I don't care what you say about the M1: the 2018 Intel Mac mini is still a beast

Even though we've all been talking about how impressive the M1 Macs are, we show an example of just how capable a three year old Mac mini is, even today.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

With all of the attention everyone's been giving the M1 Macs, one question remains: What about the millions of Intel-based Macs currently in service? Are they still worth using?

To be fair, when the phrase "Intel-based Macs" is used, it could mean anything from the January 2006 32-bit dual-core iMac running Intel Core Duo (T2400) ("Yonah") at 1.83 GHz on a 668 MHz system bus with 2 MB of level 2 cache, all the way up to a 2019 64-bit 28-core Xeon ("Cascade Lake") running at up to 4.4 GHz with a 66.5 MB cache on an Intel Direct Media Interface (DMI) 3.0 at 8 GT/s and 1.5 TB of RAM.

Despite Apple's very long drought in substantive Mac upgrades from about 2015 through 2018, there was actually a lot of growth in Mac capability in the 14 years between 2006 and 2020, when the move to Apple Silicon was announced.

In 2018, after a long, long wait, I was finally able to upgrade my main desktop machine from a very well-equipped (for the time) 2013 iMac to a new Mac mini running an i7 and 32 GB of RAM. That Mac mini also has an external GPU equipped with a Vega 56 graphics card.

Also: Migrating from Intel iMac to M1 MacBook Air: My five-day journey

[Aside: That 2013 iMac moved down to our family room and served as my development machine from 2018 to 2021, and was only just finally taken out of service last week in favor of a new M1 MacBook Air after an astonishing 8-year run.]

But even though I'm beginning an upgrade sweep moving my about to be obsolete older Macs to the new M1s, I'm keeping my 2018 Mac mini as my main desktop machine for as long as I can. That's because it's still a beast. I proved that a few weeks ago with a video editing project that would have brought lesser machines to their knees.

Also: Building a YouTube studio: Upgrading to full broadcast quality video for under $3,000

You can see the video in question at the top of this article. It consisted of a multi-cam sequence using three cameras: two iPhones and the Blackmagic Design Pocket Cinema Camera 6K.

The two iPhones each provided 4K video into the main story footage timeline. The Blackmagic camera provided 5.6K footage, converted from Blackmagic Raw to ProRes into the main story timeline.

The Blackmagic footage was a 245 GB clip. That's right, one clip was a quarter of a terabyte. The two iPhones contributed an additional two clips that were each about 7 GB.

Each of those videos had numerous effects applied, and the Blackmagic footage had custom color correction applied as well.

In addition to the three main clips described above, which became the main multicam shot, the edit included another 19 1080p B-roll shots. On top of those were yet another 18 4K product flyby shots, each with image stabilization dynamically applied.

And, on top of all of that were stills, text with zoom-in effects, transitions, and the like. The entire production clocked in at just 476 GB, just under half a terabyte.

Now, let me be clear. I did this in Final Cut Pro X. I never would have dared try this in Premiere Pro. Even with far smaller productions, Premiere Pro crashed on me constantly, which is a large part of the reason I switched to Macs in the first place. Final Cut only runs on Macs.

That said, I did this huge edit without using proxy media. I was editing, live and in real-time, with two 4K and one 5.6K stream, with B-roll, color correction, effects, and titling on top -- all without proxy footage and without dropping any frames. Scrubbing through footage was silky smooth as well.

Keep in mind that this hefty production wasn't done on a $13,000 Mac Pro. It was done on a $2,000 Mac mini with an $879 external GPU. Granted, a little under $3,000 isn't cheap, but the fact that it was able to produce a 10-minute video based on half a terabyte of media is pretty amazing.

I have no doubt the newer M1 Macs can do the same (although the fact that they top off at 16 GB of RAM is a worry). Apple regularly updates Final Cut. It's a very important tool for the company, so it has been ported to run natively on the M1.

Even so, the video I produced is proof that there is still some considerable life left in Intel Macs -- at least those that are well-equipped. I don't expect to retire my 2018 Intel Mac mini for another two, three, maybe even four years.

That's the key lesson I want to convey to you. If you have a late-model Intel Mac that's got a strong processor and a reasonable amount of RAM, you can probably get at least a few years of life out of it. Sure, I'm cycling out my 2011 and 2012 Intel Macs, which are stuck a few OS versions behind and no longer updatable. But if you have a current machine and you gave it enough RAM, keep it as long as you can. It will serve you well.

What about you? Are you upgrading? Do you still have Intel Macs? Have you tried the M1s? Are you a Windows or Linux user convinced using a Mac is just a bad idea on principle? Comment below.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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