Mac mini 2014

It may be a staple design that’s been with us for over 12 years now, but Apple’s Mac mini still doesn’t enjoy the recognition it deserves. That’s the case despite our contention that it’s as influential on its rivals as the MacBook Air is generally accepted as. 

In fact, the Mac mini has not only inspired other mini PCs in its class, but it could also be credited for its impact on the TV streaming box market. We mean, look at the latest Apple TV or the Roku Ultra and tell us these machines didn’t borrow appearance elements from the fan-favorite Mac mini. 

While you’ve been gawking over shiny new smartphones, it’s easy to forget about the importance of a proper desktop. The Mac mini 2014 specifically holds up, not to mention it’s probably the cheapest Apple computer you can buy assuming you already own a mouse, keyboard and monitor. Without those peripherals, though, you might want to consider an iMac.

It’s still hip to be square

Virtually indistinguishable from its predecessor, the Mac mini broke ground at the time of its release – not because of its outward differences, but because it finally flipped the switch on Intel’s 4th-generation Haswell chip, having finally made the move away from Ivy Bridge. That might seem trivial now that we’re in the 8th-generation of processors for both laptops and desktops, but you can still push the Mac mini today as you would three years ago.

As we mentioned before, the Mac Mini is the cheapest way to dive head-first into Apple’s Mac operating system, otherwise known as macOS. The latest version of this software environment is called macOS 10.13 High Sierra. Even the Mac mini, a computer released back in 2014, comes with 10.13 pre-installed. The most notable changes found in High Sierra include the world’s fastest web browser, built-in, as well as an improved file system for faster storage.

Mac mini

Yosemite has an iOS-inspired design

There are three new Mac mini systems in Apple's refreshed line-up. The entry-level Mac mini now costs £399 ($499), making it one of the company's most affordable computing devices ever. It comes with an Intel Core-i5 CPU clocked to 1.4GHz (Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz), 4GB of RAM and a 500GB HDD. Next along, the mid-range model comes in at £569 ($699) and houses a 2.6GHz Core-i5 CPU (Turbo Boost to 3.5GHz) backed up by 8GB of RAM.

Those seeking more computing power short of having to buy an iMac or a MacBook Pro should consider the top-end Mac mini, the machine featured in our review, which costs £799 ($999) and comes with a 2.8GHz Intel Core-i5 CPU (Turbo Boost to 3.3GHz), a 1TB Fusion Drive and Intel Iris Graphics. For extra cost, it is also configurable with a dual-core Intel Core-i7 CPU clocked at 3.0GHz (Turbo Boost to 3.5GHz) for maximum horsepower.

The higher-end Mac mini is still £100 ($157) cheaper than the entry-level 21.5-inch iMac, which comes with a 1.4GHz Intel Core-i5 CPU (Turbo Boost to 2.7GHz), 8GB of RAM, a 500GB HDD and Intel's integrated HD Graphics 5000.

Gabe Carey has also contributed to this review

First reviewed December 2014

As mentioned, the Mac mini now comes with Intel’s Haswell processor. The machine has had to wait patiently in line for an upgrade to Intel’s fourth-generation chip, which already features in Apple’s MacBook Air, MacBook Pro and iMac systems.

A 1TB Fusion Drive is issued as standard on the high-end model. Essentially a Solid State Hybrid Drive (SSHD), it combines the capacious capacity of a hard disk with the fast speeds of a flash drive, allowing you to store plenty of apps and files without sacrificing speed.

Unfortunately the Mac mini hasn’t made the leap from integrated to dedicated graphics in any of the new models, instead relying on Intel’s Iris graphics solution. It’s also a shame that the Mac mini isn’t available in a quad-core configuration, as its predecessor was – dual-core is the only option, something that may push high-end video editors and design professionals toward the mid-range 21.5-inch iMac, which comes with a quad-core Intel Core-i5 CPU clocked at 2.7GHz for £1,049 (around US$1,644 or AUS$1,973). Apple has also stopped selling the Mac mini with OS X server, instead offering OS X Server 4.0 as a paid download (£13.99/US$19.99/AUS$21.99) in the Mac App Store for Yosemite users.

Mac mini

The Mac mini still features an IR port

Ports and connectivity

In terms of connectivity options, there are four USB 3.0 ports and two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports on the rear, allowing you to hook up a growing number of compatible peripherals – from external storage drives to monitors. If you are planning on hooking up a 4K monitor, be sure to read the section of this review titled Performance, as there is a major drawback to doing so using the latest Mac mini.

The Late 2012 Mac mini’s Firewire port has been replaced with a second Thunderbolt 2.0 port, adding to an already cramped array of ports around the back. Although the Mac mini’s compact design is one of its more attractive traits, it would have been useful for Apple to move the SD card reader or another port to the front to create some breathing space.

On the left of the Thunderbolt 2 port is an HDMI connection for hooking up to an external display. If using particularly chunky cables, you may find that there isn’t enough room to have both a Thunderbolt 2 and HDMI port connected at the same time. The Mac mini no longer comes with an HDMI to DVI adapter, which isn’t a huge problem as they can be picked up for a few pounds (or dollars) from online retailers.

For communication, there’s 802.11ac Wi-Fi, which allows for much faster transfer speeds compared to 802.11g/b/n if used with a compatible AC router. There’s also Gigabit Ethernet for hooking up to a LAN, which sits alongside an SD card reader and headphone jack. The Mac mini once again comes with an IR port, which allows you to use compatible devices with infra-red remote capabilities.

Mac mini

It’s a bit busy back there

Access denied

Previous Mac mini systems have been user-upgradable, but Apple’s latest model is not, which is one of the biggest downsides compared to the Late 2012 Mac mini. Before, the machine’s circular base would rotate and come away, providing access to the RAM slots once a few other components had been moved. Although it still has the same circular design, the new Mac mini’s base plate doesn’t budge, meaning there’s no way inside.

Apple’s own RAM has never come cheap, but there was nothing to stop you fitting more affordable sticks from third-party suppliers. The lack of upgradable RAM is less of a problem on the high-end Mac mini, which comes with 8GB of main memory, than it is on the entry-level version that comes with 4GB, but that will be of little consolation for those wanting the most powerful configuration possible.

The Mac mini has always been popular as an office machine for not just its compact size, but also its low power usage. According to Apple, the new Mac mini consumes just 6 watts of power when in idle mode, making it one of the most economic, energy-sipping computers around – something reflected in the machine’s near-silent operation.

Benchmarks

  • Xbench 1.3: 326.07
  • Cinebench 15 (multi-core) 291cb
  • Cinebench 15 (OpenGL): 26.17cb
  • Novabench (Overall): 106
  • Novabench (Graphics): 46
  • 3DMark: Sky Diver: 1,312; Fire Strike: 350; Ice Storm: 24,849

The high-end Mac mini is no slouch thanks to a fast Intel Core-i5 processor, 8GB of RAM and a nippy Fusion Drive. Boot times are short – around 15 seconds – and opening and closing apps is mostly instantaneous. When it comes to handling graphics, the new Mac mini is a mixed bag. Its Intel Iris solution inside is comparable with the MacBook Pro with Retina, which scored 44 on NovaBench’s benchmark compared with the Mac mini’s 46.

Graphically demanding game Dead Island ran with choppy frame rates of around 20FPS on a low 1,024 x 768 pixel-resolution setting with graphical details tuned down. Valve’s Team Fortress 2, which is based on a less-intensive engine, fared better to maintain a consistent 50-60 FPS while set to 1,920 x 1080. The Mac mini will handle Steam games and equivalent titles without breaking a sweat, but you would be hard pressed to make it run anything more demanding at fluid frame rates.

Mac mini

4K limitation

Performance-wise, one big drawback to the Mac mini is that it’s unable to drive a 4K monitor at 60Hz. Because of a limitation of the Intel CPU inside, its refresh rate is limited to 30Hz, which makes for an unpleasantly laggy experience. Whether you’re using Thunderbolt 2 or HDMI, you’ll still encounter choppy performance that makes performing productive tasks awkward and time consuming. If you’re thinking of going 4K, the Mac mini isn’t the best way to go about it.

The Mac mini continues to impress thanks to its attractive design, quiet and energy efficient operation, improved communication capabilities and upgraded graphics. However, even the high-end model may not satisfy those hungry for maximum computing power in the absence of upgradable RAM or a quad-core configuration.

We liked

Apple introduced some very welcome changes for the new Mac mini that make it a better buy for some people over the late 2012 model. The addition of 802.11ac Wi-Fi is a boon for those who prefer to work wire-free at longer distances, and the addition of a second Thunderbolt 2 port provides compatibility with a wide range of peripherals. Gaming is a mixed bag, but you can be confident that it will handle most Steam games and lesser-demanding titles with ease.

The Mac mini still looks great: it’s small, light and tough. Sure it hasn’t received a design update in ages, but at this moment, it doesn’t feel like it needs one. It still sits discretely in the corner of a desk and can even slip into a bag if you need to transport it and hook it up to another monitor.

Although pure SSD configurations are the best bet for storage, it’s an expensive way to go, and the Mac mini’s Fusion Drive feels like the right balance between capacity and performance. Combined with its Intel Core-i5 CPU and 8GB of RAM, we very rarely had to wait for apps or websites to load.

We disliked

You just can’t ignore the Mac mini’s biggest issue: upgradabilty. If you’re spending this much on Apple’s high-end system, you’re likely somebody who’s looking for maximum performance in as small package as possible. Limited to a dual-core processor and 8GB of RAM, its lack of potential horsepower and reduced longevity means that even the most powerful of the new Mac mini models may not be for you.

In a world where even Intel’s NUC PC is capable of displaying 4K video at 60Hz, the fact that the Mac mini can only run it at a maximum of 30Hz feels like a let down and renders it practically useless for image editing at the super-high resolution.

Final verdict

Whether you will want to plump for Apple’s new high-end Mac mini will depend on what you want to use it for, and even then the Mac mini finds itself in something of an odd position. If you’re looking for the cheapest and smallest desktop PC that runs OS X, this certainly isn’t it. The low-end Mac mini is one of Apple’s cheapest computer ever, and while it might not offer the processing power of its high-end sibling, it’s far more affordable.

The high-end Mac mini is Apple’s most powerful compact computer. It’s more energy efficient, much more compact and cheaper than Apple’s low-end 21.5-inch iMac, but you can’t pick it up with a quad-core processor or upgrade it to 16GB of RAM as you can with Apple’s All-in-One. It’s a compromise, and those aiming to decide between the two should consider factors such as the display, portability, processing power and, ultimately, upgradability.

If you’re content with the specs offered in the high-end model and accept its limitations, you can bag yourself what is in many ways the best Mac mini yet. It comes with superior wireless speeds, lets you hook up multiple Thunderbolt 2 peripherals and comes pre-loaded with the best version of OS X yet. A discrete option that you can even chuck into a backpack, it may not possess quad-core power but is still a fast mini desktop PC with tons of storage and heaps of style.

Kane Fulton
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