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Apple is breaking my heart with the Mac mini

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Mac Mini

Opinion: On Valentine's Day, Computing Editor Michael Passingham ponders the merits of Apple’s most unloved device, the Mac mini.

One of the benefits of working for a big company is that you get a say in the type of computer you wish to use. I use a Lenovo ThinkPad, while many of my colleagues use MacBook Airs – a decision that requires an opinion piece of its own to understand.

Some folk choose Mac minis. They'll take their Mac mini out of their locker and carry it to their 'hot desk' for the day. At the end of each day, they'll unplug it and return it to their locker.

I know, it's mind-boggling – and in more ways than you might think.

For one, it has been 854 days since Apple's last Mac mini update, or more than two years. In and of itself, the Mac mini's age isn't a problem, as you should generally be able to get at least three years out of a decent computer, and often many more.

But what you won't see on any Apple spec sheet is the fact that its 'latest' Mac minis use Intel's 4th-generation 'Haswell' Core processors.

These actually launched in July 2014, making the technology at the heart of the device positively ancient, at least in computer chip time.

These processors are significantly less efficient and powerful than current-gen Intel CPUs, and even pale in comparison to the 5th-gen kit found in the seemingly abandoned MacBook Air.

Compared to the 6th- and 7th-gen kit found in the latest 13-inch MacBook Pro? Don't get me started.

Related: Intel Core i processors explained

At £479, the Mac mini is the cheapest way to join the excellent macOS ecosystem; even the most expensive Mac mini model 'only' costs £949, which is less than you'll pay for a new MacBook Pro.

Yet given its fossilised internals, you won't be making the most of what macOS Sierra has to offer.

You don’t get the benefits of a great touchpad, brilliant screen or backlit keyboard. You don’t get processors powerful enough to do multimedia tasks particularly well, and the cheapest model also comes with just 4GB of RAM, plus you have to attach numerous cables to get the benefit of its desktop form factor.

One argument in favour of the device is that it features more ports than all the MacBooks. This is true: it does have a pair of ThunderBolt/DisplayPort connectors and an HDMI port, along with four USB ports and an SD card slot.

However, it can’t output to a 4K monitor at more than a juddery 30Hz, making its high-res capability useless for many people. It’s lumped with slow hard disks in all but the most expensive model, which receives a slightly faster “Fusion” drive with a bit of solid state cache. But there’s no high-performance storage anywhere to be seen.

What really irks me here is that the Mac mini has the potential to be a fantastic machine.

Nowadays, you can quite happily squeeze a proper quad-core Intel processor into a compact PC chassis, rather than the piddly U-series dual cores in the Mac mini.

Intel’s Skull Canyon range of PCs, the stylish HP Pavilion Wave and the impressive Zotac Zbox Magnus, are but three examples of what can be achieved in a compact space.

To dive a bit deeper, let's use the Pavilion Wave as our example. It's a complete PC that includes a built-in speaker, high-quality design, and components that are substantially faster than the Mac mini.

Yet it costs, at most, £730 for 128GB of SSD storage, a 1TB hard disk and a proper quad-core i5 processor from Intel’s sixth-gen range. Plus, it can output 4K at a full 60Hz.

All this value from HP, a company that's aggressively pursuing Apple levels of flashy lifestyle kit. Against the odds, it's actually succeeding. Windows 10 may lag behind macOS in terms of ease of use, but HP's PC shows what’s possible in hardware terms.

If Apple simply refreshed the Mac mini this year with the latest 7th-gen Intel Core processors, I might see a reason to buy one again. But what the mini really needs is a complete overhaul – a new design and components that match what consumers expect in 2017.

Oh, and a nice marketing push from Apple to help me feel better about parting with my hard earned cash.

Maybe a 2017 Mac mini update is in the works and being kept remarkably well under wraps. Given that so many people prefer macOS and the Apple brand – and that the Mac mini is, in terms of computers, the easiest way to get on board with these things – it would make sense.

Yet given the complete lack of rumours surrounding a Mac mini refresh, I fear for the future of this compact machine.

It's a shame because, ultimately, it means that Apple is content with giving you a half-arsed user experience, undermining its great software by continuing to flog slow and outdated hardware.

That's why, this Valentine's Day, I've fallen out of love with Apple.

Come autumn, I hope Apple helps me open my heart again.

WATCH: Laptop buying guide

Do you agree with Michael? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

SCSZ

February 14, 2017, 9:24 pm

My first computer was an iMac, which I loved in all it's puffy cuteness and esoteric purpleness. I kept it until if could no longer process my yearly tax returns. But the new iMacs had gotten to be more expensive than I wanted to buy. My mom bought my first one as my birthday/Xmas present.

A friend who has worked at Apple for years told me about the then, new Mac Mini. I wasted no time buying one. I am now on my second one, the last 2009 model. It may not be the fastest computer on the block, but it works for me most of the time, with some minor disruptions. I love me my Minis.

So far, I have heard the 2010 Mini's are the end of the line of Minis. I refuse to accept that. I don't like laptops and their fragility. I also like that should anyone break in and want to steal my computer, they would likely walk right by my Mac mini, as most people don't even know what it is.

As much as I like Apple products - I hate their pricing and I am on a budget for electronics, all which have a limited life. I don't know what I will do if Apple does not either continue the Mini, or come up with something equal or better at a lower price than their other computers.

My hope is that Apple is not just content selling to smaller businesses, or those who have a lot more money to spend on electronics.

Please, please, please. - either bring back my the MacMinis or, at least something equal or better at a fair market price for the budget minded! I want to stay loyal to Apple and I really don't like PC's. I had to use those at work for years and hated them.

matt

February 15, 2017, 4:42 am

There was a recent article on the web that explained apples limited choices for mobile processors. You got to put part of the blame on intel. I'd love to see a Mac mini with a better video then intel , but intel would sue the crap out of you if you sold an i5 with nvidia graphics

Edward Lock

February 15, 2017, 6:30 am

Why buy an overpriced Lemon like "MAC", when you can have a more capable lemon cream pie PC for less than 1/2 the price.WTF?...........puffy cuteness and esoteric purpleness, yea real useful.

Bob Forsberg

February 15, 2017, 7:35 am

MacOS is my system of choice, but Apple's hardware is, as you say "ancient" by computer standards. Apple has transformed into a hand held device company, ignoring those of us using desktop systems. Since Apple lags in hardware manufacturing, they should license MacOS to run on superior and often refreshed, high-end PC hardware.

We miss you Steve.

itsallgonepearshaped

February 15, 2017, 9:05 am

I just bought myself an Intel NUC 6th Gen box. Smaller, lighter and faster than my old mac mini server. I'm moving away from MacOS back to windows due to the lack of investment and continually disappointing and constrained hardware. I will keep my Macbook pro for a couple more years as it's one a year old. Not sure about by my iMac 5k, it's a beautiful machine, but runs Windows under bootcamp(which I need for work) like a dysfunctional child.

Alex Walsh

February 15, 2017, 11:09 am

Hackintosh a Gigabyte Brix? From a quick look Sierra is achievable. That's a proper Mac Mini :)

Michael Passingham

February 15, 2017, 12:24 pm

Yeah, Apple is specific about the chips it wants. The most recent MacBook Pros used last-gen Skylake chips because the Kaby Lake chips apple uses (normally with Iris Graphics on board) weren't ready yet.

But, all the same, I do think Apple could slap an SSD in, load it up with some more RAM and upgrade to a Skylake chip and lots of people would be happy.

jheartney

February 15, 2017, 1:20 pm

Got tired of waiting for Apple to sell a reasonable mini-tower; I'm building a Hackintosh. (Macintosh owner since 1990; had more Macs than I can count. Apple's innovative DNA died with Steve, and now they're just a money factory.)

Roger Randall

February 15, 2017, 11:12 pm

Um, there are three generations of Minis beyond the 2010 models. 2011, 2012 and the current (crippled) models. I have 4, one is a quad-core i7 that is pretty fast. You can still buy good used models (prices are going up though) and parts are still available.

SCSZ

February 16, 2017, 12:58 am

I've seen that. But I am hoping Apple will change it's mind or make something better which won't cost to much. I don't want to spend money on a later model Mini and then find out a new one is coming out. I will wait 6 months or so, and see what happens.

Jay Emm

February 17, 2017, 1:56 am

Sigh. You JUST DON'T GET IT, and unless you become a Mac user, you NEVER will. Windows bites balls compared to MacOS. Period. And, that 'cheap' $299 Windows laptop is costing you a fortune, in time and money just to keep it functional and free of all of the woes of Windows. Mac users are quite aware of Windows, so you're not telling us anything we don't know. That's why we're Mac users.

Jay Emm

February 17, 2017, 1:59 am

I have a late 2009 mini, with a 256 SSD that blows the doors off the latest mini. Yeah, she can only run El Cap, but it's good for at least another 5 years. Apple has really stuck it to the mini for sure. What a shame. And don't even get me started on those god awful new MacBook "Pros". There's NOTHING "Pro" about them. Eff-you, Apple. You arrogant a-holes!

Luke

May 24, 2017, 7:49 am

As long as every other "modern" computer is ruined with Windows, I'll keep buying Macs. More important to me that the computer works well than it is that I can brag about epeen.

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