Apple Mac Mini (M1) Preview

Posted on December 22, 2020 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Hardware, Mac and macOS with 51 Comments

Obviously, I’ve wanted to evaluate a new Mac based on Apple Silicon since they were first announced in early November. But Apple initially didn’t offer trade-ins on the only Mac I owned, an early-2020 Intel-based MacBook Air, and I was going to need that money to make the purchase. And so I kept checking back until, finally, in early December, Apple’s site suddenly accepted my Mac on trade.

I’ve done this sort of trade-in a lot in the past, and it’s always gone well. But this time, all kinds of things went wrong. For starters, even though I entered my Mac’s serial number on the site, it correctly reported which model of MacBook Air I had. But though I was quoted $620 on trade-in, when it was evaluated by Phobio, the Apple partner that handles trade-ins, I was offered $570 because it was supposedly a different kind of MacBook Air. It’s not, and what Phobio is doing amounts to fraud. But rather than go through waiting yet again to get my Mac back and then figure out a different way to trade it in, I accepted the $50 decrement.

But the bigger issue, to me, really, was the sheer amount of time the whole process took. I sent the MacBook Air to Phobio on December 4, and they reported back that it had arrived on December 11. On December 16, I was told that the trade-in value had changed, and I accepted the change immediately. On December 19, I was told that an “Apple gift card in the amount of $570.00 will be emailed to [me] in the next 3 to 5 days.” And today, December 22—almost three weeks after I sent in my trade—I was finally emailed the gift card. There’s no reason, and no excuse, for this to take so long. Again, I feel that this company is engaged in fraud, and why Apple doesn’t handle trade-ins internally or at least with a trustworthy company is beyond me.

And the waiting will continue: The Mac Mini isn’t expected to arrive until January 14, so it will take me well over a month from trade-in to the arrival of the new Mac.

Anyway.

While waiting to be able to trade-in my MacBook Air, I of course had spent a lot of time thinking about which M1-based Mac to get. And as you know, there are three choices, each with very similar innards: A MacBook Air ($999 and up), an entry-level MacBook Pro ($1299 and up), and a Mac Mini ($699 and up). Each features an M1 chip with an 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, 8 or 16 GB of integrated RAM, 256 GB or more of integrated solid-state storage, and 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports. (Actually, the MacBook Air curiously only has a 7-core GPU, but whatever.) The MacBook Air is air-cooled, meaning there are no fans, while the MacBook Pro and Mac Mini both have fans, and sustain processor-intensive workloads longer than the Air.

Which to choose? I’ve owned one or more of each of these Mac models over the years. The MacBook Air has, for whatever reason, been the most common model I’ve purchased, but I’ve owned at least three Mac Minis, including an original version based on a Power PC chip. I think I’ve only owned one MacBook Pro, not counting the 15-inch model I bought and returned last year, but I could be wrong. There have been so many.

The appeal of a portable Mac is obvious. But the reality is that I rarely if ever travel with a Mac, and when I think about the limited ways in which I use Macs, getting a Mac Mini seemed to make the most sense. Plus, this Mac is significantly less expensive than the other two, which is a win.

Since storage matters little to me—256 GB is just fine—the only real question was the RAM. As noted above, the base version comes with 8 GB of RAM, but you can upgrade to 16 GB for $200. And you must do so at purchase time because the RAM is integrated into the M1 chip, and it’s not upgradeable later.

Given what I’ve read about the new M1-based Macs and my own history with these devices, I feel like 8 GB would suffice for day-to-day productivity work. (If anything, macOS is more efficient in this regard than Windows.) But I also want to test Windows in virtualization when that becomes available via Parallels, and virtualization works better with more RAM. So I opted to go with 16 GB, even though this will make some future comparisons with modern Windows 10 on ARM-based PCs a bit difficult. (Most of those PCs come with only 8 GB of RAM.)

The total cost, before taxes and so forth, was $899. So I paid about $350 out of pocket, after taxes, etc., to get the Mac Mini. Pretty much exactly what I had in the PayPal account I use for device purchases.

I’m looking forward to testing an M1-based system and comparing it both to my previous Mac experiences and to Windows 10 on ARM. But it’s going to be a while.

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Comments (63)

63 responses to “Apple Mac Mini (M1) Preview”

  1. jkbmedia

    I also bought a M1 Mac Mini. I maxed out the ram and storage because I was given an estimate on my Mac Pro that would almost cover the price. An original delivery estimate was around February 10 but that has been updated to January 26. As you said, it is going to be a while.

  2. adachan

    I had a VERY similar experience trading in an iPad Pro 12.9 inch on Phobio. I like you wanted to get a few extra dollars to buy one of the new m1 Macs. I talked to Apple and they told me I could trade anything in for an Apple gift card. This seemed quite reasonable. I entered my serial number and answered a few simple questions -- like is the screen working, does the home button work but nothing like are their very minor scuffs on the device. This 12.9 inch ipad pro that I have is immacualte and the battery works as good as day 1. So Phobio offered me 225 on a trade in. I thought this was a bit low, even for a Gen 1 ipad Pro 12.9 inch with LTE, but oh well, I decided to accept their offer. Again, there was nothing in the questions that said anything like the quality of the product, the questions were only related to functioning (this ipad is immacualte anyway). The ipad arrived at their center a few days after shipping it. It took them 3-4 days to update me on anything related to my gift card. Then after 4 days, I got an email from them countering their original offer at $40. I was completely taken offguard by this and thought it was a joke. I mean, I have traded lots of things into Gazelle, and they often counter you with a 10% difference, but they do specify as to why. This difference in $225 to $40 had no reasoning to it. They didnt claim it was a different product or anything -- how could it be, I entered the serial number?!?!? I was super angry about this and have re-evaluated my need for an m1 Mac at this point because of this fraud.

  3. wright_is

    In reply to sammyg:
    In 2020/2021 I am not sure why anyone runs Windows on a Mac anymore???

    Outlook is a prime example, if you are an Exchange user. The Mac version has been missing a large range of features. It is better than it used to be (anyone remember Entourage? ), but still has many deficiencies. At a previous employer, the CEO kept berating me, because I was unable to show him how to accomplish certain tasks with Outlook for Mac - showing him an official statement from Microsoft that the features don't exist on the Mac and that they had no intention of programming them weren't enough to change his mind, I was incompetent, because he had been doing things that way for 20 years; yeah, 20 years on a Windows PC!

    Where I am at the moment, there are a couple of dozen applications we need that are Windows (and Intel) only.

  4. jchampeau

    I had a similarly aggravating experience recently with Apple's trade-in program. I sent in my cosmetically perfect iPhone XR that was reporting 92% battery capacity only to have them tell me it wouldn't power up and was thusly worth $0. Needless to say I opted to have them send it back to me, and when I received it, it powered right up. Jerks.

  5. nbplopes

    I think they should have honored the quote provided and not change it after the goods were received.


    On the issue of taking a long time ... well, unless one lives in another reality COVID along with the Season might have contributed to the delays.


    Shipping time have been abnormal for some time now for one thing.

    • SvenJ

      In reply to nbplopes: Every such trade-in has a written disclaimer that notes they can change the amount upon receipt. They typically do say you can refuse the change and they'll send it back to you. I imagine they expect most won't.


      • nbplopes

        In reply to SvenJ:


        Still. It’s not a good practice. There are many many things that need to be regulated to protect customers. If companies are left to their devices, you would buy something from Amazon, and price would change up some euros upon delivery just because someone said it should ... of course such possibility would be written somewhere.


        This situation that Thurrot reported is really bad. The customer is already without the device for weeks, a cost, so is even more compelled to agree the price change in order to get the deal over and done with. It’s an unbalanced power relationship and smells like someone is taking advantage of it.


        PS: Heck why not just spend hours on the supermarket, price tags be damned, only to find out that has gone up when paying in the cashier. Right? They don’t because it’s against the law, just because of that.

        • Paul Thurrott

          Right. You're basically being held hostage, waiting for weeks, so many people will simply accept the offer and try to move past this. It's fraud, plain and simple.
  6. Alastair Cooper

    The Mac Mini seems well suited to sitting on the desk with a high-end PC workstation, connected via either KVM or remote desktop.

  7. red.radar

    I would suggest eBay for trade in, but I recently had a lot of difficulties in getting a smooth transaction. Mainly because the world is upside down and shipping has been less then a guarantee. As such the transaction was fraught with intervention and extra steps as we hunt down what a shipping service lost/stole.



  8. mattbg

    I am looking forward to this review. I know it will be one I can trust, and also from a Windows perspective which is my main interest on the desktop.

  9. prebengh

    Parallels has made a technical preview available that runs on Mac M1. Microsoft has a version of WOA on the insider preview, that runs in Parallel. Both can be downloaded for free.

    There are already a lot of videos on Youtube that shows it running fairly well.

    I have installed it as well on my Macbook Pro M1, and the installation is fairly straightforward.

  10. SvenJ

    I typically have good luck at Best Buy. They generally offer the exact same value as Apple, and I can walk into the store, trade it in, get the BB gift card and go buy the new thing I was wanting in a relatively short period of time.

  11. jimbosf

    I bought one and I am impressed. Not once have I heard a fan and this thing feels like cold aluminum no matter what it is doing. I have yet to feel it even get slightly warm.

  12. winner

    Thanks for the update Paul, and we're looking forward to your Mac Mini M1 experience!

  13. Mcgillivray

    Just search for PHOBIO REVIEWS and click on the trustpilot link...

  14. mclark2112

    A friend of mine returned his M1 Mac Mini due to display issues when using dual monitors. Required a reboot to fix everytime. Apparently it is a pretty common issue.


    I'd like to see if you can try that out and see what happens to you.

  15. sevenacids

    You say a $50 decrement by Phobio amounts to fraud but at the same time don't complain about paying $200 extra for an 8GB RAM upgrade? O-kay ;D


    Maybe Apple is not handling the trade-ins internally because it doesn't pay off or there's not much to gain?

  16. reefer2

    In reply to sammyg:

    Developers are not a pro market per se and Apple does very little to attract them on the mac.

  17. curtisspendlove

    These are interesting:


    www.macrumors.com/2020/11/27/developer-successfully-virtualizes-windows-on-m1/


    9to5mac.com/2020/12/17/windows-m1-mac-parallels/


    Nowhere near ready for prime-time but faster than I anticipated.

  18. bbold

    I'm still using my last year's (non M1) Mac Mini and I still find it to be super fast for everything I need it to do, mostly for my writing and (mostly research paper driven grad school homework when I dont want to use my Surface Laptop 3, 1st gen Surface Go LTE or 1st gen Surface Book (not very often). I'm sure the M1 will be faster, but may disappoint with it's incompatibility for some major apps that artists like to use Macs for. I'm wondering where you will fall on this.. the value and speed vs app compatibility and overall use. Your use case may be different from a digital artists', etc, and I expect to hear those thoughts, I'm sure it's fine for people who don't need to access those particular buggy or incompatible apps. I don't have those worries with my Intel 2018/9 Mac Mini but I also don't use heavy photo or video editing programs.


    Happy holidays everyone! Do something kind today...

    and most of all, be safe!


    BB

  19. CRoebuck

    In reply to sammyg:


    Unfortunately, many Engineering applications are Windows only or their Mac counterparts are sadly neglected or under-featured. I prefer the Mac terminal (WSL is getting close) and like the Mac OS experience but need my Windows "job" tools. VM's give that to me and have done for 10+ years

  20. djross95

    I'll be curious what you think about this thing, Paul. I like it better than the laptops, in part because of its expandability (relatively speaking) and the fact that I wouldn't have to pay for the atrocious web cam. The only thing holding me back is the exorbitant charge for an extra 8 GB of RAM. I hate to reward that sort of extortionate behavior!

  21. harrymyhre

    At first I didn’t understand why you wouldn’t get a laptop Mac. I have owned laptops for twenty years. When wifi took off that was it for me and desktop machines.

    • wright_is

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      I used laptops for a while, but with my 2016 Spectre X360, I realised that I was using it 99% of the time docked on my desk at home, apart from a brief stint as an intern at a language translation office. When I needed something a bit beefier for testing VMs, I bought a Ryzen desktop, it was a lot cheaper than a laptop with Core i9 and 32GB RAM... And, since I bought it, I've used my Spectre once, because I wanted to look something up when I was upstairs. I donated the Spectre to my wife, who uses it a couple of times a month.

      If you aren't travelling or needing to work on the move, a desktop is cheaper and more powerful at the same time.

      I'd love to replace my ThinkPad at work with a desktop, but I do need to move between home office and the office and various sites. I rarely use it as a laptop, just as a transportable "desktop". It gets plugged into a dock at work and at home, I work with a ergonomic keyboard and mouse and 2 external displays at both locations. A small, portable box that plugged into the dock would be just as useful and a lot cheaper as it wouldn't need a display, keyboard and trackpad...

    • red.radar

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      Laptops have terrible thermal envelopes. If you want the performance the desktop is always the better option as they can sustain the high clocks without throttling back.


      I proved this to myself when doing a handbrake transcode of a movie on my laptop and watched the CPU shoot up to 80c and the core frequencies drop to 2.0ghz and of course the fans were screaming.


      so if you really don’t need the portability then the trade off for performance sacrificing a little portability is a good call

    • mattbg

      In reply to Harrymyhre:

      If all you do is browse and write, a laptop is probably fine, but if I want a laptop then it will need to be a light and portable one, and there is a huge real-world difference in performance between an ultrabook laptop and a high-end desktop, regardless of benchmarks that show some with similar burst/peak performance.


      This says nothing about ergonomics, but I assume most people who use their laptops extensively and are over the age of 30 have a docking solution of some kind. Once you have a docking solution the laptop benefits are greatly reduced - the physical footprint issue is then one of whether you want a laptop on your table or a box you can't see under your desk.

  22. jaredthegeek

    The problem with Parallels is that it will emulate the ARM version of Windows and there is no software that runs on that hardly. I would have jumped to the new Mac from Windows this year but There are a some things I run that do not have a MacOS counterpart right now.

    • CRoebuck

      In reply to jaredthegeek:

      The way I understand it. There's a Parallels Beta that can run on M1 Macs and this allows the installation of Windows for ARM (available to those in the Windows insider program) and the latest insider releases support x86 and x64 applications under emulation (see: https://www.thurrott.com/windows/windows-10/244997/hands-on-with-windows-10-on-arm-x64-emulation)


      So we have a virtualised Windows environment that itself uses emulation to run x86 / x64 apps. Sounds horrible?.......apparently not https://www.macrumors.com/2020/12/22/m1-mac-windows-parallels-16/


      For those of us who enjoy Mac OS but absolutely need certain Windows apps for work, this might provide a solution to what in July looked like an end to being able to run Windows on Mac.


      Alternatively, I could make the jump after all having a choice is good.



    • Paul Thurrott

      This can't be right. WOA is not supported on anything other than new PCs.
  23. michael_babiuk

    Merry Christmas, Paul.


    Regarding the reduction in trade-in values, it might not be the fault of Phobio. A few days ago, I read an online article on Applemagazine.com titled, "Apple changes trade-in values on products, with some categories now worth more."


    It goes on to explain that Apple "quietly" reduced the trade-in values for all macs while raising the trade-in value on iPads and Apple Watches, for example. Note: for what its worth, I believe Phobio should honor the original quote it gave you.


    BTW, I would give you the Appleinsider link but I doubt that is permitted on your comment section. Anyway, I think you made the right choice. (I would have chosen the iPad Air myself - but I decided to wait a few more years to upgrade because my 2018 MBA with a Blackmagic eGPU and a 2018 iPad Pro are doing just fine for now.)


    Anyway, enjoy your purchase-I would have upgraded the RAM for the same reason - installing a Windows 10 Parallels Desktop VM. (I bet that VM just "flies". Grin.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to Michael_Babiuk:

      The excuse is the serial number indicates it is a different model. If you plug in a serial number and it gives you a quote on what you would receive - the vendor should at least lock it in for a period of time from that quote time. I expect the trade-in value on intel macs to drop more later in the transition period.

      • Paul Thurrott

        I can also go to Apple.com and look up my orders. It says "13.3-inch MacBook Air 1.1GHz quad-core Intel Core i5 with Retina Display and True Tone technology - Space Gray." I received it on June 23, 2020. Phobio reported it as a Core i3 after receiving it.
    • Paul Thurrott

      No, they changed the supposed configuration of the Mac from a Core i5 to a Core i3 to justify the change. It was a Core i5.
  24. khanman

    Paul, I ordered my first Mac ever (the Mini) December 14. The original estimated delivery was January 6. Once it shipped, it was updated to December 28. After a couple of days, it has been updated to December 24. Needless to say I'm happy. Hopefully, you'll have a pleasant surprise as well. While I have always been a Windows guy, Apple creep has set in, first with iPhones over the past several years, then iPads and Apple Watches, and now a Mac Mini. This device is for my home and I access my office computer via Remote Desktop with Duo 2FA. I figured that I can try out the OS, have the benefit of iMessage from my home computer, and still get my work work done via RDP. We'll see how it works out!

  25. jwpear

    Paul, just curious, have you ever considered selling your Apple hardware on Swappa instead of using Apple's trade-in? Looking at the 2020 Air page, it seems like you might have netted $650-700 after fees and shipping.


    I've had really good success selling on Swappa. Always net more with iPhones, iPads, and MacBooks than trading through Apple or others. In some instances, it is significantly more--$100+. I imagine that has a lot to do with the age of devices I sell--often 2-4 years for phones, longer for iPads and MacBooks.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Sure. I've looked at all kinds of options. But generally speaking, when I'm upgrading a manufacturer's device to a new version (usually phones), I go through that company and have always had good results. This time was notably different. This year, for whatever reason, Apple, Google, and Samsung will all offer higher-than-usual trade-in amounts, at least on their own phones.
  26. Chris_Kez

    Sorry to hear this experiment is off to a rough start, Paul; hopefully it goes better once you get the Mini. I’m really curious how it will compare to your experience with Intel NUC’s.

  27. michael_babiuk

    In reply to sammyg: You are right. There are really no good reasons why anyone would wish to run Windows based applications on an Apple macOS computer - either in native Boot Camp mode or in a VM. There are better options available to any consumer looking for PC hardware better equipped to perform those tasks.
    But I'm 67 yrs old and long since retired from Chrysler where I wore "many hats" during my career. I retired as a Corporate Power Train Engineer and I used PC based engineering software and CAD programs. (Although when I retired, the main CAD program in use at Daimler-Chrysler was CATIA running on dedicated RISC work stations).
    Still, I process a mechanical engineering CAD program having a sophisticate 3D modeling capability - called MicroStation 95. I use that program to judge how effective a Virtual Machine for Apple computers are - and to bring back fond memories. The really neat thing about that particular program is that it came with installation CDs for DOS, x86 Windows (Microsoft Windows 3.1x, Windows NT, Windows 95), OS/2 Warp, Dec Alpha NT and Linux) I use Parallels Desktop which is optimized for macOS and for an eGPU. BTW, MicroStation 95 is installed on a Windows XP/2 VM (yes, I know - I NEVER go online in that VM. Grin) And, quite frankly, even using a 2018 MBA (retina) assisted by a Blackmagic eGPU, the performance of that Parallels Desktop VM is phenomenal - even on an admitted low power MBA (by our standards now).
    I keep Windows 10 in a VM on my Mac (and on future Macs) if I ever need to run a "native" Windows App that has no analog for macOS - although, currently, there are no such programs that I would need or rely on for my day-to-day workflow. Still, nostalgia and the possibility of such a future need keeps having a Windows VM a requirement. Besides, there really is no substitute for MS Solitaire - very big grin.


    • Paul Thurrott

      "There are really no good reasons why anyone would wish to run Windows based applications on an Apple macOS computer." Wow. I'm sure you'll hear from people who feel differently. I do agree that the need has decreased a lot since the days of OS X and Boot Camp, but I'd also point to the fact that Parallels is doing a great business on the Mac, and that's based almost solely on virtualizing Windows and running Windows apps side by side with Mac apps.
      • nbplopes

        In reply to paul-thurrott:


        The user said that there are other alternatives that do as well. But I agree with you. The cost of changing from Windows do the Mac is greater than changing from the Mac to Windows ... The higher the cost of change, more closed is the system :)

    • SvenJ

      In reply to Michael_Babiuk: Access, Project. These aren't even esoteric applications. There are other ways to skin this of course, not the least of which is just get a Windows machine. If you normally use a MAC and just need to use these now and again, Parallels is a relatively painless way to do so.


      • solomonrex

        In reply to SvenJ:
        No, I don't think so. Project is in the MS365 cloud, and Access is not long for this world - the most recent version has MS SQL db behind it, so the skin is the whole 'app', and the VBA - the only substantial 'value add' part of the skin - isn't ported to their cloud. It's a product that can't exist in the cloud, people use python in analytics apps on 'real' databases or on things like NoSQL. MS has other competing products, as well.
        MS knows what the future is, and it isn't locally installed client applications. Unfortunately, unlike Apple they are therefore unprepared to move to ARM, and the cloud move is painfully slow, too. If Windows apps have a future, they're not doing a good job of charting a course forward, and have been caught flatfooted, even having released Surface on ARM many years ago.

        They need to get their shop in order - Cloud, ARM or both, and stop screwing around with outdated stuff that doesn't get abandoned or updated.


      • jdjan

        In reply to SvenJ:

        This. I need MS Project a few times a year to exchange/communicate timelines with clients. It's the main reason that I keep a Windows VM on my Intel Mac. And it's enough to keep me on an Intel Mac. SmartSheets is excellent, but I don't use it enough to pay the nominal $15/month subscription and I haven't found any other non-subscription alternatives that work quite as well as Project.


        I have a secondary laptop, but the convenience of just spinning up the VM vs getting the Windows laptop out of the drawer wins every time.

  28. c_j_martinez

    There’s definitely something fishy with that trade-in. I got $590 for a 2018 (Dual Core i5,256,16) MacBook Air.

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