While most reviewers and users are flocking to the new MacBooks, a smaller subset of buyers is looking to the updated Mac mini. And those users have also noticed that, unlike the new MacBooks, an Intel Mac mini is still available for purchase that looks as if it might be a competitor to its newly-released ancestor.
In this post, we’ll compare the new M1 Mac mini against the 2018 Intel Mac mini on everything different – and everything that’s the same.
What makes the Mac mini unique?
Apple noted during its One More Thing keynote that the majority of Mac buyers are first-time buyers. This means that there’s a good chance you’ve never owned a Mac mini before. As such, it might seem like an odd product at first glance.
Who is the Mac mini for?
Unlike the vast majority of Macs, the Mac mini isn’t an all-in-one product. Purchasers will need to supply their own screen, keyboard, and mouse. This lowers the price and also makes it more modular.
The Mac mini has also been upgradeable after purchase in the past (more on that in a moment), which is another unique quality when compared to the rest of the Mac lineup.
These factors make the Mac mini the closest thing Apple has to a flexible, low-end device. It’s still plenty powerful and you can couple it with Apple peripherals if you like, but you have plenty of other options as well.
So, with this niche in mind, let’s look at the differences between the newest Mac mini and the previous generation.
The 2018 Mac mini vs the 2020 Mac mini: What’s the difference?
The chips. Considering how much fuss Apple has made about its new M1 chip, you probably already know that these Macs are running on very different processors. In case you don’t know, however, you can read all about the new M1 chip here.
In short, the 2020 Mac mini now comes with the M1 chip, which is made by Apple instead of Intel. This has lots of implications, but primarily it makes this device much faster.
Additionally, some of the other 2020 internals have been updated, the price is lower, and the port situation is a bit different. This means that the 2020 M1 Mac mini will probably be best for most people, but some users might find that they are better off sticking with the more upgradeable 2018 Mac mini.
Here’s a deeper breakdown of these differences.
Intel vs. the M1 chip
As mentioned, the biggest difference between these Macs is the chip, or processor. Apple announced earlier this year that it would be shifting away from Intel chips to make its own, so this new Mac mini represents a big moment in Apple’s history.
The new M1 chip has an 8-core CPU and an 8-core GPU. The Intel Mac mini, on the other hand, only has a 6-core chip and is three years older than the current chip. As you might expect, this means that the new Mac mini far outperforms the old one.
- 2018 Mac mini Geekbench Scores:
- Single-core: 999
- Multi-core: 4661
- 2020 Mac mini Geekbench Scores:
- Single-core: 1702
- Multi-core: 7372
The 2018 Mac mini is still powerful enough for the average user’s needs; you won’t have any trouble writing, browsing, or streaming with it. However, anything more than that and the difference will start to show. So if power is important to you, then the 2020 edition is the better option.
RAM limits (and upgradeable internals)
For many users, RAM (a.k.a. memory) can be more important than the processor in a Mac. After all, Apple has always been great at squeezing performance from older chips. RAM, however, plays a big role in your Mac’s lifespan.
Both the 2020 Mac mini and the 2018 Mac mini start with 8GB of RAM. And to be honest, this is just the minimum amount in 2020; most users will notice a significant leap in performance by upgrading to 16GB of RAM.
Unfortunately, the new M1 Mac mini is only upgradeable to 16GB, while the older Mac mini can be configured up to 32GB and 64GB. This could make the Intel Mac mini a better option for users who perform heavy-data tasks like video editing.
Another important update to the Mac mini’s RAM is that it is no longer user-upgradeable in the 2020 Mac mini. This is because RAM is now built into the M1 chip. You can’t unscrew the bottom of the device and replace the RAM with a third-party option anymore. If this is something that matters to you, then the older Mac mini will be the better option.
Oddly, Apple downgraded the port situation on the Mac mini as well. The 2020 Mac mini comes with two USB C ports, which is two fewer than the 2018 Mac mini. Additionally, it’s no longer possible to upgrade the ethernet port. This means your wired internet speeds are capped at purchase.
There are still plenty of ports on the Mac mini, so I don’t see this being a sticking point for too many users. It’s still something to keep in mind, though, especially if you use lots of peripherals.
Two vs. three connected displays
The last odd choice Apple made with the new M1 Mac mini is that it reduced the number of displays you can connect to your Mac mini at once. The new Mac mini now only supports two displays. The older Intel Mac mini, on the other hand, can support three external displays at once.
It’s not all bad news, though. The 2020 Mac mini can support a pair of 4K monitors or a single 4K monitor and a single 6K monitor. This makes among the first Macs able to support 6K resolution. The 2018 Mac mini, on the other hand, only supports 4K.
If you’re someone who likes to have as much screen real estate as possible, then you should opt for the 2018 Mac mini. On the other hand, users who don’t need as much screen real estate or who want a 6K monitor will be better suited by the 2020 Mac mini.
With those downgrades out of the way, it’s time to get back to the good stuff. A crowd-pleasing move from Apple was that they lowered the starting price of the Mac mini by $100, bringing the price to $699.
That said, the Intel Mac mini that Apple left in its store was the “pro” version of the Mac mini, so it started much higher than the base-level Mac mini anyway. Its starting price is still $1,099. In all honesty, this price is too high. The $699 Mac mini easily outperforms this 2018 mini, so it would have made sense for Apple to drop the price of the older Mac slightly after launching the update.
Regardless, the prices for upgrades remain the same; you’re going to pay an arm and a leg for RAM and storage upgrades no matter which model you choose. If the price is the most important factor for you, then go with the 2020 M1 Mac mini.
Lastly and leastly, we have the finishes of the 2018 and 2020 Mac minis. There isn’t much to say here: The 2018 Mac mini comes exclusively in Space Grey while the 2020 Mac mini comes exclusively in Silver. Do with this information what you will!
What isn’t different?
Everything else. Which isn’t much. The physical footprint and design of the Mac mini is completely unchanged; if you already have a Mac mini at home, you’ll want to break out a Sharpie just so you can tell the difference between the two devices.
The storage options are also identical. The SSDs aren’t any faster than before, and you can still choose from 256GB up to 2TB.
Which should you buy?
In my opinion, the vast majority of users should purchase the 2020 M1 Mac mini. It’s faster, cheaper, and more future-proof. However, if you find yourself in need of extra ports, displays, or RAM, then you might prefer to pick the 2018 Intel Mac mini.
I hope this comparison has helped you pick the option that’s right for you! Feel free to leave a comment if you have any other questions about which Mac mini to get, and click here for a full review of the new M1 Mac mini.