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It Lives! Apple Announces Pro-Focused Mac mini

Until today, no current Apple hardware product has been more forgotten or forlorn than the Mac mini. The compact, monitor-less Mac had not seen a significant update in over 4 years, and even that update was seen as lackluster (see “Apple Launches iMac with Retina Display, Refreshes Mac mini,” 16 October 2014). Many thought the Mac mini was dead.

Apple has now put such beliefs to rest, revealing a revamped—though familiar—Mac mini during its special event at the Brooklyn Academy of Music in New York City.

Few Design Changes

In terms of industrial design, the new Mac mini is not a radical revision amid a push in the PC world to create palm-sized, ultraportable computers. It looks much like its predecessor—a large, square, metal slab with rounded corners and the Apple logo on top.

The top of the Mac miniThe new Mac mini is 7.7 inches (19.56 cm) square and 1.4 inches (3.56 cm) tall, exactly like its predecessor, and it weighs 2.9 pounds (1.32 kg), just a shade heavier than its 2.7-pound (1.22 kg) precursor.

Design departures include a space-gray finish, unlike the lighter gray of yore, and an ecological twist with the Mac mini being manufactured entirely out of recycled aluminum reformulated into an “Apple-designed alloy.”

Improved Performance

As Apple executives pointed out repeatedly during the presentation, the company is aiming this new Mac mini at professionals who use it for live performances, rendering video, running specialized hardware, and more. With the new model, Apple points to a “massive” Mac mini performance increase compared to the previous version, which is welcome but hardly surprising given how puny the old Mac mini was.

Inside the new Mac mini.New Mac mini internals include:

  • Eighth-generation Intel Core processors that start with a 3.6 GHz 4-core i3 version that’s common in low-end Windows-based PCs or a 3.0 GHz 6-core i5. For $200, you can move up to a 3.2 GHz 6-core i7 chip with Turbo Boost of up to 4.6 GHz. Apple claims up to five times the performance compared to the previous Mac mini, and up to 60% speedier graphics performance thanks to the switch to Intel UHD Graphics 630.
  • 8 GB of RAM of the 2666 MHz DDR4 SO-DIMM variety in configurations of 16 GB ($200), 32 GB ($600), and 64 GB ($1400). The old model maxed out at 16 GB. Apple says the new memory is up to 7.8 times faster than the older model.
  • 128 GB of SSD storage with upgrades to 256 GB ($200), 512 GB ($400), 1 TB ($800), and 2 TB ($1600). Apple is claiming four times the previous read speed, up to 3.4 GB/s sequential read speed.
  • The new T2 security chip with a Secure Enclave coprocessor for encrypted storage and secure-boot capabilities.

Unsurprisingly, the new Mac mini will run hotter than its predecessor, and Apple has adjusted to this with a new thermal-dissipation system that circulates air in and out of the computer at twice the previous rate while, the company claims, keeping the computer whisper quiet.

A Full Complement of Ports

The Mac mini has always been notable for its plethora of ports, and the new model is no exception.

The selection this time around includes four Thunderbolt 3 ports and an Ethernet port—with an option for 10-Gigabit Ethernet—along with a standard HDMI 2.0 port, a 3.5 mm headphone jack, and two legacy USB-A ports supporting USB 3.0.

The back of the new Mac miniAnnoyingly for a machine that professionals are going to be stuffing in racks, the Mac mini still has no ports on the front. Photographers may be disappointed that there’s no camera-card slot on the front or back.

External Display Options

As a headless Mac, the Mac mini has long served the needs of those who want the flexibility to add a display (along with a keyboard and mouse or trackpad) of their choosing.

In the case of the new Mac mini, options beyond a single display include:

  • Two Displays: One display with 5120-by-2880 resolution connected via Thunderbolt 3, plus one display with 4096-by-2160 resolution connected via HDMI 2.0
  • Three Displays: Two displays with 4096-by-2304 resolution connected via Thunderbolt 3, plus another display with 4096-by-2160 resolution connected via HDMI 2.0

The Mac mini’s Thunderbolt 3 ports support native DisplayPort output over USB-C. With the right adapters, users of legacy displays can also do Thunderbolt 2, DVI, and VGA output via those ports. DVI is also supported through the HDMI port, with an adapter.

Pricing and Availability

You can order the new Mac mini now, with a 7 November 2018 arrival date. The 4-core i3 configuration with 8 GB of memory and 128 GB of storage starts at $799, and a 6-core i5 version with 8 GB of memory and 256 GB of storage starts at $1099.

Even though it’s more expensive than its predecessor, which opened at $499, the new Mac mini is the only modern Mac whose entry-level configuration falls below the magical $1000 price point. However, build-to-order options will increase the price quickly because Apple charges a steep premium for RAM and storage. A maxed-out Mac mini would run nearly $4200, although dropping to the second tier RAM and SSD options would drop that to $2600. You can buy and install RAM from other vendors to save some money.

If you don’t already have a monitor, keyboard, and mouse, you might also want to take a look at Apple’s entry-level 21.5-inch iMac, which starts at $1099. It has similar specs, including a seventh-generation 2.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor, 8 GB of memory, and a 1 TB hard drive, not to mention its integrated 1920-by-1080 display. Just make sure to swap that poky hard drive for a Fusion Drive or SSD.

Nonetheless, the new Mac mini is sure to find an audience among those who already have peripherals on hand, and who want an affordable, compact Mac that can be easily tucked into tight spaces while serving a myriad of uses. It may be a bit pricey for an individual’s home media server, but anyone who needs a tiny Mac for live performances or that can be stacked to make render farm, the Mac mini is once again a serious solution.

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