Imagining a new Mac mini: What would you like to see?
The Mac mini is overdue for a major refresh. It's been well more than a year, and it's been several years since the Mac mini had any significant work done to it. That's got me thinking about what Apple could do it and probably should do to it, but I also want to hear from you - how would you like to see the Mac mini evolve?
Where we are today: Two year old circuitry, four year old design
Apple's least expensive desktop computer and the 13-inch standard MacBook Pro that it shares many common components with weren't touched along with the rest of the Mac product line in 2013. While every Mac except the Mac Pro (which uses workstation-quality parts instead) has switched over the Intel's more power-efficient Haswell processor, the Mac mini (and its MacBook Pro cousin) lags behind, using a 2012-era Intel Ivy Bridge processor instead.
In 2011 Apple removed the optical drive from the Mac mini and shortened it about a half an inch. The Mac mini's footprint is a bit larger than it used to be, but it's fundamentally the same square box it's been since the Mac mini debuted nine years ago.
On the backside is a Gigabit Ethernet port, handy for connecting to high-speed wired networks, FireWire 800, HDMI, Thunderbolt, four USB 3.0 ports and an SDXC card slot. It's remarkably well-equipped for expansion for such a tiny machine - you can even pop the bottom cover off with a twist of the wrist to upgrade the RAM.
The Mac mini's $599 standard configuration comprises a 2.5 GHz processor, 4 GB RAM and a 500 GB hard drive. There's a higher-tier $799 model available with a quad-core processor; you can also pimp it out with dual internal hard drives in a server model. Apple's Fusion drive - a modest flash drive paired with a hard drive - gives you better storage performance, and you can also go entirely flash-based, though you'll sacrifice capacity and it'll cost you more.
Imagining the next Mac mini
It's fun to think that Apple may be headed in the same direction with the Mac mini as it took for the Mac Pro - building a tiny desktop turbine designed from the motherboard board up for parallel processing. Maybe make it black and round in the process too - a hockey puck to accompany the high-end trash can.
But that's not going to happen. The Mac mini's strength is that it's Apple's most affordable machine. It costs almost half the price of a MacBook Air, which means that Apple has to make some compromises along the way.
The next big jump for Intel chips isn't expected until later this year, and I anticipate that Apple will push out a new Mac mini before then, so I'm assuming the next Mac mini will have a Haswell chip inside. If past is prologue, the Mac mini's performance will probably be pretty consistent with the low-end 13-inch MacBook Pro.
Presuming that Apple shifts the Mac mini to Retina MacBook Pro territory, it'd be reasonable to expect a 2.4 GHz processor - slower clock speed than the current model, but more efficient, with faster graphics to boot.
The Mac mini can't go flash-only for storage, at least not right now: it'd send the cost of the Mac mini upwards, and the mini is still popular as a server for workgroups and small businesses. But it's entirely reasonable to expect the next Mac mini to include PCI Express-based flash storage, which will dramatically improve the performance of both Fusion Drive-equipped Mac minis and Mac minis that go flash-only. The system would need to retain a Serial ATA (SATA) hard drive interface too, to accomodate old-fashioned spinning drives.
Along the way, Apple will bring the Mac mini in line with other Macs, adding 802.11ac Wi-Fi networking, which can be up to three times faster than the 802.11n Wi-Fi in current models.
On the backplane, the only major change I see is the disappearance of Firewire 800. That interface is doomed for the dustbin. You can attach a FireWire drive if you need to using Thunderbolt, which Apple would surely like to see more people using. That'll free up a bit of space, so don't be surprised to see the Mac mini gain a second Thunderbolt port. And if Apple borrows from the same parts bin as the Retina MacBook Pro, don't be surprised to see Thunderbolt 2 on the next Mac mini.
So I don't see the actual shape of the Mac mini changing dramatically, nor do I see its feature set changing radically. Form tends to follow function with Apple devices, and the Mac mini's particular strengths require a certain amount of space inside to accomodate the hardware that it needs to work. And let's face it - Apple's largest desktop machine went a decade between major redesigns. The Mac Pro's chassis first saw life as the Power Mac G5, before Apple even transitioned to Intel hardware.
The Mac mini serves different functions: it's a great first Mac. It's economical and environmentally conscious, enabling you to reuse existing monitors, mice and keyboards. It's a fully equipped Mac, just with a lower cost and a smaller footprint than other models. To that end, Apple doesn't have to do a lot to keep it modern and relevant. But it is starting to lag behind other Macs in both feature and performance, which makes it a target for some tweaking to bring it in line with current models.
That's enough bloviation from me. I'm interested in hearing from you - what do you think the next Mac mini will look like, and more importantly, what do you think will be inside? Please sound off in the comments. And for more Mac mini talk, make sure to visit our Mac mini forum.
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- 32GB RAM (the iMacs have had it for a while)
- HDMI 1.4 for 4K support I agree that the Firewire 800 port can be removed, this is the only product other than the non-retina 13" MacBook Pro that still has it. I also agree that it's not necessary to update the design of the machine. In my dream world it would be easier to disassemble and replace the built-in drives (I had a heck of a time putting an SSD in my mini), but that's clearly not a direction Apple's interested in going. 802.11ac would be nice, but it's not really an issue for me since I connect non-portable computers with ethernet.
- it’ll save packaging
- it’ll save desk space. I have 2 old 24” Dell monitors from my pc days, I’d love to simply attach the Mac nano to the back of the monitor and have zero footprint computer
- option in the tv room as cool multimedia pc
- Mac Mini Colo becomes Mac Nano Colo and puts a thousand computers in your pocket
- traveling with your Mac becomes very easy
- when enraged, you could throw it a long way
That's right! A flattened doughnut of awesomeness! Sent from the iMore App
- discrete graphics card - if they can fit one into the iMac, they can fit one into the Mac Mini. I don't play nearly as many games as I used to in my younger days, but I still want to play a few games here and there.
- SSD as standard - even if it's just a 128GB drive, I'm fine with that. I can attach an external USB hard drive if I need more space
- stick with the trend of Mac laptop pricing and knock off $100 off the base price of the previous model. If they can do that, I might just buy one. Heck, I might not even need the discrete GPU if the newest Intel integrated version can play my favorite Blizzard games well enough. Also, it's small enough. Just how tiny do you really need your desktop to be?
That's all I want.
Can you imagine something that thick on you table ? it would be just gorgeous
The mini is on a two year refresh cadence dictated by how often Intel makes significant improvements to their integrated graphics. Year over year CPU speed improvements are pretty pathetic these days, so it's pointless to refresh it annually.
I don't see any reason or incentive Apple would have to redesign it. As such, I think it will get a CPU upgrade from Ivy Bridge to Broadwell. I hope and expect it will include the highest performance integrated graphics Intel can deliver in 2014.
The changes to Thunderbolt 2, PCIe storage and WiFi are quite likely as you anticipate.
In addition HDDs will see a bump to 7200 rpm, HDMI will go to 1.4, and the pre-installed Mavericks' memory compression tech will leave base & maximum RAM unchanged.
iCore7/Xenon (Desktop), 4K Graphic Card
SSD - Only, Modern HDMI/Thunderbolt
No Apple logo on top please
Keep it under 2000 Euro
2) New Mac mini in same form factor BUT in BLACK to match the Pro, Apple TV, and most home theatres
3) All SSD, all the time. I own three Mac minis, and a MacBook Pro and I haven't bought a spinning hard drive device in years.
4) I'd love a built-in battery, for a mini Uninterruptible Power Supply. I use Mac minis as servers.
Connect two, identical Mini's together via thunderbolt. One is the server, the other is in a kind of target disk mode, mirroring the drive of the server. When the server freezes or dies, the other boots automatically, picking up the necessary IP/DNS/MAC address configuration to continue where the other left off without dropping services or losing software license registrations. The next idea...
Having both (or more) run at all times, splitting the load. Add or reduce capacity as needed... just plug another Mini into the chain via Thunderbolt 2. Heck, make rack-mountable 4 and 8 bay RAIS chassis where you plug in Minis. I can dream.
4 USB 3
32 GB RAM
Half the body height but same form factor as new Mac Pro
Silver Gray instead of Space Gray body
Next gen processors
Next gen wireless keyboard and mouse
-at this point, I don't care, I just want them to release the new one already! Waited long enuf! Sent from the iMore App
- Totally new design, like a shorter (cylindrical) Mac Pro.
- Lower price. What Apple will probably do IMHO:
- Same old design, just slightly faster etc.
- Same old price. So why won't Apple lavish time and money on a Mac mini refresh? Because it's not a big money maker for them. Anyone remember the last time the iPod Classic was updated? Not sure, but the iPod Classic just isn't a bread-and-butter product for Apple any more. Same with the iPad mini. And, frankly, Mac mini buyers probably wouldn't care whether or not Apple radically alters its design. A huge improvement in its looks and/or specs might not really boost sales that much. Even sales did increase, the delta would only be a drop in the bucket compared to iMac / Mac Pro / iOS device revenue anyway.