Mac mini

Macworld - - CONTENTS -

£799 from fave.co/2OwhSzH

It’s been ages since the Mac mini re­ceived an up­date, so we can see how fans of Ap­ple’s smallest Mac would be happy for any im­prove­ments. On the flip side, be­cause the mini hasn’t been up­dated for four long years, you may have con­vinced your­self that Ap­ple would make dra­matic changes – yet the up­date is pretty much lim­ited to a pro­ces­sor up­grade.

If you were an­tic­i­pat­ing a ma­jor over­haul, your dis­ap­point­ment is un­der­stand­able. But get over it, be­cause the new Mac mini is a wor­thy Mac for £799. In fact, in our bench­marks, its per­for­mance is fast enough to give the iMac some com­pe­ti­tion. If you’re buy­ing a new Mac, you should def­i­nitely con­sider the mini, be­cause you could end up sav­ing some money – and still get a solid, fast Mac.

And if you own an older Mac mini and love the form fac­tor, you’ll want to up­grade. The per­for­mance – es­pe­cially with multi-core pro­fes­sional soft­ware – is worth the money. This re­view takes a look at the £799 Mac mini, which is now Ap­ple’s cheap­est Mac.

Who is the Mac mini for?

The Mac mini made its de­but in 2005, and was mar­keted as the af­ford­able en­try-point for Mac newcomers. All it needed was an ex­ter­nal dis­play (the first mini came with a VGA-to-DVI adap­tor) and USB in­put de­vices. With the base model priced at £499, it lagged be­hind Ap­ple’s faster, more ex­pen­sive Macs, but it was a good per­former for the price.

But as it turned out, the Mac mini found a mar­ket with pro users thanks to its small foot­print. It’s been pop­u­lar with soft­ware de­vel­op­ers and con­tent cre­ators, and has even found a home in co-lo­ca­tion data centres. In re­sponse, Ap­ple changed its Mac mini mes­sage, tar­get­ing pro­fes­sion­als and tout­ing the mini’s per­for­mance in­stead of its af­ford­abil­ity. Ap­ple’s Mac mini web­site calls the new Mac ‘All

work­horse’ and the whole ‘switcher’ mes­sag­ing of the orig­i­nal Mac mini is gone.

But that doesn’t mean the mini is no longer for switch­ers and ev­ery­one else. It’s still a good Mac for the general con­sumer, and in fact, it of­fers con­sid­er­able bang for the buck. The main draw­back is that there’s no longer a sub-£500 price tag in Ap­ple’s Mac line-up (though the £799 Mac mini is £250 cheaper than the en­try-level 21.5in iMac).

In­side the Mac mini: CPU, SSD, RAM, T2

Dur­ing a brief­ing, Ap­ple told us that faster Mac mini per­for­mance was at the top of cus­tomers’ wish lists. With that in mind, Ap­ple up­graded the CPU with eighth-gen­er­a­tion In­tel Core pro­ces­sors – desk­top CPUs, not mo­bile CPUs. Ap­ple says the new Mac mini is up to five times faster than the pre­vi­ous one (which, af­ter all, was re­leased in Oc­to­ber 2014).

The CPU in the £799 Mac mini is a 3.6GHz Core i5. This is a quad-core pro­ces­sor that of­fers two more pro­cess­ing cores than the chip in the pre­vi­ous Mac mini. Note that this par­tic­u­lar Mac mini’s CPU doesn’t sup­port Turbo Boost, a fea­ture that al­lows for a pro­ces­sor to run faster than its stated fre­quency if the pro­ces­sor is run­ning un­der its lim­its for power, cur­rent, and tem­per­a­ture. How­ever, Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz is avail­able in the 3GHz 6-core Core i5 pro­ces­sor that’s spec­i­fied for the £1,099 Mac mini.

You’ll also find a per­for­mance up­grade in the Mac mini’s stor­age hard­ware – sort of. In the past, you could choose from a hard drive (slow but spa­cious),

a Fusion Drive (the ca­pac­ity of a hard drive but with bet­ter speed), or flash stor­age (a fast and pricey solid-state drive). Now, Ap­ple of­fers only solid-state drives, which of­fer the best speed.

The £799 model comes with a 128GB drive, but if that isn’t enough, Ap­ple of­fers up­grades all the way up to 2TB if you’re willing to pay. The SSDs are PCI-e cards and Ap­ple doesn’t con­sider them user-up­grade­able. So, if you pre­fer to house your stor­age in­side the com­puter in­stead of at­tach­ing an ex­ter­nal drive, you might con­sider shelling out more money for an up­grade.

The £799 mini comes stan­dard with 8GB of 2,666MHz DDR4 mem­ory, in­stalled as a pair of 4GB SO-DIMMs. The mini sup­ports a max­i­mum of 64GB, and you can up­grade the mem­ory later, but Ap­ple doesn’t con­sider the Mac mini to be user-con­fig­urable, and it rec­om­mends that mem­ory up­grades be per­formed by a cer­ti­fied Ap­ple ser­vice provider. Do­ing it on your own will void the war­ranty.

You can eas­ily open up the Mac mini on your own: the cir­cu­lar plas­tic cap at the bot­tom of the Mac mini pops off to un­veil an alu­minium hatch that’s kept in place with Torx screws. But what you’ll find when you re­move the hatch is that the mem­ory is placed in a sort of a cage, and that you’ll need to re­move the fan and other com­po­nents to get ac­cess. It’s not a triv­ial task.

The Mac mini in­cludes a T2 Se­cu­rity Chip to off­load se­cu­rity fea­tures away from the main CPU. The T2 han­dles the Mac mini’s se­cure boot fea­ture and stor­age en­cryp­tion for FileVault, and it houses a co­pro­ces­sor for Se­cure En­clave, which op­er­ates Touch ID. Un­for­tu­nately, there cur­rently isn’t any key­board with Touch ID sup­port that can be at­tached to the Mac mini. That said, the iMac is due for an up­date soon, so maybe we’ll see a new Magic Key­board with Touch ID when that desk­top ma­chine ar­rives.

How fast is the Mac mini?

To test the speed of the £799 Mac mini, we used the Geek­bench 4 bench­mark tool. We com­pared the mini’s re­sults to the three mod­els from 2014,

the cur­rent £1,449 iMac, and the 2013 3.5GHz 6-Core Xeon E5 Mac Pro.

Not sur­pris­ingly, the £799 Mac mini, with its eighth-gen­er­a­tion 3.6GHz Core i3 pro­ces­sor, of­fers a nice sin­gle-core boost over its 2014 pre­de­ces­sors. We saw a 29 per­cent jump over the £999 2.8GHz Core i5 model, a 34 per­cent boost over the £699 2.6GHz Core i5 model, and a 45 per­cent im­prove­ment over the £499 1.4GHz Core i5 mini.

The ques­tion is: are th­ese im­prove­ments enough for own­ers of the 2014 Mac mini to up­grade? Even in sin­gle-core apps (for ex­am­ple, mail, browsers, iTunes, and even some con­sumer-level video and im­age ed­i­tors), the boost is sig­nif­i­cant, thanks to eighth-gen­er­a­tion In­tel chip im­prove­ments and the clock speed bump. So, if you have a

2014-vin­tage £499 or £699 Mac mini, you’ve prob­a­bly got­ten your money’s worth from the ma­chine, and up­grad­ing to the new £799 model is a good in­vest­ment. And even if you bought the 2014 £999 model, up­grad­ing should be a se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tion.

In­ter­est­ingly, the sin­gle-core per­for­mance of the £799 Mac mini isn’t far off from the 2017 21.5in 3.4GHz Core i5 iMac that sells for £1,449. The iMac is only 4 per­cent faster. An­other in­ter­est­ing data point: the new Mac mini out­per­forms the 2013 3.5GHz Xeon E5 Mac Pro by 23 per­cent. Keep in mind that this is in sin­gle-core per­for­mance, and the Mac mini ver­sus Mac Pro story changes in our next suite of tests.

Be­cause Ap­ple has changed the mar­ket­ing mes­sage with the new Mac mini, its multi-core per­for­mance will draw more at­ten­tion than be­fore. The £799 mini has four pro­cess­ing cores, two more than in the pre­vi­ous mod­els. So the newer CPU and ex­tra pro­cess­ing cores com­bine to make it a mighty ma­chine for apps that can use mul­ti­ple cores (pro-level video and im­age ed­i­tors, as well as de­vel­oper tools, for ex­am­ple).

In the Geek­bench 64-bit multi-core test, the £799 mini more than dou­bled the per­for­mance of the three older mod­els. Bot­tom line: if you use apps that can take ad­van­tage of mul­ti­ple cores, you’re go­ing to see a huge speed in­crease with the new Mac mini. It’s well worth the cost of up­grad­ing.

When you com­pare the £799 mini to the £1,449 21.5in iMac with a quad-core 3.4GHz Core i5,

you’ll find an eye-open­ing re­sult: the Geek­bench 4 scores are prac­ti­cally the same. We ran a few more bench­marks to com­pare the £799 mini to the £1,449 iMac, and we found that when it comes to graph­ics per­for­mance, the iMac and its 4GB Radeon Pro 560 graph­ics card gives it a sig­nif­i­cant edge in frame-rate per­for­mance over the Mac mini’s In­tel UHD Graph­ics 630. But in two other bench­marks – the Cinebench R15 CPU test and the Blender BMW ren­der test – the Mac mini and the iMac fin­ished neck and neck. You can see the ad­di­tional Mac mini ver­sus iMac bench­marks here.

The mini, how­ever, is slower than the 2013 6-core 3.5GHz Xeon E5 Mac Pro, which is five years old and costs £2,999. Still, when you con­sider the price dif­fer­ence, its multi-core speed is im­pres­sive.

Con­nec­tiv­ity and ports

One of the rea­sons the Mac mini has been such a beloved ma­chine among Mac users is that it comes with so many ports in such a small pack­age. For­tu­nately, it still has a lot of ports, but Ap­ple has up­dated the equip­ment to match its cur­rent phi­los­o­phy, which cur­rently fo­cuses on Thun­der­bolt/USB-C.

The Mac mini comes with four Thun­der­bolt/ USB-C ports, and you can con­nect two or three dis­plays through th­ese ports, de­pend­ing on the screen res­o­lu­tion used for each dis­play. If you don’t have a USB-C equipped dis­play, you will need an adap­tor. You can also con­nect an HDMI-equipped dis­play to the Mac mini’s HDMI 2.0 port.

If you have a lot of USB-A de­vices to con­nect, you’ll be dis­ap­pointed in the re­duc­tion of USB-A ports from four down to two. But if you don’t use all of the Mac mini’s USB-C ports and you want to con­nect a USB-A de­vice, you can use an USB-C to USB-A adap­tor, like the £19 one from Ap­ple (fave.co/2qJMG6N). An even bet­ter in­vest­ment would be a USB hub, such as the Anker 4-Port USB 3.0 Data Hub (£11.99 from fave.co/2qK3Kt7), which con­nects to the Mac mini via USB-A, or the Ama­zonBa­sics USB 3.1 Type-C to 4 Port USB Hub (£17.99 from fave.co/2qFYpmD), which con­nects via USB-C.

For net­work­ing, the Mac mini comes stan­dard with a gi­ga­bit eth­er­net jack and Wi-Fi. Ap­ple does of­fer a £90 up­grade to 10Gb eth­er­net, which will be of in­ter­est to pro users, ren­der farm

im­ple­men­ta­tions, and more. The Mac mini also has Blue­tooth 5.0 and a head­phone jack.

Same Mac mini de­sign as be­fore

The long gap be­tween up­dates lent it­self to spec­u­la­tion, with Ap­ple fans com­pil­ing wish lists for the new Mac mini. Macworld writ­ers and ed­i­tors cer­tainly haven’t been shy about our thoughts on the sub­ject. Much of the spec­u­la­tion fo­cused on the Mac mini’s form fac­tor, and many of us thought the new ma­chine could be smaller than the 2014 model, an idea in­spired by small PC de­vices, such as the In­tel NUC and even Rasp­berry Pi.

But in the end, Ap­ple de­cided not to change the Mac mini’s de­sign at all, ex­cept for now it’s in space grey in­stead of sil­ver. It’s the same shape and size as be­fore, a square with sides mea­sur­ing 7.7 inches, a height of 1.4 inches, and rounded cor­ners. You can stack it on top of the pre­vi­ous Mac mini, and it lines up per­fectly. Like the MacBook Air, the Mac mini’s

case is made of 100 per­cent re­cy­cled alu­minium. Prob­a­bly the main rea­son why Ap­ple stuck with the de­sign can be seen in ‘The se­cret world of Mac mini’ fea­ture that the com­pany pub­lished dur­ing the Mac mini an­nounce­ment. Among other clever uses for the Mac mini, we see them in a co-lo­ca­tion data cen­tre where 8,000 Mac minis are de­ployed. The photo of MacS­ta­dium’s fa­cil­ity is im­pres­sive (see above), with row af­ter row of Mac minis, but could you imag­ine what you’d have to do to re­place all those old minis to ac­com­mo­date a new form fac­tor? It cer­tainly may dis­cour­age up­grad­ing the ma­chines in en­ter­prise en­vi­ron­ments.

Per­haps it would be nice if the Mac mini were smaller, lend­ing it­self to even more uses, but it seems Ap­ple de­ter­mined a foot­print re­duc­tion wasn’t a pri­or­ity. For a ma­jor­ity of peo­ple, the Mac

mini’s size works, and the new Mac mini can sim­ply slide into the space of the old one, no muss, no fuss.

Macworld’s buy­ing ad­vice

There are cus­tomers who lament the fact that Ap­ple no longer of­fers a Mac for un­der £500, and that Ap­ple went from of­fer­ing three desk­top Macs for un­der £1,000 to just one. But this is the new re­al­ity: £799 is the new en­try point.

That be­ing said, at £799, the 3.6GHz quad-core Core i3 Mac mini of­fers an in­trigu­ing com­bi­na­tion of per­for­mance and value. In many in­stances – es­pe­cially with multi-core apps – the Mac mini is as fast as the cur­rent £1,449 21.5in 3.4GHz quad­core Core i5 iMac (which was re­leased in 2017). You could you de­cide to buy a re­fur­bished 4K dis­play and in­put de­vices with a £799 Mac mini in­stead of a £1,449 iMac, and you’ll save a lit­tle bit of money while get­ting com­pa­ra­ble per­for­mance.

Whether you should up­grade from the pre­vi­ous Mac mini is a no-brainer: do it. If you use apps that can take ad­van­tage of mul­ti­ple cores, you’ll see a huge im­prove­ment that’s well worth the cost. Even if you don’t use multi-core apps and use only con­sumer-level soft­ware, you’ll see a marked im­prove­ment in speed. You may have to buy a USB hub and a video adap­tor, but it’s worth it. Ro­man Loy­ola

Spec­i­fi­ca­tions

• MacOS Mo­jave

• 3.6GHz quad-core In­tel Core i3, 6MB shared L3

cache pro­ces­sor

• In­tel UHD Graph­ics 630 GPU

• 8GB RAM

• 128GB SSD

• 802.11b/g/n

• Blue­tooth 5.0

• 4x Thun­der­bolt 3

• 2x USB 3

• 1x HDMI 2.0

• 1x Gi­ga­bit Eth­er­net port

• 3.5mm head­set jack

• 197x197x36mm

• 1.3kg

The plas­tic bot­tom cap pops off, but then you’ll find an alu­minium hatch held in place by six Torx screws. And when you get the hatch off, you’ll find that the in­sides are not read­ily user ac­ces­si­ble

Geek­bench 64-bit sin­gle-core test re­sults

Geek­bench 64-bit multi-core test re­sults

The 2018 Mac mini’s rear ports. Got more than two USB-A de­vices? You’ll need to buy a hub

MacS­ta­dium colo­ca­tion cen­tre uses thou­sands of Mac minis. It looks like in­stal­la­tions like this one in­flu­enced Ap­ple’s de­ci­sion to stick with the Mac mini de­sign

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