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MacBook Air vs Mac mini (2021): Which Mac Offers Better Value?

As impressive as the new MacBook Pro 14-inch and 16-inch are, the price tag on both models is intimidating. For those on a budget, 2020’s Macbook Air and Macbook mini are friendlier on the pocket. Although priced lower than their Pro counterparts, they boast a solid feature set, including Apple’s M1 chip.

Still, there are fundamental differences between the two that might sway you to choose one over the other. The MacBook Air is a laptop, while the Mac mini is a small desktop computer. Which one better suits your workflow? Read our comparison below to find out.

MacBook Air vs Mac mini Comparison Chart

ModelApple MacBook Air (M1, 2020)Apple Mac mini (M1, 2020)
 
Price
Display13.3-inch Retina displayn/a
ProcessorApple M1 ChipApple M1 Chip
CPU8-core8-core
GPU7-core or 8-core8-core
Storage Options256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB256GB, 512GB, 1TB, 2TB
RAM8GB, 16GB8GB, 16GB
Camera720p FaceTime HD cameran/a
KeyboardBuilt-in backlit Magic KeyboardMagic Keyboard (sold separately)
Touch IDYesNo
SpeakersYesYes
MicYesNo
Headphone JackYes, 3.5mmYes, 3.5mm
ColorsSpace Gray, Silver, GoldSilver
PortsThunderbolt ports (2)Thunderbolt ports (2),
USB-A ports (2)
HDMI 2.0 port
Gigabit Ethernet
Battery LifeUp to 18 hoursn/a

Design and Setup

While the MacBook Air and Mac mini are two different kinds of computers, they’re still distinctly Apple in design.

MacBook Air vs Mac mini Design
Here’s a look at what’s inside a MacBook Air box (left) and Mac mini box (right).

Out of the box, it’s easy to see just how different the two Macs are. The MacBook Air is a notebook computer that comes with a 13.3-inch Retina display, a full keyboard, and a trackpad. With the 2020 model, you’re also getting the thinnest and lightest MacBook Air, measuring a mere 0.63-inches and weighing only 2.8 lbs.

The Mac mini, on the other hand, is sold without an accompanying monitor, keyboard, or mouse. All you’re getting is a desktop computer โ€” a sleek, square-shaped enclosure 7.7-inches in width and depth. It’s slightly lighter than the MacBook Air, too, at just 2.6 lbs.

Unlike Apple’s other Mac products, the mini is designed to work flexibly with other monitors and peripherals. This means you can set it up with existing screens or keyboards you have at home as long as they are compatible. If you’re willing to spend a bit more, then you can purchase new ones, including Apple’s standalone Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse.

Despite this contrasting approach, both the MacBook Air and Mac mini are still distinctly Apple devices. From the logo to the sleek, metallic finish, it’s clear they’re from the same ecosystem. The MacBook Air M1 2020, however, is available in a few more colors โ€” Silver, Gold, and Space Gray. Meanwhile, the Mac mini only comes in Silver.

Hardware and Other Features

Both the MacBook Air and Mac mini are equipped with Apple’s new M1 Chip.

MacBook Air vs Mac mini Hardware
Apple says the M1 Chip “revolutionizes” the way its Macs perform.

At the heart of the 2020 MacBook Air and Mac mini is the M1 Chip specifically designed by Apple for Macs. While an Intel option is still available, the new processors are said to allow Apple notebooks and desktop computers to operate more efficiently. Apple shares that with the M1 Chip, users get faster CPU and GPU performance. For the MacBook Air, the new processor translates to longer battery life as well.

The entry-level models for the MacBook Air and Mac mini are similarly equipped with an 8-core CPU that combines 4 performance cores and 4 efficiency cores. These M1 Macs are also shipped with 8GB RAM/unified memory and are capped out at 16GB. Their Intel-powered counterparts, however, can be upgraded to 64GB. With the Mac mini, you’re getting an 8-core GPU across all variants. Apple’s base M1 MacBook Air, on the other hand, starts at a 7-core GPU, although 8-core GPU models are also available.

Still, the notebook has a few physical features that might draw you to it over the desktop computer. The 2020 MacBook Air comes with Touch ID and a 720P FaceTime HD camera. Apple has also equipped the Air with stereo speakers, a 3.5mm headphone jack, and a three-mic array. With the Mac mini, you’re only getting a speaker and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Performance

Although both devices deliver when it comes to performance, Apple’s M1 Mac mini edges out the MacBook Air in terms of power.

MacBook Air vs Mac mini Performance Review
Simple every day tasks, along with performance-intensive programs, are handled by the M1 MacBook Air and Mac mini with ease.

Thanks to the M1 chip, both the MacBook Air and Mac mini offer incredible performance. For most workloads, the new chip means a 3.5x faster CPU as well as 5x faster graphics. Importing and previewing large files is also speedier, and programs like iMovie and Lightroom are handled with ease. Thanks to a fanless design, the laptop performs quietly, too.

Apple’s lighter notebook typically starts at 256GB of SSD storage. If you need more storage, you can customize the MacBook Air with up to 2TB of SSD along with 16GB of RAM.

Like the MacBook Air, the Mac Mini’s base configuration starts with a 256GB SSD. You can move towards 2TB, too, along with 16GB of unified memory. With the upgrades in its processor, the M1 Mac mini delivers a 3x faster processing performance and a 6x increase in graphics performance. Demanding programs โ€” from code building to video editing software โ€” are tackled with speed and efficiency.

However, expect the Mac mini to manage performance-intensive programs better than the MacBook Air for longer periods. Apple’s versatile desktop enjoys a dedicated power supply and advanced thermal design, including a built-in fan.

Ports and Portability

While the Mac mini has more ports, the MacBook Air is more portable and practical to use on the go.

MacBook Air vs Mac mini Ports and Storage
Here’s a look at the ports on the MacBook Air (top) and Mac mini (bottom).

What the Mac mini lacks in terms of peripherals, it makes up with its ports. The desktop computer comes with two Thunderbolt or USB 4 ports, two USB-A ports, HDMI 2.0, and Ethernet. You can also upgrade to a 10Gb Ethernet for higher throughput. Apple’s MacBook Air, on the other hand, only comes with two Thunderbolt or USB 4 ports.

Obviously, the MacBook Air wins when it comes to portability. The notebook is designed to be used on the go. But given the fairly compact size of the Mac mini, it is possible to take it between workspaces if you need your hardware with you. Of course, this does mean having more than one set of display and peripherals to connect to, but size-wise, the mini is easy to bring around.

Click here to read our MacBook Air vs iPad Pro comparison.

Verdict

If you need an on-the-go computer, the MacBook Air is the better computer. But if you’re looking for a computer at home, then the Mac mini is the more practical and powerful option.

The MacBook Air and Mac mini are the lowest-priced Macs available from Apple with the M1 chip. Thanks to this new chip, along with upgrades in CPU and GPU performance, these budget-friendlier models offer incredible performance and efficiency. But if you need something that works out of the box, then the MacBook Air should be your choice. For day-to-day activities like word processing or web browsing, its entry-level model is more than enough. It’s portable, too, making it the ideal mobile workhorse.

You get comparable efficiency from the Mac mini. However, you will need to complete its setup with your own display and peripherals. If you have them already, you’ll be spending less than if you got the MacBook Air. For an advanced setup, however, a monitor, along with mouse and keyboard, does add to the overall cost. The key advantage of the Mac mini, however, is power. Since it’s plugged in, you know it’ll deliver the M1’s guaranteed performance for longer periods of time. Plus, you get more ports to work with, making it a versatile option.

FAQs

๐Ÿ“Œ Is the Mac mini better than the MacBook Air?

Since it’s a desktop computer with a dedicated power supply, the Mac mini has the edge when it comes to power. Its base configuration also starts with better hardware than the MacBook Air. However, it’s not as portable as Apple’s sleek notebook.

๐Ÿ“Œ Does the MacBook Air 2020 come with an HDMI port?

No, it doesn’t. The M1 MacBook Air only features two Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports.

๐Ÿ“Œ What are some of the Apple accessories compatible with the Mac mini?

The Mac mini works with standalone Mac accessories, including the Magic Keyboard with Touch ID, Magic Trackpad, and Magic Mouse.

๐Ÿ“Œ What displays are supported by the Mac mini?

Apple’s Mac mini has support for one display up to 6K, and another up to 4K.

Last update on 2022-05-23 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Mari Bassig

Senior Editor, writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, social media, and music.