Apple Mac mini (2018) full review
After four long years Apple has finally updated its popular, and criminally neglected, Mac mini. As you might expect, the new model makes quite a few steps forwards from the tired innards found in its older sibling, but this comes with a significant price hike, following Apple's general trend in 2018.
In this article we take a look at what a difference nearly half a decade makes to the life of a Mac mini. Read our full review of the 2018 Mac mini here. You can also read about the changes that could come to the Mac mini in 2019/2020 here.
Price & Availability
There are two base-line models:
- 3.6GHz Quad-Core 8th generation Intel i3 with 8GB RAM and 128GB PCIe-based SSD storage for £799/$799
- 3.0GHz 6-Core 8th generation Intel i5, with 8GB RAM and 256GB PCIe-base SSD storage for £1,099
Either can be configured to include faster processors, 10 Gigabit Ethernet, up to 64GB of RAM, and a maximum 2TB of SSD storage. These are not cheap options, though, and a fully upgraded version of the 6-core model will cost you a massive £3,859/$3,859.
With the release of the new iterations, Apple has retired the previous model which made its debut back in 2014, although you may still be able to pick them up from Apple resellers or retailers selling the old stock.
The range contains an entry-level model, which features a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5, 4GB RAM, and 500GB HD cost £399 when first unveiled, and moves up to £799 for the top-of-the-line 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 with 8GB RAM and a 1TB Fusion drive.
While the new models are obviously far more powerful than their predecessors, the change in Apple's pricing is not a happy one for consumers.
The Mac mini remains the cheapest macOS computer you can buy, but it also marks an increase of 50% on the previous cost of entering Apple's desktop universe.
Mac mini Design & Build
One thing that hasn't changed is the classic square design of the mini. Apple retains the 19.7 x 19.7 x 3.6cm dimensions that many of us have grown to love over the years, but rather than an aluminium silver colour this time the Mac mini comes in a fetching Space Grey.
The only other noticeable exterior changes are found in the row of ports on the back edge. Where the older model offered 2x Thunderbolt 2, 4x USB 3.0, an SDXC card reader, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm Headphone Output and Audio In ports, the newer version simplifies this to 4x USB-C/Thunderbolt 3, 2 x USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, 3.5mm Headphone jack, and an Ethernet port.
Unscrewing the circular bottom plate will still get you into the machine, and here we find a pleasant surprise because it appears you can now upgrade the RAM yourself thanks to the 2 x DDR4 SO DIMM slots.
There's precious little else that can be upgraded in minis anymore, as was the case with the 2014 iteration, so you'll just have to admire the new fan design and expanded vents that allow the higher-powered components to keep cool instead.
In pictures: Mac mini 2018
In Pictures: Mac mini 2014
Features & Specs
It's pretty much all change inside with the 2018 models. Gone are the 4th-generation (or Haswell) Intel Core processors, replaced with shiny new 8th-gen (Coffee Lake) upgrades. The base model only comes with a Core i3, though, which feels a curious choice for a desktop-class device that costs this much, even if it is quad-core.
Storage is quite a shift, with the slow 500GB hard drive of the 2014 version giving way to much faster PCI-e SSDs. Again though, it's not all good. Apple has chosen to fit the entry-level device with only 128GB, which is paltry for a modern computer. Most new smartphones have that these days.
Bear in mind that macOS usually takes up around 20GB, and if you want to run professional software like Apple's own Logic X, and install all of the music library, that will take up another 63GB. So 128GB will fill up very quickly if you want to use the device for more than just online browsing, writing a few documents, and other tasks that an iPad could fulfil.
You can increase this to 256GB if you pay £180/$180 more, and there are options for 512GB (£360/$360), 1TB (£720/$720), and 2TB (£1,440/$1,440), but you'll need to decide before you buy as the SSDs are not user-upgradable like they were in the earlier Mac minis.
Of course, you could plug a fast external drive into one of the Thunderbolt 3 or USB 3.0 ports, so all is not lost if you have a large movie or music collections.
What then do all of these upgrades amount to in terms of performance? Apple states that the 2018 model's processors are 5x faster than the previous incumbents, and offer 60% increase in graphics performance thanks to the Intel integrated UHD 630 GPU.
Memory capabilities are a significant 7.8x faster than using 16GB in the previous topped-out Mac mini 2014, while the flash storage sees gains of 4x faster read speeds than before.
It's safe to say that the 2018 Mac mini is a big step up from what went before.
One new feature is the T2 Security Chip, which can also be found on the updated MacBook Air 2018, that protects against anything nasty getting access to the machine during bootup, while also providing increased security and offering encryption for data on the SSD.
Here's a breakdown of the technical specifications for the new entry level Mac mini 2018 and its predecessor.
Mac mini 2018 specs
- 3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 6MB shared L3 cache
- Intel UHD Graphics 630
- 8GB of 2666MHz DDR4 SO-DIMM memory
- 128GB PCI-e based SSD
- 4 x Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C)
- 2 x USB 3.0
- 3.5mm headphone jack
- HDMI 2.0 port supports multi-channel audio output
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking, IEEE 802.11a/b/g/n compatible
- Bluetooth 5.0
- 10/100/1000BASE-T Gigabit Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)
- 19.7 cm x 19.7 cm x 3.6 cm
Mac mini 2014 specs
- 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 (Turbo Boost up to 2.7GHz) with 3MB on-chip shared L3 cache
- 500GB (5400-rpm) hard drive
- 4GB of 1600MHz LPDDR3 memory
- Intel HD Graphics 5000
- 2 x Thunderbolt 2
- 4 x USB 3.0
- SDXC card slot
- Audio In
- 3.5mm Headphone jack
- 802.11ac Wi-Fi wireless networking; IEEE 802.11a/g/b/n compatible
- Bluetooth 4.0
- 10/100/1000BASE-T Ethernet (RJ-45 connector)
- 19.7 cm x 19.7 cm x 3.6 cm
Apple has always been good at keeping older machines up to date with the latest versions of macOS. Both the 2014 Mac mini and its 2018 replacement can use macOS 10.14 Mojave.
How long this upgrade path will remain open to the 2014 model is questionable, however. It was never a high-powered device, certainly if you bought the base model, and as the Mac operating system continues to advance we think it won't be long until the ageing servant is left off the list.