Mac mini: What we want to see in an update to Apple's low-cost desktop

Posted:
in Future Apple Hardware edited May 28
Apple's Mac mini is long overdue for a refresh. Not just with updated processors, but a full-on re-design. Being big Mac mini users since the original G4 version, we started thinking about what we would like to see included in a next-generation Mac mini -- that with any luck, we'll get at WWDC.

Apple Mac mini


Editor's note: With WWDC imminent, AppleInsider is running our wish list series all week.

The Mac mini is so dated, they still advertise it using Apple's no-longer-available Thunderbolt displays. This really needs to change.

There are a many things to love with the Mac mini. An affordable price, a small footprint, and decent enough power behind it to stretch from beginners to server farms. While the audience of the Mac mini varies greatly, here is AppleInsider's wishlist if Apple's ever updates the machine again.

Compact form factor

One of the things we originally loved about the Mac mini, was how small it was. It took up little room on desks, spawned a VESA attachment, monitor stand, and desk-mount industry, and we were encouraged to use whatever keyboards and monitors we had laying about.

The Mac mini hasn't gotten a new form factor in an extensive number of years. 2010 was the year the Mac mini got an all-aluminum unibody enclosure. It looked great and was actually much easier to repair and replace parts than the previous model. A rotating panel on the bottom was removable to access the RAM or to perform more in-depth repairs.

That design is now eight years old. It is time for something new. We absolutely would be against using copious amounts of glue in a Mac Pro, but when you consider how much Apple has been able to shrink the technology in their other products, it makes sense for some aspects of a Mac mini. These low-cost machines are popular in part for their price and size. If a bit of glue can get us a bit further, it could be acceptable in this situation.

Apple Mac Mini Concept
Concept: Louis Berger


There have been a few concept renderings making the rounds over the years and they get us excited for some of the possibilities Apple could explore.

Some of us particularly liked the bar-style concept. It would easily allow the Mac mini to sit in front of a monitor, or even directly behind it.

Internally, the biggest components that take up space in the Mac mini are the drive, power supply, fan, and logic board. A power supply will still take up a bit of space, as Apple elected to put this within the Mac mini instead of offloading it to a bulky power brick like the original G4 Mac mini and early Intel ones that adopted the same form factor.

Moving to the minute flash storage seen on other computers would save quite a bit of space and the density we've seen on Apple's latest circuit boards show what can be done in that regard.

Mac minis are used as compact servers, affordable desktops, education tools, and more. Saving space would go a long way toward most of these use cases.

Regular refreshes

This is something we neglected, though should have included on our Mac Pro wishlist piece.

With any machine, it would be far better for consumers if Apple updates them regularly. It is a bit absurd that Apple hasn't given us even a modest spec bump since 2014 on the Mac mini. They continue to sell the same machine, woefully outdated, at the same price.

Whatever option Apple chooses to go down with the Mac mini, at a minimum, Apple needs to regularly update the machine with current processors to make it a viable option. Right now, it is very hard to recommend anyone jump at buying a Mac mini unless absolutely necessary.

I/O

Everyone is going to have their own preferences here. We will give our preferences for I/O and why, but feel free to share your own requests in the forums.

One of the first calls will be whether Apple opts for plain USB-C (like on the Retina MacBook), or Thunderbolt 3. Our hope is Apple opts for the latter.

Mac mini Ports


There is a lot to wade through here, though. On the current Mac mini, Apple includes four USB ports and two Thunderbolt ports. Now that Thunderbolt 3 and USB both adopted the Type-C interface, it's decision time.

We'd say there is a zero percent chance that Apple includes both USB (type-C) as well as Thunderbolt 3. It would be too confusing for consumers to know which of the ports are which.

Instead, Apple would likely either go all USB 3.1 type C or all Thunderbolt 3. Since there is a clear pro need here, we expect Apple will meet somewhere in the middle, most likely with four Thunderbolt 3 ports.

While cutting back Ethernet would save some space, we expect Apple to keep this port. Being used as servers, they benefit from being hardwired. We wouldn't be surprised to see the SD and HDMI ports vanish though.

Personally, we're ok with this. There are USB-C to HDMI or DisplayPort cables readily available so HDMI is no longer a necessity. A Mac mini also double duties for many people as a set-top box, but the Apple TV is now more powerful than ever, and can easily fill this void for most.

An SD card reader can be useful, but having access on the rear of the machine is a pain as it is. For those who need a card reader, we'd rather use the one on the LaCie 2Big Thunderbolt 3 drive, or one on a desk that is more easily accessible instead.

We also hope Apple completely does away with USB-A on the new machine. Anything that needs to be plugged in anymore is easy to access via USB-C. USB-B cables for storage drives can be swapped for USB-C on one end, and USB-B on the other, and the same goes for printers, scanners, and just about every other peripheral you can think of.

Keyboard and mice can be wireless. USB-A just isn't necessary and would just cause the machine to be bigger and result in fewer ports overall.

SSD storage

Internal SSD Storage


When picking out a Mac mini today, you have options between different capacity hard drives or Apple's Fusion Drive. At this point in time, even on an entry-level machine, SSD is the logical way to go. It is significantly smaller and faster than either of the other options.

Our preference would be a M.2 blade storage rather than a traditional SATA SSD -- but we'll take either, really. The amount of space saved by using M.2 storage rather than a 2.5-inch SATA SSD would be substantial. It would inflate the price, however, which is always something to be careful about when trying to build an entry-level machine.

Our only concern would be for the enterprise markets who would get in on this. Apple has long had larger storage options around for them up to 2TB. If Apple did adopt SSDs completely over hard drives, it would prove very expensive to get to that level of internal storage.

One could argue that external storage would be an option, but for users implementing several of them into a server farm, this could prove problematic.

New peripherals

Concept Apple Keyboard with Touch Bar Concept
Concept: CURVED


Aside from a more affordable Apple-branded display that we wished for in the Mac Pro piece, we'd also like other new peripherals.

Many people aren't huge fans of the Magic Mouse, though I find it suitable. More importantly, an updated keyboard with a TouchBar and Touch ID would be fantastic.

By moving this tech to a keyboard, anyone could be an affordable Mac mini and upgrade it substantially with a (pricier) keyboard. The feasibility of this is in question as Apple protects all biometric data securely on a special chip, and may not want to have any part of an external peripheral in the authentication chain.

Modularity

Even with a new form factor, it is our hope Apple retains a certain level of modularity -- but we aren't counting on it. Keep the user-upgradable RAM and even a non-soldered SSD would be a plus.

Mac mini concept expanding animation


This has helped us keep our existing Mac minis running over time by replacing both of these components.

Apple will undoubtedly use a CPU with an integrated GPU so we don't expect any upgradable graphics in the machine and don't really want a case to accommodate a PCI-e card in this use case, but they should at least retain the levels of upgradability they have now. Why not use the Intel chips with Vega graphics, while we're talking about it?

Future ambitions



There has been much speculation on Apple designing their own processor chips. Using something like a custom-designed ARM-based processor could really lend itself to an absolutely tiny design.

ARM-based processors lend themselves well to power efficiency, which means the power supply could be shrunk, and heat wouldn't be as much of an issue.

Consider the Apple TV. The Apple TV 4K is an ARM-based device that fits in the palm of your hand. Seeing as that was a primary use of the Mac Mini, replicating that for desktop use could be a real breakthrough.

We wouldn't expect a radical design shift such as this for the next iteration on the Mac mini, but it would surely be plausible down the line. If it does come to fruition, count us in.

We'd pick some up

Mac mini with Display and LaCie Thunderbolt Drive


If Apple adopts even a few of the items on our list, we could easily see ourselves picking up an upgraded model.

The Mac mini has always been a different kind of machine for Apple. Aimed at many audiences. it has historical fit between the entry-level markets and the professional markets. It has a low-end option that many people can afford, and then a high-end option that even comes with Server pre-installed to appeals to the enterprise market more than it might otherwise.

Apple has called the Mac mini "important" in nearly the same breath as it started talking about the iMac Pro and Mac Pro re-design. It has literally been years since the last "update" which wasn't really much of one over the previous generation. With any luck, we won't have to wait until 2019 for an actual upgrade.

Be sure to check out our other wish lists, including those on the 2019 Mac Pro, Apple Watch, Siri, HomeKit, and CarPlay.
«134567

Comments

  • Reply 1 of 126
    Or they can just put MacBook (Pro) mainboard inside a Magic Keyboard. It definitely would fit there. Of course, with at least two TB3 ports :)
    tallest skilkirkgraymattinozcornchipthinkman@chartermi.netboxcatcherwatto_cobraargonautraoulduke42
  • Reply 2 of 126
    tallest skiltallest skil Posts: 43,349member
    mrakoplas said:
    Or they can just put MacBook (Pro) mainboard inside a Magic Keyboard. It definitely would fit there. Of course, with at least two TB3 ports :)
    Huh. I sort of like that idea. Obviously it won’t actually fit there–they’ll have to extend the keyboard further upward–but… that just means they can put a Touch Bar above the normal keys. Like an Apple IIc, but with the back totally cut off.
    watto_cobraargonautraoulduke42
  • Reply 3 of 126
    Still not sure why they don't just take the motherboard from the MacBook Pro 13 and build a box around it with a daughterboard or breakout to add the desired connectors, a slot for a 2.5" HDD, and a built-in power supply. That would allow them to keep it updated much easier. They're all about economies of scale, after all, and surely the design team could make it look nice. My $0.02
    cornchipwatto_cobraraoulduke42
  • Reply 4 of 126
    512ke512ke Posts: 768member
    I'd like to see a machine where the user can easily upgrade the SSD drive, graphics card, and RAM.

    I really doubt that will happen, however, because then you could use it for several years rather than having to buy a new Mac $$$.


    DavidAlGregorymike54razorpitargonautwilliamlondon
  • Reply 5 of 126
    If the Mac mini's most common use was as a media server AND the Apple TV 4K is unquestionably a very capable media server...why bother updating the Mac mini?
    watto_cobralolliver
  • Reply 6 of 126
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,492member
    These new concepts are quite intriguing and very clever. As much as I like the Mini concept I’m not really sure where it fits into Apple’s product line unless it becomes radically different than the current Mini. Intel already has a very broad range of capabilities in its NUC product line, some with reasonable modularity and expansion capability, but are these things flying off the shelf? They are very expensive when optioned up with real horsepower. Some of the things being requested for a Mini refresh seem very similar at a hardware level to the higher end NUCs. Would anyone buy them in sufficient numbers to justify the R&D and potential cannibalization of the iMac and MacBook Pro product lines?  
    1983watto_cobraBigDann
  • Reply 7 of 126
    geirnoklebyegeirnoklebye Posts: 37unconfirmed, member
    One of the things a new form factor should support is the ability to be stacked and easily rack mounted in a blade-ish fashion with sufficient cooling (now it draws air from under with exhaust to the back).  We have seen all kinds of creative mounts for the existing one, but none of them are very density efficient. 

    Config flexibility from i5, i7, i9 to at least one Xenon. 

    Configs that don't come with much graphics power at one end, to at least medium level gaming performance at the other end. 
    mike54watto_cobraTomETomEargonautraoulduke42llama
  • Reply 8 of 126
    rfrmacrfrmac Posts: 84member
    I don’t know why we keep talking about this. Tim Cook doesn’t like the Mac so he just lets it go.  He thinks that Apple no longer needs to have a Mac.  Take a look at what has happened to the Macs since Steve died. It continues to break my heart. I haven’t bought a Mac in years.  Not because I didn’t want to, there just wasn’t  a new Mac that could justify the cost.  The new iMac just doesn’t do it for my profession.  Would love a couple of mini's for movie servers but I’m not buying that old of technology. 

    mike54marksundwozwozRealZoeSummersrazorpitTomEelijahgwilliamlondon
  • Reply 9 of 126
    I'd love to have a Mac mini for development at home. I don't need all the power (and cost) of other devices, so a refreshed Mini with dual monitors would be perfect.
    razorpitwatto_cobraargonaut
  • Reply 10 of 126
    rob53rob53 Posts: 1,888member
    People, including AI, keep wanting a low cost computer sans monitor but Apple isn’t going to sell a cheap Mac no matter what size it is. I’d still like to see a blade Mac with everything except the power circuitry on the one board. Make it the size of a graphics card and the new eGPU boxes will work. For server farms running any OS, since Apple isn’t supplying a full featured OS X server product anymore, building the blade with a proper connector for power and TB3 extending would allow rack mounting with distributed power and cooling. People will want/demand upgradeable components but I’d pattern this product after existing blade computers that might not have replaceable components.
    watto_cobraraoulduke42
  • Reply 11 of 126
    A11X APU,  4GB RAM*, 1TB Fusion Drive*, 802 11ac, USB C, Gigabit Ethernet, 4" x 4" x 1" == $399 Base price.

    * Upgradeable
    watto_cobraTomEargonautpropod
  • Reply 12 of 126
    It does not need a styling refresh- it is not furniture.
    Access for memory and HD
    BTO options for the full line of CPUs
    BTO option for discrete GPU.

    H-Ps mini Workstation is what the Mac mini should be.
    cornchiprazorpitTomEargonautwilliamlondonBigDann
  • Reply 13 of 126
    This is the best mental masturbation I have had on AppleInsider after a long time.  
    watto_cobraargonautraoulduke42
  • Reply 14 of 126
    cornchipcornchip Posts: 1,068member
    dewme said:
    As much as I like the Mini concept I’m not really sure where it fits into Apple’s product line... 

    iPad / iPad Pro 
    iPhone / iPhone+ 
    iMac / iMac Pro 
    mac mini / Mac Pro 

    dewme said:
    ... unless it becomes radically different than the current Mini. 

    It may not become radically different this year, it may not become radically different next year, but it will some year soon, and you’ll hate Apple for it the rest of your life!







    watto_cobra
  • Reply 15 of 126
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,506member
    Chip technology certainly allows for a Mac in a Keyboard solution.     Unfortunately it will not be as powerful as a Mini could be.   Use an ARM chip and this could be a very viable extremely low end Mac but not a direct replacement for the Mini.

    As fora  Mini replacement, if Apple is serious about AR and some other new tech it is dabbling in they will need a Mini with a powerful GPU.   This would all but eliminate most AMD and Intel APU style chips.   If they do go the APU route it will need an external GPU to support the new technologies.   This really has me wondering how Apple will go about supporting their own initiatives

    One idea I really like is to refactor the current Mac Pro into a Mini replacement.  Such a machine could be powered by a desktop chip with or without a single GPU card.   The freed up space on the missing GPU card slot could be refactored into an SSD carrier board.   So You solve the AR, AI and other two letter abbreviations, demand for computational power.

    To be honest though I suspect that Apple is stalling with Mac updates to transition to ARM real soon now.   The reason to do this is to tune the SOC to their specific needs which will likely mean more AI acceleration hardware and a really beefed up GPU.   The ARM cores don't really take up a lot of space so they could dedicate a lot of silicon to the GPU and AI hardware.   I just hope Apple pulls head from behind and starts to pay attention to the Mac line.   I'm sitting here typing on a HP ENVY because they have so blatantly insulted their customer base.   Whatever they come up with it better be really impressive.
  • Reply 16 of 126
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,506member
    Still not sure why they don't just take the motherboard from the MacBook Pro 13 and build a box around it with a daughterboard or breakout to add the desired connectors, a slot for a 2.5" HDD, and a built-in power supply. That would allow them to keep it updated much easier. They're all about economies of scale, after all, and surely the design team could make it look nice. My $0.02
    I don't think such a machine would make anybody happy.    I really don't see the current MBP 13" having the power to do what even Apple wants to do much less what the user community wants out of a Mini.   Think about the demands for a MIni with a quad core processor for example which is a rational demand from the user community.   Then consider some of Apple initiatives that demand higher performance GPU's or specialized processors so such a machine wouldn't make Apple happy either.
  • Reply 17 of 126
    texasmacprousertexasmacprouser Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    How about a lego type approach
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 18 of 126
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 218member
    I like the MM. I've recommended it to people, just not recently. In 2015 I needed to update my MacBook and decided to go with a desktop. I looked seriously at the MM plus a good large monitor, but it was just too out of date. I got a 27" iMac, which I like and use a lot. But I would have liked to go with the lower cost and upgradeability of the MM.
    watto_cobra
  • Reply 19 of 126
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,506member
    rfrmac said:
    I don’t know why we keep talking about this. Tim Cook doesn’t like the Mac so he just lets it go.  He thinks that Apple no longer needs to have a Mac.  Take a look at what has happened to the Macs since Steve died. It continues to break my heart. I haven’t bought a Mac in years.  Not because I didn’t want to, there just wasn’t  a new Mac that could justify the cost.  The new iMac just doesn’t do it for my profession.  Would love a couple of mini's for movie servers but I’m not buying that old of technology. 

    Believe me I feel your pain!!    No corporation on the planet could afford to ignore a customer base the way Apple has.   What is worse is the bull crap they have been feeding us with respect to these products.   The drizzle about no chips being available when it is pretty clear that intel has made significant advancements with power and performance over the last 4-5 years. just burns Apples credibility.

    Like many I was a bit shocked when Apple got rid of the quad core Mini as I was waiting for the next upgrade to get a quad core machine.    I figured no problem they can refactor the machine into something better next years or event the following year with lower power processors.    Nothing came and nothing in a way of a statement from Apple as to when they would correct the line up.   Now it is pathetically obvious that they simply don't give a damn as there have been at least two significant updates to Intels chip line up that could have made a difference in the Mini.    It is frankly disgusting.
    mike54marksundcornchiprazorpitTomEargonautelijahgwilliamlondoncgWerksllama
  • Reply 20 of 126
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,506member
    A11X APU,  4GB RAM*, 1TB Fusion Drive*, 802 11ac, USB C, Gigabit Ethernet, 4" x 4" x 1" == $399 Base price.

    * Upgradeable
    8GB of RAM, soldered or not I don't care it is far more important to me that the secondary storage be upgradable.   In an ideal world we would have two STANDARD SSD slots at a minimum.   Oh by the way the base price is still way too high,$299 would be better.
Sign In or Register to comment.