I decided to take the plunge and buy an Apple M1 Mac Mini. I did not need it, but I was interested to see if it could really replace my 2019 Mac Pro. The short answer is currently no, but it might in within the next year or two.
I will never buy a computer that comes with a screen, except laptop. I like the upgradability of computers, which I have always done with my Intel based Linux and Windows computers and my Apple Pro Macs. The new M1 computers are not upgradable, but they are cheap so buying a new one every few years isn’t too bad. With my Mac Pros in the past I have always upgraded all internal parts, which makes them last longer than the normal lifecycle.
I bought the M1 Mac Mini with 16 GB of RAM, the most at the time of the writing, and a 1 TB internal NVMe drive. The memory limitation is a bit of a disappointment, since my Mac Pro does have 64 GB of RAM, so I would not be able to run all applications at same time as a have done in the past. I understand that this is an entry level computer, but it does not have the same options as the current Intel Mac Mini available for purchase.
I do love the little computer, but there are currently some shortfalls. There are not enough ports. I believe this is due to the limited bandwidth or controllers on the M1 chip. Computers in the past, including the Intel Mac Mini, has had more ports. I have a 2 Acer 4K monitor setup, external NVMe drive, an XQD card reader for my Nikon cameras, Logitech webcam, and a network that is running at 10 gb/s. The M1 Mac does not support 10 gb ethernet. I connect my Apple keyboard and trackpad to the computer directly. I do have an external full size LG Ultra Blu Ray reader, since I like ripping my Blu Ray discs and placing them on my Synology NAS, which is served by Plex.
To make up for the shortfall in ports I bought a Thunderbolt 4 dock from Other World Computing. The dock itself is great and fulfilled a need. I just wish I did not have to spend another $250 USD plus international shipping, customs and VAT taxes for something the computer should already have, like the previous version. I cannot speak highly enough about the dock. I also bought my external NVMe enclosure from them.
The first issue I ran into was that I am not sure when a problem is due to the new MacOS Big Sur or the hardware itself. Indeed, when Apple released an operating system updates it did fix some issues. Most of the applications I use are not compiled for the M1 chip, thus they go through emulation. Apple has done a good job with emulation, but still not all applications work, like VMWare Fusion. And there were issues with Norton 360 that was blocking connections, which mostly has been fixed with an update.
One annoying problem that makes me very hesitant to use this is my main machine is that it has an issue with external drives. For no reason my external drives, my NAS and NVME external drive, will either be disconnected or timeout. I have my music library and mail on my NAS and for some reason Apple Mail, Apple Music (iTunes), and other apps will hang or crash. Looking at dumps there is an issue with timeouts. I am not going to post the technical details, but I have seen others have the same issue online. This can probably be solved with an operating system upgrade to the kernel extensions (kext) I hope. Using the internal NVMe drive there is no such issue.
In summary, the machine can probably suit the needs for most, though an external dock may be needed. It is a cheap option to upgrade every few years, if Apple keeps updating the machine. Most applications will run natively or in emulation, but it is not for professionals yet that need to run certain types of work loads, like virtual machines. My guess is within the next year most applications will be compatible.