Upgrading to a Mac Mini

For those who don’t know, the blog is a side project. I earn money selling my web services over the internet. It works out great because I can work from home, being otherwise retired, and it’s work I enjoy.

2021 was a banner revenue year for my small business, which also means I’ll be paying more in taxes. These taxes can be somewhat offset with business expenses, which tend to be few as I don’t need much except a computer and an Internet connection. Given that I was flush with business income and my computer was eight years old, it seemed a good time to get another one.

Since 2008, I’ve ditched Windows for a Mac. I replaced the Mac once in 2014. A couple of years later, frustrated by having is slow down unacceptably, I had a shop replace the disk drive with a one terabyte solid state drive and bump up its memory to 16 gigabytes. Since then it’s been a solid machine, which is why I didn’t feel the need to replace it.

A year ago I would have told you I’d replace my Mac with some souped up computer than runs Linux. That’s because I know what I’m doing from the command line and for the most part I use the computer to earn money, not to play games or as a form of entertainment.

But Apple’s recent introduction of new Macs with their new M1 chip convinced me that there was now a compelling reason to stay with a Mac. With the M1 chip, Apple ditched Intel in favor of its own in-house chip, the M1. Intel chips are based on a CISC (Complex Instruction Set Computer processor) architecture. The M1 and most CPUs in mobile devices use RISC (Reduced Instruction Set Computer processor) architecture. Providing there is the software to support these chips, they tend to run much faster. These RISC-based chips are definitely the future for desktop and laptop computers. Who doesn’t like faster speed and more efficient use of energy?

I ended up buying a Mac Mini, with a 512 gigabyte solid state drive and 8 gigabytes of memory. I bought it for $869.99 on Costco’s online web site. I skipped buying another iMac. Apple has really jacked up their prices on iMacs. While they have the ultra-fast M1 chips in the Mac Mini, you essentially pay an extra $800 or so for a fancy monitor with a built in camera and microphone. If you are going to stay with a Mac, the Mac Mini is a better buy.

You don’t have to give up anything with a Mac Mini, but should give up less money to Apple. I would need a new monitor, something with retinal display, which my old iMac didn’t have. I’m not too picky. I found this 28 inch Acer gaming monitor at just under $300, also at Costco. I also ordered a web cam for about $25. Altogether, I spent about $1250.

Both the computer and the monitor arrived on Thursday. The Mac Mini is pretty small: about eight inches by eight inches and an inch tall. Generally, Apple does a good job of getting you up and running. I was initially baffled when I turned it on and plugged it into my monitor. Was I setting up the Mac or the monitor? It was hard to tell. The screen had an illustration of what looked like a gaming machine. It was actually an illustration of a Mac Mini, just way too skinny. There was nothing that really told you what to do. Eventually I realized I had to plug in both a wired mouse and a wired keyboard to start configuring the machine, which I should have realized. There wasn’t even a piece of paper in the box telling you this.

Once initially configured, there was the matter of moving my files from the old machine. I didn’t have much spare hardware and there were only two USB-A ports on the Mini Mac, so I had to continually plug and unplug my keyboard and mouse from the old machine and move it back and forth between machines to begin the process of moving all my stuff. I needed a USB-A port for my TimeMachine backup USB drive. It took nearly a whole day to move my 400 gigabytes of files to the new machine. It probably would have been faster had I selected the option to move files using WiFi.

So the process of configuration and migration was definitely less than optimal. But it was worth the hassle. The Mac Mini boots fully in about ten seconds, about six times faster than the old machine. It shuts down in about ten seconds too; the old machine could take a minute or more sometimes. At least the migration program intelligently fetches updated software (when it can) for your apps. Only a few of the programs I use every day didn’t have M1-compatible versions, and it’s hard to tell with the other programs because the machine is so dang fast that it’s hard to believe these programs are being emulated.

This is my first large screen with retinal display and I find it stunning. Everything is so clear and crisp. One of the few things that wasn’t as good is the built in speakers. They are tinny on the Mac Mini and if it’s in stereo, you can’t tell. Fortunately, I have a set of spare speakers with good fidelity that I plugged into the earphone jack, which rendered much better sound than even on my old iMac.

There were a few minor hiccups. I had to login to a host of websites again. Facebook kept giving me a “Sorry! Something went wrong!” error screen with no explanation on how to fix it. The online help didn’t help either: clearing cache and cookies did nothing. I was able to bring it up in Safari, which I don’t ordinarily use, but not in my primary browser. After a few hours, the problem mysteriously disappeared. Also, I couldn’t dim or brighten the monitor from the keyboard like I used to, until I did some searching and found MonitorControl that did the trick.

Aside from a business deduction, my primary interest in this machine was speed. I can’t do much about internet upload and download speeds, but the M1 processor(s) is truly a speed demon that is just stunning. In most cases a millisecond after I press the return key or click on a button, it’s done. Most programs load in a second or two. I’m working on a job for a client, a complex upgrade for a system. It should go much faster than a similar job would have gone on my iMac.

The web cam has still to arrive. I didn’t find much in the way of higher resolution web cams, at least not with 60 frames per second, but a good 1028 x 768 pixel camera will do fine for now. It’s all this plus I can keep running all my old Mac software too, and the same consistent user interface and extremely high reliability that I’ve enjoyed for thirteen years now that is hard to find on Windows. With all this speed, perhaps I can leverage it to earn more money from clients in the years ahead.

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