Is the mid-range Mac mini worth the extra money?

Mac mini
Mac mini

If you're on a budget, however, is that extra $200 money well spent, or money you're better off no spending? If every dollar counts. If you're on a limited budget, will you get your mid-range Mac mini money's worth? In today's Mac Help column, a reader asks us just that.

K.F. writes:

I'm on an extremely limited budget, and even $699 is a lot to spend on a computer. Is the mid-range Mac mini worth the money?

Apple's least-expensive Mac computer is the Mac mini. It's aimed at consumers on a budget: You need to supply your own screen, your own keyboard and your own mouse or trackpad. If you're switching to Mac from a PC, you can recycle the gear from your old machine and save yourself some money.

The Mac mini starts at $499. That gets you a 1.4 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 4 GB of RAM and a 500 GB hard disk drive. It uses Intel HD Graphics 5000.

The RAM, processor and graphics speed is roughly comparable to the 2014 MacBook Air, though the overall "feel" of the computer will be a bit slower because it uses a regular hard disk drive instead of the faster SSD flash storage of the MacBook Air.

I've been using one since the latest Mac mini model was released and I'm not disappointed in the performance. You have to be patient with it, sure, but for a first Mac or someone switching from an older PC, it's a very nice computer to use.

Having said that, there's no question that you're in much better shape if you spend the extra $200.

For $200, you get a 2.6 GHz processor and faster graphics (Intel Iris graphics, still integrated but faster). You also get twice the RAM and twice the storage capacity: 8 GB and 1 terabyte (TB), respectively.

Twice the storage capacity is great for anyone who needs a lot of space for media files, applications and other things that take up space.

The RAM gives apps more space to play, so you can have more open simultaneously, or work on larger documents, without slowing the machine down. And the processor is nearly twice the clock speed, which means you spend more time working and less time waiting.

Otherwise the Mac minis are identically equipped: They have the exact same ports and come with the exact same software pre-installed.

Peter Cohen