A new Mac mini could launch in 2017, since the line wasn't updated at all in 2015 or 2016; but Apple (as usual) is giving nothing away other than to say that the Mac mini is still "an important product" in its lineup.

Based on past experience and the specs of current Macs, we've got a fair idea of what to expect from the new Mac mini, and when it is likely to arrive. Read on for the next 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 email to a Mac mini fan stating, again, that the Mac mini is "Still an important part of Apple's product line".

Important enough to update the model with new processors before the end of 2017? We hope so!

Mac mini release date

The last time that Apple updated the Mac mini was on 16 October 2014. More than three years ago.

We had hoped that Apple might be intending to issue an update to the Mac mini in October 2017, but that looks unlikely following an email from Tim Cook to a Mac mini fan which confirmed that while the Mac mini is "an important part of our product line going forward," now is: "not time to share any details."

There is hope that this email indicates that a new Mac Mini is coming soon.

It is feasible that Apple could update the Mac mini in 2017, perhaps coinciding with the launch of the new iMac Pro.

If it fails to materialise in 2017, looking to 2018, 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 event in October.

At WWDC 2017, Apple updated the iMac and iMac Pro, MacBook, MacBook Pro, and even made a minor update to the MacBook Air. However, we don't think we will be waiting until June 2018 to see the new Mac mini.

Apple sometimes keeps product updates more low key and just shuts the Apple online store for a few hours while it adds new products to its range. 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.

Price

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.

Of course, you'll still need to factor in the price of a monitor, keyboard and mouse. (For advice on that, see our roundups of the Best Mac monitors, Best Mac keyboards and Best Mac mice.)

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.

Design

It's possible that the 2017 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.

Alternatively 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.)

New Mac mini 2016 release date rumours UK | New Mac mini specs & new features

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. Read all the rumours about the next generation Apple TV here.

Processor

The Mac mini is Apple's most budget-focused desktop system and as such features relatively low-end components. But what specs upgrades should we expect from the next Mac mini?

Intel is shipping Kaby Lake processors that would be suitable for a Mac mini, but even Skylake, the previous generation of Intel processors, would represent a significant power boost over the current, aging, Haswell processors.

Kaby Lake supports Thunderbolt 3, USB Type-C/3.1 and DisplayPort 1.2, as well as 4K video. The chips are manufactured using a 14nm process, same as Broadwell and Skylake. The next generation, Cannonlake, will switch over to a more accurate 10nm process. We wouldn't expect to see Apple introduce processors in the Mac mini line up before they appeared in other Macs though.

Graphics card

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.

RAM

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 has done with the MacBook Air. We can't see the comany doing that without raising the price at the same time though.

Storage

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.

For more information about the technology that could be coming to Macs in the future read: New MacBook Pro release, New MacBook Air release and New MacBook release.

Ports

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.

Hang on though... Won't Apple discontinue the Mac mini?

Apple, to paraphrase a colleague, is generally very good at killing its darlings: at knowing 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 (and now the iPod Shuffle & Nano) or the optical drive, or dropping the headphone port from the iPhone 7.

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 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.

New Mac mini 2016 release date rumours UK | New Mac mini specs & new features

Further reading

If you're not sure which Mac is right for you, visit our Mac buying guide, and our guide to Where to buy a Mac mini.