Long story short: The previous generation (2012) of the Apple Mac Mini wins in a landslide.
I’ve been considering upgrading my home desktop computer system for a while now. I still like my 30-inch Apple Cinema Display and my peripherals, but my first-generation Mac Pro has been looking a bit long in the tooth of late. A few months ago I had set my sights on a new Mac Mini to be its replacement.
Then I saw the Mac Mini had last been updated in fall of 2012. Every consumer guide and Mac-savvy pal I knew told me, “Wait until after the October Apple event before you buy.” So I was patient, and I waited.
Today Apple unveiled its new Mac Mini models. And I was not impressed.
Yes, it’s nice that the new Mini has a Haswell processor, a step forward from the previous generation’s Ivy Bridge chips — or so it might seem. And yes, the new Mini has two Thunderbolt 2.0 ports and improved 802.11ac wireless. Very nice.
You know what it doesn’t have? For starters, a Firewire 800 port for my legacy peripherals. For another, it lacks the option at time of purchase to upgrade its processor with a quad core. The new Mac Mini only offers the dual core i7 Haswell processor on its top-tier model.
Maybe you’re thinking, “So what? It’s a new chip, dude!” Think again. Only one dual-core Haswell processor matches the specs of the Mac Mini’s new top-tier configuration, and that’s the i7-4578U. Now compare it using Intel’s own data sheets to Intel’s quad-core i7-3720QM processor, which drives the top-end model of the 2012 Mac Mini.
If those charts make you shake your head, here’s an easier comparison table: Geekbench rates various Mac processors in an apples-to-apples benchmark test. The i7-4578U is the processor in the recently launched (mid-2014) 13-inch MacBook Pro; in a 64-bit multicore test, it earns a benchmark score of 7209 (2500 is the base score, and higher is better). The i7-3720QM quad-core earns a score of 12681. In other words, it beats the pants off the new Haswell dual core processor.
Of course, one could try to justify the change by arguing that Apple switched to dual cores to reduce energy usage and make the new Mini the most energy-efficient home computer it could be. But while that would be a laudable goal in a laptop, or a tablet, or a phone, it makes less sense for a desktop system. Still, I would have accepted the premise if only Apple had been willing to leave open the possibility of a more robust platform for those of us who weren’t interested in buying a hobbled system.
But those aren’t the only strikes against the new Mac Mini. Apple changed the RAM in the Mini to LPDDR3, so it needs to be soldered into the system at the factory and isn’t user-serviceable after sale. In other words, if you’re thinking you’ll pick up a new Mac Mini on the cheap and upgrade it with some less expensive third-party RAM after it arrives, you’re in for a rude surprise. If you want more RAM in that Mini, you’ll need to pay the Apple tax to get it, and you’ll need to commit to it up front when you make the purchase.
Bottom line for me: This isn’t what I was waiting for, Apple. You just lost what should have been an easy sale. I’ve ordered a late 2012 model of the Mac Mini from a third party who still had one in stock that met my needs: a 2.6 GHz i7 quad core Mac Mini with two 256GB Solid State Drives. Sure, it only has 4GB of RAM, but at least I can upgrade this one to 16GB without a soldering iron. And because the quad-core processor isn’t a total wuss, if someone wants to invent 16GB RAM chips that fit this bad boy, my new (old) Mac Mini can theoretically handle up to 32GB of RAM (unlike the fancy new Mini, whose processors can’t handle more than 16GB of RAM, not that users could upgrade it after purchase, anyway).
Apple blew it today, and I won’t forget it any time soon.