Mac mini (2014) first look review

Apple last updated the Mac mini in October 2012 so it's been two years since it was last refreshed. We are pleased to be able to confirm that Apple has at last updated its low priced Mac. In this first look review we will look at how what we expected from the new Mac mini compares to the new features and specs offered by the diminutive Mac.

What is the Mac mini?

The Mac mini is Apple's lowest priced Mac with the price now starting at £399 - £100 less than the previous generation. This is the lowest Mac mini price for many years (although you will have to factor in the price of a monitor, keyboard, and mouse.)

The Mac mini is tiny, measuring less than 20cm by 20cm and 3.6cm high, and encased in aluminium.

The Mac mini was also popular because it was possible for users to upgrade it after purchase, this is no longer the case and we discuss this in more detail below.

2014 Mac mini: Processor

The Mac mini has finally moved to fourth generation Haswell processors.

The new entry-level Mac mini offers a 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, just like the 1.4GHz chip in the entry-level iMac and the MacBook Air.

You can pay £170 more to get a 2.6GHz dual-core i5 or £400 more for a 2.8GHz dual-core i5. We understand that these are Haswell processors.

The older Mac mini offered the choice of a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, or a 2.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i7. The older Mac mini was still running processors from the generation before Haswell but we can't help but think the older entry-level model looks better speced with it's 2.5GHz processor for £499. You could suggest that this old entry level model has essentially had a price increase to £549. 

There was previously a server version, but it appears It appears that Apple isn's selling the server version of the Mac mini any more.

There is still room for two drives, but apparently it's not user upgradable (see more upgradability information below).

2014 Mac mini: RAM

The low-end version, while attractively priced, offers very basic specs, just 4GB RAM (like the MacBook Air does). However, the memory is upgradable at point of purchase so we recommend opting for at least 8GB RAM for another £80. Of course if you are spending another £80 you might as well go the whole hog and get the 2.6GHz Mac mini that comes with 8GB RAM and will only cost you another £90 on top of the £70 for RAM. On this entry level model you could pay £240 extra to get 16GB RAM, but this is almost double the price of the Mac mini to start with and is probably a false economy, but we'll find out more when we get to spend more time with one.

The 2.6GHz and 2.6GHz versions of the Mac mini come with 8GB RAM as standard, upgradable to 16GB for £160.

You can't upgrade this RAM yourself like you used to be able to. We discuss this below.

2014 Mac mini: Graphics

The older Mac mini featured an Intel HD Graphics 4000 for graphics. The new entry level Mac mini, like the entry level iMac and MacBook Air offers a slightly better Intel HD Graphics 5000. The 2.6GHz and 2.8GHz Mac mini's offer Intel Iris Graphics. Apple says that as a result you will see 60% faster graphics than before.

2014 Mac mini: Storage

The older the Mac mini offered a choice of a 500GB or 1TB hard drive, or a 2TB hard drive on the Server model. You could also configure your Mac mini with up to 256GB of flash storage or a Fusion Drive.

The new generation offers the following storage options:

The entry-level Mac mini gets a 500GB hard drive. 

The 2.6GHz Mac mini gets a 1TB hard drive.

The top-of-the-range Mac mini gets a 1TB Fusion Drive.

We're glad to see a Fusion Drive option as standard on the high end Mac mini although some are likely to miss the 2TB hard drive option of the Server model of old. (A Fusion Drive combines a hard drive and a Flash Drive).

You can upgrade the 2.6GHz model to a 1TB Fusion Drive for £160, the same price as it is to update that model to a 256GB SSD drive. Because it uses PCIe Flash it is so much faster.

The 2.8GHz top-of-the-line model gets a 1TB Flash drive upgrade option for £640 - almost doubling the price of the £799 Mac mini!

You can also configure the entry-level £399 model with a 1TB Fusion drive for another £200 but there is no Flash option, other than the Fusion Drive for this unit.

2014 Mac mini : upgradability options

Previously the Mac mini was popular because it had easy to access memory – so you could add more RAM if you wanted to. Unfortunately the new Mac mini will not be this flexible, Apple has told us you will not be able to add more RAM after purchase as you could previously.

Apple has gone to some lengths to make it harder to get into the Mac mini - despite the box not having changed Apple has removed the access point from the bottom, deliberately changing the bottom of the unit so that users can not get to RAM.

As a result it would seem that the user upgrade possibilities are gone, despite the fact that there is extra space for drive inside. Apple told us you can configure the Mac mini on the store to have two drives but it still will not be user upgradable at a later date.

Regarding there being no user upgradeable RAM Apple referred to the: "Great memory compression technologies built into OS X since Mavericks that makes 4GB RAM feel more like a 6-8GB machine."

2014 Mac mini : no more Server model

Apple used to sell a OS X Server configuration of the Mac mini. This model was a popular choice with those looking for the maximum capacity (it offered a 2TB hard drive) and it offered a number of other features that meant that even as the other Macs gained newer Haswell processors it continued to perform well in comparative tests.

However, Apple has decided to discontinue this model. Does it matter? Apple thinks it was a wise decision. “A smart move: All machines can run Server and it only costs £15 so it doesn't make sense to ship it as a server configure any more”.

2014 Mac mini: Ports and specs

The new Mac mini gains Thunderbolt 2 but loses FireWire. Apple justified this by saying that dual Thunderbolt 2 ports allow you to run 14 devices rather than 7.

The Mac mini maintains its HDMI port that makes it popular as an entertainment centre.

The old Mac mini offered only 802.11n Wi-Fi, Apple has added 802.11ac Wi-Fi to the new Mac mini.

How much will the new Mac mini cost?

Prices of the Mac mini now starts at £399, £100 less than previously and the lowest price for a very long time - although when the Mac mini launched in 2005 the entry level Mac mini was just £339.

OUR VERDICT

Apple has finally updated the Mac mini and we've had a first look at the new model, although we'll hold of on our final verdict until we get more time to play with the new devices.

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