The diminutive Apple Mac mini may be small and unassuming, but Apple's just brought some major changes to the tiny desktop Mac with the M1 chip — the first Apple Silicon processor for Mac.
At its November 10th event, Apple announced a trio of new Macs with the latest Apple-designed M1 chip, but for desktop users, the Mac mini was the star of the show.
- Apple Silicon MacBook Air: Price, release date, specs and more
- What to know about the new Apple Silicon MacBook Pro
- The best mini PCs we've reviewed
In what shouldn't have been a surprising move, since Apple had already been using the Mac mini as the dev kit to introduce the new hardware to developers, Apple has launched an updated Mac mini with the Apple's latest innovation, the M1 processor, the first Mac-specific processor in the Apple Silicon family.
Price: $699 (starting)
CPU: Apple M1
RAM: 8GB / 16GB
Storage: 256GB / 512GB / 1TB / 2TB
Ports: Thunderbolt/USB 4 (2), HDMI 2.0, USB-A (2), Ethernet, 3.5mm headphone jack
Apple Silicon Mac mini price and availability
In an unusual move for Apple, the Mac mini is actually getting a lower price, with the new M1-equipped Mac mini selling for $699 — a full $100 less than the previous generation Mac mini.
The Mac mini is available for order now, and should begin shipping next week.
Apple Silicon Mac mini design
Externally, the Mac mini appears to be identical to previous versions of the compact desktop. The Mac mini features a unibody aluminum chassis with an overall square shape and rounded corners, all with a relatively low profile design that has largely defined the mini PC category.
Apple did take a moment to mention that the Mac mini's aluminum housing is made from 100% recycled aluminum.
On the bottom of the Mac mini is usually a plastic hatch providing access to the internals. The last Mac mini touted the ability to upgrade the RAM inside, but when we had the chance to see it for ourselves, it was clear that Apple didn't make this feature particularly accessible.
With the switch to new Apple hardware, there is no word on upgradability for the new Mac mini.
Apple Silicon Mac mini ports
On the connectivity side the new Mac mini is outfitted with dual USB-C ports and that support both thunderbolt and USB 4 connectivity standards. included in that is support for Apple's Pro display XDR, the impressive 6K display that debuted alongside the Mac Pro.
Apple Silicon Mac mini performance
Apple's touting the new M1 chip as a drastic improvement in overall capability. The 8-core M1 processor is a system on a chip (SOC), combining functional chips such as the processor, memory controller and T2 security chip into a single unified package.
The M1 chip also uses a 5-nanometer fabrication process, which packs 16 billion processors onto the chip surface. The chip design has eight cores, with four high performance cores and four energy efficient cores, designed to squeeze better performance out of the processor without compromising battery life on portable machines like the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro. Early performance leaks promise huge boosts in capability, but what this means in a stationary system without a battery like the Mac mini is still unclear.
Apple was also touting the graphics capability of the new chip, comparing the m1 processors integrated graphics to discrete GPU solutions used in other laptops. Incorporated into the chip is an eight core GPU capable of handling 25,000 processing threads at a time, which Apple claims will double the graphics capability compared to an equivalent PC integrated graphics chip such as Intel HD graphics.
The performance gains Apple claims run the gamut from improved graphics capability to a 15x improvement in machine learning capability, making it ideal for math, science and computer science use. We'll have to wait and get it in for testing to provide a clearer idea of what that actually means.
The Mac mini is equipped with a small internal fan for cooling, Apple promises near silent operation even under heavy load. However, unlike the fanless design of the new MacBook Air, the M1 processor should benefit performance wise from the presence of a cooling fan, making the Mac mini the most promising new Mac in terms of raw capability.
Early benchmarks have the new Mac Mini at the top of the pile of the new Apple Silicon Macs, with its M1 chip trouncing Intel processors in other Mac machines, including a powerful iMac with a 10-core Core i9 CPU. As such, the performance of the M1 chip looks very promising.
Apple Silicon Mac mini outlook
The Mac mini may not turn the most heads, but it might be the most exciting announcement in the new Apple Silicon powered Mac lineup. The desktop design promises more powerful performance then the MacBook Air, and performance at least on par with the new MacBook Pro.
Launching alongside the new M1 chip is Apple's Big Sur OS, which is the first Apple operating system tailored to the new Apple Silicon hardware. Included with Big Sur are all of the usual pre-packaged Apple Mac apps, already optimized for the Apple Silicon hardware.
Older apps designed around The Intel hardware on older systems will still run well in Big Sur thanks to Rosetta, Apple's compatibility software. Apple claims that in some instances, older apps will run even better on the new hardware than on the Intel processors they were designed for.
The biggest change introduced with Big Sur and the M1 processor, however, is native support for iPad and iPhone apps on the Mac mini. Though cross-compatibility is not guaranteed for all apps right away, it is the new default for Apple apps, and one of the more exciting capabilities introduced with the new chips.
We're looking forward to getting our hands on the Mac mini to test and review as soon as possible, at which point we can put the truth to some of Apple's claims. But if even a portion of these claims are true, Apple's littlest Mac just made some huge improvements.