The Underappreciated Apple Mac Mini
While I have to admit that the photo below of our latest Mac Mini is certainly not pretty, this actually is my favorite of all the computers we have owned over the past four decades or so. It is inexpensive, quite powerful and has features that are useful for almost anyone who needs a desktop computer.
Yet many people don’t know this machine exists. If you visit an Apple retail store, you may have a hard time finding it at all and if you tell an Apple sales associate that you are looking for a new computer, they are unlikely to mention this!
As I will explain more fully, that’s a shame because that may cause you to miss out on a great machine at a great price .
What Is the Mac Mini?
The Mac Mini is a small grey box. It weighs just 2.9 pounds and measures 7.7 inches square by 1.4 inches high. It comes with a power cable, a solid state storage drive, four Thunderbolt USB-C ports, two 5 Gbps USB 3 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an HDMI 2.0 port and a 3.5 mm headphone jack.
It does not come with anything else. No monitor, no keyboard, no mouse. The starting price for this machine is just $799. If you already have a monitor and the rest, that could be your total outlay.
I added a few things to ours. In the photo above, you can see several external solid state drives and an Anker 4 port USB 3.0 Hub that I bought from Amazon. You might also notice some messy cables stretching over the top; I leave those connected so that I can quickly attach Lightning or USB-C devices when I need to.
This is a powerful, somewhat transportable machine that takes up very little desk space.
Our Mac Minis
I bought our first Mac Mini in 2009. I had owned Mac laptops and desktops prior to that, but I had a spare monitor kicking around that I had used with a Windows machine. As I had less and less use for Windows, I decided that when I did need it, I could run it either as dual boot or in a virtual machine in MacOS.
We did buy a new keyboard from McAlly. My wife particularly liked the feel of that keyboard and amazingly enough we are still using it today.
If my memory serves, I replaced that Mini in 2012 or 2014 with a more powerful new model. I also replaced the bulky old CRT monitor with an inexpensive LED model.
If you want or need to run Windows, Linux or any other operating system in addition to MacOS, I highly recommend Parallels Desktop. It’s inexpensive and very powerful. If you do this, I suggest configuring your Mac with at least 16 GB of RAM.
The Long Hiatus
After the 2014 model, Apple seemed to be uninterested in the Mac Mini. Year after year, no new models were offered. People speculated that because the original intent of the machine was to provide an inexpensive way for people to move from Windows, keeping their monitors, keyboards and perhaps other peripherals, and the need to court switchers was much diminished, perhaps Apple was just going to let the poor Mini fade away into the sunset.
That prospect saddened me and many others. In addition to people like me, the Mini was also a favorite as a rack mounted server in data centers. Those machines weren’t necessarily running MacOS, but their compact size and low cost made them a decent choice for some users.
The 2018 Mac Mini
That suddenly changed in October of 2018 when Apple announced a new, very upgraded model. This was a surprise to most of us and the performance specs made it almost worth the wait. While its raw power has now been eclipsed by other Apple computers, when this was first announced it had as much or even more power than any but the most expensive iMacs and desktops.
Of course I bought one immediately. I configured it with 16 GB of RAM and a 512 GB Solid State Drive, but still kept the old LED monitor and our faithful Macally keyboard.
That ability to reuse older peripherals is part of the charm of the Mini. It seems so wasteful to retire a laptop or iMac when the screen is still perfectly good.
The Mini Is Still A Hard Sell
As it happens, I worked as a sales specialist at an Apple retail store for a few years after I retired from my consulting business. It was a fun and rewarding job and I have many wonderful memories of that time.
While I was doing that, I always tried to sing the praises of the Mac Mini. Unfortunately, that mostly fell upon deaf ears. There were a few customers who appreciated the advantages, but those were very few. I doubt that I sold a half dozen of these in all that time.
Most of the other salespeople I worked with didn’t even bother to point out the Mini as an option. I managed to sway a few to my opinion, but I think the fact that it had languished as an older, far less powerful choice for so many years strongly affected both their and customers view of its virtues.
That is a shame. I still think it is good value and has more raw power than most casual users need. I hope that Apple continues to upgrade it from time to time.