Mac Mini M1 – 1 Month Review

How time flies!

It’s been one month since I started using my Mac Mini with the M1 Apple silicon chip in it. I can say that I am very impressed.

The applications available through the App Store are numerous, and I’ve been using quite a few of them instead of having to pull out my phone. While I am not going to link to the directions on how to do it, I have side loaded a few iOS and iPad apps onto my machine, because I just couldn’t help myself. If you try doing this, you are essentially beta testing these apps. There was someone in r/Apple who was banned from Modern Warfare by side loading it, so this process does have its risks. You would have to manually update any side loaded apps, which is also a terrible pain point. It has been interesting to get apps such as Robinhood, Allstays, Google Maps, and Waze working on my Mac. You can tell that some of the UI is broken because they weren’t meant to run in 4K, and I have seen stability issues even on generally responsive apps. Some apps crash immediately because they are missing libraries, and others just look terrible no matter what you try to do. However, there are quite a few apps that have been running flawlessly like Uber Eats, and I really can’t say why they are waiting to go to the Mac.

When it comes to my day-to-day, I’ve found that the VPN app that I use for work does not disconnect when the computer sleeps as it used to; the iPad variant that I am using in lieu of the Mac app that I used on Intel is generally more stable, and actually remembers my password after an update. I did have to use a beta version of Microsoft Remote Desktop to avoid flickering, but I can reasonably say that there was no downtime for my job overall. The only Intel apps that are running right now are the aforementioned MRD, Teams, 1Pass, Nextiva (VOIP), Logitech Options (for my MX Master 3 mouse) and Spotify (iPad Spotify was glitchy). Everything else is running natively on the Apple architecture on Big Sur. I have experienced zero slowdowns.

I’ve not had an issue with missing I/O as some reviewers have complained. Everything connects to my Mini. I’ve cleaned off the top of my desk and hidden the Mini underneath with a holder that fits the last decade of Minis sold. While I am missing a third monitor, I will eventually get whatever iPad Pro is released in 2021 to act as my laptop did, only with the ability to interact with it more.

I took out the back of my desk drawer out and hot glued the sides to hold it all together.

Some Bluetooth connectivity issues early on seemed to have been solved through updates. My VOIP app would not ring, or would make me sound fuzzy. That has been ironed out somehow. The only other thing which bugs me is that the scaled resolution seems to be inconsistent between HDMI 2.0 and DisplayPort. I’ve been able to scale them both down for now, but I am hoping that a future Big Sur update solves for this.

The people who are going to have major issues right now are those users who have been reliant on Bootcamp. Windows ARM has not been officially ported to the M1 architecture yet (though Parallels is apparently working on it). I suspect that when it is, it’ll open the door for others that have been holding out due to this exclusion. The good news is that Microsoft is reported to be shifting to ARM processors as well, so we’ll likely see some similar results and inter-compatibility with Apple over the next few years.

Someone tested CS:GO on their M1 MacBook Pro, which inspired me to do so myself:

This is an OpenGL game running on Metal. I can say it runs as well as if I were using my eGPU, in 4K resolution. I also played the 3rd chapter to The Long Dark single player campaign on my Mini. There’s no lag or other issues that I’ve seen, so I would consider the M1 to be a light gaming rig as well. Don’t expect to play Cyberpunk 2077 on it, but most other games that have been ported to the Mac already should work fine.

One of the main concerns from my speculative blog post on Apple Silicon in June is that we will see further lockdowns and restrictions of the Mac operating system over time. Right now, the OS seems to be as open as any other Mac is, the only difference being the chip, and unoptimized apps. It still remains to be seen if MacOS becomes as closed as iOS/iPadOS/WatchOS/TVOS is after future updates.

I saw a video before I received my unit: a couple of Apple employees made the claim that the M1 would work like “magic”. There was a ton of marketing-speak before the launch, and people were reasonably skeptical. I can tell you, M1 lives up to the hype. Rosetta 2 can allow M1 to emulate x86 faster than native Intel chips, so even though there’s not a version of Photoshop released for Apple silicon yet, it doesn’t really matter. If your workflow is not reliant on Windows apps or anything really specific, you should just go for the upgrade if you are absolutely due for one. Pros might want to still hold out until 2021, so that they can get a rumored updated 16″ MBP or iMac. My thought is that with all of the wasted space from using old form factors this time around, we’re going to see some very interesting re-designs over the next year or so.

Lastly, I have decided to sell my eGPU since it is incompatible with M1, so if you’re in the Denver area and looking for one, HMU. I’m honestly not bummed about this, since it makes my space seem so much larger; the idea of an eGPU was always a stop-gap in my mind. I am just looking forward to the future of how Apple will keep making their own integrated graphics better over time. It will be interesting to see if they do use AMD GPUs at all in any of their pro computers coming up, but I believe that they can start to complete in this space as Intel is trying to do now with their own discreet GPUs. Apple has clearly nailed the CPU side of things, so what’s stopping them from going into GPU territory?

All in all, I am happy with this purchase, even though I could still be considered a beta tester by some. This will be a computer that I keep for years to come. Everything just works, and there is more to do on my Mac. The future looks bright for this new architecture.

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