How M1 Macs Make Other Computers Look Like Space Heaters

Cooler, but still powerful

Key Takeaways

  • The M1 Mac mini is the coolest, lowest-power Mac mini yet.
  • The previous Intel mini used more power than any other Mac mini.
  • These low-powered computers enable completely new computing possibilities.
Apple Mac mini in silver on a white background

Apple

The M1 Mac mini uses barely more power when running full tilt than older Intel Mac minis used while idling.

The current M1 Mac mini consumes 6.8W while idle, and 39W at maximum. The very first Mac mini consumed 32W/85W. That’s almost as much when idling as today’s mini uses when being driven hard. M1 doesn't just mean long battery life for the MacBooks, it also means desktop Macs potentially can run cooler and faster, while still using less energy. And this means future M1 Macs will be able to do things that are impossible today.

"The less power any device consumes, the longer it can run without a charger," Sergey Krivoblotsky, software engineer at MacPaw, told Lifewire via direct message. "You can concentrate to get things done instead of looking for a socket."

Fast and Cool

If you’ve used, or even just read about, Apple’s M1 Macs, then you know two things: they’re incredibly fast compared to Intel-based computers, and they sip power. This has led to the current M1 MacBook Air being as fast or faster than more expensive Macs, while running for 18 hours nonstop on a single charge.

This is all made possible by Apple Silicon, Apple-designed chips that are based on those found in iPads and iPhones. Those devices have always had wild power constraints, thanks to the requirements of portability and battery life, and those benefits now are being enjoyed by the Mac lineup.

"The less power any device consumes, the longer it can run without a charger."

Right out of the gate, we now have Macs that achieve impossible battery life and power for a laptop. The MacBook Air runs so cool that it doesn’t even have a fan. And yet, this is just the beginning of what’s possible with these cool, efficient chips.

Mini Power

First, let’s take a look at the historical power consumption of the Mac mini. Ever since that first Mac mini back in 2005, power use dropped slowly, until the 2018 Intel version, which jumped back up to 19.9W/122W, the most power used by any Mac mini ever. Meanwhile, the 16-inch MacBook Pro is infamous for its leaf-blower-volume fans, and the entire Intel MacBook lineup has been shamed for years by the equally powerful iPad Pro.

Rearview of M1 Mac Mini and all of its ports
Apple

Something similar has happened before, with the IBM/Apple/Motorola G5 chip. This chip ran so hot that it was impossible to put into a laptop, meaning Apple’s PowerBook line never made it past the previous-gen G4 chip. Then, Apple solved the problem by switching to Intel. This time, it has solved the problem by switching from Intel.

The Future Is Cool

In the future, these cool-running chips could be used in several ways. The current M1 Macs all use the same case design as the previous generation, but look inside the Mac mini and it’s all empty space. A new model could be slimmed down, or the case could stay the same size, while Apple makes a version that packs in extra chips, but still stays cool.

This second strategy is the one we’re likely to see in a future Mac Pro. That machine is all about power, so keeping it roomy, with space for lots of chips and fans, makes sense.

These changes make it possible to rethink how computing works. 

"Having such amazingly powerful and low energy M1-based Mac devices leads me to think about shifting to a thick-client/feature-rich applications concept," says Vira Tkachenko, chief technology officer at MacPaw. "I support this trend, as processing and storing data at user’s devices gives more privacy and the possibility of offline work. As developers, we can create more computationally intensive apps."

Finally, the laptop lineup is the one that could get really exciting. Without the need to fit a fan inside, and to supply power to drive that fan, MacBooks could become as slim as iPads. Imagine a MacBook with a touch screen that can fold all the way around back to become a tablet-like computer. The M1 Macs already run iOS apps, so this isn’t as absurd as it seems.

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