I’ve been using the 2020 (really 2018) Mac mini for my normal workloads and running some stress tests on it to determine how silent it truly is. Let’s see if the tiny yet attractive Mac has a place on the desk of someone who cares about computing noise.
My Mac mini
As I wrote about previously, the Mac mini I purchased in 2020 is really the 2018 version, so these findings should apply to both. I also got the base model with an Intel Core i3 quad-core processor, 8GB of memory, and 256GB of storage.
Between the models, it is only the various CPU offerings that result in thermal, and thus noise, differences. I went with the i3 since the i5 and i7 6-core processors could reach higher temperatures due to their increased power consumption, making them more likely to spin up the fan speeds as well.
I first tested a basic workload, which consists of my normal everyday tasks that shouldn’t stress the computer much, such as browsing the internet, watching videos, listening to music, viewing photos, and reading documents.
To simulate an advanced workload that stresses the processor, I then ran these terminal commands to load all the CPU cores for about 30 minutes.
While evaluating the Mac mini, I had it placed directly under the monitor and just in front (away from myself) of the keyboard. This is pretty much the closest reasonable location that you might use it from.
So how (silently) did the Mac mini perform?
I used Macs Fan Control to monitor the speed of the fans during operation. The minimum fan speed of the Mac mini is 1700 rpm, and can go up to 4400 rpm.
As expected, the Mac mini was nearly silent during the basic workload tasks, and I had to pull my head close to hear the very quiet fan operating. The fan generally stayed close to minimum fan speeds, and at no point did it spin up to high speeds and become noisy. I would have no problems using the Mac mini for everyday tasks and considering it a silent computer.
When the Mac mini was stressed with the advanced workload test, the fans quickly ramped up to about 2200-2300 rpm with the CPU temps at around 90 degrees Celsius. The fan was audible at this point, with a soft whirling noise in a quiet room. I would not call it particularly loud, but also not silent.
As the minutes passed, the fan gradually sped up even more, reaching 2500 rpm after about 5-10 minutes. However, the noise wasn’t all that different from 2300 rpm. Later, I tried to set the fan speed to the maximum 4400 rpm using Macs Fan Control, and it was definitely loud enough to not be something you want to sit next to all the time. However, fan speeds less than 3000 are generally bearable for short bursts of intense workloads.
More importantly, the fans didn’t go any higher than about 2600 rpm by the end of the test, nor did CPU temps rise much more. If I had the i5 or i7 six-core models, these figures would likely be higher, with CPU temperatures approaching 100 degrees Celsius.
So is the 2020/2018 Mac mini silent? No.
However, the 2018 Mac mini is a small and silent computing machine for everyday tasks while being quiet enough even under load for the times you need the power. Quiet enough, that is, for me to consider using it as my main computer… if I wanted to primarily use macOS that is.