Everything You Need to Know about the New Mac Mini with M1 Chip

ARM processing comes to Apple's smallest desktop.

The new Mac mini has caught my attention. Announced at the November Mac event—the third Apple event this fall—and starting at $699, the Mac mini (2020) is currently the cheapest Mac desktop available. Since the Mac mini lacks the portability of a laptop and the processing power of a full desktop (even with all its boasted improvements over the older model), many may wonder what the point of this computer is. However, this is the first desktop Apple has produced that uses an ARM chip, which is a significant change as previously they were only used in iPhones and iPads. As I'm looking to purchase both a desktop and my first Mac computer, not only the price tag but also the compact nature of the Mac mini call out to me. I'm also intrigued by the M1 chip, which may bring more iOS functionality to the Macs. My processing needs aren't very high, and I'm looking to set up a more stable home office thanks to the shift toward working from home in 2020. For others, though, the Mac mini may not have much to offer. Let's take a look at what the Mac mini (2020) is promising us and what type of buyer might be the right fit.

Related: New MacBook Air & Pro: Everything You Need to Know about Prices, Specs, Release Dates

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Mac Mini Price & Availability

Availability: The new Mac mini is available to pre-order now, and will ship and hit stores next week.

Prices: $699 for 256GB SSD storage,  $899 for 512GB SSD storage

A Closer Look at the Mac Mini

For the price, the specs of the Mac mini are solid. The Mac mini (2020) includes:

  • Apple M1 chip with 8-core CPU, 8-core GPU, and 16-core Neural Engine;
  • 8 GB up to 16 GB of unified memory;
  • 256GB and 512GB SSD storage respectively;
  • HDMI 2.0 port
  • Two Thunderbird/USB-4 ports;
  • Two USB-A ports

For those unfamiliar with the jargon, CPU stands for Central Processing Unit, so it's basically what keeps your computer running, and GPU stands for Graphics Processing Unit. The Neural Engine is in charge of AI recognition technology, so the Mac could have things like face recognition or body motion sensing technology, as well as fun things like Animojis that we've seen in iOS. Up to 16 GB of memory is on the lower side versus the 32–64 GB the Intel Mac mini comes with, but it should still be adequate for those with more basic processing needs. 

the new Mac mini

The First M1 Chip Desktop

The iPhone and iPad have used ARM chips for years, and now so does the Mac mini, making it Apple's first desktop to have one. And as ARM chips have already been used in iOS devices for some time now, we can feel confident of their reliability, though having them in Macs will be a new experience, and there may be some issues switching from Intel.

Apple is promising a lot out of these new M1 chips, saying the Mac mini will provide 5X faster performance than the best-selling Windows desktop in the same price range, but the company remained vague on any specifics, including what speeds we were looking at and which Windows desktop. I expect it will be a while before we can get any real data on whether Apple can back up its claims.

mac mini high performance graphics

Not Bigger, but Better?

The place where we can see the most solid comparison stats for the 2020 Mac mini is when we look back at the previous generation. Apple highlighted big gains over the last Mac mini during the Mac event, including the ability to compile code in Xcode 3X faster, up to 4X higher frame rates for games, and increase the resolution of a photo in certain programs up to 15X faster. However, the processor of the earlier mini is actually two generations old, so a lot of these gains really aren't as impressive as they seem and put Apple's claims of amazing performance into a somewhat less trustworthy light.

Another interesting note is you can still get the previous generation Mac mini with the Intel processor. Apple will often stop selling old versions when it releases a new one. While that might normally cast some doubt on its confidence in the new Mac mini's appeal, Apple is planning a two-year transition from Intel, so you'll see Intel Macs on the market for a bit longer. In light of this change, though, for those considering a purchase, you might want to wait until some reviews come out before deciding which Mac mini to go with. In this case, newer might not necessarily be better. 

However, the main strength of the M1 processor in the new Mac mini is that the new MacOS Big Sur is specifically optimized for M1, so it will likely run much more smoothly on devices with that processor.

Is There a Place for the Mac Mini?

Stuck in that awkward place between lacking the portability of a laptop and underperforming most other desktops, the Mac mini may be passed over by many who prefer to either be able to easily transport their computer or want the higher-end performance of a full desktop. Still, it pulls me in, not only because I have a weakness for anything small, but also because I feel it could well match my desktop needs while staying comfortably within my budget. While there are some potential downsides, the mini's affordability combined with its potential for high speed and iOS functionality makes it worth considering. This little guy might just be the beginning of something big.

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Author Details

Amy Spitzfaden–Both's picture

Author Details

Amy Spitzfaden–Both

Amy Spitzfaden Both is a Feature Writer at iPhone Life, an award-winning novelist, and an iPhone enthusiast. Over the past decade, her work in the publishing industry has included live coverage of industry events including the Yale Publishing Course and Magazine Innovation’s ACT 9 Experience, providing editing services for several start-up publishing houses, and acting as newsstand consultant for magazines such as The Old Farmer’s Almanac and The New York Review of Books. She graduated from M.I.U. with a Bachelor’s in Literature and Writing, and has gone on to publish two novels and two short stories. Her debut novel Untold won the 2014 Chelson Award for Fiction.
Writing everything from book reviews to skincare tips, Amy discovered a passion for bringing exciting and useful information to even the most casual researcher. The mix of usability and endless possibilities is what drew her to Apple products originally, and the more she learns, the more she loves.
Amy lives in New Hampshire with her husband and daughter. When she’s not writing or glued to her iPhone, she enjoys hiking, traveling, and creating her own tea blends.