Apple Mac mini (2014) review
The Mac mini is an easily overlooked little platform, not merely because it lacks the attention-grabbing display of the Apple’s iMac and laptop systems, but also because Apple barely bothers to advertise it. Yet for certain markets it’s the ideal format: businesses will appreciate the ability to reuse keyboards and monitors when provisioning new hardware, while home users may be tempted by the compact, almost silent design (it’s rated at 12dBA while idle) that makes the Mac mini well suited to a personal desktop or media centre role.
Apple Mac mini (2014) review: what’s new?
From the front, the 2014 Mac mini looks identical to the 2012 model, which is to say tastefully featureless. Not much has changed around the back, either: the four USB 3 sockets, Gigabit Ethernet, HDMI port and SDXC card reader are all still here, alongside twin 3.5mm jacks for audio input and output. The FireWire 800 port has gone, however, replaced by a second Thunderbolt port, and both connectors now support the faster Thunderbolt 2 standard. Businesses with legacy FireWire drives will therefore need to throw in an extra £25 for Apple’s Thunderbolt-to-FireWire adapter, but that’s no biggie.
The other changes introduced with the new mini are even less conspicuous, but arguably more significant. One positive improvement is a wireless upgrade from 802.11n to 802.11ac. A less welcome change is a switch to soldered RAM, so once you’ve chosen your specification – 4GB, 8GB and 16GB configurations are offered – you can’t upgrade it later.
Your processor options have been updated too, from Ivy Bridge to Haswell. Dual-core, low-voltage U-series processors are the order of the day, so the new models will be outpaced by most current iMacs – and by the high-end 2012 Mac mini models, which came with quad-core CPUs – but there’s still a decent wodge of power at hand. The base model comes with a Core i5-4260U, the same processor as found in current MacBook Air laptops, and although it’s advertised as running at only 1.4GHz, Turbo Boost almost doubles the frequency to 2.7GHz when there’s work to be done.
Apple Mac mini (2014) review: performance
In our Real World Benchmarks, this drove the latest MacBook Air to a respectable score of 0.7, and we’d expect to see a similar result from the low-end mini. The mid-range 2.6GHz mini, based on an Intel Core i5-4278U CPU, pushed up to a very creditable Overall score of 0.77; at the top of the range you can also upgrade to a 2.8GHz Core i7-4578U if you so desire.
The newer processors also come with updated GPUs – Intel HD Graphics 5000 on the base model, Iris Graphics 5100 on the more expensive ones. Even the Iris graphics aren’t enough to elevate the Mac mini into a gaming rig, however – on a Full HD display, we had to drop the detail settings on our Crysis benchmark down to Medium to average a just-playable 25fps.
Apple Mac mini (2014) review: verdict
Overall, there’s not much to distinguish the new Mac minis from the old, save for one key piece of good news: soldering the RAM, ditching the FireWire controller and switching to dual-core processors has enabled Apple to drop the price of the base model to £399 – a clear hundred quid cheaper than its predecessor. The 500GB hard disk and 4GB of RAM included in that price may not satisfy power users, but for everyday office or personal computing it adds up to a tempting little bundle.
For more demanding users, sadly, prices ramp up quickly. If you want to add an extra 4GB of RAM, Apple charges a scandalous £80, and stepping up to a 1TB Fusion Drive adds a further £200 to the bill. The mid-range 2.6GHz Core i5 models start at £569, although this does include a 1TB mechanical disk and 8GB of memory. The top-end 3GHz Core i7 unit with 16GB of RAM and a 1TB Fusion Drive will set you back £1,119, while the dual-drive server model has been discontinued.
Perhaps the reason Apple doesn’t make more noise about the Mac mini is that if it’s right for your needs, you probably already know about it. In recent years, though, cheaper Windows-based rivals such as the Intel NUC have provided stiff competition. Now, casual users who have hankered after a Mac have a more persuasive entry point, and cost-conscious offices could finally be won over too. For professionals, however, there’s not much here to get fired up about, especially since IT departments can no longer save money by upgrading the RAM themselves.