Ever since I got the M1 Mac mini, I’ve been trying to figure out if there’s a desktop out there that’s of better value. And you know what? I don’t think there is. It’s not a perfect computer, I’m just not sure that there is anything out there that can beat it for the price. For the majority of users, it’s an outstanding choice.
And there are certain configurations that I think work well for different needs. I kind of changed my mind about one thing in terms of configuration, but we’ll get to that a little bit later on.
So let me walk you through my setup. I’ll tell you which accessories I use, and then we’ll see whether the M1 iMac would work well for what you need. For me, form factor was a primary concern.
We had to set up a couple of work and study spaces around the house. And having such a small desktop really helped us make use of a small desk.
We actually ended up switching out the Mac mini for the M1 iMac because it kind of takes the whole idea of a streamlined desktop to another level. But of course it wasn’t available when the Mac mini came out. Even with a very small desk, there was plenty of room for the Mac mini, a keyboard, a mouse, and even some of the accessories that I’m gonna mention later on like an external SSD, speakers, and a USB-C hub.
Now let’s talk about ports because this is where the Mac mini received some criticism. It was mostly about the overall number of ports. On the back we have a gigabit ethernet port, which was the only option when the Mac mini was released. Now you can actually upgrade to a 10 gigabit ethernet port for 100 bucks, if you need that faster connectivity. The rest of the ports are two Thunderbolt/USB-4 ports, an HDMI 2.
0 port, two USB-A ports, and a 3.5 headphone jack that you can use for wired headphones, headset, or wired speakers. There’s actually a built-in speaker, but it’s not really a speaker that you want to use.
It would work for a video call, but it’s nowhere near even something like what you have on your iPhone or an iPad 8. For the majority of users, this is gonna be plenty of ports.
My first setup had a monitor that was connected via HDMI, which is what most people still use. I had a wireless keyboard and mouse, which, depending on what you use, could either take up no ports at all, or would use something like the Logitech unifying receiver, which would take up one USB-A port. When we start looking at more demanding users, we’re gonna run into situations where they may wanna add an external SSD and they may want more ports or an SD card slot. And that’s where adding a hub really helps. There are two that I really like, and they look exactly the same.
They have the same number of ports, but there is one important difference. As far as ports, we’re using one of the Thunderbolt ports on the back to plug into the hub. And then we’re getting an SD and micro SD card slot, an audio jack, three USB-A ports, and a USB-C port.
It’s also much more convenient to have these ports available on the front, especially for accessories that you regularly connect and disconnect. Now, one of the advantages of the more expensive hub, which is this one.
Then on the back, we have an enclosure for an M.2 SATA SSD. So I was able to add a terabyte of storage for about 100 bucks versus moving up to one terabyte of internal storage, which wouldn’t have given me as much total storage and would have cost me 400 bucks. Now to be fair, the drive that I added isn’t as fast as the internal storage, but it is an SSD, it’s plenty fast.
And the majority of users don’t need anything faster for the types of files that they use.
And to add some context, I have high res photos and 4K video files on mine, and it works great. If you’re an even more demanding user and you want additional powerful ports, then check out the OWC Thunderbolt Hub. I’m not gonna go into detail about it because most people aren’t going to need one, but I’ll put a link in the description to where you can get some more information. I already mentioned some of the accessories that I use, but I wanted to give you an overview of the entire setup.
Now one of the reasons why I like the Mac mini is that no accessories are included with the price.
When you buy something like the the iMac, you’re paying for a Magic Keyboard and a Magic Mouse. But I don’t really like either of those, and I don’t like paying for accessories that I’m not going to use. I still think the iMac is a good value because it’s a really clean setup, finding a comparable display is gonna cost you, and a lot of people do use the Magic Keyboard and the Magic Mouse. You know that I’m always gonna share my personal experience and perspective with you. And I would have preferred having the option of buying an iMac with no accessories and then saving some money.
By the way, if you’re considering the iMac, check on my comparison between the iMac and the Mac mini. Now, going back to my Mac mini setup, for a monitor, I’m using the Viotek GNV34DBE, which is a 34-inch ultra-wide curved 144 hertz gaming monitor. It has a 21:9 aspect ratio, 3440 by 1440 resolution, and a 3000:1 contrast ratio.
It’s an awesome all-around monitor and a good value at under 400 bucks. Now moving onto the keyboard, I’m using the Keychron K3 mechanical keyboard.
Right now it’s one of my favorite small keyboards. It’s an ultra-slim 75% keyboard. I like the colorway, and it’s great to type on. If you’re looking for something similar but even smaller, I’ve also been playing around with the K7, which is a 65% keyboard. I have the pre-release model, so it’s only available for pre-order at the time that I’m making this video, but I’ll put a link in the description to where you can check it out.
Quick sidebar here, I’ve been really getting into mechanical keyboards, and I’m going to start adding some custom keyboards to a few of my setups.
In the comment section, let me know what kind of keyboard you’re using, and also, what are your favorite boards, switches and key caps. Now moving on to the mouse, I still haven’t found anything that would make me leave my Logitech MX Master 3. I’ve been using this series of mice since they were released, and this is my fourth iteration. Like I said, I use it with my unifying receivers, so I don’t have any issues with Bluetooth.
The shape of this mouse makes it very comfortable. It’s precise, and I love the custom buttons. There’s also a gesture button that you can hold down to switch desktops, open Mission Control, and display the Launchpad. Now, the next accessory that I use is an external SSD. And for the most part, I use the OWC Envoy Pro EX, the SanDisk Extreme PRO, the Samsung T7, and the CalDigit Tuff Nano.
Now, I have a video comparing these and a few others in terms of speed and value. So if you’re interested in learning more, you should watch that video when you’re done with this one.
Now rounding out my accessories, I had to add speakers. If you remember, I told you that the Mac mini has a built-in speaker, but it’s not a speaker that I would recommend using. I went with the same speakers I have on my main workstation, the Audioengine A2+.
They’re small, they provide excellent sound, and they come in a few different colors so you can match your setup. Something else that I use with the Mac mini pretty much every day is my iPad.
If you watch my Sidecar tutorial, you saw that you can use your iPad as a second display with your iMac, MacBook, Mac Pro, or Mac mini. If you have any compatible iPad, this is absolutely something that you need to take advantage of. I know that most people don’t need a seven-monitor system, like I have for my main workstation, but even moving from one to two displays makes such a huge difference in terms of productivity.
Maybe you’re writing an email and you need a reference document open, or maybe you’re doing some research and you have your document open on one display and then the web browser on another one.
With an ultra-wide monitor, I usually already have two apps side by side, but Sidecar then takes things to a whole new level. Also, when I want a more color-accurate monitor for photo editing or for color correcting and color grading my videos, I just use the 12.9-inch M1 iPad Pro, which works great. If you’ve gotten value from this video, give it a thumbs up so that I know to make more of this type of content.
And if you’re new here, hit that Subscribe button. Moving on to configuration, I had a slight change of heart since the Mac mini came out. In my early reviews, I said that the majority of people can get by with 256 gigs of internal storage, eight gigs of RAM, and then they can add external storage. After all this time, I realized that the Mac mini is such a good computer, that almost everyone is going to be able to use it for way longer than I expected.
So you may choose to get 16 gigs of RAM for any future needs.
And if you need a lot of apps, it would be a good idea to get 512 gigs of internal storage. I go back and forth on this because I have eight gigs of Ram and 256 gigs of internal storage, and I use Photoshop, Lightroom, Premiere Pro, Final Cut, and Chrome, and yes, sometimes the system uses Swap, but so does my 16 gig M1 MacBook Pro.
If you’re upgrading RAM or SSD just to be safe, then I would probably upgrade RAM first and then the SSD. Now, of course, that takes into account the fact that you don’t know that you need more storage, you’re just being safe. One other good reason to get 16 gigs of RAM for your Mac mini is if you want to run Windows with Parallels.
You could do it with eight gigs and it will be okay-ish, but you’ll get much better performance with 16. You probably know this by now, but remember that you can’t upgrade the internal storage or RAM after you buy this Mac.
So if three or four years down the road you realize that you need more, you’ll need to buy something new. If you have any questions based on what you plan on doing, just drop me a comment and I’ll do my best to help. Another limitation of the Mac mini has to do with external displays.
So without a hub, adapters and splitters, you can only connect to external displays. In reality, this is really only gonna matter to a tiny percentage of users. And you can still add a third display with Sidecar and an iPad, but I still wanted to mention it. You also can’t use an eGPU or an external GPU, which is really only going to matter to an even smaller segment of potential users. One other use case that isn’t exactly a great fit for the M1 Mac mini is gaming.
So if you’re buying a machine to game on, I would recommend that you go with the PC. All right, so now we get to performance. And we already know that the M1 chip is extremely capable. I don’t just mean that it gets high scores on benchmarks, which it does, but I mean, in actual use. In addition to surfing the web, streaming content, and then working with different productivity apps, I also edited high res photos and worked with multiple 4K video tracks in Premiere Pro and Final Cut.
And this thing just flies. And the Mac mini also has an app active cooling system. So if I’m maxing out the CPU and the system begins to heat up, it just turns on the fan and then it cools the system down without needing to throttle back performance. I also wanna mention that the fan is virtually silent. You pretty much can’t hear it at all, you have to put your hand in the back to feel it, or really put your ear close to it.
Ultimately, I think it’s really hard to argue you with the M1 Mac mini being the best value desktop on the market. If you’re looking for a productivity machine, if you’re a student, if you’re a creator, or if you’re just looking for a great all-around small and powerful desktop, when you look at what you get for the money, I just don’t see how anything can beat the Mac mini right now.
Let me know in the comment section if you agree or if you would choose something else instead. Remember that I have links to all the products I talked about in the description. Hopefully this video was helpful.
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