first to switch to the next world. It was the first Mac to officially adopt an ARM chip, since it was he who served as the development kit launched during WWDC 2020. It then carried an A12Z, the most powerful Apple Silicon chip available at the time. .

A cheaper entry level but with fewer options

Now powered by the M1 chip, with eight CPU and GPU cores, the Mac mini is available in two models, which include 8 GB of unified RAM. The difference between the two units being in the SSD storage capacity, 256 or 512 GB, for respectively 799 or 1029 euros.
You will be able to survive on 256 GB, but we advise you to double the storage capacity if you want to be more peaceful in the long term without resorting to external hard drives.
Anyway, the entry-level Mac mini was previously priced at 929 euros, for the same SSD capacity, the Mac mini M1 therefore represents a significant price reduction.

It should be noted before going any further that, as with the 13-inch MacBook Pro, the Mac mini M1 does not replace all the existing models, they occupy the entry level, previously embodied by the model equipped with a quad-core Core i3 with 3.6 GHz.
They leave the top of the range to the model equipped with a 3 GHz Core i5 hexaceur, also by default accompanied by 8 GB of RAM. On the other hand, it is capable of receiving up to 64 GB of RAM, where the M1 tops out at 16 GB.
This still partly explains its presence. The performance of the Intel chip coupled with this quantity of RAM are necessary for certain specific uses (scientific or heavy parallel calculations, for example) for which the M1 is not cut.

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Less versatile, perhaps, from the point of view of the general public, it is debatable, the Mac mini M1 also have poorer connectivity. They lose two Thunderbolt connectors (in USB-C format), which could possibly be a problem.

This is particularly annoying if you do not use a Bluetooth keyboard and mouse – which is our case in this case, which will then be connected to the USB-A ports, leaving only two ports for other uses. In addition, they can now only support two external screens simultaneously (including a 6K), against three previously.

But what we lose in wired flexibility, we gain in Wi-Fi, since the Mac mini finally adopts Wi-Fi 6, the latest standard (for the time being). Note that those who have a very large incoming fiber connection and like to connect their Mac to Ethernet to make the most of it will be limited to a Gigabit Ethernet port, the 10 Gbit / s option not being available on the two M1 models.

Let’s finish with the presence of the mini-jack port, useful in more than one way. With the quality of the built-in speaker still being so uninviting, working with headphones is highly recommended if you want to edit videos, play games, or just listen to music.

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M1 magic works (still)

If the case of this Mac mini is overall identical to that of the latest Intel models, down to the millimeter (it still pays for the luxury of being lighter by around 100g), there is a colossal difference. And no, it’s not the silver finish, and not space gray either. The change is within, in the embedded SoC.

The M1, we have already had the opportunity to talk about it during our tests of the 13-inch MacBook Pro and the MacBook Air, is also a triumph here. The Mac mini, which has never been a really loud bugger, is silent: none of our tests succeeded in making it raise its voice. It is an incredible pleasure, of which we can only take the measure when we return to an Intel model, which sometimes activates a fan for a few seconds without knowing why.

macOS Big Sur is flawlessly fluid, the responsiveness is good, the applications launch quickly, do not hesitate to react when called upon. Obviously, what we observed during our MacBook Pro review last December is still true.

With a few rare exceptions, none of the apps we use every day have encountered a problem. Either they are now adapted to work natively on an M1 SoC, so they have become native or universal. Either Rosetta 2 works like a charm behind the scenes. The Intel program emulation system is still as efficient as ever, its optimization for the Apple Silicon chip is such that some programs that use its care are more efficient on a Mac mini M1. It is therefore difficult to find fault, especially since you will also have the pleasure of launching some iPadOS applications and games …

From a pure performance point of view, let’s keep in mind that these Mac mini are positioned at the entry level. We therefore decided to compare our test model to the Mac mini Core i3, released in 2018, which it replaces. In addition, we also slide in the balance the 13-inch MacBook Pro M1, it had 16 GB of RAM, against eight for our Mac mini M1.

Let’s start with the simplest, the results obtained with a tool such as Geekbench (in its version 4, so that the data is comparable between the three computers). As a reminder, the entry-level model from the end of 2018 had disappointed us, its somewhat professional positioning only underlined the lack of scale of the Intel processor chosen by Apple. As you will see, things are changing a lot with the M1

When measuring for a single core (the Core i3 had four, without HyperThreading or TurboBoost, compared to 8 for the Apple Silicon chip), the Mac mini M1 is 19.7% faster. When we look at the potential displayed by all the cores at the same time, the difference becomes colossal, since the Geekbench Multicore score is 57.6% higher for the M1.
Rarely (never?) Has a generational leap been so important. Even if it should be kept in mind that the M1 faces in this case an eighth generation Core chip, engraved in 14 nm and launched in the third quarter of 2018. But the incredible gain does not stop there.

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Let’s take a look at the graphics part. Also with Geekbench, the Metal score literally explodes. The M1 shows a gain of 219%: it is therefore nearly 3.2 times more efficient than the Core i3. The tailor-made design of the chip for Metal technology and the needs of Macs clearly has an advantage.

The good news is that this domination of the M1 chip is confirmed with other test tools or with real uses. So, when we call on GFXBench Metal, we record a gain of 458.6% in favor of the M1, almost 5.6 times more power, it’s simply incredible.

And this multiplier of performance is also found when we run Rise of the Tomb Raider in Full HD. Where the Core i3 and its integrated UHD Graphics 630 chipset struggled to display 7.46 frames per second in this definition, the M1 produced 41.41 without flinching.

That answers a question: yes, it is possible to play with the Mac mini, not the most greedy titles, obviously, and not by pushing all the details to the bottom – even if it is that we are doing enough with this title. old, it is true, of Crystal Dynamics for our tests.

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With everyday applications, more or less significant gains are recorded. With Handbrake, for example, encoding the same file is 1.65 times faster with the Mac mini M1. If we turn to iMovie for the export of a Full HD edit, we see that the gain is minimal. It must be said that the Core i3 was very comfortable with exercise. On the other hand, when we perform the same exercise with a 4K edit, we find a coefficient similar to that recorded with Handbrake, at 1.6.


To take the measure of the potential of the future universal version of Photoshop, we also carried out some rather greedy tests with its beta, and recorded a gain of almost x2.7 in performance. It is true that the entry-level Core Intel Mac mini was clearly not cut out for professional needs.

As proof, one last bench. Our test with Final Cut Pro (and Compressor), which included color correction, applying effects, and preparing the file for 4K streaming, showed us that the Mac mini M1 is over six times faster at perform these tasks as his eldest.

Mass has been said. The Mac mini M1 crushes its predecessor, without a shadow of a doubt.
If we compare it to the 13-inch M1 MacBook Pro we tested, we see that the Mac mini often does better. Undoubtedly this should be seen as the greatest ease in dispersing heat and therefore a slight gain in overall performance.

We note, however, for long and hard efforts, especially with Final Cut Pro, that the 16 GB of unified memory of the MacBook Pro allows it to accomplish its task more quickly. Which will make us think that the 8 GB will be enough for undemanding uses, but that choosing the maximum option for memory will ensure you both more flexibility on a daily basis, in multitasking, and more comfort in the long term.


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