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.

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  • I don't own a Mac yet, but I have been considering this. Thanks for taking the time to explain it. The Mac Mini seems to be the right place, for getting your feet wet, especially if you already own most of the things a desktop computer needs, and they are up to date. I don't have any need to replace my 23" 1080p monitor, or my mouse and keyboard. I have been bouncing back and forth between the low end and mid range Mac Mini. I am glad someone else has the same questions I do.
  • I have the mid range it was worth it for me. Bought 2 monitors runs fine for me.
  • The mid-level model is definitely worth the additional $200. For another $200, you can have a 256GB SSD, rather than a HDD. Sent from the iMore App
  • SSD makes such a difference.. You just don't know until you go SSD really.. never realize what a bottle-neck the old platter HDD is until you do... I don't think I could ever, willingly, go back to old HDD, except for pure storage reasons.
  • Just imagine how fast it would be if it didn't have to go through a disk interface before it even got to the SSD.
  • The mid-level model is definitely worth the additional $200. For another $200 on top of that, you can get a 256GB SSD. Sent from the iMore App
  • I've been contemplating a Mac Mini for a while now. I just found that B&H has the mid-range Mac Mini for $649. That's $50 lower than Apple's price and $30 lower than Apple's Education price. After tax where I live, I'd save $105 or $83.50 with education discount. I wonder if I should get it now or wait for an update...
  • The Mac mini isn't refreshed nearly as frequently as other Mac models. I suspect if you wait, you're going to be waiting for quite a while.
  • They were updated not too long ago, so I think you would be fine getting one now. They use Haswell processors, but Broadwell doesn't have many benefits in a non laptop. And you're going to be waiting a minimum of a year (and almost certainly longer) before the Mini sees Skylake.
  • I would buy the $499 Mac Mini and then take it to one of Apple's Authorized Repair centers and get a SSD put in. It should cost less than $200. In my own personal situation, I'm getting one done next month. I have the $499 Mac Mini which I got for $450 on sale and I'm going thru MicroCenter as that is our Repair Center that won't void your warranty. I'm getting a 256GB SSD for $79 and then it costs $50 for them to install it. I'll transfer the data myself. It's a little over $120 with tax which is 8.5% where I live, just under $140 total. That's the better deal...
  • Going third-party is often less expensive. We used to be able to do that for RAM, but Apple decided that not enough Mac mini users upgraded to make upgradable RAM worthwhile. There is one difference to consider, however: Apple's SSDs are PCIe-based, while any third-party SSD you are going to install is going to be SATA-based, as it replaces the existing SATA hard drive. You're going to see better SSD performance from a factory-installed Apple drive than you will out of a third-party model. Third-party upgrades for Apple PCIe SSDs aren't yet available, but companies like OWC and Transcend both say it's going to happen in 2015. Having said all that, I agree wholeheartedly - an SSD is the single biggest performance booster for any Mac that uses a conventional hard disk drive. The cost per gigabyte is still much, much higher, but for many of us, the tradeoff is worth it because performance is so dramatically improved.
  • Whatever you do, get the extra RAM. 4gigs is inadequate in my opinion, especially if you use Chrome. My iMac would crash all the time, lock up and become completely unresponsive at times. Up the RAM to 12gigs and I've had zero problems.
  • I"m going to get a Mac Mini and use it as a dedicated HTPC. The base model will be fine for that, but why not spend the extra $200 now and get a few more years out of it. Slap an SSD in it, put the 1TB HDD in an external case; boom you're golden. If it's worth doing, it's worth overdoing
  • An important thing to remember about getting a mini is the lifespan - it may not be your first-tier workhorse forever, but given it's tiny size and unobtrusive design, it's very likely that it will hang on your network for as long as it runs, as pseudo-fileserver. Buying it with more RAM will help you immediately, but buying one with extra drive space will help you for years - even after you replace it for day to day use.
  • I use MM 4 GB RAM 2012, not much multiple browser windows and Xcode along side oh I never pleased with the performance as I progress. Clock Widget takes at least 4-5 secs to load in Today view(every time). At times multitasking becomes more burden. Its better option to get a little boosted machine out of box(if needed).
  • At $200 extra instead of doubling the hard drive size I would opt for 256 gig SSD.
  • Did they increase the price by $50? shows it starting at $549, and $749 for the mid model
  • That's not the US Apple Store ( You are in the Canadian store which will have different prices as it's a different country. In this case it's $50.00 higher.
  • Thanks :) I was wondering what was going on
  • When the new mini was introduced last fall Apple adjusted the price in Canada, and many other countries, to reflect currency depreciation vs the U.S. dollar. With the way the Canadian dollar is going, we're lucky it's only 10% more.
  • Thanks, Peter, for breaking this down for us. This answered some questions I had about the mid-range Mac mini. My first Mac was a 2006 mini so I'm already familiar with them. My '06 mini never gave me any problems the whole time I had it. Now I'm in the market for a new computer, as my 7-year-old 2008 24" iMac is finally starting to show its age (getting slow and taking forever to do anything). It's able to run Yosemite, but I'm thinking it's starting to reach the limit of what it can handle re the newer versions of OSX (it's been getting slower and slower from Lion onward). And I've been wanting to upgrade to something newer and nicer anyway. The current 27" iMacs are way out of my budget, and I don't really need a laptop (the MacBook Pros are also out of my price range anyway). So I started looking at the current Mac mini. It really bugs me that the RAM is now soldered in, but I think 8 GB would be fine as I won't be doing anything too heavy-duty with it anyway. I think I'll just go for the mid-level Mac mini with 8 GB of RAM and the 256 GB PCIe SSD, get a decent monitor for it, use my existing keyboard and mouse, and call it a day.
  • That sounds like a pretty nice little system that won't break the bank.
  • Yeah, that configuration is pushing the limits of my budget (my budget's about $1000, and with tax and everything it'll be almost there), but I think it'll be worth it. Oh, I just remembered (forgot to ask earlier): Do SSDs last longer than HDDs? I'm told that if a HDD fails, it tends to show symptoms and warning signs ahead of time, so you'd at least have some time to back up everything before you replace it. But I've also been hearing that if SSDs fail, they fail very suddenly and catastrophically without any prior warning, and that any files on that failed SSD are just gone. Is that the case, or is it a non-issue? I'm mostly clueless when it comes to computers so I wanted to ask about that too. In any case, I'd still have my most crucial files backed up somewhere else, (like on a Time Machine or some other external drive), and not just on that computer.
  • I've had SSDs fail on me and I've had hard drives fail on me. I wouldn't recommend "flying without a net" either way - makes sure to back up what you have. Having said that, SSDs don't suffer the same mechanical issues that HDs do, no.
  • Ah, OK. Thanks! I'll definitely have some form of backup system, like an external drive and some cloud storage (lately I've just been using iCloud, mostly for photos). I don't have a lot of stuff to begin with, so I think I'll be fine for the foreseeable future.
  • Great article. I agree the extra 200 dollars is worth it. 8GB Ram is much better. The Mac Mini is great for a small home recording studio. A lot of serious music apps will tell you 4GB ram minimum, but 8 gives more room to work. At one time you could get an i7 processor, and 16G Ram. Do not know if they put that one out anymore. All in all it beats the price of a Mac Pro. Again it is your needs that count. Sent from the iMore App
  • Man please... I got a 2012 Mac Mini with a 480GB SSD and 16GB of RAM. I used OWC's HDD add-on to use the HDD that it came with as my second HDD (500GB). You'd spend less money buying that model and upgrading the parts. After all it's a Mac Mini, not supposed to be a powerhouse, but damn, they are really trying to make you pay for the Mac Mini. Bad Apple!
  • Buy it from the Apple refurb section. Save some money that way. Just keep an eye out for one with an SSD. Sent from the iMore App
  • Very nice article Peter always a pleasure reading your write ups.
    Me personally I would just save up for a Month or two and get a better one like a pro. For me after using laptops so long hardly ever touch my desktop. I could see someone using this as their 1st mac but having used a mac book it's a big step down. Posted via the iMore App for Android
  • Remember the base model $499 model does not have the pcie slot in it since it is a hdd sata version. Only the versions with ssd come with that slot... Sent from the iMore App