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Apple Silicon M1 Mac Mini vs. Intel Mac Mini Buyer's Guide

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Apr 12, 2001
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In November 2020, Apple updated the Mac mini with the first Apple Silicon chip for the Mac, the M1 chip. However, Apple continues to sell its older, Intel-based Mac mini. The Intel Mac mini last received a significant update in 2018, so why is Apple still selling its older Mac mini?



Curiously, rather than making the older model available for a lower price, Apple is presenting the Intel-based Mac mini as a high-end option, starting at $1099, which is substantially more than the $699 starting price of the Apple Silicon-based Mac mini. Our guide helps to answer the question of how to decide which of these two Mac minis is best for you.

Comparing the M1 Mac mini and the Intel Mac mini

The M1 Mac mini and the Intel Mac mini share a large number of important features such as design, storage capability, and USB-A ports. Apple lists these same features of the two devices:

Similarities

  • Compact industrial design
  • Up to 2TB storage
  • Bluetooth 5.0 wireless technology
  • Two USB-A ports
  • HDMI 2.0 port

Although the two Mac minis share a number of features, the two machines have more in contrast than they do in common, including memory capacity, ports, and external display capability.

Differences


M1 Mac mini
  • Eight-core Apple M1 chip with eight-core GPU and 16-core Neural Engine
  • Up to 16GB unified memory
  • Support for one display up to 6K and one display up to 4K
  • Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet
  • 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6
  • Silver


Intel Mac mini
  • Up to six-core Intel Core i7 processor with Intel UHD Graphics 630
  • Up to 64GB memory
  • Support for up to three 4K displays or one 5K display and one 4K display
  • Four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports
  • Gigabit Ethernet or optional 10Gb Ethernet
  • 802.11ac Wi-Fi
  • Space Gray


Read on for a closer look at each of these aspects, and see exactly where Apple's Mac minis differ.

Performance

The key difference between the two Mac minis is their processors. The main Mac mini Apple now sells contains the M1 chip, which is Apple's first custom silicon SoC for the Mac. The M1 has an eight-core CPU with four performance cores and four efficiency cores, and an eight-core GPU.



Apple also offers the Mac mini with two different Intel processors, a 3.0GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz, and a 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 with Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz. Both come with Intel UHD Graphics 630.

In Geekbench 5 averages, the 3.0GHz 6-core Intel Core i5 achieves a single-core score of 998, while the more powerful 3.2GHz 6-core Intel Core i7 model comes in with a single-core score average of 1,101.



When looking at average multi-core scores, the 3.0GHz model comes in at 4,651 while the 3.2GHz model achieves an average score of 5,474.



Early benchmarks suggest that the M1 in the Apple Silicon Mac mini achieves a much higher single-core score of 1,682 and a multi-core score of 7,097.



Although it is still early days for the M1 and it is difficult to speculate on exactly how well it will perform in certain circumstances, these early benchmarks are extremely impressive.

Since the M1 is clearly more powerful than either of the Intel offerings in the Mac mini, who should consider the Intel processors? If you need to run Windows via Boot Camp, virtual machine apps that virtualize x86_64 platforms, apps which you are concerned may not run well under Rosetta 2's translation layer, or use eGPUs, the Intel Mac mini offers a more reliable option. If your workflow is dependent on older technologies, it may be better to buy the Intel Mac mini until Apple Silicon becomes more mature.

For the vast majority of users, the M1 offers a major performance increase, but a small segment of "pro" users may be better suited to an Intel-based machine.

Memory

The M1 Mac mini only supports configurations of 8GB or 16GB of unified memory, but the Intel Mac mini can support up to 64GB of memory. While 8GB or 16GB should be sufficient for most users given the efficiency of having everything integrated on one chip, some pro workflows demand much larger amounts of memory. In these cases, the Intel Mac mini, which offers significantly higher 32GB and 64GB RAM configurations, will be a much more viable option.

Connectivity and Ports

Unlike memory, where the Intel Mac mini is clearly more capable, the picture is very mixed when it comes to connectivity and ports.

The M1 Mac mini has two Thunderbolt and USB 4 ports, while the Intel Mac mini has four Thunderbolt 3 and USB 3 ports. So, if you need more ports the Intel Mac mini is better, but if you need to connect USB 4 devices at maximum speeds, you will need the M1 Mac mini.



Though both models come with Gigabit Ethernet as standard, only the Intel model is configurable with 10Gb Ethernet. On the other hand, the M1 Mac mini also supports 802.11ax Wi-Fi 6, with the older Intel Mac mini only supporting 802.11ac Wi-Fi. This means that if you need 10Gb Ethernet, you will have to get the Intel Mac mini, but if you need Wi-Fi 6, you will have to get the M1 Mac mini.

In this instance, neither of the Mac mini models is clearly better. Choosing between the two models will depend on what specific connectivity requirements you have. Generally, pro users may be better off getting the Intel model due to its 10Gb Ethernet and additional USB ports, but each individual will have to weigh up what specific connectivity they need.

External Display

The picture between the Mac mini models is also mixed when it comes to external display support. The M1 Mac mini can support one display up to 6K and one display up to 4K, while the Intel Mac mini can support up to three 4K displays, or one 5K display and one 4K display.



This means that to use a 6K display such as Apple's Pro Display XDR, you must have the M1 Mac mini. However, if you want to use three 4K displays, you must have the Intel Mac mini. You cannot use three displays with the M1 Mac mini. Users should therefore carefully consider their external display setup before deciding on either machine.

Color

Although it may not be important to many users, it is worth noting that the M1 Mac mini comes in Silver, while the Intel Mac mini comes in Space Gray. There are no other color options for either machine.



Other Mac Options

The 13-inch MacBook Air and MacBook Pro are the only other Macs available that contain Apple Silicon chips so far, but they are laptop machines, unlike the Mac mini.

Apple's other desktop computers, the iMac and Mac Pro, have not yet transitioned to Apple Silicon, so the M1 Mac mini is the only Apple Silicon desktop currently available.



The M1 Mac mini therefore holds a fairly unique place in the current Mac lineup, which makes it difficult to highlight specific alternatives to it. The Apple desktop closest to the Mac mini would likely be the 21.5-inch iMac since it is one of Apple's more affordable desktop computers. However, the 21.5-inch iMac is an all-in-one with a display included, it has not been updated since 2019, and it is considerably less powerful than the M1 Mac mini.

Final Thoughts

Overall, it is clear that the two Mac mini models are significantly different from one another. You should only consider the older Intel-based Mac mini if you are dependent on an Intel architecture for tasks that do not work with Apple Silicon. Similarly, if you have to use 10Gb Ethernet or a large amount of RAM, the Intel machine is the only feasible option.

However, the M1 Mac mini is undoubtedly the more modern device and will be the best option for the vast majority of users. Not only is the M1 Mac mini markedly more powerful, but it is also less costly than its Intel predecessor.

We will revisit this recommendation after we see real-world performance of the M1 Mac mini. The new Apple Silicon M1 Mac mini is available to order now.

Article Link: Apple Silicon M1 Mac Mini vs. Intel Mac Mini Buyer's Guide
 

JPack

macrumors 604
Mar 27, 2017
6,606
11,001
It comes down to: do you use unique commercial applications for your day to day work?

If so, stick with Intel. No matter how fast M1 is, it's irrelevant if your app doesn't work.

Otherwise, if you are a simple user that uses the Mac App Store, choose the M1.
 

mortenb

macrumors newbie
Apr 12, 2013
13
51
Denmark
Main drawback for the new Mac mini is the fact it has only 2 TB ports. If you have multiple monitors and external SSD's 2 ports is just not enough. Of course you can use HDMI for one monitor but then there's no USB pass-through to the monitor.

Perhaps - I hope - this first Mac mini is just a low-end start model and a better spec version will be available later.
 

SeattleMoose

macrumors 68000
Jul 17, 2009
1,929
1,648
Der Wald
Current Mac Mini is late 2012 so I'll be getting either the 2020 M1 16GB or the 2018 i7 64GB.
If the Mac Mini M1 lives up to the hype and is at least the same as the 2018 i7 64GB, I'll be ordering one.
Waiting for someone to load up a "busy" Logic project and do a comparison.

And I LOVE that they stayed with same form factor for Mini M1 and kept all the legacy ports (HDMI, Headphone, USB). No dongles or adapters needed!!!
 

Lounge vibes 05

macrumors 6502a
May 30, 2016
734
2,299
Keep in mind that this eight core version of the M1 that is used in these new macs is a complete SOP.
The CPU, GPU, SSD, I/O controller, Neural Engine, Secure Enclave, and ram are all in one package.
this could explain why on all of these Macs, you can only go up to 2TB of storage, 16 GB of RAM, and 2 thunderbolt ports.
once Apple diversifies their processor lineup, I guarantee you that we will have more configurations.
for example, my guess is that the higher end 13 inch MacBook Pro‘s, and a 16 inch MacBook Pro will most likely have dedicated CPU, ram, GPU, and SSD. this would allow for things like up to 8 TB of storage, 64 GB of RAM, and a 16 core GPU with four thunderbolt ports.
and I’m sure that sometime next year, they will introduce higher end models of the Mac mini that have four thunderbolt ports, up to 8 TB of storage, and options for 10 Gb ethernet.
as for the iMac, I wouldn’t be surprised to see different processor options. Maybe this rumored 24 inch will have the regular eight core M1, with higher end options able to upgrade to a 12 core.
 

Return Zero

macrumors 6502a
Oct 2, 2013
898
2,285
Kentucky
I am definitely tempted by the base mini (maybe bump to 16GB). I will wait as long as it takes for actual hardware redesigns on the laptops & iMac, but with the mini: you're out less cash, you get the fan for sustained power (vs. the MBA which is likewise tempting at $899), and the hardware design doesn't really matter since it just sits there.
 

Lounge vibes 05

macrumors 6502a
May 30, 2016
734
2,299
From what I understand, these processors are in limited quantities. That’s why Apple is using the exact same configurations for the higher end MacBook Air, MacBook pros, and the Mac mini.
even the lower end MacBook Air is most likely the exact same processor, just with the one GPU core disabled.
but that’s why none of these go past 16 GB of RAM, and none of these go past 2 TB of storage. It also explains why higher end options that used to be available for the Mac mini are not for this version, like 10 Gb ethernet.
I guarantee you as time goes by, we will see these options slowly added. I wouldn’t be surprised if in February or March of next year, options for 4 thunderbolt ports, more ram, higher SSD’s, and 10 Gb ethernet are added to the Mac mini with a silent website refresh.
 
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Laptopdog78

macrumors member
Mar 24, 2014
78
80
Weird that the M1 outperforms the Intel on benchmark tests but the Intel is marketed as a higher-end machine...
No this is brilliant from Apple....... if they market this as the high end then it would get absolutely slated in reviews, but because they say that this is our first chip for the lower end, and it is actually smashing the high end intel says “look at what we have started with, and look forward to what we are capable of in the future”.......
 
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Lounge vibes 05

macrumors 6502a
May 30, 2016
734
2,299
That 16 Gb RAM limit, such a bummer.
My guess is that more configurations will become available early next year. Kind of like how Apple added more graphics options to the 16 inch MacBook Pro earlier this year.
but they promised to release the first Apple silicon powered max by the end of this year, no matter how limited the quantity of processors, and that’s exactly what they did.
 

Mizouse

macrumors 6502
Nov 5, 2014
261
358
I upgraded my 2012 i7 model last month to a 2018 i7 Mini. I honestly was not expecting an updated mini based off the rumors posted on MR. I probably could have waited.

That said, the 2018 does everything I need and will last me for years to come until ASi is more mature.
I also upgraded mine to 64GB RAM for $190, with the ASi Mini, that would only get me 16GB.
Did I need 64GB? No, but it was "only" $190. :)
 
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guzhogi

macrumors 68040
Aug 31, 2003
3,156
1,039
Wherever my feet take me…
Same 10-year old design and footprint as the Core 2 Duo version from 2010.
Honest question: do you have any specific changes that you'd like to see, or do you just want change for the sake of change?

My main gripe with the M1 Mini is why go from 4 USB-A & 4 TB3 ports to just 2 of each? If it's a limit on the M1, why not wait until you can put 4 of each before releasing an AS Mini?
 

Freeangel1

macrumors regular
Jan 13, 2020
230
235
benchmark the i9 processor.
The i7 is so old and outdated.
most people have the i9 in iMacs and MacBook pro's
 
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MVMNT

macrumors regular
Apr 28, 2010
192
138
So little focus on the lack of eGPU support in that article. It was a game changer for the Mac mini, often making it a BYODKM powerhouse with.

I think it's a huge loss with this generation of Mac mini.

There's something definitely going on with GPU support outside of the M1 architecture, hence the only Pro laptop they could release was the 13 that always carried integrated graphics.
 
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dr_lha

macrumors 68000
Oct 8, 2003
1,598
16
It comes down to: do you use unique commercial applications for your day to day work?

If so, stick with Intel. No matter how fast M1 is, it's irrelevant if your app doesn't work.

Otherwise, if you are a simple user that uses the Mac App Store, choose the M1.
How many apps "won't work" with Rosetta 2 though? Is it many? I remember the PPC transistion, it took MS a long time to port Office to Intel, I continued to use it for a long time under Rosetta. However, they already have a beta of Office for M1. I expect most pro apps to port over quickly, as the reason for the PPC conversion being so slow as due to the fact that many pro apps were written using third party PPC-only dev systems. Most Mac apps have moved over to XCode now, so recompiling for ARM architecture should be trivial.
 

chewbaka

macrumors member
Jun 2, 2014
84
217
Lack of egpu support makes it useless to many budget Pros despite the gains in cpu power not to mention the laughable 16gb ram limit

Enough with the 16GB RAM limit. We know this is not a pro machine. It wasn't intended to replace your 32GB RAM machine. That's why the Intel still exists. Wait for the M1X or M2 or whatever it will be called next year.
 
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