Macbook Air Mini – It’s been just over two months since the first M1 Macs shipped to customers. I bought an M1 MacBook Air to replace an aging 2016 MacBook Pro, and shortly after that Apple sent me an M1 Mac mini to try out. For about ten weeks I’ve been using both almost exclusively for various tasks, and while both computers are somewhat limited by the lack of ports, it’s turned out to be less of an issue than I expected. Much more impressive, actually impressive, is the performance of the new MacBook Air and Mac mini.
Tests don’t do justice to these Macs. There are a lot of CPU intensive tasks that run faster than before and I would expect that to happen. However, having lived with both of these Macs for as long as I have, I have a much better appreciation for the M1’s impact on standard day-to-day tasks. The differences aren’t as obvious in individual tasks that require less processing power, but the overall effect was still significant on both computers, especially the MacBook Air.
Macbook Air Mini
Increasing productivity is quickly becoming the “new normal”. They usually stay in the background. The impressive soon becomes ordinary and expected. The M1 Macs are no different in this respect, and perhaps even more so because they look like the machines that came before them.
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However, if you step back and consider these new Macs in the context of the Macs that came before them, and take into account the fact that they are entry-level models, the future of the Mac is bright. The M1 upgrade makes these Macs significantly better in computing power than the versions they replace for most users. The new machines also boost the rest of the Mac lineup, which has yet to be updated.
I’m excited to see what the M1 means for the rest of the line, and I’m sure I want to try them out, but I’ve also never been happier with a new Mac than these. I’m sure I’ll be able to do what future M1 Macs do even faster, but the M1 MacBook Air and Mac mini have brought a fluidity to my day-to-day work that I haven’t experienced since I first tried the iPad Pro. It’s such a subtle, qualitative change that tests can’t capture, but it’s renewed my love for the platform, improving the experience in all areas. That’s what I mean.
It’s important to start with a little context. Since 2018, most of my Macs have been a 6-core 3.2GHz Core i7 Mac mini with 32GB of RAM and a 1TB SSD. As a mix of writing, research, audio recording and editing, and light graphics, the 2018 mini was great. It’s fast, reliable, and hides neatly on my desk behind my VESA-mounted LG 4K monitor.
However, the 2018 Mini isn’t quiet or cool in the long run. It’s almost nice in the Chicago winter when it’s a little drafty in my studio, but I have a heater that keeps me warm better. The heat that the mini 2018 produces means that the fans don’t have to spin very loudly. In fact, as I sit here typing on the M1 mini, an older mini that is turned on but not in use, the fans sometimes spin while the machine is doing background tasks. The 2018 Mac mini is rightly called a “professional” mini thanks to its specs and space gray color, but the fact that it’s always warm to the touch suggests that the design pushed some temperature limits to achieve this performance.
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By contrast, my other Mac, a 2016 MacBook Pro, might be the smallest Mac I own. I got this to have a handy portable Mac for recording and editing audio while traveling. It was good, but the battery life was never good, so I feel like I always have a plan to top up the battery.
The MacBook Pro keyboard performed better than many other people I know, but the keys jammed so often that dust and crumbs around the keys were a concern. My MacBook Pro 2016 also got hot. I could feel the heat running down the bottom of the screen, between the keys and the bottom edge. The heat also meant the fans were running a lot, a noise I was used to but didn’t like. However, the overall experience was such that when the Magic Keyboard came out, I stopped using the 2016 MacBook Pro, except when I needed to edit audio in Logic on the fly.
As a result, I was ready for a new portable Mac when the new M1 models were announced late last year. Immediately ordered an 8-core MacBook Air with 16GB of combined storage and a 2TB SSD. The small, lightweight form, no fan, and the promised battery life and speed impressed me. My only hesitation was that I didn’t know what the maximum 16GB of combined storage would mean in real life. I’m used to the headroom provided by the 32GB of RAM on my 2018 Mac mini, but I also figured that as a portable extra Mac I’d probably be fine.
I didn’t order the M1 Mac mini because, aside from the heat and fan noise, my 2018 model still has enough power for what I usually use. However, when Apple offered to send me a test unit to test, I was curious to see how it would hold up against the Intel-based mini in everyday use.
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The paradox of the M1 MacBook Air and Mac mini is that their design is extremely unobtrusive. On the other hand, at first glance you can’t tell any computer apart from its predecessors. There are differences, but they are minor. On the other hand, the similarity of the models is part of the “wow” factor when you first run the Air or mini. Familiar models share the same entry-level expectations as their Intel-based predecessors. Compared to the M1’s actual performance, the first drive experience is shocking in the best way because the leap forward the M1 provides is so obvious. It’s a design that promises just as much as the M1.
The first thing I noticed about the MacBook Air was the lack of a fan. I’m used to typing quietly on the iPad, but while the noise of the Mac’s fan mostly fades into the background of my surroundings, the muffled hum of the fan has become an integral part of the Mac. At first, the lack of noise was disturbing. Not in a bad way, but in a slightly confusing way because it was so close to typing on an iPad Pro connected to a Magic Keyboard.
The lack of sound aside from my typing on the Air keyboard was surprising, as I expected, but so was how difficult it was to generate noticeable heat. Even after some video conversion, I’m not entirely sure if the MacBook Air warmed up at all. You can point a sensitive infrared thermometer at the M1 MacBook Air and perform CPU-intensive tasks with it. I’m sure you could notice the temperature increase, but in my day-to-day activities with dozens of apps open, Safari tabs open, large files downloaded, and audio editing, the temperature increase was almost imperceptible.
While the MacBook Air keyboard is new to me from the 2016 MacBook Pro, it’s not new to the Air other than a few new keys added to the new model. There are now function keys for Spotlight, Dictation, Siri and Do Not Disturb, as well as a globe key that launches the emoji selector. I use Alfred instead of Spotlight, but I liked the separate button for using Siri with the Air’s built-in microphone, as well as the button to quickly turn off all notifications while typing.
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It’s also worth noting that my fears about the MacBook Air’s 16GB of unified storage were unfounded. The M1 Mac’s unified memory architecture means that the entire chip can efficiently share data using on-package memory. I don’t claim to understand exactly how M1 memory works, but I have twice the memory on my 2018 Mac mini and I’ve seen virtually no memory limitations compared to any M1 Mac.
The Mac mini’s design differences are more noticeable in one important way: it has half as many Thunderbolt ports as previous models.
My 2018 Mac mini has four Thunderbolt ports compared to the M1’s two. It also has two USB-A ports, which helps, but if you’re using the mini as your primary workstation, there’s no getting around the fact that the two Thunderbolt ports
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