Apple Mac Mini M1 10GbE Performance
Folks have discussed the performance of the Apple Mac Mini’s M1 SoC at length. What has been less well documented is the performance of the 10GbE NIC since this just started shipping. As we can see, we have an “Apple AQC113” which is a Marvell-Aquantia AQction, based NIC.
Something several folks have noted is that the “Link Width” is stated as x1. Often in MacOS, this is tied to the PCIe link width, especially given the Bus is listed as PCI. With a PCIe Gen3 x1 link, we would not have enough bandwidth to handle 10GbE speeds. We fired up iperf3 with -P 4 to push enough traffic, and we got between 9.4-9.5Gbps.
We normally get just below the rated speeds. We are also above PCIe Gen3 x1 speeds so it seems like, if this is indeed a PCIe x1 device, it is a PCIe Gen4 device. The current public Marvell AQction line with the AQC107, for example, is a PCIe Gen3 x4 offering. We could not find information on this part, but it may be a PCIe Gen4 x1 part based on what we are seeing in MacOS.
We also wanted to note that we validated 2.5GbE and 5GbE operations on this NIC. Apple states that there is support, but we did validate the NIC operated at those lower speeds as well. We are going to quickly note that the power impact we could not swap NICs for to get a true apples-to-apples comparison, but it seems to be in the single-digit watts range for the 10GbE part so a relatively small impact.
Perhaps the biggest challenge with the M1 Mac Mini is the lack of upgradability (or easy upgradability.) The RAM is soldered, the SSD is soldered, and we do not get a standard PCIe expansion slot. Adding the 10GbE option is about $100. This is about the same cost as getting a lower-end single port Aquantia-based PCIe NIC which makes it a relatively reasonable upgrade in Apple terms.
Memory in the M1 Mac Mini is soldered. As a result, it is not upgradeable as we see in TinyMiniMicro nodes. We have 16GB M1 Mac Minis and MacBook Pros and two 8GB Mac Mini versions. We strongly suggest that if you want to use this as more than an Apple silicon test vehicle that you pay the steep premium of $200/ 8GB for 16GB of memory. Just for comparison, we buy 32GB SODIMMs for around $150 for Project TinyMiniMicro nodes and often put 32GB or 64GB in those ~1L PCs.
The storage side is highly impacted by the 10GbE networking. With the faster network access, one is more likely to be able to just have MacOS and applications on the internal SSD. An external USB 3 SSD can be used for local SSD capacity. 10GbE can be used for mass storage over the network. We just reviewed an Inland Premium 1TB NVMe SSD that was $118 for 1TB. The $200 for 256GB of storage or $400 for an incremental 768GB can be saved by using 10GbE and USB SSDs. Unlike on the MacBook Pro, the Mini is not designed to be portable so this makes more sense.
For our readers, we suggest getting the 10GbE option before the SSD upgrade unless there is a specific requirement not to.
Overall, of our four Mac Mini M1’s, this is now the favorite solution. Having 10GbE really helps add to the value of this solution by unlocking NAS options without needing a 10GbE adapter.
Something we will note is that we really wish Apple would have gone with 2.5GbE as the base networking option for the M1 Mac Mini. It is time to offer that upgrade and the incremental pricing is not much. Apple could have been ahead of the Windows 1L PCs in this class, but now we are starting to see options on the HP EliteDesk 800 G6 Mini as an example and the Intel NUC 11 Pro have 2.5GbE and a similar port configuration as standard (while being upgradeable.) For our readers who are looking at the M1 Mac Mini as a development vehicle, or to use as a Mac/ Arm PC, get this 10GbE option.