Mac mini vs. Mac mini: Which entry-level Mac desktop should you buy?

Mac mini: Which entry-level options should you get?

Mac buyers guide: The Mac mini is Apple's least expensive Mac computer, but that doesn't mean it's Apple's least capable

At $599, the Mac mini is the entry-level Mac computer. It's $400 less than the next least expensive system, the MacBook Air. It's also a step behind other Mac models because it hasn't yet been refreshed with the Haswell microprocessors or faster Wi-Fi that other Macs have gotten in 2013. But that low price tag and older processor don't make the Mac mini unworthy of consideration: It's still a powerful little computer that's very flexible for many different uses, from general-purpose desktop machine to media server to full fledged file server. Let's have a look at the different configurations to make sense of what Apple's offering.

Comparing Mac mini models

All Mac minis look alike: They're 7.7 inches on a side and 1.4 inches tall, and weigh about 2.7 pounds. Like other Macs, Mac minis lack an internal optical drive - one of the reasons they're so short.

All Mac minis also come equipped with the same features: Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, HDMI, a single Thunderbolt port, four USB 3 ports, audio in and audio out jacks and an SDXC card slot, all on the device's back side.

For $599, you get a system equipped with a 2.5 GHz dual-core Intel i5 processor, 4 GB RAM and a 500 GB 5400 RPM hard disk drive. Intel HD Graphics 4000 comes standard, as the Mac mini is based on Intel's "Ivy Bridge" processor hardware - not the newer "Haswell" chips that have been adopted in the MacBook Air, Retina MacBook Pro and iMac.

Apple offers two other standard configurations for the Mac mini. The first, priced at $799 replaces the dual-core i5 processor with a quad-core i7 processor clocked at 2.3 GHz. 4 GB RAM is standard. A hard drive with twice as much capacity - 1 terabyte - is also included. The second configuration, priced at $999, squeezes a second 1 TB hard drive inside, comes with OS X Mavericks Server preinstalled, and costs $999.

Because Apple hasn't refreshed the Mac mini since 2012, it's still working operating at 802.11n Wi-Fi networking speeds - the faster 802.11ac protocol, which transfers up to three times faster when used with a compatible base station like Apple's AirPort Extreme or Time Capsule, has been fitted to Macs introduced since the first Haswell systems shipped in June, 2013. The Mac mini also supports Bluetooth 4.0.

For software, Mac minis come with the standard suite of apps included on other Macs: OS X Mavericks and all the requisite general-purpose software like Mail, Safari, various and sundry apps and utilities, as well as Apple's iLife '13 suite, iPhoto, iMovie and Garageband, and iWork '13: Pages, Numbers and Keynote.

Now that we know what the price range is, let's break it down and figure out how to configure your new Mac mini in a way that makes sense.

Apple's gateway drug: Mac mini BYODKM (Bring Your Own Display, Keyboard, and Mouse)

Unlike Apple's other desktop computers, the Mac mini doesn't include its own keyboard and mouse. You're certainly welcome to buy one - Apple's own Wireless Keyboard, Magic Mouse and Magic Trackpad work wonderfully.

You'll also need to supply your own screen. Apple only makes one display: the $999 Thunderbolt Display. Hooking one of those 27-inch behemoths up to a Mac mini is a bit of overkill, but you can attach any commodity monitor to the Mac mini with good results. You just need to use the right Thunderbolt adapter to connect to DVI or VGA (Apple sells them separately). You can also use HDMI directly (also useful if you're using your Mac mini as a media server. More on that in a bit.)

Why, you may ask, doesn't Apple include a keyboard or mouse? It helps keep the cost low, for one thing. But for another, the Mac mini really is Apple's gateway drug for new Mac users. It's the ideal computer to switch from if you have a Windows PC and you don't want to make a big investment in the Mac, but want to see if it's right for you.

With the Mac mini, you simply unplug your existing keyboard, mouse and monitor, then plug them into the Mac mini and keep working. It's a nice way to recycle hardware you've already invested in. When you first turn the computer on, OS X is smart enough to know that a keyboard isn't connected, and it walks you through the process of pairing (if it's Bluetooth) then identifying the kind of keyboard so it knows how the keys work. It'll also try to pair with a Bluetooth mouse if one isn't connected via USB.

Dual-core vs. quad-core: Is the switch worth $200?

The major difference between Mac mini configurations is the processor inside. Sure, you get twice the hard drive space too, but the processor is the big deal. The $599 model presents you with a dual-core i5 processor. It's a very similar configuration to Apple's non-Retina MacBook Pro, which is also clocked at 2.5 GHz.

It's an excellent general purpose system that will suit many users' needs perfectly well. It works great for email and web browsing, productivity software like Apple's own iWork apps or, optionally, Microsoft Office, and even for light gaming that doesn't hammer a GPU too hard (some hardcore games have system requirements outside the reach of the Mac mini's integrated graphics).

The quad-core processor is actually clocked at a lower speed - 2.3 GHz - but that quad-core processor makes a big difference when it comes to applications that are designed to take advantage of it. What's more, Intel's processors support a technique called hyperthreading, which increases the mulithreading capacity of the processors.

The number of cores a processor has determine how many instructions it can run simultaneously; the more cores, the more instructions. Applications that are optimized for parallel processing take best advantage of this - file conversions, for example. Ripping movies from DVDs you own. Compressing and decompressing ZIP archives. You may even see a difference when you're running a bunch of different apps at the same time (though memory and hard disk speed may become bottlenecks there as well).

Bottom line: If you're using your Mac mini to do media conversion like movie or audio file ripping, or if you plan to use it for heavy data calculation in scientific or research work, you're definitely better off with the quad-core processor. Otherwise the dual-core processor should be enough.

Capacity vs. speed vs. price: What's the right balance for Mac mini storage?

The other difference between the $599 Mac mini and the $799 model is its storage capacity. The $799 Mac mini ships with a 1 terabyte hard drive. It's simple math: twice as much storage gives you more space for your stuff. That part is easy to figure out. That is, however, a feature that's only available on the $799 Mac mini. Apple won't let you configure a $599 Mac mini with a bigger hard disk.

If you opt for quad-core model, you're presented with additional hard drive options: For $200 you can replace the existing system with a 1 TB Fusion Drive or you can opt for a 256 GB SSD.

Solid State Drives (SSDs) are more expensive that hard drives because they are, as the name implies, solid state. They incorporate flash memory chips that store data even when the computer's turned off. SSDs are incredibly fast, but chip memory density hasn't reached the same economy of scale as hard drive data density, so you pay a lot more for a lot less space - one-quarter the amount of storage, compared with a Fusion Drive. Having said that, if maximum file transfer speed is your most important measure of performance, it may be worth considering.

The Fusion Drive is the best of both worlds. Fusion Drive combines a 128 GB flash drive with a 1 TB hard disk drive, configured as one logical volume. Frequently-accessed files stay on the flash drive, where they can be read from and, if necessary, written to without delay. Files that aren't needed as frequently are moved to the hard disk drive.

The net result is that you get the performance benefit of SSD and the storage capacity of a conventional drive. It's a very nice compromise for users who are looking for extra performance for their Mac mini.

The server configuration of the Mac mini, which I'll discuss in a bit more detail later, incorporates two 1 TB hard disk drives. The extra storage space is handy for the server; using Disk Utility included with OS X Mavericks, you can reconfigure the drives as a RAID system for improved performance or fault-tolerance.

For $200 more you can replace the 2 1 TB hard disks with a single 256 GB SSD. And for $600 you can get two 256 GB SSDs.

Upgrading through Apple vs. DIY: How much RAM should you put in?

No matter which standard configuration you choose, Apple provides 4 GB of RAM in the Mac mini. More memory will enable you to keep more apps running without paging out swap files to the disk drive, which slows things down (even a fast SSD is slower than memory).

4 GB is enough for general use for Mavericks for now, but if you're planning on keeping a few apps in memory simultaneously, or if you're planning on doing anything memory-intensive like content creation with high-resolution imagery, video editing or music composition using Digital Audio Workstation (DAW) software - even Apple's own GarageBand - you're much better off boosting memory. Having enough memory and a fast enough storage system is the difference between getting work done and sitting around waiting for your Mac to actually do something.

Apple offers memory upgrade options: 8 GB for $100 or 16 GB for $300. Apple's 8 GB upgrade is, quite frankly, higher-priced than what you can find online from Apple-friendly RAM vendors, but not unreasonably so - especially if you don't feel comfortable putting more in by yourself. For any more than that, you might be better off shopping around - I did a quick check and found 16 GB upgrade kits for the Mac mini for half of what Apple charges.

The Mac mini has easily user-accessible RAM SO-DIMM slots - you can find them underneath the rubber base, which twists and comes off. The Mac mini itself can accommodate up to 16 GB of RAM, using two 8 GB SO-DIMMs. Even if you've never installed RAM, don't worry - it's very easy. Apple even provides instructions on its web site.

More than just a desktop: OS X Server vs. media server

When Apple discontinued the rack-mounted Xserve in 2011 it looked like the company was abandoning the server market all together, but that didn't happen. Instead, the company repurposed the Mac mini as a workgroup server. The net result? They sold them by the truckload. The Mac mini works great as a server.

A Mac mini running OS X Server certainly isn't a replacement for an enterprise-class server, but it's very good for workgroups. The OS X Server license covers connections for an unlimited number of clients: a nice change of pace for Windows admins who are used to paying by the seat.

If you're running a small to medium-sized business, it's certainly possible to use a Mac mini for much of what you're doing. It can serve up web pages, wikis, files, shared calendars, contact directories and e-mail; manage standard system configurations for new users on your network, speeds up downloads from iTunes and the App Store by caching frequently-accessed content locally; it can even work as a Time Machine server, backing up Macs connected to your network.

In recent years, Apple's made it easier than ever to configure OS X Server. It's now available as a $19 download from the Mac App Store, so even if you buy a Mac mini for other uses today, you can reconfigure it down the road later as a server with relatively little effort.

Apple used to provide an app called Front Row that would activate a full-screen mode which made it easy to listen to music and watch videos on your computer. It marked one of the first times Apple acknowledged that the Mac had practical applications in the living room as media center.

Front Row hasn't been part of OS X since version 10.7 "Lion" came out in 2011, and Apple's moved a lot of that media center effort into the $99 Apple TV, which has sold very well. But the Apple TV doesn't solve everyone's media server needs, because it's very locked in to the idea of streaming content stored somewhere else.

The Apple TV is great if you've purchased music, movies and TV shows from iTunes (or if you have iTunes Match, songs you've gotten elsewhere too). There are other apps besides, though many of them are dependent on having a subscription to an additional streaming service or cable or satellite television.

Where does that leave those of us who have acquired movies, television shows and other multimedia content from other services, or have ripped movies and TV shows from DVDs we own? In short, the Apple TV doesn't really help us there.

That's where a Mac mini media server can come in really handy. The built-in HDMI connector makes the Mac mini trivially easy to connect to a flat-screen television. Connect a bluetooth keyboard, and perhaps a pointing device like a mouse or trackpad, and you have the hardware you'll need to serve up whatever content you want.

Now, you'll probably want to install an additional third-party app to add some media center-style capabilities. There are a few good ones out there, like Plex, MediaCentral, and XMBC.

Bottom line: the Mac mini isn't a one trick pony. It works terrifically as a desktop machine. But its flexibility also allows it to work very well as a workgroup server, all-around server for a small to medium sized business, or home media server.

Who shouldn't buy the Mac mini?

One thing to keep in mind: the Mac mini is still working with last year's technology. I suspect that because of its common platform similarities with the non-Retina MacBook Pro, it wasn't refreshed - just as that machine wasn't refreshed when Apple bumped Retina MacBook Pros earlier this year.

Having said that, I have little doubt that the Mac mini is due - it's only a matter of time. I laid out my rationale for why I feel that way in a recent editorial which I'd encourage you to read.

So if you're looking for some of the features and functionality that the Haswell bump brought to the Mac, like improved efficiency, some mild performance bumps and considerably better graphics performance; if you want faster 802.11ac Wi-Fi; or if you're looking for a more future-proof system, you may be better off waiting until Apple gets a new Mac mini on the market.

I'd also suggest passing on the Mac mini if you have more intense graphics needs - if you're planning on playing a lot of hardcore games; if you're planning on rendering video effects using Apple Motion or Adobe After Effects; if you're going to be working with really large graphics files or photographs - anything that's likely to hammer OpenGL and OpenCL technology - you will see improved performance from Macs with discrete graphics processors like most iMac models.

Who should buy the Mac mini?

If you're just getting your feet wet with OS X for the first time and you don't want to outlay a lot of cash for the privilege, the Mac mini is hands down the most affordable way to do it. And if you can recycle a keyboard, mouse and display from your current setup, you'll be able to do it even less expensively.

Even if you're an experienced Mac user, you may find that the Mac mini's small size, MacBook Pro-like system specifications and all-around capabilities suit your needs better than other more expensive systems.

If you need a bit of extra processing oomph for code crunching, database work, or other operations that can benefit from more cores and hyperthreading, consider the upgraded Mac mini with the quad-core processor.

If you're an SMB business owner looking for an inexpensive way to manage file service, system maintenance and other key functions in house, or even a corporate IT pro looking to provide key workgroup server functionality, the Mac mini is a very inexpensive way to do it - especially when you factor in the cost of user licensing in other non-Mac server setups.

The Mac mini is an eminently capable little computer whose size belies its power and flexibility. If you've never gotten your hands on one, I encourage you to stop by an Apple Store or a Mac retailer and check it out - you might be pleasantly surprised.

Still undecided?

I've given you a lot to chew on here but if you're still having trouble making up your mind about which Mac mini to buy, you might want to stop by our Mac mini discussion forum and take part in our terrific online community. You're also welcome to post questions and comments here.

Peter Cohen

Managing Editor of iMore, Mac and gaming specialist and all-around technologist. Follow him on Twitter @flargh

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There are 54 comments. Add yours.

RogueLabTech says:

Excellent article, Peter! I have a friend contemplating replacing his iMac soon, and I am trying to persuade him to switch to a Mac mini since he likes to upgrade often. I feel that he would be better off investing in excellent dual monitors (especially two T-bolt Apple Cinema Displays), and upgrading the Mac mini every few years. This approach has served me well since doing so myself, and I think the Mac mini is now more than capable for his PHP dev work. Your article may be enough to tip him.

Ludatyk says:

I agree with having a Mac Mini, I've been through a MacBook Pro & iMac and decided on the Mac Mini w/ dual displays.

I went with the quad core model, upgrading the HD to SSD and the ram to 8GB (might go up to a 12GB soon). It boots up fast, handles video editing perfectly for me. I plan on keeping the set up with Mac Mini's until Apple gives up on it. I use my iPad Air as a laptop replacement.. I find my set up simple and sweet for me.

RogueLabTech says:

"I use my iPad Air as a laptop replacement.. I find my set up simple and sweet for me."

LOL! Similar story here. My gen 1 iPad mini replaced a gen 1 iPad, and I use it with my Logitech K760 when on the go instead of my ancient MacBook Pro. However, I think iPad mini is too small for real work on the go and will likely opt for a iPad Air like you next year unless the rumored 13" iPad debuts. I think I will invest in a dedicated keyboard case at that time, perhaps a Zagg.

Ludatyk says:

I thought investing in a Bluetooth keyboard for the Mac Mini & iPad Air, but I enjoy having that Numeric Pad for the wired Apple Keyboard.

As of now, I don't have a keyboard for the iPad Air... I try to use Siri as much as I can and dictation as well. But yeah, the iPad Air is great buy... You'll definitely enjoy it, I have the cellular device I picked up from Craigslist :-)

Peter Cohen says:

If he has any questions, please tell him to stop by here or the forums.

RogueLabTech says:

Thanks, Peter! Will do.

BTW, he is an AMB fan, and I now have started to get him to listen to the iMore podcast. He listens to AMB when he travels and says he gets some strange looks from flight mates when you guys have him cracking up.

Peter Cohen says:

I'm really glad to hear it - I'll pass the message on to John, Darby and Kelly.

zenwave says:

Peter, is the audio out *optical*? My aging 2007 black MacBook has optical audio out which goes to my Harman Kardon receiver - would love to replace it, but optical audio out is a must have.

Thanks!

Peter Cohen says:

zenwave: The Mac mini has digital audio output and input. It's a 3.5mm headphone jack, so you'll need a TOSlink to mini adapter if you don't already have one, but it should work fine.

zdn1042 says:

Great write up! I'm learning more and more about Macs thanks to iMore! Definitely considering switching to Mac Mini or even an iMac from a Windows PC for my next upgrade. The only thing that's holding me back to completely switch over is that some of the games I'd want to play aren't available for Macs.

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Ludatyk says:

I understand the games issue on the Mac, but you can always use Bootcamp.. Which I'm sure you are probably aware of.

I use VM Ware Fusion to boot into Windows 8.1, I don't play games... I mainly use it for Office. But I tried bootcamp before, it's quite useful. I prefer using Mavericks along with Fusion, and with full screen apps.. It's crazy cool how it all works.

zdn1042 says:

Yes, I have heard that there is a method of running Windows on a Mac, although I haven't had the chance to really research and dig into it. I think I might just do that with my free time this coming holiday. Thanks.

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Peter Cohen says:

Yep, that's exactly what keeps many users from switching to the Mac. Things are better than they use to be, what with Steam for the Mac and the rise of game download services and the Mac App Store, but I don't think the Mac will ever achieve parity with the PC in terms of games.

Having said that, there's been a big shift in the marketplace too. More people are going to their mobile devices as their primary gaming system. Fewer PCs are being sold in general (though the Mac's sales slowdown hasn't been as pronounced as the PC's sales slowdown, at least not yet).

zdn1042 says:

I don't play games as much as I used to. Maybe getting older does that to you. Or maybe as you mentioned I'm one of those who are leaning more on mobile devices to satisfy their gaming needs. But there are still some PC titles that is a must for me to get my hands on. For that, I'll try to do some more reading about the Bootcamp that was mentioned on one of the posts above and maybe that'll be way for me to get the best of two worlds.

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Peter Cohen says:

We'll definitely do a feature down the road on Windows gaming on the Mac, so stay tuned!

zdn1042 says:

Sweet! Looking forward to reading it.

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Qasim Jibran says:

you should get an intel nuc put ubuntu linux on top of it (os x BORROWED many features from ubuntu linux) you will have a madtastic experience and besides by using wine you could run windows games on linux and the best part about ubuntu is you get official updates for the best price FREE

RobertsDP says:

I just bought one on cyber Monday from Bestbuy! (On sale for 540 and $50 in BB gift cards) I got the base, but I plan to upgrade the ram to 16gb... I'm sure it would be sufficient enough for me. Great write up!

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Matt Large says:

I got a Mac Mini as a temporary replacement when my iMac died. I only got the base 4GB of RAM and have 2 Cinema Displays connected. Because the embedded graphics share RAM with the rest of the system, the 2 high res displays do seem to force it to grab a lot of RAM, meaning the rest of the system only has about 3GB to use. This is too constrained, so I would recommend 8GB minimum on the Mac Mini.

sunhou says:

Just out of curiosity, how are you attaching the 2 cinema displays? Chaining them both off of the single Thunderbolt port on the Mac Mini? (I haven't yet bought an ACD so have no experience with them. I've been thinking of getting one -- but also waiting to see if they update it in some way.)

Matt Large says:

Actually I have 2 of the old DVI based Cinema Displays. So for one I have a DisplayPort to DVI adaptor and for the other one I use the HDMI to DVI adaptor that came with the Mac Mini.

johncblandii says:

You guys have the uncanny ability to publish articles right when I need them. Perfect timing!

Peter Cohen says:

We're happy to be of service.

applelex says:

I'm really not that keen on macs but I know a fair amount about them to know what I would need for what I would be doing on it. I would go with Mac mini without OS X server but I would upgrade to the quad-core i7 processor 2.3 ghz because in a few years I could see i5 fading off of apples line up just like i3 faded away in general, although it's more than enough to operate and do what you want with Mac you want to look at least 5 years into the future because the average person doesn't upgrade their Mac that frequently including myself. I would also upgrade to 8gb of ram because I would mainly be video editing for YouTube and multi-tasking would be a breeze with that much ram. So that's what I'd go with but due to iMore asking options about Mac I find myself learning more and also looking forward to owning a Mac one day. Thank and great review.

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Jay Mobile says:

I actually got rid of my MacBook Pro late 2011 model and instead got a Mac mini late 2012 model and still had cash left over to do other things. While the quad core i7 version sounds nice lets not forget that the dual core i5 version also has turbo boost making it just as capable as the higher end model. I took out the 8gbs of ram that I had in my MBP before I returned it and the 1tb 2.5 sata hdd that I installed and put both in my Mac mini. The fact that the internals are so similar to the MacBook line makes swapping parts a breeze. Not to mention that the mini has space for a second hdd (that can be installed without removing the logic-board but I digress) or ssd hdd combo however you want to do it.

Another thing I love about the mini is its size that allows for easy travel. I have traveled with mine many a times and love that while my iPad is my laptop my mini is a pseudo laptop in ways some ways also. It is far more sturdier than the MPB that while built for travel is not as durable when it comes to all that moving around. As far as its editing capabilities are concerned I have yet to have a problem while using FCP X, iMovie, or anything in Adobe Master Suite CS 6. Mac Mini ftw!!!!!

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skye1212 says:

I've pretty much decided to pull the trigger on a new Mini
once the new models come out. If it EVER happens...

The Reptile says:

Peter, nice piece, but you left out one thing - they're insanely durable machines. I purchased my wife, who is a casual computer user, a Mac mini 8 years ago. It was still a Power PC unit running OSX 10.4. It's still going strong after all of this time. For the money, you'll be getting a computer that is going to last a while - well after Apple's support of it ends.

czhDavid says:

If you are going for MAC OS desktop.... well go for hackintosh or iMAC.

snookasnoo says:

You don't give a reason for your statement. i guess we are supposed to just take your word for it.
Very few people would want to deal with a Hackintosh.
I wouldn't buy a Mini right now since they are due for an upgrade.
Nothing wrong with a Mini though and I would buy the lowest end, stuff it full of ram, and add an SSD.

claustin says:

One reason to pull the trigger on a mini now is that RAM (and to a lesser extent the HD) is user serviceable. With Apple's current trend towards non user serviceable internals it wouldn't surprise me if they went the same route on the mini. A redesign would explain why it hasn't been updated yet. Unless you have to have the modest processor upgrade and graphics, the current model is quite adequate with usb 3.0 (my biggest gripe on my 2011 mini) and thunderbolt.

Apple's move towards forcing you to buy RAM and hard drives from them with no option to replace or upgrade later is why I AM building another hackintosh. Depending on how long my new Macbook Pro and my wife's new Macbook Air last, this may be my last actual purchase of an Apple computer.

ShameerMulji says:

"A redesign would explain why it hasn't been updated yet."

Or they might stop producing it altogether, although I hope that doesn't happen.

"Unless you have to have the modest processor upgrade and graphics, the current model is quite adequate with usb 3.0 (my biggest gripe on my 2011 mini) and thunderbolt."

Question I have is, how adequate is the Intel 4000 GPU in terms of providing a good user experience when running OSX Mavericks? That's my biggest concern.

claustin says:

My 2011 mini runs Mavericks just fine. I'm not worried about the 4000 at all.

claustin says:

Ha it's funny you posted this article today. I literally just hit the purchase button on a new mac mini from Apple, and then came here. What I'm getting is replacing a 2011 mini that will get handed down to my mom, who is currently using an old Core (no 2) Duo mini.

I bought the quad core model with the beefier processor option but just the 4GB of RAM and the 1TB HD. I'll be upgrading the RAM myself to 16GB and then rolling my own fusion drive with whatever SSD size I decide on. $300 for 16GB of RAM is ridiculous when you can get it for literally half that price. Same goes for the $200 fusion drive, when essentially all you're getting is a 128GB SSD that can be had for far less along with ifixit's dual HD kit for the mini (if you're up to doing that sort of thing yourself, which I did with my current mini). I went with the beefier CPU to kind of future proof it a bit. I'm going to get OS X server and use it as an email server for my small business and want it to last at least 5 years.

Shinydesert says:

Hi everyone.

I bought a brand new Mac Mini i7-2.3, 4gb RAM last Wednesday, before I purchased it I ordered another 8gb of ram just to save some money, since Apple charges another $100+taxes for a two minute process. So far I am happy with the device, but I have to say Mavericks uses way more ram than Mountain Lion regardless of Apple's claims regarding their new memory features. Before installing the new memory Mavericks was already using a little bit over 3gb of ram, just with iTunes and Safari open, needless to say that when I open other apps the computer was very sluggish and laggy.
It got way better after adding the new ram, I also installed Mountain Lion and it runs even better,it does not use as much memory.

Whatever they did should be improving the system instead.

PS tha 8gb of ram cost me $60 on ebay, same brand and model. Good price if you ask me.

Becjr says:

Could you daisy-chain several minis together to create an effective render farm?

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nite732 says:

I've had my mini attached to my 55 inch since 09. I use it for media and pc functions. The trackpad and Bluetooth keyboard work good from the couch and with the hdmi the surround sound is good. With the old mini's it was just a basic audio out and the sound was no good. I play a few games call of duty ect but the graphics are far behind but works for me. Mac are nowhere near gaming as it is on windows.

zenwave says:

The one thing I can't suss out from Apple's Tech Specs is whether the audio out is *optical* - that's a requirement for me.

Anyone know? Thanks

asuperstarr says:

Great article you provide a good breakdown of the models.

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Lance Collins says:

I am holding out for a Haswell Mac Mini. I hope it exists in the pipe line!

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ghost07 says:

Has anyone used Lightroom on an iMac vs a Mac Mini. They only reason why I haven't pulled the trigger on purchasing the mini yet is I am wondering if Lightroom will be cause the mini to strain as opposed to the iMac. Thanks!

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Peter Cohen says:

Lightroom and Aperture can get very memory-constrained, so if you do that my advice is to beef it up with at least 8, or preferably 16 GB of RAM.

abazigal says:

I agree with the article. The rational part of me says that the mac mini is a glorifed net-top (e.g.: a laptop without the screen). Come on...a desktop sporting integrated graphics? Only Apple can not only get away with it, but make it look good and desirable while at it.

The Apple Fanboy in me is screaming that this is such a compact and sleek form factor. I can connect it to 2 23" displays and tuck it right under the monitor screens. It sits there quietly and inconspicuously. I was actually contemplating between this and the 27" iMac back in 2011, and the iMac won out because I wanted decent specs for gaming in bootcamp.

That said, my question is why get one over a macbook air? They have about the same specs, and I too can hook up my laptop to an external display (and I still have a laptop when I am on the move).

Peter Cohen says:

They don't have anything close to the same specs. The processor is almost twice the clock speed. The Mac mini also has easily user serviceable RAM and gobs more storage. What's more, it's 60 percent the cost.

Trubador says:

Been patiently waiting for the release of the Haswell MacMini. As soon as it comes out I'll be getting one to replace my fading PowerPC iMac. Depending on cost, I'll either get the Fusion drive or stick with the regular HD. Will get the base 4gb RAM, then bump it to the max on my own. Dual or Quad core (if those are still the options) I'm not certain yet.

Come on, Apple. I have $ burning thru my wallet. LOL

skoenig says:

Here's what did with a i5 4GB Mac Mini, I bought:

Put em all together and sold the RAM it came with for $30 on eBay....

I boot off the SSD and keep the other drive as storage. Both fit just fine in the case as it's the same case as the server edition. Installations is a bit tricky but there's some great video on the net. Watch out for the IR connector.... I busted mine but I'm not shedding any tears.

All in it makes for a very snappy desktop thats not too loud and very very compact.

I decided the i5 would be sufficient because I'd read somewhere sensible that the i7 variants will never reach their full potential due to lack of good enough heat dissipation... I'm mean it's fine normally but assuming you're doing something computationally intensive or graphically intensive the extra heat generated by the i7 needs to be removed. I know the entire case of the mac mini is effectively the heat sink but it concerned me that the i7 would simply throttle power/cycles to stay within it's TDP - they don't crash these day they simply don't stay in turbo or being shedding clock cycles... thus obviating the benefit of the i7...

I've read similar discussion on the Haswell MBA's i7 and it's GPU in that it simply can't stay at full speed for long before the thermal throttle kicks in... it's part of the trade off you need to make when it comes to small, dense equipment...

Anyway hope the list above helps people.

cardfan says:

Links don't seem to work. Good post though.

Zepster says:

Thanks. I appreciate the matter-of-fact style of your reviews.

cmcduffie69 says:

Due to budgetary constraints (for real!), I would probably have to go for the entry level model, as price point is definitely an issue for me. I have used one before and although I have to bring my own peripherals, I liked it. Perhaps my favorite feature is its footprint.

rayz336 says:

Excellent article, very good breakdown of the Mac mini

Alexandru Trelea says:

I thought about buying a Mac Mini and use it for Home Media Server, but at the moment the Mac Mini have a big problem it can not output DTS-HD sound( only DTS), it can not play Blue Ray discs( you have to buy an external drive), and there is no software to play Blue Ray images!!, You can play mkv or others with XBMC. I have to tell you that I'm a new Mac user just got a MacBook Air but this is what I found out from different forums.

barry collins says:

I have just bought a macmini and it connects to my existing pc keyboard okay, but my screen shows nothing... I have connected it to the macmini with a male/female vga/apple connector. Do I need something else?

Domingo Mojica says:

I bought a Mac mini with the i7 2.3 ghz, 1tb HHD & 4gb ram from Apple stock in March'14. Then upgraded the 16gb ram after I got home. The thing was way too slow.

After a couple of weeks, installed a 120gb SSD from OWC. It improved it a little bit, the major bottleneck was still the 5400rpm HHD.

Finally, just gave up and ordered an i7 2.6 ghz, installed myself two 512gb SSD setup as RAID 0, & 16gb ram and it's smoking FAST. I do allot of AutoCAD and CAM work, on the side, booting up into Win7. This setup just blows any of my other Win7 boxes. Now, I get the best of both worlds. Been selling off the rest of the hardware.

Fusion is a mistake, until the SSD is at least 256 or 512gb in size and the HDD should be 7,200 rpm. The waiting was a killer. I want the fastest system possible for my side job, that way I spend the least amount of time in front of the system after I get home from a business trip.