The 2020 M1 Apple Mac mini is an exceptional desktop computing value, especially for anyone who already owns a good monitor to pair with it. It's unique in large part thanks to Apple's revolutionary M1 chip and is the only Apple desktop to use it, so far.
Thanks to the power of the M1 chip, all versions of the mini including the entry-level model, will handle most common computing demands as well, if not better, than older Intel-powered Apple computers costing far more.
The M1 system on a chip (SoC) also runs whisper-quiet, even under considerable computing loads. This is a notable advantage of Apple's silicon for users usually irked by fan noise or heat.
Unlike Intel-powered Macs, M1-powered Macs like the new mini are much more likely to be continually supported with software updates long into the future. This should be a significant source of comfort for shoppers interested in investing in a computer they'll use for years to come.
Most importantly, using the M1 Mac mini generally feels like using any other Mac.
For these reasons, we heartily recommend the 2020 Mac mini, especially the entry-level models. As of the time of this review, there is no other desktop on the market that can match the 2020 Mac mini's compelling mixture of form factor, power and cost.
What is the 2020 Mac mini?
The 2020 Apple Mac mini, initially announced on November 10, 2020 is the latest version of Apple's "mini" desktop line. Like desktop towers of old, the (much tinier) mini provides computing brains, but requires you bring your own monitor, keyboard and other peripherals. Older minis ran on Intel chips, but the 2020 model is one of first three computer models launched by Apple to incorporate the company's new proprietary M1 system on a chip (SoC). And at a starting price of $699, it's also the most affordable new Mac on the market.
This new revolutionary component represents a sea change in Apple's computing technology, and its benchmark test results are astounding. Remarkably, the M1-powered Mac mini produces the highest single-core GeekBench performance score of any Mac currently on the market, including Apple’s two other M1-powered laptops. The mini's multi-core results are similarly impressive, ranking above every other Mac laptop on the market today and lagging only behind Apple's most powerful desktops like the iMac Pro and Mac Pro.
What it's like to use the M1 Mac mini
I've been using the 2020 Mac Mini (kitted out with the entry-level 8GB of RAM) as my primary work device for eight-plus weeks, putting it through its paces with everything from video calls, to data analysis, to having dozens of tabs open at all times, to all of those things simultaneously. Here's how it held up.
The 2020 M1 Mac mini works like any other Mac: Despite the new silicon on the inside, working on the 2020 M1 Mac mini felt like working on any other Apple computer I’ve owned. All of the software I regularly use, including Slack, Evernote, Photoshop, Safari, Chrome, Lightroom, Evernote, Excel, Word and Powerpoint ran pretty much as expected.
The first time I installed an app that already optimized for the M1 chip, macOS directed me to download Apple’s emulation software Rosetta 2 with a single click. From then on, all apps installed as expected. Despite the occasionally notification that they were not optimized, there was no dip in performance.
The M1 chip is incredibly impressive, but it's not magic: The 2020 Mac mini with 8GB of RAM felt equally snappy and responsive handling most of my daily workflow tasks. In some cases, such as launching or using Apple’s native applications, the mini was noticeably quicker than my MacBook Pro. Under extreme loads, like 25+ Safari tabs (including a live video chat and several large Google Sheets) plus a wide range of open apps including heavy-hitters like Photoshop, the Mac mini struggled, as have most machines I've subjected to such torture. But these hiccups were rare, and when they did occur, the mini was quick to bounce back after I closed a few browser tabs and apps. Video editor or creative producer might suffer a bit more with the $699 baseline model, but the M1 mini also comes in a 16GB and thanks to the unique way that the M1 chip makes use of RAM, those gigabytes go further than they would with a standard Intel-based chip.
The silence is golden: Your opinion may differ, but occasionally performance hitches are a small price to pay for the mini’s silent operation in my book. Video calls are a staple of my workday now and on my MacBook Pro, they elicit a constant drone. On the mini, I never heard the fan engage once, though, while using the mini for eight weeks straight. The silence feels opulent. If the prominence of video calls wanes, the silence of M1 Macs will be less of a selling point. For now, it feels like a game-changer for anyone who is easily disrupted by noise while working.
M1 Mac mini Frequently Asked Questions
What upgrades are available for the 2020 M1 Mac mini? And can I upgrade components on my own after purchase?
Upgrades options for the 2020 M1-powered Mac mini are limited to RAM and storage space. Neither of these internal specs can be upgraded manually after purchase, which is the case for most Apple computers these days.
For $200 more, buyers can upgrade to a version of the 2020 Mac mini with 16GB of RAM vs. the standard 8GB. Storage loadouts are 256GB, 512, 1TB and 2TB of SSD storage, with each tier costing an additional $200.
Apple's Intel-based versions of the Mac mini are still available and come with a different slate of upgrade options but due to the different chipset, it's a bit of an apple-to-oranges comparison.
Is the entry-level Mac mini good enough?
It's a thorny question that varies from person to person but here's the rule of thumb: If you hope to use the M1 Mac mini as a primary computer for years to come, then buying upgrades might be a smart investment. If you plan on using the machine for roughly two years or less, then sticking with a baseline version is probably the better strategy.
However, the price point of the 2020 M1 Mac mini, combined with the first-generation status of its chip, makes the decision somewhat more nuanced in terms of the cost of RAM and storage upgrade options.
Is the cost of upgrading to 16GB of RAM worth it?
As always, it depends. There’s no way to upgrade the mini’s RAM on your own, so it is technically the safe call, but it's not a no-brainer.
The baseline 2020 M1 Mac mini model retails for $699 from Apple, and it’s already gone on sale for less at certain retailers. So the extra $200 for 16GB of RAM is a significant up-charge. And while Apple’s M1 chip is an exceptional debut, it's reasonable to expect that subsequent generations of Apple silicon will offer significant performance improvements. What's more, the way Apple's M1 chip uses RAM means 8GB goes farther than it would with a traditional Intel-based CPU.
But! Apple’s track recording of updating the Mac mini has been very inconsistent relative to the company's other product lines, though the M1 models may mean this will change.
If you don't need the additional performance boost of 8GB of RAM immediately and expect to upgrade in the next couple of years anyway, saving $200 now to spend on the next-generation version could be a better avenue for future proofing your computing setup.
Should I upgrade the storage on my 2020 Mac mini?
I wouldn’t recommend buying a 2020 Mac mini with more than 512GB of onboard storage unless you know for a fact you need lots of extremely fast storage and/or don't have much room for external drives.
Adding 1TB of storage to the 2020 Mac mini costs $400. However, for less than $250, you can buy 1TB of cutting-edge NVMe flash storage and an external thunderbolt 3 enclosure to house it.
This storage won’t match the speeds of an internal drive of the same size, the difference in performance for most people in need of space for documents or large media libraries will be imperceptible. And unlike internal storage, an external drive can be used across multiple computers, including a new machine you buy in the future.
Should I consider the Mac mini with an Intel processor?
I generally wouldn't recommend it. The 2020 Mac mini with M1 chip offers generally better performance, starts at a lower price point than the Intel version, and is likely to be supported by software updates for a more extended period of time.
Choosing the Intel version still might make sense if your computing needs rely almost exclusively on a piece of software that is currently not optimized for Apple's silicon, and the developer has publicly stated that they have no intentions of optimizing their application.
The other reason to opt for the Intel version revolves around RAM. If your work is heavily RAM intensive, the ability to add up to 64GB of RAM to the Intel version of the Mac mini could be appealing. That said, the alternative desktop models mentioned in this guides Mac mini alternatives section might be an even better fit for tasks with heavy computing demands.
How long will the Intel Mac mini be supported?
It's impossible to tell for sure, but Apple CEO Tim Cook has publicly committed to continue to support and release new versions of macOS for Intel-based Macs for "years to come."
In 2006, when Apple made a similarly significant transition in its computing hardware technology by switching from PowerPC to Intel x86 chips, it launched its first OS update that left older computers behind three years later in 2009. It ended all service support five years later in 2011.
If the same timeline applies here (a decently reasonable estimate) you could expect a halt of software updates summer of 2025, or three years after the Mac lineup was fully transitioned to Apple silicon. All technical support for these legacy machines would end by 2027, or two years after software updates for Intel machines stopped.
How many monitors / external displays can the M1 Mac mini support?
Officially, Apple states that the M1 Mac mini can support up to two displays at the same time, though at different resolutions. The Thunderbolt port can support a single display at up to 6k resolution at 60Hz. The HDMI 2.0 video output port can support a single display at up to 4k resolution at 60Hz.
The Thunderbolt 3 port also supports Native DisplayPort output over USB-C and a host of other video outputs including Thunderbolt 2, DVI, and VGA using adapters.
Minor Gripes and Things to Watch Out For
My time using the 2020 Mac mini was generally positive. Still, I have a few gripes about the computer that all potential buyers should note.
• First time setup requires wired peripherals. You need a wired mouse and keyboard (or Apple's own Magic Mouse and Magic Keyboard) to set up the Mac mini for the first time. Other wireless Bluetooth keyboards or mice you might have on hand won't be able to pair until after you've walked through the set up. The iMac and Mac Pro come with Apple peripherals so it's not a problem, but they aren't bundled with the mini.
• Bluetooth connectivity isn't always reliable. Early in my testing, I discovered that the Mac mini would frequently and randomly disconnect from my Apple Magic Mouse and keyboard. The good news is that Apple released a software update which resolved this issue. Note that Logitech peripherals that can connect using a Logitech unifying receiver were immune from this bug.
• Fewer ports means you'll probably need to buy a dock: If the Intel-powered version of the Mac mini has an advantage over its new M1-powered sibling, its connectivity. All of Apple's new M1 powered Macs feature just two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports, half the number found on the Intel version. The impact of this connectivity pinch depends on your computing setup. If it's a problem for you, adding a Thunderbolt 3 dock or USB C hub can help. Just make sure to keep the additional costs of a hub in mind when weighing the M1 Mac mini's value against other machines.
• It doesn't come in Space Grey: This isn't as much a concern as it is a personal annoyance. The M1 version of the Mac mini is only available in silver. The Intel version, on the other hand, is now only available in Space Gray. It's a good bet that Apple mandated these colors to help eliminate consumer confusion. The color difference does clearly distinguish machines that are otherwise identical-looking from the front. Still, as someone who has accumulated a variety of Space Gray-colored accessories over the years, it's a minor affront that the mini can't match them.
Alternative Mac Desktop Options
For all their various pros and cons, the biggest downside of all these alternatives is that none of these desktop product lines have made the transition to using Apple's silicon. And according to a press announcement made by Apple on June 22, 2020, the company's product roadmap includes transitioning all of its computer models to Apple silicon "in about two years" which would mean new versions of most, if not all of the desktops below, will release by July of 2022.
Should You Buy an M1 Mac mini?
The M1-powered Mac mini offers an impressive amount of computing power for the price. Despite its tiny footprint, the diminutive desktop is as fast if not faster than more expensive Intel-powered Macs in a wide variety of computing tasks, including processor-intensive activities like video and photo editing in some cases. And its performance advantages should only keep improving as more software is optimized to leverage the M1 chip's full potential.
Do your homework on software compatibility. If your current computing needs lean heavily on a few pieces of software, make sure the software not only runs on Apple Silicon but runs well. Free online tools like doesitarm.com can help provide clarity on app compatibility, but for ultimate peace of mind, try using your app on an M1-powered Mac too.
Be realistic about the total cost of peripherals. If you already own a monitor and other accessories, the performance-to-cost ratio of the M1 mini is almost impossible to beat. But if you'd need to purchase these accessories alongside a new mini, the value proposition may make less sense compared to Apple's other mass-market desktop, the all-in-one iMac.
Given that Apple intends to phase out Intel chips from all Macs over the next few years, the M1 Mac mini is a safer bet to receive software updates and support for years to come than any other Mac desktop currently on the market.
But if you don't need a new computing setup immediately, waiting might be your best bet. Current rumors suggest that a completely redesigned version of the iMac equipped with Apple's silicon will launch by the end of this year.
Recommended M1 Mac mini Accessories
The Mac mini has always featured an affordable price tag relative to Apple's other computers partially because you're only buying the computer itself.
As such, to use the mini, buyers will have to source a separate monitor, keyboard and mouse on their own. Here a few recommendations we have on the ideal accessories to pair with the M1-powered Mac mini.
M1 Mac mini Technical Specifications
AUDIO OUTPUT: Built-in speaker, 3.5 mm headphone jack, HDMI 2.0 port that supports multichannel audio
• Two Thunderbolt / USB 4 ports that support the following standards:
• Thunderbolt 3 (with transfer rates up to 40GB/s)
• USB 4 (with transfer rates up to 40GB/s)
• USB 3.1 Gen 2 (with transfer rates up to 10GB/s)
• Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI and VGA via external adapters.
• Two USB-A Ports (with transfer rates up to to 5GB/s)
• One HDMI 2.0 port
• One Gigabit Ethernet port (10/100/1000BASE-T)
• One 3.5 mm headphone jack
• Height: 1.4 inches (3.6 cm)
• Width: 7.7 inches (19.7 cm)
• Depth: 7.7 inches (19.7 cm)
• Weight: 2.6 pounds (1.2 kg)
For more technical information, visit Apple's official M1 Mac mini specification page