My next Apple Mac will most likely be Intel

apple mac

I currently use an Intel Apple Mac Mini that I upgraded as a daily driver for my work. I’ve been quite excited about the prospect of the M1 processor and the performance and power efficiency it has on offer.

However, I just can’t bring myself to buy one of these yet. Why? It’s like those older Windows Service Pack updates you would always hold off on installing. Sometimes you’re setting yourself up for disaster by adopting something new and shiny without it proving itself first.

Apple M1 turns 1, but still has remove for improvement

Tomorrow, the Apple M1 will have officially been on the market for exactly 1 year (Apple M1 was officially released on November 11, 2020). I still don’t think it has proven itself yet, or had the kind of mass adoption needed to bring about software maturity.

I’ve read countless threads, articles, and comments around the interweb that highlight problems and shortfalls that I just don’t see on my Intel based Mac Mini 2018 model. Here are some examples:

I’ve also spoken with colleagues who upgraded to M1 and have reported that certain Node.js applications are much slower on M1 than they were on their older, Intel based macOS systems.

I use node a lot for work, and this is a worrying thing to hear. I looked it up, and sure enough there are plenty of experiences from others that report issues with Node, and NVM on Apple silicon.

UMA and our right to repair

I am not convinced about Apple’s Unified Memory Architecture (UMA) being all sunshine and roses. The memory bandwidth up for offer sure is enticing, but what about upgradeability and repair?

Apple is making sacrificing one thing for another. Now, if the memory built into the logic board fails, the entire board needs replacing.

What about upgradeability? With my Mac Mini 2018, I bought the (much cheaper) 8GB model. I then purchased 32GB SODIMM RAM modules at half the price of what Apple wanted to charge me. I performed the RAM upgrade myself.

With M1 I cannot do that anymore.

Intel is where it’s at for me

My current Mac Mini is great in terms of memory and SSD performance. However it has an anaemic Core i3 processor that is crippling overall performance. For example, Slack’s renderer process brings all 4 logical cores to their knees if I do a screenshares.

I definitely should have opted for the i5 when I purchased this model.

However, there is light at the end of the tunnel. Apple still sell Intel-based Mac Minis. They do hide it out of sight where you need to scroll to the bottom of their product page, but at least they’re there.

As a society we should be more cautious with early adoption and “jumping on the band wagon”. We should wait for issues to be resolved, or at least “day 1” patches to be released in the case of software. Assess the severity of problems at launch and wait for product maturity before taking the plunge. I try to use this same philosophy with games. The industry has moved to “early access” and we’re all being taken along for the bumpy ride.

For now my hardware upgrade path is clear – an Intel-based Mac Mini with a 3.0GHz 6-core 8th-generation Intel Core i5 processor.

Saving £500 on a new Apple Mac Mini with 32GB RAM

mac mini internals

I purchased a new Apple Mac Mini recently and didn’t want to fall victim to Apple’s “RAM Tax”.

I used Apple’s site to configure a Mac Mini with a quad core processor, 32GB RAM, and a 512GB SSD.

I was shocked to see they added £600.00 to the price of a base model with 8GB RAM. They’re effectively charging all of this money for 24GB of extra RAM. This memory is nothing special, it’s pretty standard 2666MHz DDR4 SODIMM modules. The same stuff that is used in generic laptops.

I decided to cut back my order to the base model with 8GB of RAM. I ordered a Crucial 32GB Kit (2 x 16GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM modules running at 1.2 volts with a CAS latency of 19ns). This kit cost me just over £100.00 online.

The Crucial 2 x 16GB DDR4-2666 SODIMM kit

In total I saved around £500.00 for the trouble of about 30 minutes of work to open up the Mac Mini and replace the RAM modules myself.

The Teardown Process

Use the iFixit Guide

You can use my photos and brief explanations below if you would like to follow the steps I took to replace the RAM, but honestly, you’re better off following iFixit’s excellent guide here.

Follow along Here

If you want to compare or follow along in my format, then read on…

Get a good tool kit with hex screw drivers. I used iFixit’s basic kit.

iFixit basic tool kit

Flip the Mac Mini upside down.

Pry open the back cover, carefully with a plastic prying tool

Undo the 6 x hex screws on the metal plate under the black plastic cover. Be careful to remember the positions of these, as there are 2 x different types. 3 x short screws, and 3 x longer.

opening the mac mini

Very carefully, move the cover to the side, revealing the WiFi antenna connector. Unscrew the small hex screw holding the metal tab on the cable. Use a plastic levering tool to carefully pop the antenna connector off.

Next, unscrew 4 x screws that hold the blower fan to the exhaust port. You can see one of the screws in the photo below. Two of the screws are angled at a 45 degree orientation, so carefully undo those, and use tweezers to catch them as they come out.

Carefully lift the blower fan up, and disconnect it’s cable using a plastic pick or prying tool. The trick is to lift from underneat the back of the cable’s connector and it’ll pop off.

mac mini blower fan removal

Next, disconnect the main power cable at the top right of the photo below. This requires a little bit of wiggling to loosen and lift it as evenly as possible.

Now disconnect the LED cable (two pin). It’s very delicate, so do this as carefully as possible.

There are two main hex screws to remove from the motherboard central area now. You can see them removed below near the middle (where the brass/gold coloured rings are).

With everything disconnected, carefully push the inner motherboard and it’s tray out, using your thumbs on the fan’s exhaust port. You should ideally position your thumbs on the screw hole areas of the fan exhaust port. It’ll pop out, then just very carefully push it all the way out.

The RAM area is protected by a metal ‘cage’. Unscrew it’s 4 x hex screws and slowly lift the cage off the RAM retainer clips.

Carefully push the RAM module retainer clips to the side (they have a rubber grommet type covering over them), and the existing SODIMM modules will pop loose.

mac mini SODIMM RAM modules and slots

Remove the old modules and replace with your new ones. Make sure you align the modules in the correct orientation. The slots are keyed, so pay attention to that. Push them down toward the board once aligned and the retainer clips will snap shut and lock them in place.

Replace the RAM ‘cage’ with it’s 4 x hex screws.

Reverse the steps you took above to insert the motherboard tray back into the chassis and re-attach all the cables and connectors in the correct order.

Make sure you didn’t miss any screws or cables when reconnecting everything.

Finally boot up and enjoy your cheap RAM upgrade.