Five things the Mac mini needs

The cur­rent Mac mini isn’t a ma­chine for se­ri­ous pro­fes­sion­als (or re­ally any­one). But it could be.

Macworld (USA) - - Contents - BY MICHAEL SI­MON

Stop the presses, we have a new Mac mini ru­mor ( go.mac­world. com/lcmn). Well, at least the ger­mi­na­tion of a ru­mor. Ac­cord­ing to Bloomberg’s very con­nected Mark Gur­man and Deb­bie Wu ( go.mac­world.com/ngdw), Ap­ple is plan­ning “a pro­fes­sional-fo­cused up­grade to the Mac mini desk­top later this year,” and “new storage and pro­ces­sor op­tions are likely to make it more ex­pen­sive than pre­vi­ous ver­sions.”

That’s a lot of words for not re­ally say­ing any­thing at all. While Gur­man and

Wu are ba­si­cally con­firm­ing Ming Chi-kuo’s ear­lier re­port ( go.mac­world.com/udmn) that the long-in-the-tooth mini will be get­ting an up­date be­fore the year’s out, they leave an aw­ful lot of blanks to be filled in be­tween now and its re­lease, pre­sum­ably some­time in mid- to late fall. Even if they’re right about the new pro fo­cus, ev­ery­thing else about the new Mac mini re­mains a mys­tery.

But if Ap­ple is in­deed giv­ing the Mac mini a reimag­ined re­vamp, there are a few things it ab­so­lutely needs to in­clude if Ap­ple hopes to re­turn it to its glory days.

A SUB-$1,000 START­ING PRICE

Bloomberg hints that the new Mac mini will cost more than it does now, which would make sense if Ap­ple is go­ing to tar­get pro users. How­ever, with ev­ery other Mac in Ap­ple’s lineup start­ing at or above $1,000, the cur­rent Mac mini fills an im­por­tant role, even if Ap­ple isn’t sell­ing as many of them as it once did. If Ap­ple prices the Mac mini too high, it’ll get lost in the shuf­fle of imacs and Mac­book Pros.

Be­sides, not ev­ery pro is will­ing (or able) to spend thou­sands of dol­lars on a new PC. No one would com­plain about a $1,500 tricked-out Mac mini as long as Ap­ple doesn’t for­get the point of the tiny head­less PC. With a cur­rent start­ing price tag of $499, Ap­ple has some wig­gle room, but the Mac mini needs at least one con­fig­u­ra­tion to stay un­der $1,000—and hope­fully much lower than that.

HIGH-END BTO OP­TIONS

Ap­ple shocked naysay­ers by ac­tu­ally in­clud­ing In­tel’s lat­est Core i9 silicone ( go. mac­world.com/i9sl) as a BTO op­tion in the new Mac­book Pro. And if the new Mac mini is go­ing to tar­get the same au­di­ence, the best chips need to be an op­tion, even if it pushes the price to more than $2,000.

Of course, any­thing will be an up­grade over the cur­rent Haswell pro­ces­sors, but pack­ing the Mac mini with the best pos­si­ble pro­ces­sor would make it a ma­chine wor­thy of po­si­tion­ing along­side Mac­book Pros in an Ap­ple Store. We saw how awe­some this Core I7-AMD RX Vega M GPU pair­ing is in­side the equally tiny In­tel Hades Canyon ( go.mac­world.com/ hads), and we’d love to see what it can do in­side a Mac mini, ther­mals and other pack­ag­ing con­sid­er­a­tions per­mit­ting.

A WHOLE BUNCH OF PORTS

The 4-year-old Mac mini might be lack­ing in power, but it makes up for it in ports:

> Two Thun­der­bolt 2

> Four USB 3 ports

> HDMI

> Gi­ga­bit eth­er­net

> SDXC card slot

> 3.5 mm head­phone jack

Ap­ple in 2018 isn’t quite as fond of ports, how­ever. The Mac­books have way fewer ports that they did just a few years ago, and if the Mac mini shrinks down (which it’s al­most cer­tain to do), Ap­ple will be tempted to dump a cou­ple of ports to keep things slim and thin. This would be a huge mis­take. If they can’t fit them on the back, then they should throw a few on the front for easy ac­cess. More would be nice, but just don’t give us fewer ports—and what­ever you do, please don’t dump the head­phone jack.

A MORE POR­TA­BLE DE­SIGN

Back when it re­leased in 2005, the Mac mini was a marvel of mi­nus­cule min­i­mal­ism, but in 2018, its 7.7-inch square foot­print is no longer im­pres­sive. The cur­rent Mac mini is easy enough to fit into a bag, but com­pared to the Ap­ple TV, it’s a down­right mon­ster. So if Ap­ple is go­ing to re­design the in­side of the Mac mini, the case could use a face-lift too. In­tel has done some in­ter­est­ing things with its 4X4-inch Next Unit of Com­put­ing (NUC) mini PCS ( go. mac­world.com/nxuc), and a Mac mini with a sim­i­lar slimmed­down form fac­tor would be the ul­tra por­ta­ble ma­chine we al­ways wanted to it to be. It’s not just about get­ting thin­ner or even smaller. With a new Mac mini, Ap­ple has an op­por­tu­nity to wow us again by break­ing new ground.

EXPANDABIL­ITY

When the Mac mini launched in 2005, it had a neat trick. There was a tiny door on the bot­tom that could be opened to in­stall more RAM. Like the rest of its prod­ucts, Ap­ple took user upgrad­abil­ity away with the 2014 re­fresh ( go.mac­world.com/14mn). But if Ap­ple is go­ing to make the Mac mini a true pro ma­chine, it re­ally needs to bring it back.

And not just RAM, but storage too. Ap­ple could take a cue from In­tel’s NUC boxes for in­spi­ra­tion, sell­ing the bare min­i­mum that users need and let­ting them eas­ily up­grade af­ter the fact. While I don’t ex­pect Ap­ple to let users swap out the pro­ces­sor or graph­ics card (we have the Black­magic EGPU [see page 19] for that), let­ting users add more RAM and storage would make the mini much more at­trac­tive to pros and tin­ker­ers than it is now. ■

The cur­rent Mac mini is loaded with ports.

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