What's up with the Haswell Mac mini?

Mac mini
Mac mini

Apple's June refresh of the MacBook Air saw the introduction of Intel's fourth-generation Core processors, internally called "Haswell." Apple's spent this autumn introducing new iMac and MacBook Pro systems that also use the Haswell architecture (except for the venerable "standard" 13-inch MacBook Pro, which still uses last year's chip). The all-new Mac Pro that's due out in December uses a different processor, so that leaves one lone holdout: the Mac mini. So where's the Haswell Mac mini?

Why Haswell?

Haswell doesn't really speed up core processing in the Mac as much as it improves efficiency. The biggest benefit is improved power management for laptops, which really doesn't translate into a significant improvement for desktop systems like the Mac mini.

But there are some tangible benefits to graphics performance with Haswell processors - the Intel HD 5000 integrated graphics run way faster than last year's model did. OS X heavily leverages OpenGL in its Core Image technology, so that means faster performance across the board, not just for games or video rendering, but most processes that touch graphics in some way.

There are other improvements to Haswell that provide better temperature regulation and other benefits, but they're not "customer facing" in the same way that improved battery life and better graphics performance are likely to be. It's because Intel employs a "tick tock" manufacturing model, where it introduces new chip architectures and then makes efficiency improvements (smaller die sizes, lower power consumption) on alternating years. The Haswell chip is a result of that "tock" - it builds on the truly significant Ivy Bridge CPUs we saw released last year, but doesn't make any revolutionary changes.

Having said that, Apple has used the refresh to improve other aspects of the Mac's design as well. Haswell Macs come with 802.11ac Wi-Fi, or Gigabit Wi-Fi - wireless networking that's up to three times faster than before. On some models that use Solid State Drive (SSD) technology, they've switched from SATA to PCIe interfaces, which translates into dramatically improved storage performance. On some models, like the new MacBook Pros with Retina Displays, Apple's incorporated Thunderbolt 2, which provides twice the bandwidth as the original Thunderbolt - capable of driving a massive 4K display, or transferring data much faster from a Thunderbolt hard drive or RAID array. For what it's worth, I don't think the Mac mini will get Thunderbolt 2 - the iMac didn't get it when Apple refreshed it but I wouldn't be surprised to see some other changes to make it worth your while to buy a new Mac mini.

So there are some really good reasons for wanting a Haswell equipped Mac mini, even if better battery life isn't applicable.

Apple's uneven Mac mini refresh cycle

The Mac mini has been a mainstay of Apple's product line since its introduction in 2005. It's Apple's entry-level Mac model, designed especially to give Windows switchers an inexpensive entry into the Mac realm - something they can just plug their existing screen, keyboard and mouse into and pick up where they left off from their desktop PC.

But Apple's been wildly inconsistent about refreshing the Mac mini over the years. They've refreshed the Mac mini in as little as five months, but one time they went more than a year and a half. That's led some pundits to write the Mac mini off over the years - certain that Apple's going to discontinue the little Mac at any moment because of Apple's apparent negligence.

It's not a case of negligence. Apple simply doesn't feel the same pressure to update the Mac mini with the same frequency or make it as much of a show as other Mac models because, well, the sex appeal simply isn't there. The Mac mini is a reliable seller season to season. And people do buy them. They're popular workgroup servers in corporate IT environments. Small and medium-sized businesses use them as all-purpose servers, especially now that OS X Server costs a scant $19. Home theater installers often use them as media servers - Apple's even built recent models with HDMI connectors to make it easier to connect to flat screen televisions.

In 2010, Apple unveiled a redesigned Mac mini that eschewed an internal SuperDrive, added HDMI and an SD card slot and made other changes. Since then, they've been on a more-or-less an annual upgrade cycle.

So where's the new Mac mini already?

So if past is prologue, the Mac mini is due for a refresh Real Soon Now™.

To be frank, I expected to see it updated when the new iMac and the new MacBook Pro with Retina Display made their debut last month. Because the Mac mini is often updated at the same time as other consumer-focused Mac models. And Apple usually makes it pretty low-key. Last year, for example, the Mac mini's refresh didn't even elicit its own press release - its update was mentioned in the same press release as Apple's all-new iMac.

As it is, I wouldn't be surprised to see a new model hit by the end of the year.

I don't expect that there will be a lot of major changes in clock speed to the new Mac mini, when it finally gets here. But integrated graphics improvements in Haswell, combined with some of the other changes Apple has made like faster Wi-Fi, will make the new Mac mini worth the wait once it gets here.

  • Haswell, and maybe Iris graphics like the new MBPs.
  • I'm more concerned about the Apple TV. I am waiting for a refresh so that I'll buy it. Could you do an article on that Peter?
  • Yes I want to see if Apple TV will get a refresh as well. Sent from the iMore App
  • I'm with you. The Xbox 360 has been our media center for the past few years but I'm getting tired of the slow start up, slow app launching, heat, noise, size, power consumption, and as I've stopped gaming on it, the $35/yr hit to access streaming services. I was extremely let down when there was no ATV announcement in October as rumored!
  • As an alternative, I was thinking of buying a Raspberry Pi and installing XBMC on it, to use as my media center until the new ATV comes out. But still, There's no way to watch my iTunes movies without connecting a Mac to my tv other than the ATV.
  • Actually, Google "airplay raspberry pi". There are a few options for enabling your raspberry pi as an airplay receiver. One project claims it even supports mirroring. IIRC, another tutorial said their solution works alongside any OS you want to throw on your raspberry pi. It may be a little less convenient than streaming directly on an ATV, but $35 for pi is hard to beat.
  • Yeah. But I've heard that all the AirPlay mirroring methods are quite unstable and takes a hell lot of a work to install. Is that true?
  • I haven't tried it myself, so I can't speak to any of that from experience. I view the mirroring as a perk -- especially in the context of a stop-gap solution . AirPlay video and audio would be my primary concern. The tutorial I read through didn't seem all that much work -- as compared to say, installing and configuring linux. My other concern would be stability, but that's not something I've taken the time to look into yet. I guess the other trick is that even if it's stable today, it's a proprietary protocol, so Apple could break it with an update to iOS/OSX. Then again, it's $35 in hardware, the worst case scenario is I find some other fun project to occupy my time until Apple gets their ATV together.
  • Hahaha! You're right. Beggars can't be choosers. :p
  • A Mac mini with Iris Pro graphics and PCI SSD would be sweet. My wallet is waiting.
  • Me too. I have a 2009 Mac Pro Tower. I have no use for the new Mac Pro. Don't want an iMac (already have nice monitors and keyboard) and don't want to make my MacBook Air my main Mac. A Mac Mini is the best, last hope.
  • What about a new iPod Classic? There hasn't been a new one for years now
  • I am definitely waiting for it and will pull the trigger immediately. Replacing
    a 5+ year old MB with a Mini and an ipad. The MBP's are just too rich for me.
  • I'm more concerned about my Mac mini 6,1 getting this grey screen when I try to switch accounts and not powering down when I select it. Mavericks isn't faring very well on this Mac mini. They need to address that before thinking about haswell.
  • This is what I'm waiting for. I just ordered my iPadAir last night (early this morning, actually), and the Haswell MacMini is the next item on my wish list to replaced my old PowerPC iMac (stuck on 10.4.8 with a failing monitor). A refreshed AppleTV is also on my wish list.
  • Ive never had a Mac before. I have had an Iphone and Ipad for years now and continually update both those devices every few years. I have been waiting for about 4 months now to get a mac mini, and everyone I have talked to tells me to wait for the new one to come out. Come on already.
  • I was also waiting but bought a late 2012 Mac Mini, 1TB i7 processor and it does everything I need it for (I am not a Gamer), but I am using Parallels 9 and Windows 7; simply because I need Quicken while I transition to SEE Finance. I can switch between Mac OS X (Mavericks) and Windows 7 without any perceptible delay. Glad that I did not wait.
  • Maybe they'll announce the Mac mini when the announce the iPad mini. Make it a 'Mini' event!
  • ipad mini has already been announced.
  • Not completely, nothing is shipping and we don't have a ship date yet. So maybe when the iPad mini Retina ships, they'll just slip the Mac minis on the shelf too. One can hope.
  • A dual slot user upgradable PCIe flash based Mac mini with thunderbolt 2 would be too good. Space saved from the removal of the had might lead to The mac nano perhaps, excellent for servers and studio drones. I like the iMacs but they suffer too many problems... The screen goes and yer out of a computer till it's fixed. You want a second display? You can't have them matching... Want to upgrade, can't keep monitors. The Mac Pro addresses these issues but is way too exp. I'd love to see someone calculate the number of hackintoshes being built especially in design environments.
  • "Apple's spent this autumn introducing new iMac and MacBook Pro systems that also use the Haswell " Didn't they only introduce MacBook Pro Retina's NOT Macbook Pros? Seems to me the bottom end stuff is getting axed for just the more premium products and maybe the Mini is viewed similarly. That is maybe they aren't updating it/planning to phase it out which i think, sadly, they are doing to the affordable, storage filled macbook pro w/o retina.
  • The thing is bro, that despite the fact that Apple will never mention it, it has a HUGE brand value in countries like India and China. Because of this, it WILL keep its lower strata products to appeal to these second fiddle markets. I saw it happen with the marketing campaign happening in India for the 5C and the Macbook Air. Apple is not just a brand here, its a way of life. :p
  • I have no idea why they don't don't update some of those products. to me the seem forgotten or ignored.
  • It's apple. What did you expect? :p
  • They still have a 13-inch "standard" MacBook Pro which went untouched. I don't see "bottom end stuff getting axed," because that's exactly what remains in the MBP line. Along with two lower-priced MacBook Airs.
  • I think eventually they will. Why not give at least a new processor to the MacBook Pro? It's long overdue. And air's don't sacrifice storage and memory. By that i mean you can get them but you pay a ton more. Like if you want 500GBs and 8 mbs of ram you're over $1500, where as before that was the low end of macbooks. Now you pay an extra $600 or so bucks to get that. yeah you get a tiny 11 inch screen with a drive smaller than my old ipod. I guess that's fine for some but it's not remotely a replacement for those that need the storage. All the things i've heard rumored to be be axed are mac book pro, ipods, and minis. Interestingly, those are all the things that have gone unattended too for quite a long time. Too bad for me as i think they fill a role some of the other products don't, a music player for those that don't want data, the macbook pro is a laptop for people that don't care about screen resolution but need storage space and memory power at an affordable price. Lower priced? yeah, but they don't match the storage or screen size or memory of a macbook pro so to me they aren't replacement devices.
  • The worst part is, that in India they sell the Macs 'as is' so you can't upgrade your choice of MacBook. So I can't buy the 256 gb MacBook Air with 8gb RAM like I wanted to.
  • Isn't Haswell a tick? (A tick is new architecture, a tock is die-shrink)
  • Yeah, but the new Iris graphics are a significant bump up in performance.
  • Haswell is a tock, though the author of the article has things confused:
    A tick is a new process node (ie 22nm, 14nm etc).
    A tock is a major architectural overhaul, ie (Sandy bridge, Haswell). Haswell is a major new architecture on the previous process node (22nm). It is NOT a minor revision of Ivy Bridge as the author claims. Next year however will be a minor architecture bump on a new (14nm) process node with Broadwell.
  • What about the Thunderbolt display? Anybody knows if it's going to be updated anytime soon?
  • The Thunderbolt display is more than two years old now and definitely long in the tooth - reflecting Apple's industrial design pre-iMac 2012, when bezels were much thicker. I wouldn't be surprised if Apple redesigns it and even offers a 4K display once the new Mac Pro ships in December.
  • They already offer a 4K Sharp display
  • Since the Mini doesn't run on batteries, the main advantage is mute. My i7 Mini only draws 12 watts a idle. That means it cost about a $1 a month in electricity. If Haswell cut that that in half, it would save me a whopping $6 a year. Since I'm not a gamer, nor am I transferring terabytes of data across my network, why pay extra. I say good move Apple. Keep the Mini prices down.
  • Actually, graphics performance touches just about every aspect of the Mac's system performance, since OpenGL is so interwoven into the experience. So it's not just games - it's every time the Mac lights a pixel on the screen.
  • Thanks!
  • Thanks Peter, your articles explanation was the best so far. I still think the advantage is, as you say, not front facing, which is probably why the haven't done it.
  • I'd like a refreshed Mac Mini with Iris Pro because I want to try Mac OS X, people are saying they are good for GFX you know
  • Hello,
    I tried to buy a Mac Mini i7 yesterday in France : I go to the biggest electronic chain (Fnac) and asked the seller for 1 MacMini but none of them was in stock in the shop.
    Then I asked the seller for an other shop with stock but zero in stock in Paris and suburbs.
    Then I asked to order one : no stock at the central buying service...
    ...I asked him if it looks like a new model will be released : he confirms.
    So I look at differents forum and made a little movie to show the actual stock of this company : http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnhHfGvLEIM (But, unlike shown in the movie, they do not have any MacMini i7 in the "Paris-Italie2" shop)
    It looks like a new product will be revealed soon... or Fnac and Apple are quarrelling :-)
  • May 7 and still no updated Mac Mini. If I buy an old one right now, Apple will announce a new one tomorrow. shall I go for it?
  • I wanna buy an i7 mac mini too, is it worth it ?! The late 2012 i7 costs only 700 euros in Greece...
    Is a new macmini coming out ? I'm starting a new business in a month, and need a new computer asap... !!
  • Good post :)