Apple Mac Mini (M1): The Morning After

Posted on January 5, 2021 by Paul Thurrott in Apple, Hardware, Mac and macOS with 52 Comments

Apple’s new M1-based Mac Mini has held up well in early testing, with excellent software and hardware compatibility and performance. Well, with one exception.

We’ll get to that.

Despite it being the first full workday after the holidays, I had two long back-to-back meetings on Monday afternoon, which cut into my Mac setup time. But I did get it done, though there was one rough patch in the early going: Because the Mac Mini only has two USB-A ports and I have three USB-A peripherals that need to be plugged in at all time, I decided to add a USB dock and attach everything to that. But macOS Setup was having none of it: It informed me, cryptically, that I needed to power on my mouse and/or keyboard before it would proceed.

The issue was that my Microsoft Sculpt Ergonomic Keyboard and Mouse set uses a USB dongle for connectivity, and that USB dock wasn’t detected on the first boot. (I tried it later and it seems to work fine now.) So for the first boot, I just plugged the Microsoft dongle directly into one of the Mac’s USB ports, and that worked.

I won’t belabor how tedious the Mac Setup process is since it’s not unique to the M1-based Macs, but it’s a wizard-based affair with far too many steps. After getting through that, I checked for updates, found that there was one—for macOS Big Sur 11.1—so I got that started while I worked on a few other things.

First, I decided to see how well my other hardware worked. The most obvious was the display, which seemed to be working fine. But that was confirmed by a quick visit to the Displays interface in System Preferences, which correctly identified the display as an HP Z27n G2 and configured it for the right resolution. (I bumped up the scaling manually.)

My USB dock, as noted, also worked fine once I had booted into macOS, so I left that on the second USB-A port and connected my Focusrite audio interface (which connects my podcast microphone to USB) and Logitech Brio webcam to that. To quickly test these products, I then downloaded Microsoft Skype from the web and set that up. Both hardware devices were detected correctly and worked just fine.

After that, I set about downloading and installing the productivity applications I rely on every day. This included Microsoft Edge—and, yes, I grabbed the Canary version from the Edge Insider website since there’s a native M1 port available—Microsoft Word, Microsoft OneNote, Paint S (a Microsoft Paint-like application), and Adobe Photoshop Elements 2018 from the Mac App Store, and then Microsoft Teams and Microsoft OneDrive from the web (I assume both are Intel-type x64 apps).

My performance and compatibility experience thus far has been excellent, with one exception.

Native M1-based apps generally load with the promised alacrity, which is quite pleasant. But I was more interested in seeing how translated x64-based apps ran. This was mostly good news as well.

The first time you run an x64-based application, macOS prompts you to install Rosetta, a process that takes just several seconds. Then, the first time you run any x64 application, you need to wait for several seconds for it to launch. After that, x64 applications launch normally, at least so far, with no obvious issues. Big apps like Microsoft Teams and Photoshop Elements still take some several seconds to launch. But Skype comes up in 2-3 seconds, which seems about normal to me.

The only problem I’ve run into so far, and it’s admittedly a concerning one, is OneDrive. This application isn’t available natively for M1 yet, and it has to integrate with the Finder to work properly with Files on Demand, and the performance has been miserable so far, with lots of slow-moving beachballs. (Mac users will understand.) I can’t get it to work right yet.

As far as general system performance goes, there’s nothing really special about it, other than the fact that it working normally is kind of special, frankly. By comparison, Windows 10 on ARM seems to do everything at a leisurely pace or worse.

The Mac Mini itself appears to be silent, despite the presence of a fan system that I assume will kick in if I try to render video, play a 3D video game, or similar. My NUC, by comparison, offers an audible fan noise regularly.

At some point, I did install that Big Sur update. That took a while, but again, that’s par for the course on the Mac: Unlike with Windows, Mac software updates, even minor ones, take a long time and require the computer to be offline for the duration. (To be clear, this is not M1-related.)

It’s already clear that what Apple has done here is impressive. By comparison, Windows 10 on ARM offers slow performance and has major compatibility issues, though the advent of x64 app emulation sometime in 2021 should help with that latter issue. Apple’s M1-based Macs, however, offer excellent performance with native apps, good to great performance with translated x64 apps, and what appears to be—yes, it’s early yet—excellent compatibility with both hardware peripherals and legacy software applications. The one major issue I’ve experienced so far, with OneDrive, is Microsoft’s fault, not Apple’s, and it will obviously be fixed sometime soon.

Looking ahead, I’ll test virtualization with Parallels and maybe even try a few light games. You never know.

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Comments (52)

52 responses to “Apple Mac Mini (M1): The Morning After”

  1. richardbottiglieri

    Good stuff, Paul. I'm also using the MS Office + OneDrive setup on an M1 Mac, but I haven't experienced any of the things you are with slowness or beach balls. It's been super smooth for me. Maybe try logging out of OneDrive and back in again?

  2. will

    Paul have you tried to use the Beta or Fast version of Office for Mac? When you do this you will get a new build of OneDrive but not sure if this will fix the issue.

    Also a way to test and evaluate the new Outlook for Mac beta.

  3. prebengh

    Although you prefer Microsoft Edge I would suggest you try Safari, just to compare speed. It is extremely fast.

    • sammyg

      In reply to Prebengh:

      I much prefer Safari for a few reasons, like security and it's the ONLY browser I know that blocks all videos from autoplaying. I use it for all of my personal needs, like banking, medical site logins etc.

      That said there are times when you need a chromium based browser for web page compatibility. Also my company users Office 365 and we login too Edge to with our accounts. On Windows, Mac, iOS and I assume Android you can do the same. You get your favorites, passwords, extensions (where that works Mac/Windows).

  4. nbplopes

    People using specialized mouses such as the Logitech MX3 have been reporting some problems. Also people connecting with external Bluetooth speaker. Apple knows these issues already and as far as I was told, its working to fix it.

  5. sammyg

    My O365 work OneDrive works fine on my M1. I don't use it a lot but I did yesterday, copying a bunch of firewall backups I had downloaded to my Mini locally to a folder in OneDrive so I could get to it from the office if need be.

    Update - I just added my personal OneDrive (M365 Home) using the client, now I have two clouds in the menu bar, and its beach balling. It is funny if I hover over the left cloud (personal) beach ball, right cloud (E3 license form work) it works fine.

    Maybe the personal stuff is having an issue? Or multiple accounts running in rosetta?

  6. sgbassett

    I am a Windows (and ChromeOS) user. I never thought I would consider a Mac until I started reading and watching reviews of the new M1 Macs. I thought perhaps the Air could be my new travel machine. But I keep everything in OneDrive. If the OneDrive app isn't working flawlessly (or at least as well as it works on my Windows 10 machines), getting an M1 Mac is a non-starter for me.

    Not traveling much lately (!) and with the prospect that 2021 will look much like 2020 given our pathetic inability to fight and vaccinate against Covid, I can afford to wait until a redesigned Air is released, hopefully with an even better version of the M1 (M1a?, M2?).

  7. glenn8878

    Seems like all shortcomings of the debut product will be fixed by the next version. Not enough USB ports is certainly the biggest issue, but the unusual bug is most noticeable.

    • bkkcanuck

      In reply to glenn8878:

      The ports are not an issue for the product that these are for (entry level). The machines these are replacing (with the exception of the Mac Mini) were the entry level Macbook Air and Macbook pro which only had a max of 16GB and 2 ports in their current models. The Mac Mini -- did not really have a current entry level machine but in the end I view this low end Mac Mini as a replacement for the DTK (Developer Tool Kit model)... The next set of machines that they are replacing are ones that have more ports and more memory - so those are beginning to get into the models that I would typically look at... If rumours are to be believed, the next set of computers will definitely be worth a look. The only reason why many are looking at these entry level machines where typically they would not pay attention -- is because the other models are yet to come... So not shortcomings, just not the model that you would typically consider.

  8. paul_nelson

    I must be the only person who genuinely doesn't mind the performance on my Surface Pro X. Granted, it's been a long time since I did anything more than browse the web, email, You Tube and some Excel/Word usage. It runs quite quickly in my opinion.

    Although, I do caveat that with the fact that I moved from a Samsung Tab S6 so my baseline isn't that high. If I'd moved from something more powerful I would probably notice more performance issues.

    Even playing a couple of games (Rise of Nations - again, that's an incredibly old game) worked fine.

    I do get, for the price they were charging, you would expect more but, I got it on discount.

    • sscywong

      In reply to Paul_Nelson:

      You are definitely not alone

      I always wonder the performance issue of WOA is more MS's bad or Qualcomm's..... According to early WOA on Parallel VM on M1 seems it's Qualcomm's...

      I always fantasying AMD to push out something that is based on ARM but with two x64 core for compatibility.... Anyway just dreaming...

      Posted from my Surface Pro X Gen 1

      • Paul Thurrott

        I don't think it's fair to blame any one company. This is on both parties: The hardware needs to be adapted to the needs of x86/64 app emulation and Windows needs to be tailored for the unique strengths and differences of ARM. Microsoft used to really push cross-platform in Windows/NT, but that fell by the wayside over 20 years ago, so Windows today includes Intel-specific optimizations for performance reasons (and I'm sure a lot of it is Assembly-based). That stuff is the problem on ARM.
      • paul_nelson

        In reply to sscywong:

        I agree, I think that AMD may release something with decent/good ARM performance to overcome the limitations in Windows Intel skewed optimisations but, with a much better GPU. Although, the GPU in the Pro X isn't bad at all.

        That should hopefully push both Microsoft and Qualcomm to produce something better, a SQ3 with double the performance would do it. But, I like my Pro X.

    • ianbetteridge

      In reply to Paul_Nelson:

      You're not the only one :)

      I think it depends a lot on what you're using it for. I use mine for Office, web apps, and that's about it. For that use, it's an excellent machine.

  9. jdawgnoonan

    Paul, you mentioned the tedious setup process on a new Mac, and I have to say that I agree. One thing that always baffles me is why Apple does not offer the option to have the computer logon be the iCloud ID like Windows does for the Microsoft ID. Instead, the iCloud setup is treated like a completely isolated thing (even though you need it for application updates). The other thing that I find annoying as hell is that you cannot easily use your Apple ID profile photo for your local Mac ID. Every time I set up a Mac I have to go get the original image that I used for my Apple ID profile photo if I want to use it for my computer profile. That just seems dumb.

    • Paul Thurrott

      Yeah, it feels old-fashioned. THere are several things like this that are just better, faster, and/or more efficient on Windows. PC Reset, for example.
  10. gavinknight

    Have you tried the OneDrive app in the Mac App Store? I use it, and it seems to work a little faster than the web download one, although I still see spinning beach balls too often.

  11. 2ilent8cho

    Linus Tech Tips has released a video in last 24 hours called "How did Microsoft screw this up?" and it puts the M1 Macbook Air against the Surface Pro X and the differences start to really show up and they are big.. really big. Most interesting part was The M1 Air could run benchmark apps on Windows 10 ARM inside a VM on Parallels and get faster results than Microsofts Surface X native and thats using unfinished beta software and drivers with Parallels. If the past is anything to go by when the Air gets a new processor this year or 2022 as an M2 it should be 20% to 30% again, and thats on top of the M1X we are still waiting for in the higher end 13" Pro and 16" Pro.

    • wright_is

      In reply to 2ilent8cho:

      The problem is, Apple have spent 10 years refining their ARM chips.

      Qualcomm gave Microsoft a lightly modified mobile chip that is a little faster - but was already slower than the A12.

      This just shows that the Windows on ARM isn't that bad, when you can get a decent processor. The problem is, there aren't any decent mainstream ARM processors for laptop or desktop use at the moment.

      • Oreo

        In reply to wright_is:

        Qualcomm has had the same amount of time to do the same, perhaps longer than Apple. They are clearly the market leader in SoCs in the Android space, and yet for some reason they gave up on designing custom cores. It’s really sad IMHO. It’d be good if Apple had competition that kept it on its toes.

        • wright_is

          In reply to Oreo:

          They only saw the mobile market. Desktops and laptops were too small to bother investing in and everybody said the market was dead (pundits and analysts, not people who actually need the tech on a daily basis).

          Apple went ahead and started developing an alternative desktop processor, because it could potentially save them billions, over the lifetime of the design, by making development more unified across mobile, laptop and desktop and by not having to pay Intel's profits.

          Qualcomm doesn't make any finished products and had no interest in non-mobile markets. They made fairly efficient, low power chips for mobile devices that needed long battery life and reasonable performance. They did this with the "minimum" in R&D needed to remain competitive in the non-Apple mobile market.

          The problem is, until the market is established, they will only sell a couple of million units, at most. It just isn't worth the investment to them, they already sell billions of chips in mobile, why waste money for a design that won't have any RoI in the foreseeable future?

          While I am no Apple fan, I have to give them credit for planning more long term than most companies do these days. Most companies are looking to maximise RoI in the next few months or quarters, they are no longer looking to the long term and investing heavily for things that will come in down the road in a few years time, that isn't sexy for investors.

  12. melinau

    Apple's ARM processors look promising, and I'm keen to try one out. I'm waiting until they get to the 2nd or 3rd iteration before jumping, as I'm sure they'll sort-out various minor niggles & also the whole ecosystem should have settled down by then.

    I'm not sure where this leaves Microsoft's efforts to "migrate" at least *some* of Windows to ARM. It seems to be the case that Windows' biggest strength: ubiquity & compatibility, is also the biggest hurdle to building something as good as the M1s.

    I suspect MS is pivoting pretty strongly away from "Windows" towards being a platform-agnostic supplier of Software & Services. Trad Windows is still a decent earner, especially in the Corporate environment, but I'm with Dylan: "You don't need a Weatherman to know which way the wind blows..."

    Time will tell.

  13. geekdan

    Hmm, pretty weird behaviour with OneDrive: I've just set up an M1 MBP (responding on it right now) and haven't experienced any of those dramas (personal and work accounts): It's working like it does on my old intel mac. I'm using it with default settings - not downloading until I double click on files. I did get some weird behaviour where files on my old mac were not updating - but I checked on OneDrive Web and they were there. Something wrong with the old clunker...

    However, I have had the problem with Google File stream another poster talked about - I was only able to resolve by using the Backup & Sync client (which is probably not going to suit everyone).

    I don't doubt there have been problems with OneDrive (I've had plenty in the past, and I'm going back to the beta mesh days...). The only thing I can think of is that I installed OneDrive as part of the full office suite (Download from MSFT, rather than installing OneDrive via the App Store), and I have not enrolled this machine on the fast ring / early builds. Your mileage may vary, but I hope this helps.

  14. matapillar

    RE: OneDrive. I've tested this and it worked for me too. I'd try starting in SAFE MODE, restart and hold left shift key. Uninstall Onedrive in safe mode. THen reboot normally, download and install the latest Onedrive client.

  15. dell5050

    Paul, I am curious for your opinion on the topic of privacy and security on how Windows 10 and macOS compare today. Also Safari and the new Edge for Windows 10. I'm a career long 30 year user of Windows and Microsoft products, but I just see Apple talking much more about privacy and security than Microsoft. This is a major factor in deciding my next pc. I have never owned a Mac, but am considering. Thanks!

    • Paul Thurrott

      Both companies are very much focused on privacy, but Apple markets it to consumers. The big thing on the Windows side, which is sort of a red herring, is that Microsoft doesn't let individuals turn off all telemetry data collection in Windows. They're not doing anything nefarious ... but they should let users turn that off.
  16. robsanders247

    I have seen the same thing with OneDrive, but after it was done processing all files it turned normal. Of all the File Sync & Share tools, only Dropbox has been working correctly from the start for me. Other than that, everything has been working smoothly. Or as smoothly as expected (yes, I'm looking at you Microsoft Teams!).

  17. prebengh

    From several Youtube video reviews as well as my MacBook Pro M1, I think you will have a really hard time to activate the fan to a level where it is audible.

    I wonder why you are experiencing problems with Onedrive. On my M1 computer it works quickly without any issues and integrates seamlessly with Finder. My version is 20.169.0823

  18. briantlewis

    I have been very happy with the cadence with software updates (especially viewed through the prism of the PPC > Intel transition). The only developer tool that I'm waiting on is JetBrains Rider, which is in turn waiting on MS.

    • wright_is

      In reply to briantlewis:

      I remember waiting a couple of years, before Microsoft had an Intel version of Office. The first release was still running under Rosetta. Although that was partly Excel's "fault". For performance a lot of functions were written in PowerPC assembler.

      I'm guessing with the re-write and more powerful processors going forward, that they decided to move that into some form of high level language that wouldn't cause problems again, going forward.

      I wonder if this might also be part of why Microsoft hasn't released a WoA version of Office yet, maybe the Windows version also has a lot of legacy assembler kicking around for performance reasons...

  19. jblank46

    X64 emulation has been available in Windows 10 insider updates since early December sometime but seems to have gone unnoticed by most?

  20. codymesh

    Most 'normal' mice and keyboards without special features will work fine, but mice and keyboards that have additional buttons or other special software-configurable functions will have the same issue as on Windows on ARM: no native ARM driver and software to configure the extra features.

  21. ronin

    My take on the M1 without ever using one but being a long time Mac and Linux user, is two fold.

    Firstly, and worryingly Apple has essentially put up barbed wire around their walled garden approach. I used to regularly install Linux on my old macs to get more life out of them, and it seems very unlikely that this will be possible going forward with the new architecture. Which is a damn shame, as when you factor in screen quality with build quality. Ports aside, Mac laptops are very good quality and imho reasonably priced for the money when you factor in all the parts that go into a laptop (I’m ignoring a past keyboard). But there developer friendly shell is becoming more difficult to manage. And I have started having issues with unofficial package manager brew since late last year after an Xcode update. Whereas on Linux I can setup and manage multiple versions of node using nvm, ruby using rvm, python and c/c++ on all the linux distros I use as. And simply get work done in my local environment (which includes docker, redis, and an plethora of bash scripts. On the Mac, sometimes a code environment will just stop working. Which means half a day wasted, and that can turn into a big deal. Yes Linux has its issues but a Mac air M1 running Kali Linux as my go to testing platform. With all that battery power I can run it all day. And another faster machine for coding on say fedora (no haters please) and I have a nice portable setup to integrate with my home workstations. All that battery life... my current top of the line 16 Mac Pro gives me about three hours if I’m lucky. That’s not portable computing.... really

    Which leads to my second point. To buy an equivalent screen and power system I have now what options exist for Real all day battery life? What is the competition. Dell and HP make great computers. But they plug into the wall. What is the equivalent right now in the pc laptop space. (Ignoring OS) ???

    there are days I could fry an egg on my intel MacBook Pro. You don’t have to be a genius to figure out that is not cool.

    completely torn. Mac seems to be making development more difficult on Mac OS - unless you’re building Mac apps (pure personal speculation) but the hardware looks like it’s moving into another league.

    I am no stranger to Mac I started on an apple2e when I was nine. But I am no fan girl/boy

    pragmatically I want a stable OS I can work on all day, which doesn’t push updates that destroy my development environment. And don’t need to be within 15min of a wall socket in case of an emergency.

    feeling excited about where these arm chips are heading. But at the same time, want options. All day battery life. Great screen... what is out there other than intel chips with let’s face it, a real thermal problem.

    ps Windows is not an option..... sorry if that makes anyone mad ?

  22. peterc

    Good read. I’m trying to decide whether to opt for the MacBook Air, Pro or the mini. I was tempted by the mini but if I’m really going to be positive in 2021 then I must assume I will be back working out and about sometime this year so maybe the Air or the Pro is the choice...

    look forward to your next write ups, cheers.

  23. crunchyfrog

    I did upgrade my i5 Mac Mini to the M1 but I was ready to return it if it did not work with my existing peripherals. In case anyone is concerned about external optical drives, I am happy to say that the M1 Mini found and uses my LG Blu-ray drive without issue. The software that accesses the drive is a mess even with Rosetta but I expect some updates soon.

  24. rob_segal

    Photoshop Elements over Affinity Photo? I thought you used Affinity now.

  25. dbtom

    Worse than OneDrive, Google Filestream does not run at all. This makes it impossible for me to use the new M1 Air for my purposes. Compatibility is great but when it can't run the one program you need...

    • Truffles

      In reply to dbtom:

      Apparently google are saying not to expect a fix until mid-year!! However there seems to be a user solution because some users are saying that the current version will run but only after the Mac's security levels have been downgraded to give Google permission to install a kernel extension that gives it system-wide access. Kernel extensions were deprecated about 12 months ago in favour of an API, and now they've been turned off by default. Looks like the Filestream team didn't get the memo.

    • robsanders247

      In reply to dbtom:

      Most of those apps use the FUSE libraries to deliver the on-demand capabilities. Those have been updated, but typically it takes a few months before those trickle down into the apps. Not sure if this is the case with Google Filestream, but Citrix Files for instance has the same issue.

  26. RobCannon

    Isn't the real problem with Window 10 on ARM the lack of native apps? Apple drops a new processor and vendors work to bring new builds for that platform at the product launch or very soon thereafter. While no one, except Microsoft, is doing that for Windows on ARM. I am sure vendors for Apple software know that the emulation layer, while very impressive, will be dropped in a year or two because Apple will expect everyone to have migrated by then.

    • winbookxl2

      In reply to RobCannon:

      I was able to run native PowerPC apps on Mac OS Mojave until Catalina came around. So we will see how soon they drop support since many programs are still on X64 at least for the next three years?

    • wright_is

      In reply to RobCannon:

      Even Microsoft aren't supporting WoA with their own applications. Edge has recently been available in an ARM version and key applications, like Office aren't available.

      The problem is, Apple have said, "Intel is dead, long live ARM!" And developers have to jump. Microsoft have said, "we also have ARM and it can run Intel code under emulation, meh."

  27. benisaacs

    Even on my old MacBook Pro from 2016, OneDrive was slow and frequently saw the beach ball appear. The performance on my M1 Mac is comparable to that of my old MacBook Pro

  28. winner

    Based upon both companies' histories, it's consistent to not be surprised Apple did very well, and that Microsoft (on ARM) has done very poorly.

    Thanks for the continuing updates Paul!