The Mac mini saw its last significant updated in October 2018 - Apple described it as its "biggest update ever". It was a big update and it had been a long time coming - four years to be exact. A year and a half later, in March 2020, Apple updated the Mac mini again, but the only change was that the Mac mini got twice as much storage as before.
We think that there is more in store for the Mac mini in 2020 (or 2021) and in this article we'll be looking ahead to what the next Mac mini might offer in terms of specs - and whether it will run on an Apple processor.
Will Apple update the Mac mini again in 2020??
We don't know why Apple didn't make a more significant update to the Mac mini in March 2020, but it's not unusual for the Mac mini to go for long periods of time without an update. The last major update to the Mac mini was in 2018 and that was its first update since October 2014.
The Mac mini currently shares some of its processors with the iMac, which itself hasn't been updated since March 2019.
It's feasible that the apparent delay for these two desktop Macs is the lack of appropriate Intel processors. That may well explain why the Mac mini processor wasn't updated in March 2020.
However, we think that there is another reason why Apple didn't update the processor in the Mac mini in March. We think it has something more exciting planned for it: Apple has announced that it is working on developing its own processors and it seems likely that we will soon see an Apple processor inside the Mac mini.
The other new Mac mini
Speaking of Apple processors inside a Mac mini there is already an Apple A12Z processor inside a Mac mini.
When Apple revealed its plans to move from Intel to its own Apple Silicon it actually made a special edition Mac mini available to developers. This Mac mini features an A12Z processor - the same processor used by the iPad Pro.
It costs $500 as part of the Universal App Quick Start Program - but at some point Apple requires that the unit should be returned to Apple.
Despite Apple telling developers not to post benchmarks relating to this Mac mini powered by the A12Z chip, benchmarks have appeared and despite the fact that Geekbench is running via Rosetta 2 they are impressive. Read about it here: A12Z Mac mini benchmarked.
The existence of this Mac mini does perhaps hint that the Mac mini will be one of the first Macs to get Apple Silicon inside.
New Mac mini release date, 2020/2021
We're going to ignore the March 2020 Mac mini for now as we don't think that it's the new Mac mini we are all waiting for. (There's more information about the minor changes to that Mac below).
We think that Apple will update the Mac mini later in 2020, or early in 2021, with new Apple processors. We hope to see a more significant update to the line up in October 2020.
However, we may well be waiting until 2021 before we see new processors in the Mac mini as rumours suggest that Apple will start by adding Apple Silicon processors to the MacBook Pro and MacBook Air in 2020 before moving onto the desktop Macs next year.
New Mac mini Price
The Mac mini costs £799/$799 for the quad-core model and £1,099/$1,099 for the six-core model. There has been no change to the price since Apple updated the Mac mini in 2018.
The entry-level MacBook Air, on-the-other-hand, saw a price drop by £100 in 2019 and another £100 in March 2020. The Air is a bit of an exception to the rule. Apple rarely changes prices, other than to adjust them for currency fluctuations as it did with the MacBook Pro in July 2019, which meant that UK consumers saw the top-of-the-range model price increase by £100.
As for whether the Mac mini will ever see a price drop, there are certainly those wishing for one. When Apple introduced the new Mac mini in October 2018 it also put up the price. The Mac mini, which used to be Apple's cheapest Mac at £499 (and many years previously just £399), now costs £799. It's still the cheapest Mac, but it's quite a bit more expensive than it once was.
Will Apple reduced the price of the Mac mini? We very much doubt it. We think that when Apple updates the range the prices will remain exactly the same as they are now.
New Mac mini Design
The March 2020 Mac mini design is no different to the 2018 model. With the announcement of the minor update the Mac mini in March 2020, Apple emphasised that it is made from 100% recycled aluminium, but that is no different to the 2018 model (assuming the aluminium hasn't replaced the 60% recycled plastic used in that machine).
Announcing the update to the Mac mini in October 2018, Apple revealed that the mini is a popular choice for server farms and that video professionals often string together multiple Mac minis for video editing. As a result, the Mac mini design didn't change - since doing so would mean that existing set-ups wouldn't accommodate the new machines.
There was one change to the design back in 2018 though, the Mac mini now comes in Space Grey, the finish that seems to be popular with creative pros (based on the reaction to the introduction of the Space Grey iMac finish with the iMac Pro) and developers (who are big advocates of Dark Mode on the Mac too).
As you will see if you read on, there are calls for some changes to the internals of the Mac mini. While it's unlikely that Apple will ever make the Mac mini smaller (see our point about server farms above) it could accommodate a discrete graphics card and a better thermal system if there was more room inside the unit. How could Apple make more room, one suggestion is by removing the power supply, which could be separated from the unit in the same way it is with the Mac laptops. We have more information about the calls for graphic improvements below.
Read about the design changes that might be coming to the iMac here.
New Mac mini Spec
The Mac mini saw what Apple descried as its "biggest update ever" in October 2018. The March 2020 update was far less significant, simply boosting the storage options. What can we expect from the next update to the Mac mini?
As we said above, there is already a Mac mini running on an Apple - the developer Mac mini. That Mac mini is actually just using an iPad Pro chip, but it has already popped up in impressive benchmarks.
It is unlikely that Apple will ever ship a Mac mini running on this iPad Pro chip to general consumers though. It's likely that Apple's processor development team will be looking at the very specific needs of this desktop and designing a processor for it, rather than using a processor that is designed for a different type of product.
When Apple updated the graphics in the 2018 Mac mini the company claimed that they were 60% faster, but that was after a hiatus of four years. To see similar improvements in the next version of the Mac mini Apple could add the option of discrete graphics. This would be a very popular move, but the Mac may need an improved cooling system. As we suggested earlier, this could be achieved by removing the power supply from inside the box.
However, it seems that if Apple is to move to Apple silicon inside the Mac mini it will be using its own integrated graphics.
In a developer document Apple has said: "The integrated GPU in Apple processors is optimized for high performance graphics tasks".
There are calls for Apple to make the Mac mini easier to upgrade after sale. Currently it is possible to update the RAM in the machines via the hatch at the bottom (shown below) although it's not as easy to do so as it once was. But once-upon-a-time it was possible to update many more of the components inside the Mac mini and there are many who would like to see a return of this status.
The March 2020 update means that the line up looks like this thanks to the relatively minor changes to the line up:
£799/$799 Mac mini
- 3.6GHz Quad-Core i3 8th generation Processor
- Intel UHD Graphics 630
- NEW: 256GB Storage (up from 128GB SSD)
£1,099/$1,099 Mac mini
- 3.0GHz Six-Core i5 Processor 8th generation (with Turbo Boost to 4.1GHz)
- Intel UHD Graphics 630
- NEW: 512GB Storage (up from 256GB SSD)
That isn't all that has changed though. There are further changes to the build-to-order options:
- 1TB storage: now £200/$200 (was £600/$600)
- 2TB storage now £600/$600 (was £1,200/$1,200)
This is good news if you want more storage - and more storage is no doubt a good thing, but those who were hoping that Apple would update the Mac mini in a more significant fashion will be disappointed.
Luckily, it looks like this won't be the only Mac mini update for 2020, so if you are hoping for a Mac mini with better processors and other improvements read on to find out what could be in the pipeline.