Apple Silicon Impressions Q+A

Was the M1 Mac Mini hard to set up?

Yes and no. With only a wired keyboard, it was hard to get through setup at first. The iCloud login screen would lock up my tabbing through the menu system – almost like no one at Apple ever even tried to set it up with only a keyboard. When I finally got to the the OS, it took Spotlight to open the Bluetooth system preference so that I could use the mouse, and that took 10 minutes to actually figure out to connect, blocked by a screen confirming that I wanted something to access the Documents folder. I was about to give up and buy a wired mouse to do this, but I really couldn’t justify that purchase. I do not recommend this method of setup at all unless you were desperate as I was.

Does it run everything as before?

Yes. All of the previous apps seem to work and I can do everything that I need to for work. I expect to see a speed boost when Intel apps eventually get recoded, but they do not eat up CPU as it stands. There are still a few pieces of software that I need to migrate, but I am not worried about them right now.

What about the iOS and iPadOS apps?

Some apps only have the iPhone aspect ratio. Some iPad apps don’t go full screen and look limited. For those that can be zoomed, graphics and navigation are wonky. Controls can be iffy for everything. Many large developers opted out of porting their apps entirely, and will take some time to get on board – maybe years. There are apps that refuse to authenticate and open entirely. The apps that do work are a bonus, but they are clearly not designed for the Mac. Many just haven’t caught up, and some may stay as experimental forever. I imagine a lot of developers didn’t read the fine print and would have pulled their apps if they knew how badly they would work on M1 machines – some like Netflix already did apparently. All the signs of the Mac getting out of the shadow of its mobile cousins are there, but it will still take sheer developer willpower and Apple to finally port all of their machines over to the new SoC. If the transition away from Intel is to happen after 2 years, I would expect most developers make it over in 3-4 years. That being said, what is available in the way of games and productivity are interesting at the very least, but are not the full set of apps that I had on my phone. However, I can’t beat 40+ additional apps on my system.

What about the eGPU?

It just does not function on M1 as I had predicted before. This is a new chip architecture, and it is hard to say if its exclusion is a current driver limitation, or if the technology just will not work anymore. eGPU users are said to be 3% of Apple’s user base, so it is possible that they are not worried that they are dropping them. It is a haphazard solution that should not be a long-term fix for a lack of graphics, and I think Apple realizes that. What I can say for sure is that the eGPU is not really needed for my monitors to work, and I am seriously questioning having it altogether. I believe people have figured out that the internal graphics of the M1 are equal to a 1060TI, which should be more than enough power for my day-to-day work. I’ll probably be holding onto the eGPU enclosure and graphics card for a few more months until I decide to sell it.

Any noticeable issues?

iMovie seems to crash on an old import of movies, and I’ll have to try and redo that somehow. Microsoft Remote Desktop seemed to flicker before using their Beta release, and Microsoft said an official update is likely to come in the first week of December.

I originally could not hook my monitor up to my Mac, and that’s when I noticed that I had an HDMI 1.0 cord for some reason that needed to be replaced. Other than those issues, everything seems to work the same as before. No lie – I thought this transition would be bumpier, and perhaps it will be as Apple will discontinue Intel apps in 3-4 years as they discontinued 32-bit not too long ago. There will always be those developers who drop the ball, and I can see such things as my VOIP app and Logitech Options (to run the buttons on my mouse) just failing to ever update. When that day comes, I’ll have to reconsider my setup. Apparently it is very easy to recompile these apps for Apple Silicon, but never underestimate the sheer laziness of some developers.

I don’t feel that I have a need for Windows 10 itself, so there’s no loss that I can’t load Windows ARM on my M1 Mac as of yet. With the Apple ecosystem the way it is now, I can’t see a reason to have Windows supplementing the Mac anymore – I guess it depends on on your own personal workflow.

What is your overall impression?

I find everything to be very fast – no slowdown anywhere. For a first generation chip, it is impressive. The hardware is there, but the software is not yet. It’ll take at least a year to get some of the apps that I wanted on the Mac, and it will all get faster over time. I am impressed with Big Sur and the features of iOS that it brought in like widgets. It is the cleanest Mac interface that I have ever used, and there are definitely some bragging rights now with how good it looks over Windows 10. I feel like Apple is headed into the future that they wanted for at least a decade, but many parts of this still feels like I am a beta tester. What I need works, so I have no complaints right now; I just have to be patient for updates.

What about the future?

I will definitely be working on cable management in the near future in some creative ways, but this machine is here to stay. My upgrade cycle might be 2 years due to its early release nature, but I am still going to attempt to hold onto it for as long as I can manage.

Since I have maxed out my monitor setup (dual 4Ks), I am looking into an iPad Pro 12.9” to act as my 13” MacBook Pro did on a stand, but with touch screen capabilities as a sidecar screen. It would be my mobile grab-and-go option for in-person meetings (when those happen again). There are rumors of the iPad Pro updating in 2021, so I am holding out for another month or so, but I very much like this more permanent system for upgrade cycles. It’ll be the most functional and connected desk-based computer interface that I have ever used.

Having a laptop on a stand with as much I/O as I needed was never a long-term option; my laptop was rarely ever moved at all, and when it was, I was always concerned that it would break and my work from home option would be at risk. With no internal battery, I also don’t have to worry that I will have to replace it twice due to it expanding. It’s less risky overall to use the Mini as my stationary day-to-day device.

The final thing that I am thinking about is a UPS battery backup, but I am not sure that they make one slim enough to hide under my desk just yet. The Mini is connected to a single surge protector as my eGPU was before, but there are no options for UPSs besides typical bulky units. I still don’t imagine my power going out for that long, and even if it did, I would have no ability to do any work anyway. I’ll continue to monitor if there is a product made for this, but I am not that concerned.

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