Design & Content Creation on the M1 Mac mini

June 14, 2021

A picture of my late-2020 M1 Mac mini.

The M1 Macs have been getting a lot of attention among designers lately. And no wonder.

Apple's M1 processor is one of the fasters chips ever to be put in "entry-level" computers. It may not give you the performance of a spec'd out gaming PC, but it gets impressively close at a much lower price.

I bought an M1 Mac mini at the end of 2020 that have been using it as my main computer ever since, and I am delighted with its buttery performance. I got the 256gb SSD and 16gb of RAM.

It is not only fast, but it's also one of the cheapest M1 computers of the 2020 lineup.

Many designer colleagues have asked me about it, so I decided to summarize my experience using the M1 Mac mini as my only computer for UX Design and content creation for the last six months.

I divided this article into three categories:

  1. UX Design Apps performance
  2. Lifestyle and practicality
  3. Who should buy it

Let's dive in.

1. UX Design Apps Performance on the M1 Mac Mini

My regular workflow revolves around editing big Figma files, recording video podcasts, editing audio in Logic Pro X, and editing 1080p video in Final Cut Pro . Sometimes I also use Miro and Figjam for the occasional remote workshop.

I want to note that I use my M1 Mac mini connected to a single 4k monitor. I suspect using an lower-res monitor should give you marginally better frame rates, but I haven't tested it yet.

Excluding participating in meetings and writing, I'd say my production work is split as follows:

  • Figma 80%
  • Video and audio editing 10%
  • Whiteboarding 10%

Figma on the M1 Mac mini

Figma, for the most part, runs beautifully on the M1. Zooming in and out of a couple of dozen artboards is not a problem.

I notice some drop in the frame rate when moving around an exceptionally large that has over 150 artboards, full of components, multiple variables, and hooked to a couple of shared libraries. This is, however, an edge case that most designers don't have to deal with, I believe.

Another pleasant surprise came when I noticed how fast it updates instances after modifying a component. It's almost instantly. I'm not sure how much of this instantaneous magic's credit is due to the M1 versus the Figma engineering team, but it makes dealing with complex design systems much more effortless.

Even in these unconventionally demanding scenarios and running a 4k monitor, the M1 chip performance with Figma is fantastic. And that goes for FigJam as well, which I've been using more and more since its release.

Miro

I use Miro for running remote workshops and brainstorming sessions.

While I don't think they have optimized Miro for the M1 chip yet, the performance is excellent. The frame rate is smooth, and the whole experience is very responsive.

Final Cut Pro

As one of the first apps optimized for the M1, Final Cut Pro is fast. While I don't do anything too intensive, I haven't encountered a single hiccup so far.

My average projects consist of editing a couple at 1080p, color grading, and applying simple transitions and sounds effects.

I get to see the M1 Mac mini go through its paces when I export video. But if it weren't for the CleanMyMac processor meter, I wouldn't even notice. Exporting doesn't affect the performance of other apps, or at least not perceivably.

Exporting a 1080p video


2. Lifestyle and practicality

Mobility

I was a nomad and slowmad from 2016 to early 2020. I've wanted to settle down and get a desktop computer for a while.

There's no getting around the fact that the Mac mini is a desktop computer. It might seem obvious but going from a laptop to a desktop computer entails a few non-trivial changes in your work.

For starters, the M1 Mac mini doesn't have a battery. If there's a power cut, you won't be able to use it.

Peripherals

It also requires you to have an external set of peripherals that many long-time laptop users might take for granted, like the need for a webcam or a keyboard.

Forget about laying on the couch for a while to reply to a couple of Slack messages. It doesn't work unless connected to power and a monitor at all times. 

Ports

The M1 Mac mini has something you don't get too often with Apple products, and that is ports.

It has 2 USB type A, 2 USB type C, HDMI, headphones jack, Ethernet, and a separate port for charging. 

Compared to the scarce four in the MacBook Pro, one of which is power, there are many ports. 

Raw performance

Up to 13 June 2021, the M1 Mac mini is the fastest M1 computer and, in some specific cases, is also the fastest Apple computer across the board. That may change with the new 2021 M1 iMacs release, but I doubt they will be considerably faster than the mini.

Do you need that kind of performance? For most UX designers, the answer is probably no. But if you work with more graphic intensive apps like Photoshop, or Autodesk 3ds Max, you should definitely consider the mini.

3. Who should buy it

If you can't wait to get back to traveling and your work revolves around Zoom, Slack, and Figma, I would look into the MacBook Air or the Pro.

However, If you need uncompromising performance and work mostly from home, then the M1 Mac mini is a no-brainer.

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