Rumours are suggesting that Apple will soon introduce a new entry-level MacBook, could the company also be about to revamp the long neglected Mac mini? We hope so!
One thing we do know is that Apple hasn't quite written off the Mac mini - despite the fact that it hasn't updated it in more than three years - Apple confirmed at an event back in April 2017 that the Mac mini is still "an important product" in its lineup.
Despite being "important", the Mac mini wasn't updated at all in 2015, 2016 or 2017. Despite this lack of attention, it's still a popular option because it's the cheapest Mac Apple sells (read our round up of the Best cheap Macs Apple sells here.) It's always proven popular with developers and students looking for a low-cost Mac, although we wouldn't advise anyone to buy the Mac mini in its current state. (Read: Best Mac for developers and Best Mac for students).
Based on past experience and the specs of current Macs, we've got a fair idea of what to expect from a new Mac mini, and when it is likely to arrive. Read on for the new Mac mini's likely release date, specs, design changes and new features.
We'll update this article whenever new information is unearthed, so check back regularly for the latest Mac mini update rumours, such as Tim Cook's October 2017 email to a Mac mini fan stating, again, that the Mac mini is "Still an important part of Apple's product line going forward." Although when he sent that email he also added that it was: "Not time to share any details."
Unfortunately the Mac mini wasn't important enough for Apple to update the model with new processors before the end of 2017. But that has only made us more sure that an update is instore for 2018!
Mac mini release date
The last time that Apple updated the Mac mini was on 16 October 2014. More than three years ago.
As for when it could launch a new model, there are four times during a year when Apple has, at least in recent years, held events at which it announces new products.
In the past the company has made anouncements in the spring (usually in March), at its WWDC event in June, at an iPhone-specific event in September, and at an infrequent event in October.
Rumours currently circulatiing are pointing to Apple introducing a new low-cost MacBook Air or 13in MacBook soon. Read about the new MacBook Air rumours here. Could Apple release a new Mac mini at the same time as that machine?
One potential venue for an introduction of a new Mac mini is WWDC in June 2018 - here's what to expect at WWDC 2018.
Alternatively, Apple sometimes keeps product updates low key and shuts the Apple online store for a few hours while it adds new products to its range, and this may well be what is in store for a Mac mini update. We think that the latter is more likely, unless the company has something particularly exciting planned for its low-cost Mac.
There are currently three models of the Mac mini available; the one that's best for you will depend on your budget and computing needs. The cheapest model currently costs £479, the middle model is £679, and the priciest model is £949.
We don't anticipate Apple reducing the price with the new model when it launches, so you can expect similar (or higher) pricing. Hopefully better specs for your money, though.
Read our article on why you shouldn't buy a Mac mini.
The design of the Mac mini hasn't changed since 2010. It's possible that the 2018 Mac mini will get a new design. We're not expecting a major visual or build redesign, but it is certainly possible that it could get thinner and smaller.
Although not too much smaller - Apple is currently redesigning the Mac Pro after it found it had designed itself into a bit of a corner with that unit, unable to update it with more powerful components without going back to the drawingboard to accomodate the additional heat generated by them.
In fact, the Mac mini might not be so mini anymore, according to a post on Pikes Universum. This could suggest that the next generation of Mac mini could be even larger, perhaps to incorporate more powerful components.
Right now the dimensions are 3.6cm high, 19.7cm wide, and it weighs 1.22kg. We think that Apple is more likely to reduce the size of the Mac mini. How about a Mac mini that has similar dimensions to an Apple TV? (That's 9.8cm wide, 2.3cm high, and a weight of 0.27kg.)
There was some speculation that the reason for the long delay prior to the Mac mini update in 2014 was that Apple was looking at redesiging the Mac mini along the lines of the Mac Pro.
This was probably intended as an April Fool's Day prank, but we like this render of a flat Mac mini, as seen on Apple User.
Even better, how about a Mac mini that's also an Apple TV ? Adding Apple TV functionality to a Mac mini would be a great way of getting the Mac mini into people's living rooms as a home entertainment device.
The current Mac mini, which hasn't been updated since 2014, as we mentioned above, ships with Intel's Haswell processors. Haswel was the successor to Ivy Bridge, but since Haswell CPUs arrived in 2013, Intel has introduced Broadwell, Skylake, Kaby Lake, and now Coffee Lake.
Kaby Lake and subsequent processors have bought support for Thunderbolt 3, USB Type-C/3.1 and DisplayPort 1.2, as well as 4K video.
Coffee Lake processors could certainly find their way into the range - although we wouldn't expect to see Apple introduce processors in the Mac mini line up before they appeared in other Macs.
Fans of the Mac mini will be hoping that Apple introduces quad-core (or even more core) options ot the Mac mini. The previous 2012 version of the Mac mini had fans thanks to the quad core options, but there was no such option for the 2014 models.
Coffee Lake offers options for 6-core (Hexa-core processors). While it's unlikely we will see 6-cores in the Mac mini, it does make a quad-core option look more likely as even the i3 Coffee Lake CPU (i3-8300) offers quad-core at 3.7GHz.
There is another option, if Apple doesn't go for Coffee Lake processors. Intel introduced 8th generation Kaby Lake R chips in August 2017 (the successor to 7th generation Kaby Lake), they might have the same name, but there is a significant performance leap. Apple might use the quad-core i3 Kaby Lake options (i3-8121U), which have base speeds of 2.2GHz.
If the new Mac mini is delayed even longer we might see Cannonlake processors. These 9th generation Intel processors will follow Coffee Lake...
That's assuming Apple continues to use Intel processors. Reports have appeared claiming that the company is seeking to move away from Intel by 2020 and is developing its own chips in-house in order to do so.
The current range of Mac mini models feature integrated Intel graphics, and we expect this to remain the case in the next generation. However, Apple did recently update the iMac range with discreet graphics cards, so it is possible that Apple will offer a discreet graphics card option in the Mac mini range, a move that would aid its acceptance as a gaming machine.
If Apple uses the Coffee Lake processors as expected you can expect the company to use Iris Plus Graphics 655.
This will be a big step up from the Intel HD Graphics 5000 and Intel Iris Graphics 5100 options in the 2014 Mac mini.
When we tested the entry-level 1.4GHz Mac mini in 2014, we found it just about capable of playing some ported Windows games – provided you used a low screen resolution and reduced quality settings. Hopefully, the new Mac mini will be more capable of game play.
Right now, the entry-level Mac mini features just 4GB RAM as standard. It is the only Mac that still offers just 4GB RAM, now that the MacBook Air's RAM has been incresaed to 8GB as standard, so we think it should be ramped up to 8GB.
Perhaps Apple will quietly update the RAM in the entry-level model, while keeping the processor the same, as it did with the MacBook Air in 2016. We can't see the company doing that without raising the price at the same time though.
The other big change we hope to see in the new Mac mini is the addition of more flash drive options. Currently the flag-ship 2.8GHz model comes with a Fusion Drive, which combines flash memory with a standard hard drive for faster operation.
While the 500GB hard drive in the current entry-level model (and the 1TB hard drive as standard in the £569 model) might appear attractive to some, flash memory is so much faster that we believe it is well worth the compromise of storing additional files on an external hard drive.
You can add 256GB flash storage to the mid-range and top-of-the-range models as a £180 build-to-order option, but we'd like to see Apple offer larger SSD drive options.
It seems unlikely that Apple would do away with the hard drive storage option altogether, as many workgroups choose the Mac mini as a server and will need the extra capacity and lower prices that HD storage makes possible. We'd like to see the Fusion Drive appear as standard though.
You can expect to see Thunderbolt 3 and USB Type-C on the new Mac mini as the two standards use the same port. USB-C offers more advantages than just being reversible and thereby easier to connect when you can't see what you're doing.
It offers twice the data throughput of USB 3.0 and the ability to deliver far more power. The latter factor enabled Apple to use USB-C as a combined data and power port and further slim down its laptop design.
Will Apple discontinue the Mac mini?
Apple tends to know when it makes sense to drop a much-loved product or product feature - one which is often still popular and/or profitable - and switch focus to something else that has more of a future. Think the iPod classic, iPod Shuffle and iPod Nano, or the optical drive, or dropping the headphone port from the iPhone.
There are a couple of candidates to be the next iPod classic. The MacBook Air is one. But the Mac mini, which hasn't been updated since 2014 feels surplus to requirements now that the Apple TV is making its claim as a media centre device (although for storing a large number of films the mini remains an excellent choice, offering 500GB as standard and up to 2TB as a configuration option), will be expecting a P45 more than most of Apple's product line-up.
The design of the Mac mini hasn't changed significantly in recent years and is starting to feel a little dated, and the device doesn't have a clear selling point (or at least, Apple isn't doing a good job of communicating one). So it wouldn't surprise us if Apple quietly retired the line. It's either that or give it a radical overhaul.
However, speaking to press in April 2017 at a briefing designed to prove Apple still cares about the professional Mac user - and specifically the Mac Pro, Apple’s VP of product marketing Phil Schiller did briefly mention the Mac mini, saying: "The Mac mini is an important product in our lineup and we weren't bringing it up because it's more of a mix of consumer with some pro use. … The Mac Mini remains a product in our lineup, but nothing more to say about it today."
Do you think it's time for Apple to ditch the Mac mini or would you still buy one?
Also... what is the Mac mini?!
Not the no-brainer it might sound like to keen mini-heads: plenty of otherwise tech-savvy folk aren't aware the Mac mini even exists. Indeed, sometimes it seems like Apple itself isn't aware of its presence. That would certainly explain the long gap before the 2014 model was launched.
The Mac mini is Apple's smallest desktop Mac and also its cheapest Mac, at £479. It's a full-blown OS X or macOS Sierra desktop that fits into a self-contained chassis no bigger than a set-top box. It's an inexpensive living-room Mac that lacks the power of even some MacBooks and comes with no keyboard, mouse or display, but one that works perfectly as the centre of your digital home - not least because it comes with HDMI sockets, so that plugging it into a modern TV is a doddle.
There used to be a Mac mini with OS X Server available for £849 but Apple removed that option from the line-up in October 2014.