Is the M1 Mac Mini the right device for me?

Hello everyone,

I am most of the time an Apple fan lurker on those forums, while posting only sporadically. I tend to create a new subject when I have a very specific and personal question, which is the case here.

I am student, a true tech- and Apple-enthusiast as today my ecosystem is composed of a 2018 MBP 13", iPad Pro 10,5" and iPhone XR. At home we are also Apple addicts and deep into the ecosystem (iCloud storage, Photos, Apple Music for myself…). I used to own a desktop in the past (2013 iMac 27" before having my MBP) but gave it to my dad afterwards because I was starting the uni and needed a more portable device.

However, from time to time, I am missing a desktop experience. This appeared through my recent purchases of two external displays: a BenQ EW3270 (32" VA - 4K) for my student room and another BenQ but much more high-end this time for home usage: PD3220U (32" - IPS - 4K). This looks like a lot of money but those are really two of my best purchases ever made as they provide me lot of comfort, great picture quality and awesome flexibility (charging MBP, connecting to other media like PS4, Nintendo Switch…).

Here comes the Mac Mini: since a couple of weeks, I want to acquire a desktop to complement my laptop. First I planned to build a Windows machine from scratch as it is cheap and flexible and allows me to run some software more smoothly than on MacOS (Office Suite, like Excel and maybe games occasionally; but it is basically that). It comes with many drawbacks though. First, less integration in my ecosystem: weak iCloud sync (golden jail of Apple though…); ugly apps like iTunes, Spotify, 1Password; even absence of crucial apps for me like Alfred, Notability, Devonthink, Final Cut Pro… By writing those lines, I reckon this potential Windows machine might be the ugly ducking of the family. That is why I patiently waited for the M1 to show up. What a surprise, a state-of-the-art chip as it seems highlighted in the first reviews. The new Mini makes much sense and I would like it to:

  • Drive my external display perfectly (not both at the same time as you have read but still at a 4K scaled resolution), which is not always the case with my MBP: gets hot fast (hello MS Teams), scaling/zooming problem sometimes when switching from clamshell to open mode, limited by its iGPU for apps like FCPX, Affinity suite…
  • Act as a personal hub for my workflow, including backup: my MBP only has 512GB storage so limited for all my files; I would likely purchase the same internal storage size on the Mac Mini (larger upgrades are too expensive) but with the advantage of having SSD connected through TB4, always powered.
  • To build on the previous point, in the future I would even like to use the Mini as a NAS for home or a least to be available when needed to stream (+ transcode) a 4K movie via Plex/Infuse on the living room TV
  • Of course, allow me to create, edit and manage things faster than my current MBP. I would like to use Affinity Photo more than today (as well as FCPX for video in a second phase) and take advantage of the beautiful screen of the PD3220U, therefore I would love to be able to comfortably edit full-resolution pictures without any lag
  • Remain small and transportable even if it’s a desktop machine! That’s an underestimated advantage IMO (and generally absent of desktop you build on Windows) as, for someone owning 2 external screens, a Mini makes sense and simply needs to be carried in a backpack when commuting between my two desks!
  • Be powerful enough for the years to come. I don’t think I need a true “pro” machine (like iMac Pro power) and I won’t play much on the Mini but I desire my machine to have a decent CPU/GPU for the future. That is where M1 truly shined I think as, even if we might have a pro version of the Mini (dark grey), this “base” one is very capable even for more advanced users.

Would you therefore recommend me to buy the M1 Mini or is there maybe a product on the market that better fulfills my needs described above? I am typically not the early-adopter person (actually I could wait until Christmas to make my decision) but the M1 truly caught my eye!

Regards,

Tom

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From what you’ve said, it sounds like the M1 mini would fit your needs, as long as you can get by with two TB ports. I’d get the 16gb version.

This is the one area where I’d advise an upgrade. You mention Final Cut Pro, video in particular will burn through hard drive space very quickly. Yes, one of the nice things about a desktop is that it’s easier to rely on external drives (my Intel mini has a big RAID array hanging off of it). However, even an external SSD connected via Thunderbolt is going to be slower and more limited than a bigger internal drive.

If there’s any way you can swing it, get a bigger SSD.

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Excellent post, @Rigtee. I’ve been mulling over whether the first-M1-gen Mini is what I want or should I wait for later generations. I’m in no hurry to reconfigure my desktop, so waiting a year or two is OK.

Your list of decision factors is very helpful.

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I don’t think I will need more than two Thunderbolt ports: one for connecting it to the external display and another for storage purposes (external SSD). My BenQ display could also act as a hub because it has several USB ports as well.

I might reconsider the storage option as you mentioned because the SSD is non-upgradeable. It is important to bear in mind that files will eventually become larger in the upcoming years and that a larger SSD is also faster. Thanks for the advice!

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Thank for your answer @quorm ! It is important I think to list all the different needs you will have on a sheet of paper…or on a forum like this one! Your vision afterwards is much clearer :wink:

I don’t know your setup but, again, it is a very personal decision to upgrade or not.

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