Decisions, Decisions… If you’re in the market for a new Mac product one of these 3 devices undoubtedly crossed your radar. Do you want to order and wait for one of the newest MacBook Pro with the M1 Max or Pro processor? Maybe you don’t need that much power and want a laptop that can handle everyday tasks… Or maybe you’re looking for a desktop and couldn’t care less about portability. Either way, this is the M1 Mac comparison and review that you’ve been looking for.
If any of these ideas sound remotely familiar I’m going to try and make your life easier. We’ve lived with all these devices for a while now and have a fairly firm grip on what each is capable of (at least in the task we perform). We have 2 M1 Mac Mini in the office, 2 M1 MacBook Air (one with the 7 core GPU and one with the 8core). We also have the newest M1 Pro 14in 10 core CPU, 16 core GPU MacBook Pro. You could say were fairly well versed in the Mac ecosystem, which is crazy coming from a lifelong time and still a windows user.
M1 Mac Mini, the cheapest and in my opinion best way to enter the Mac ecosystem. Easily one of my favorite Mac. photo TLR Technology
I think the best place to start is the desktop. You have 2 choices if you want a desktop Mac with Apple silicone. That’s the M1 Mac mini( the computer that started my journey into the Mac OS ecosystem or the 24 in iMac. Both are available with the M1 8 Core processor with 8 core GPU and 8 or 16 GB of ram. For all intent and purpose, the performance of the 2 systems should be nearly identical.
It’s worth noting the performance on a 1080p display will obviously be better than with a 4k display for instance, but that’s with any GPU. It cost to push pixels. In general tasks, Netflix, Youtube, surfing the web, photo editing the performance should be solid even using a 4k display. If you choose to play games or edit 4k video at 4k resolution on a 4k screen the system will see a performance penalty with a higher resolution display. Keeping that in mind I think the Mini is the more versatile of the 2 desktops.
24in M1 iMac
If you are looking for a sleek all in one you really only have one choice and that is the 24in iMac or do you? I will argue that the newest 24in iMac is a sexy, fun, sleek all-in-one from the future. It is remarkably slim. It’s functional, the keyboard has built-in Touch ID and you can get the Magic Mouse and the trackpad that all color match. I also really like the way Apple integrated the Ethernet into the power brick on some of the models. Overall I think the 24in iMac is a good package even if it is slightly on the pricy side… but again you get the complete system including speakers all in one package.
The downside to the 24in M1 iMac is the lack of ports in my opinion. The fully loaded 24in only come with 4 USB-C ports, 2 of which are faster thunderbolt. The only other ports are the Ethernet on the power brick (except the base model) and the headphone jack. The problem with this is USB-A is still a thing, sure you can get a dongle and the new MacBook Pros are in the same boat but it’s different on a desktop made for the masses. So you will end up with a dongle hanging from your awesome looking all in one. The other missing port is the SD card slot. Sure, it is not something everyone uses but it’s the most used media in the lower end, and prosumer cameras, most all audio recorders use SD cards, even the pro gear.
Get A Dock
Honestly, if I’d bought the 24in iMac I’d buy one of the thunderbolt docks and route the cable so it follows the base of the Mac and keep it as clean and unseen as possible. The cost is around $299.00 for a really good unit like this one from cal digital. This obviously raises the overall setup price but makes the iMac more functional by providing the missing SD card reader, USB-A 3.1 ports, more thunderbolt ports, DisplayPort as well as more options for audio. At that price, it may be worth it to buy the cheaper 24in and use the Thunderbolt dock as it provides ethernet as well.
One last point about the M1 and the iMac. The base M1 chip is only capable of running 2 monitors without jumping through flaming hoops. So the iMac uses 1 of the available video outputs. What I’m saying ( not that it’s bad) is that you’ll be stuck with the 24in as one of your monitors.
M1 Mac Mini
Ah, the M1 Mac Mini, the computer that got me into the Mac OS ecosystem. I honestly wanted to dip my toe into the Mac waters for a while, just to see for myself how it really was. TLR has had the last Intel 13in MacBook with the Touch Bar for a while and it was a 2012 before that. I myself had never really used a Mac.
AThe M1 Mac Mini is the perfect gateway device, it’s cheap, and I mean that in a good way. It’s really hard to express just how good the Mini actually is. The other benefit is if you already have a keyboard or want to choose a non-apple version or build your own you have that option, if you haven’t checked out or keyboard series click here. If you already have a mouse and display then you are already there. Buy the mini, open the box, plug it in, and go.
Besides just being the cheapest of the M1 Apple silicone products it’s also the fastest of the base M1 models. It has a fan that you literally never hear, even when video rendering or playing games. The aluminum case of the older model provides more than enough thermal headroom so the mini is never hindered by thermal performance like the M1 air and typically scores more than the M1 MacBook Pro and 24in iMac.
Mini Mac, Maximum Versatility
Another benefit of the mini is the vast array of VESA mounts that can be used to mount the mini under a desk, behind monitors, basically giving you tons of freedom and space. You can essentially make your own all in one. I personally have my mini connected to an LG UltraWide and a 27in 165hz gaming display. Something you just couldn’t do with the 24in iMac.
I have the magic keyboard but I hardly ever use it. Its rotation with a slew of other wireless keyboards, including the MX keys mini (review coming soon). I do use the Magic trackpad religiously, it is fantastic and the best thing since sliced bread. I do have a wireless Corsair M65 mouse paired to it as well. Overall I love the flexibility of the M1 Mac Mini.
Additionally, the mini has more ports vs the 24in iMac. The mini provides an HDMI 2.0 for video, it has ethernet, 2 USB-A, and 2 thunderbolt USB-c along with a 3.5mm headphone jack. I do wish it had an SD card reader and truthfully apple had tons of room to include it. I guess it was more of a cost-saving measure to no CNC the aluminum case to add it, despite the huge open interior. Maybe Apple just thinks the SD card reader should be a pro model feature… Who knows… ( Apple 🤷🏽♂️)… I think a thunderbolt dock would be a great accessory for the mini as well, though I don’t think it’s as need when compared to the 24in M1 iMac.
M1 Performance Test
Let, me take a step back before moving on. I started off by saying just how powerful the M1 Mac Mini is. I’ve edited an H.264 4k video in Da Vinci Resolve, I added a tracker, color grade, transitions, and a few graphic overlays. I then saved it to 3 PC, the M1 mini 8GB ram, my Elucktroncis Mag-15 laptop (intel i9, GTX1660ti, 32GB of ram, with boost mode plugged in). Lastly, I loaded the project on my OVERCLOCKED Ryzen 3700x (8 cores,16 thread) WATER-COOLED, GTX1080 overclocked GPU with 32GB of ram.
The results were the Ryzen desktop was the fastest to render the video. The Intel gaming/ creator laptop was just over 2 minutes slower. HOWEVER! the lowly 8GB M1 Mac Mini was only 8 seconds slower than the windows desktop… only 8 seconds slower. The more impressive news is that Da Vinci Resolve has been updated since my test and I’m sure it is faster now. I think today the mini might even be the fastest of the bunch.
It’s these reasons the M1 Mac Mini is my #1 recommendation for anyone looking for a computer… Like the M1 MacBook Air, the Mini is the PC that I believe does more than most people will ever need to do.
When it comes to the M1 laptops I’ll try to make this a quick and informative as possible as a lot of it overlaps. The simple answer for most people is the M1 MacBook Air is the no-brainer choice for most people. If you link you need more get the full model with the 8 core GPU and get the 16GB of ram. The average person will never push it to its limits.
M1 MacBook Air
The M1 MacBook Air is simply amazing, as I said we have 2 in the office. They have battery life that never quits, it is one of the longest-lasting batteries on any laptop that I know of. The battery even outlasts the newest 16in MacBook Pro, only beat by the 13in M1 MacBook Pro (more on that in a sec). It is capable of editing videos as well. It benchmarks slightly lower than the M1 Mini and M1 MacBook Pro… as far as the base models M1 processors go.
What that means is the M1 MacBook Air has a higher single-core score than Intel 11th get processors and most Ryzen desktop processors. It easily scores higher than 99% of laptop CPU. The GPU isn’t amazing but it will get the job done. If the M1 Mini was 8 seconds slower than my water-cooled desktop the air would likely be only a few seconds slower than the mini. In fact, the Air is only slower when it is processing sustained workloads of 10 minutes or more due to its lack of a fan.
It is worth noting the M1 Air and the 13in M1 Pro only come with 2 Thunderbolt USB-C ports, besides the 3.5mm headphone jack. If you wanted to make it a real workhorse, I’ll repeat Thunderbolt dock.
Again, it’s an easy buy if you’re in the market for a laptop, and it can easily be purchased from Amazon for less than $900… Click Here!
M1 MacBook Pro 13
A step above the M1 Air is the M1 MacBook Pro 13. Most tech reviewers will tell you not to buy this model, that is because it’s $300 more starting off and you ultimately gain the Touch Bar, a cooling fan, a little bit larger battery, and the screen is supposed to be 100nits brighter. The real gain here in my opinion is the larger battery which offers longer about 2-3 hours of use on a charge compared to the M1 air. Keep in mind the air can easily provide 2 to 3 days of battery life at reasonable brightness and normal use( web, video, music).
The performance here is on par with the M1 Mac Mini due to the active cooling. The benefit is you have that performance in a small and portable package. It can be connected to 1 external display which can be great for more real estate when editing video or viewing content. The display isn’t noticeably brighter unless you have the M1 Air and M1 pro 13 side by side. The Touch Bar is neither here nor there. It’s cool for some and despised by others. It’s really up to you if you deem the $300 more vs the air worth it. Performance is really only better under heavy sustained loads, so keep that in mind.
Again, I want to remind you the M1 Pro only has 2 Thunderbolt USB-C. If you connect to an external display or drive that leaves only one open port for things like the charger. This makes the 13in M1 MacBook Pro a great candidate for a Thunderbolt dock as well.
14inch MacBook Pro M1 Pro/ M1 Max
Now we get to the big guns. The newest M1 Pro and M1 Max. These can be had in the 14 inches or 16 inches new MacBook Pro. I’ll discuss what they have in common first. Then in 2 separate sections only because there is enough that separates them, but just barely.
I personally purchase the 14in model with the M1 Pro processor and 16GB of ram and a 1 TB SSD. In fact, I’m typing this review on it now. This has replaced my windows laptop, the Intel white book (Mag-15).
Ok, the juicy details, the M1 Pro processor is fast, really fast. It’s noticeably faster and smoother compared to my M1 Mac Mini. The Mini is noticeably faster and smoother compared to my windows desktop. The new m1 pro MacBook Pro is the smoothest and snappiest computer that I’ve ever used.
The Touch ID is the same as the 13in M1 Pro, M1 MacBook Air, and Magic keyboard with the 24in iMac. What that means is it’s faster to unlock than even my phone.
When it comes to the keyboard it’s easily on par with the best of the best in a laptop. The trackpad is the best… PERIOD. The newest model has no touch bar, which can be found only on the 13 M1 pro. The Touch Bar has been replaced by full height function keys. Honestly, the function keys are much faster compared to the Touch Bar. Plus the Touch Bars potential was never fully realized even with Apple’s own apps.
The construction is fantastic as expected for an Apple Pro level product, and I’d hope it would be for a product that cost this much.
New Camera , New Notch
The camera is now 1080p vs the old 72p cameras that apple have been using for years. The camera is squarely in the upper range when it comes to laptop cameras. You won’t find many if any better on a laptop, that also goes for the studio quality microphone. I do find the lack of Apples center stage a bit of an oversight. The cheaper iPads and 24in iMac have it, so why not a pro device… Sigh
Speakers are amazing, the best you will find in a laptop and that’s just a fact. It’s hard to explain how good they are. I guess one way of saying it is most people won’t have the urge to purchase additional speakers. The headphone jack has been updated to better take advantage of higher impedance headphones.
That Sweet, Sweet Liquid Retina Display
Ok, Yeah, I get it you want to know about the display. Is it as good as people say? Well the answer is HELL YEAH! it is good. Better than good. The text is crisp, the scrolling is smooth. The color is second to none. The Liquid Retina XDR display on the new MacBook Pros are better than the $5,000 Pro Display XDR… The blacks are near O.L.E.D levels, the increased number of local dimming zones makes for a better HDR experience. Simply put, the display will likely be the nicest display in your home or office. While watching The Witcher on Netflix the HDR in the scenes with fire were almost blinding.
When it comes to the Notch, I honestly haven’t noticed it. Not once did it really draw my eye to it. I typically use all apps/ programs in full screen, so the notch just disappears. When I’m using split-screen which I do a lot, the notch is out the way and above any program that I’m using. I really wouldn’t worry about it.
M1 Pro Macbook Performance
As I said above using the M1 Pro processor has been nothing short of extraordinary. In day-to-day tasks, it’s easily as fast as my M1 Mac Mini. When it comes to the task that I perform that taxes the system like editing video the M1 cuts thru the editing process with a noticeable level of fluidity that the normal (base model) M1 just can’t. It was almost immediately just how much smoother cutting, adding transitions, etc were.
The M1 mini would do it but some effects and transitions would need to be pre-rendered. What that means is some sections would not playback immediately. I’d have to wait maybe 30 seconds at the longest for it to pre-render that section. Then the video would play that section as intended. The problem is if you go back and edit that section, including its length that section would need to re-render. Keep in mind that was only on the harder effects. The M1 Pro has nearly no problems with effects at all. If it did need to pre-render the time would be maybe 5-10 sec at the most. This was editing Black Magic 6k footage on a 4k timeline so, pushing it fairly hard.
Don’t Choose Wrong
When you pair the M1 Pro processor with the 16in you get the longest battery life possible in the new MacBooks. When you pair the same M1 Pro Processor in the 14 in MacBook Pro you get maybe 3 hours less. However, keep this in mind. In the video playback test many clock the 16in with the pro at over 24 hours. So, If I get 21 hours of potential playback in a lighter more portable package it’s a trade-off I’m willing to make. If you want maximum time away from a power outlet and a larger display. Maybe you want a larger trackpad, the 16 in with the M1 Pro is easy to recommend.
Same Processor, Different Number Of GPU Cores
***It’s worth pointing out that the performance of the M1 pro processor in the 14in and 16in is identical.***
The M1 Pro is well under the thermal constraints of the 14in. Even under video editing and render load I’ve yet to hear the fans. I’m told they come on earlier in the 14-inch model, though you can barely hear them whenever they do.
***I have also realize that in many other comparisons that the 14in is like a second or so faster or a few point higher in benchmarks compared to the M1 Pro 16in. This is because the fans come on earlier and allow the 14in to maintain a very small performance gain due to thermals.***
The M1 Max processor with 24 and 32 GPU cores will cause a noticeable hit to the battery life in the 14in. Its recommended that you stay away from the 32 core M1 max in the 14inch. That is unless you’re looking for a lot of power in a small package. The problem is the M1 max can reach the thermal limits of the 14in chassis. You will have a laptop that is noticeable stronger than an M1 pro 14 MacBook, but it will also be noticeably slower compared to a 16inch MacBook with the same M1 Max processor. So if you want to take things to the max, I , Like other recommend going 16inch.
***Just keep in mind the only difference in the Max processors VS the M1 Pro is additional GPU (graphics cores) and a second encode/decode block for ProRes and H.264/H.265 video. The processing cores are identical. ( unless you buy the cheaper 14inch pro for $1999 with binned Pro processor)***
16in MacBook Pro
Ok, as I just stated above the 16in Pro come into its own when you need absolute performance and battery life. It doesn’t beat the M1 Air or 13inch M1 MacBook Pro when it comes to battery life but it gets close. The thing to remember is the M1 Pro and Max processors are 70% faster compared to the base M1. What that means is you can get way more done in less time. Even with a few hours less battery, you can get much more work completed per charge vs the base M1 machines.
This carries over again to talk about the M1 max, if you’re considering going max you should consider the 16in. The additional 30 watt-hours of battery and increase thermal capacity means you get better performance vs an M1 Max 14in MacBook… Again this is not the case with the M1 Pro Processor where performance is the same. If you’re paying that much for M1 Max performance you should get all that you can, and that’s in the 16inch MacBook.
Another difference besides the battery is the larger size, which obviously means you get a larger display. If you use your MacBook as your main source of entertainment then the 16in might be worth it for $200 more at each level. You do trade portability but that larger awesome 16in Liquid Retina XDR display alone is easily worth the $200 more.
16 Inch = Maximum Performance
The Max model 16inch is the only MacBook to get the new performance mode. It allows the fans to run full out which keeps the Max processor cooler, which allows it to run harder without thermal throttling. The result can be seen on sustained workloads. Again, making the M1 Max processor in the 16 inch an obvious choice.
A couple of last things to touch on that is different. The trackpad on the 16in is WAY larger versus the already large trackpad found on the 14in. It’s really close to the size of the stand-alone magic trackpad if you’re familiar with that size. Finally, the speakers on the 16 are larger and provide a bit more bass compared to the 14in, the quality and volume are about the same but the sound has just a touch more body.
How Do You Choose
The Laptop for most people is the MacBook Air. If you need a little longer battery life or really want the Touch Bar the 13in m1 Pro could be worth additional money to you.
The M1 Mac Mini is the cheapest way into the Apple Silicone Mac ecosystem and performs the best of the base models. It has the most ports and is the most versatile of the M1 desktops. The 24in iMac is a great choice if you want you’re starting from nothing, or don’t have the space for all the extra components. It is also a very stylish piece of functional art, so you may consider the M1 iMac for stylish reasons alone.
MacBook Pros are easily the best MacBooks ever created. They are the newest and most powerful computers in the Apple lineup… They are even beating the 50k Mac Pro in many real-world test, so in that sense, they are a great value despite their high price. The display is easily some of the best on the market, and the SSD are some of the fastest around. I could go on and on about how solid the new MacBook Pros are. They are not perfect and they aren’t the fastest in all tasks that’s for sure. However, on battery power they are unbeatable.
As a lifelong Windows user, I gave away a perfectly fantastic windows laptop and spent a decent amount on one of the newest MacBook pros because of my time with the M1 Mac mini… which I still haven’t taken off my desk. I move fluidly between Windows, Mac OS, iPad OS, Android, and my Chromebook. Weirdly I find that all of them have a space in my life though I could easily see removing a couple if I had to.
Windows is my go-to gaming OS no questions, and I use it nearly daily. The Mac mini is quick to use day to day. It is great for consuming content, typing article, and general daily task. If I really wanted, I can use it to play games like League of Legends, or game streaming services like Google Stadia or Xbox X cloud.
The new MacBook makes blowing thru video edits a breeze while retaining the snappiness of the M1 Mini. The battery lasts forever, it charges fast, and honestly, if Apple could ever get its gaming together it should perform better than the 1660ti in my last windows laptop. It’s lighter, quieter, cooler, just overall a better user experience vs the windows gaming/creator laptops that I’ve used in the past. All while outperforming them in the task that matters to me.
Once I really started using my new 14inch M1 Pro Macbook, it made my decision to let go of my 15inch Intel i9, 32GB ram, GTX1660ti, mechanical RGB keyboard, with Windows Hello face unlock laptop an easy decision. The new MacBooks are really that good.
*** Deep inside I’m waiting to see what the 12th Gen intel laptops bring to the table, but I do expect them to have way less power on the battery and worst battery life, both of which really matters in a laptop***