Mac mini (Late 2014) 2.8GHz
Apple’s baby Mac gets an upgrade – and a downgrade
Apple giveth, and Apple taketh away. After a couple of years of neglect, the lovely little Mac mini has been updated, bringing substantially faster graphics, faster Wi-Fi, more and faster Thunderbolt connections and a cheaper entry point, but at the same time we’ve lost the ability to upgrade the RAM ourselves, lost the option for a quadcore configuration, and lost the server variant that had two 1TB hard disks inside the chassis. (There’s also no optical drive, unsurprisingly, and now no FireWire ports, though if you need to use FireWire peripherals you can buy an adapter – Apple’s is £25 – to convert one or both of the Thunderbolt ports.)
Here we’re reviewing the top-end model – 2.8GHz i5, 8GB RAM and a 1TB Fusion Drive, Apple’s hybrid disk technology that pairs (in this case) a PCIe-connected fast SSD with a hard disk, to get the speed benefits of SSD without its high price. It scores fairly well in raw number-crunching benchmarks such as Geekbench, but note that because it has only two cores (for four threads) rather than the four cores (eight threads) of the previous topend model, the multi-core result is much lower. It’s hard to be definitive about whether this is a step forward or backward; if you frequently push your Mac to do many complex things at once and/or use multi-core aware apps, the previous high-end Mac mini might actually have been computationally more capable, but this new one, to put it crudely, is ‘faster at doing fewer things’.
The Intel Iris Graphics chipset is irrefutably much more capable, but even here don’t run away with the idea this is a Mac with much in the way of gaming chops. We got 18fps (frames per second) in our standard Batman Arkham City benchmark, and 7.6fps in the new Tomb Raider. To be sure, you can turn the settings down in both until you get a usable result, but while the Iris (not Iris Pro) graphics we have here are plenty capable of powering the Mac’s UI, unless your gaming needs are very modest, this is not the Mac for you.
Don’t buy a Mac mini because it’s ‘cheap’; by the time you add a screen to this one, it might not be much cheaper than an iMac. You might be more productive with a slower MacBook Air for about the same price just because it’s more flexible, or get so much more from a more powerful iMac that it negates the price difference.
What’s more, you now need to be sure that a Mac mini is configured right before you buy it, since you can no longer even upgrade the RAM. Happily, 8GB is enough for general computing, especially when paired with an SSD, but consider the £160 3.0GHz i7 upgrade if you do heavy creative tasks, or the £240 512GB pure-SSD upgrade for better responsiveness. Christopher Phin
Apple has rededicated the Mac mini to the role of modest but capable. Good – for the right people.
The Mac mini has stepped up a gear in terms of performance, but it no longer offers the upgrade options under the chassis.