Apple's M1 Mac mini can be made portable or smaller with some tinkering

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A pair of homebrew projects using the M1 Mac mini have highlighted the extremely small computer, with the latest cramming the computer into an enclosure about half the volume as Apple's.

The Mac mini is widely accepted as a very small computer that offers considerable performance for its size. While tinkerers typically use boards like the Raspberry Pi to create highly-portable computing devices, some are turning to the M1 Mac mini for the same concept.

With work, some projects have made the desk-bound Mac mini into a portable working device, as well as aiming to shrink an already compact system into an even smaller body.

Shrinking the Mac mini

The Mac mini has always used a compact mainboard and components. With the introduction of the M1 Mac mini, Apple has shrunk down the internals more, but without altering the size of the external aluminum enclosure.

To answer the question of how small you can actually go with the M1 Mac mini's internals, Quinn Nelson of Snazzy Labs is doing so with a 3D printer.

In posts to Twitter, the YouTuber shows the Mac mini's internal board, complete with heatsink, connectors, and some wiring. Another image shows a collection of prototype prints in various colors and materials, each with the same grille effect of the Mac Pro.

One Saturday post hints at the reduction, with Nelson asking "In which color would you want to see, eh, idk, an M1 Mac mini that's just 28% the size of the original?"

The video debuted on Wednesday night, and CAD files are available for the enclosure design.

Portable Mac mini

Posted to YouTube on Wednesday by Scott Yu-Jan, the video "Making a Portable Mac mini" describes how the YouTuber tried to solve the problem of making the Mac mini portable. After complaining about hating notebooks due to cooling issues, he designs and 3D-prints an enclosure for the Mac mini.

The idea stems from noticing the iPad mini is roughly as tall as the Mac mini is wide, which makes it a potentially decent-sized screen.

The enclosure wraps around the Mac mini, and has a hinged section that holds the iPad mini, which effectively serves as a cover. The iPad mini is connected to the Mac mini using a USB-C cable that's neatly routed around the edge and clipped in place.

The project isn't to make the Mac mini a truly wire-free device, as it still relies on a power cable running to an outlet instead of a portable power supply. The iPad mini runs Duet, which displays the Mac mini's display output on its screen, while still retaining Apple Pencil support.

The setup also still requires the use of an external keyboard for text entry.

While you couldn't consider it a MacBook replacement, the setup does at least allow its creator to go mobile with the Mac mini complete with a display that is also a removable iPad mini — and without worrying about the limitations of thermal throttling too much.

A hint at the future

Both projects, but specifically the former, points to what Apple could release in the future. With the use of smaller internal components, it makes sense for Apple to engineer an even smaller Mac mini.

Apple is currently rumored to be producing a redesigned Mac mini, one that could shake up the design in a number of ways. Along with specification changes, the inbound model is thought to use a metal band and a polycarbonate-like top panel, as well as slimming down in height.

Apple is also rumored to be making a smaller version of the Mac Pro that runs on Apple Silicon. With the change from Intel to Apple Silicon, this could offer Apple the opportunity to considerably reduce the size of the largest Mac, while still retaining performance.