The M-series Macs may not be the grand design as claimed

The M1 Mac mini has been pretty much a breakthrough hit for Apple. This was the transition machine Apple really needed to kickstart the jump away from Intel and into the future using Apple’s own custom silicon. Past similar transitions could only dream about how smooth this one has been. In case you don’t know what I’m talking about, the isn’t Apple’s first rodeo when it comes to massive processor or OS leaps. 

The Motorola 68K to PowerPC, PowerPC to Intel, or classic MacOS to OS X were tremendous in scope and very difficult and sometimes took multiple years to pull off completely. Many users would leave the platform rather than wait for all the bugs to be ironed out and some lingering effects of parts of it can still be felt this very day.

However the jump from Intel to the M1, considering that it’s not just going from one processor to another, but from a completely different environment to another and without TOO many issues has been nearly flawless. So what does that have to do with the issue I’m going to discuss? That when it goes bad on an individual basis, it can be crushing to the person experiencing it…in this case, me.

Both Gaz and I have have sung the praises of Apple’s M1 Mac mini to the heavens and rightfully so. SO much power in such a small computer that neither of us were tempted in the slightest when the M2 Mac minis were announced to jump to them. No need, since our current Macs were just that good…until.

An early February Saturday morning was spent watching my Mac mini crash time and again with a big scroll of a crash report on reboot to send to Apple. Finally it just wouldn’t finish a reboot and the front status light blinked orange in a sad way. I tried to netboot…no joy. I tried to safe boot…no joy. I even connected to my MacBook Pro (also an M1) and used Apple’s Configurator program to see if rewriting the Mac’s firmware might help…no joy. So in a last desperate attempt to avoid going out to the Apple Store (the reasons why is forthcoming), I tried using Configurator to just wipe the drive so I could reinstall the OS and it gave up saying it couldn’t do it.

So I bit the bullet, made my appointment, and drove to the Apple Store, my sick little M1 mini looking forlorn in a plastic shopping bag. I arrived and sat at the Genuis Bar and they took all of 5 minutes to determine that it was a logic board failure. Since that’s nearly everything there is inside a Mac mini, it doesn’t exactly take an Einstein to make that determination and I watched as my mini disappeared into the back room waiting for a 16GB/1TB motherboard to arrive from Cupertino because something as basic as a FREAKING HARD DRIVE SIZE is too much choice for users and techs to have. So I made my way home to face the second part of this trifecta of fun I had that weekend. Using my M1 Macbook Pro (which is even faster than the mini) to power all the stuff on my desktop.

It was late in the day when I started and I didn’t get very far before feeling exhausted so I gave up for the night and figured I would finish the next day. When I did start, it began easy enough. Identify all the cables to all the peripherals I needed and make a determination over what pieces to connect (both 27-inch monitors, card reader for work, MOTU M4 and Behringer UV1 audio interfaces) and which ones to not bother with like my 4-bay drive enclosure mostly used for back ups, a USB microphone I’m testing, and a minicab used for direct back up and Time Machine for the mini. They weren’t needed since I wasn’t going to wipe the MacBook Pro, just use it until I got the mini back online. Fortunately I have enough USB-C and Thunderbolt Hubs (OWC our thanks go to thee) to make all this work. The displays were easy, Audio interfaces plugged in no problem though I needed to download drivers from MOTU which I had forgotten about since I bought it.

So within some number of hours everything was back up and the basics were working. It was taking longer than it should have because I was feeling so tired and taking little rests throughout the day. Next was reconfiguring Rogue Amoeba’s Audio Hijack, Loopback, and Farrago since none of them had anything like the setups I used at home. Worse, had to do it from scratch from memory because I didn’t have any of the backups connected from the mini on purpose because I didn’t want to accidentally screw those up. 

With that, everything was done, everything was working and I could FINALLY relax and enjoy the couple of hours left until the Super Bowl started…except.

Second comes the sick part (part two)

I received a phone call from a colleague from work on Superbowl Sunday with some bad news. Not just for him, but for me. He had tested positive for COVID as had one of the other people we bowl with on Wednesday nights and he said I should get tested right away. Now I’ve gone through the entire pandemic with nothing more to protect me than two vaccines and one booster and had spent a lot of that time not isolated because I was the only person in our office consistently going into work. Since I was the only one within a reasonable driving distance that’s I did. For nearly two years. I went grocery shopping. I managed a trip to Florida to see family down there and to celebrate a former teacher’s 90th birthday. I went to the nearly all the virtual Macstocks in Woodstock, Illinois. All these things without a sniffle and I was finally brought down by…League Bowling.

So not only did I have to configure the laptop for audio, now I had to also make sure it could be used to log into work. Sigh, download Citrix Workspace and work extension and make sure my browsers were configured properly for that all while setting up the area around the mancave as a personal quarantine space for my new solitary life waiting for two negative tests. As it turned out, configuring for working remotely was much easier to do than configuring for recording audio.

I recorded two podcasts during this period and neither sounded great. Karl in week 1 and Gaz in week 2 sounded good but I was overblown and no amount of post editing will fix that. While I’m never really satisfied with my audio (constantly changing microphones and audio interfaces is not the best move but I can’t help it!), most weeks it’s passable. Not so with the Macbook pro setup. I’m sure given time to experiment it would eventually be better, but fortunately I finally got the Mac mini back. I had to enlist the help of my son Peter to get it for me as I was still non-symptomatic COVID positive, but it worked out in the end. Everything back together and working as expected.

So what’s there to be upset about? Apple’s transition to the M-series is going smoothly. They’re some of the fastest Macs, especially at the lower end, that Apple’s ever made, and they fixed mine in less than a week after dropping it off. It’s mostly just a vague feeling I get knowing that if something goes wrong with my Mac there’s very little I can do to fix it short of throwing it to Apple to solve the problem. This is a very bitter pill to swallow for me. I’m used to do doing nearly everything on my own in keeping the various computers working in this house and now that control is gone, likely forever.

So what’s the trade off? In a nutshell, faster and faster Macs than we’ve ever seen before, with video rendering and audio editing times that would make previous generation Mac Pros squeal in protest. Just pray nothing goes wrong with yours and keep meticulous backups.

One thought on “The M-series Macs may not be the grand design as claimed

  1. It should be noted that you also cannot fix your TV, iPhone, headphones, microphone, and probably not much on your car, either. Technology is evolving past the point where the average human can actually repair anything, and a SOC Mac is just the latest.

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