A Desk Setup for Data Scientists & Engineers: M1 Mac Mini Edition

Apple surprised a lot of people with their Apple Silicon M1. The new System on a Chip (SoC) isn’t just capable of running native macOS apps; it’s also very capable of crunching numbers, running computational cycles, and even playing games. The SoC also has an integrated 16-core neural engine, making it a complete beast for data processing, machine learning, and other advanced applications.

On top of that, the M1 Mac Mini in particular offers the best bang for your buck. You can get a base-model M1 Mac Mini for $699, which makes it a valuable computer not only by Apple’s standard, but also compared to other options on the market. A sub-$700 computer that can multitask like a champ? It would be difficult to find a match right now.

Still, the M1 Mac Mini is not like the M1 MacBook Pro or MacBook Air. You need additional peripherals for it to be functional. That’s where we come in. In this article, we are going to take a look at how you can build a functional and affordable desk setup for productivity, coding, and data science work, all with the M1 Mac Mini at the core. Let’s get started, shall we?

Which M1 Mac Mini to Get?

Let’s start with choosing the right Mac Mini to get. At $699, the base model M1 Mac Mini is more than enough for productivity and programming. You get the full-fat 8-core CPU and 8-core GPU, both of which will run apps and games without a problem. You also get the aforementioned 16-core neural engine built into the SoC.

The base model, however, only comes with 8GB of RAM. The way the M1 SoC handles RAM and swap means you will not have to worry about performance issues at all. The 256GB of integrated storage is also blazingly fast, and it works superbly well when used as swap memory.

However, you should consider getting the 16GB of RAM upgrade if you have the budget. It is a bit pricey at $200, but you are looking at better multitasking, more headroom for computational work, and that extra performance oomph that will make your life easier. What you should avoid is upgrading the internal storage when you are on a tight budget. We’ll talk about this in a bit.

Adding More Storage

Of course, 256GB of internal storage is not enough if you have a lot of data to store. Apps and games don’t usually take up a lot of space, but you can find yourself wanting more storage space once you start taking data, documents, music, and other files into consideration. Unfortunately, Apple charges a premium for their storage upgrades.

An upgrade to 512GB of SSD storage bumps the price to $899. You can get up to 2TB of SSD storage, but the upgrade – combined with 16GB of RAM – will make the M1 Mac Mini cost $1,699. We’re getting into scary territory here.

Fortunately, the M1 Mac Mini has two full-speed Thunderbolt/USB 4 ports, both of which can be used to connect external SSDs. You can pick up a 2TB SanDisk Extreme PRO V2 portable SSD, with support for USB-C 3.2 Gen 2×2, for around $300. This external SSD supports read and write speeds of up to 2,000MB/s, close to what the internal SSD offers.

You can also take advantage of the Gigabit ethernet port for adding Network Attached Storage (NAS). This is a more efficient way of adding large storage to the setup, since you can also access the storage from other devices in the network. NAS devices like the Buffalo LinkStation LS220D NAS drive are perfect for the job.

The Right Monitor

There is an endless array of monitors to choose from these days. With everyone working from home or remotely, top brands are making their desktop monitors available at great prices. There are more features to take advantage of, plus you have more options when it comes to screen resolutions and monitor sizes.

One of the best budget options on the market is the Lenovo LG UltraFine 32UN880-B. This is a 4k 32-inch monitor with USB-C support (no Thunderbolt, unfortunately) and an ergonomic stand. The only thing you are missing out on when you go for this monitor is more USB ports. LG only offers two additional USB-A ports on the monitor itself.

A 4k 32-inch monitor is also perfect for multitasking. You can attend virtual lectures for your online masters in computer science while opening course materials and taking notes, all on one screen. The HDMI 2.0 port on the M1 Mac Mini is powerful enough to drive the monitor at 4k 60fps, creating a pleasant overall experience. The wide color gamut is a huge plus too.

Mouse and Keyboard

When it comes to a mouse and keyboard for productivity, the ones to get depends highly on your personal taste and how you want to set up your desk. An Apple Magic Keyboard, combined with the Magic Trackpad and Magic Mouse, would be perfect if you just want a set of keyboard and mouse that works brilliantly.

Don’t dismiss using the Magic Trackpad alongside the Magic Mouse. The combination actually works better than you think, giving you access to both precise mouse control and the best Apple gestures. You can also switch between desktops, multitask across several windows, and get more work done faster with the combo.

Mechanical keyboards are also appealing for many data scientists. The tactile feel they give when used is unrivaled. Keyboards such as the Keychron K8 and the Ducky One 2 are perfect for those who are just getting started with mechanical keyboards. You can also look into the Keychron K1 and K3 if you are more attracted to low-profile mechanical keyboards.

Add a good headset, and you are ready to get some work done. That’s the beauty of a M1 Mac Mini setup; you don’t need much to have a very capable computer. Do some cable management and you can keep your desk clean too. This setup will continue to be reliable no matter what task you throw at it.