Apple's Mac mini now inexcusably getting trounced by cheap Intel hardware

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in Current Mac Hardware
Apple's Mac mini is a great small form factor macOS computer, but it is being completely blown away by Intel's NUC, which is bad for Apple, and bad for us, the consumer. AppleInsider delves into the hardware.

Steve Jobs Mac mini debut


Steve Jobs revealed the Mac mini G4 in January 2005. It wasn't the first computer released in a mini-ITC form factor, but it was the first compact, stylish box, made in any quantity with wide support and availability. It very nearly immediately spawned a cottage industry of hacks and modifications, with users attaching them to televisions as early media centers, and some others installing them in cars.

It was one of Apple's first products to make the shift to Intel processors, and was used as the platform to launch the then-new Core-series processors from Intel. This opened the door for macOS server-centric models.

Unibody Redesign

In 2010 Apple redesigned the computer, ditching the power brick and encompassing the entire device in a compact shell. It was Apple's first computer to use a HDMI port. Shortly thereafter, Apple got rid of the optical drive.

Mac mini ports


The higher-end 2011 release for $999 and 2012 models with i7 quad-core processors starting at $799 could be called the ultimate expression of the device. The 2012 model was the last one to have socketed RAM chips and (relatively) easy drive replacement.

Most recently

The last revision to the product line was in October 2014. Apple traded energy efficiency and slightly better graphics performance for the i7 option for a quad-core model. Apple also reduced the cost of the low-end mini back to its launch $499 price.

The latest revision also has poor user drive upgradeability, and no option for user RAM expansion.

Left, 2012 Mac mini. Right, 2014 Mac mini
Left, 2012 Mac mini. Right, 2014 Mac mini


It's been very nearly four years since the Mac mini was updated, and six since the last well-regarded model. In comparison, Apple was under fire when the MacBook Pro hadn't seen an update in over 400 days, leading up to the 2016 MacBook Pro.

The good news is, if you have one of the quad-core Mac minis from 2012, you can still get upwards of $600 for it on eBay, and sometimes much more.

Lunch, eaten

With the Core-series processors came a number of attempts at small form factor computers, with varying success. Apple's full vision for the Mac mini was never quite reached until 2013 when Intel announced the Next Unit of Computing, or NUC product line.

Early attempts were pretty feeble. It had a 1.1Ghz dual-core processor, and a mSATA port for a single SSD.

But, Intel iterated quickly. An Ivy Bridge system with a processor very similar in performance to the current low-end Mac mini shipped in 2012, with a Bay Trail and Haswell version in late 2013.

They really started coming into their own as Apple's Mac mini started to wither on the vine. An i7 version shipped in 2015.

Thunderbolt 3 came to the platform in the 2016 Skull Canyon version. AppleInsider has a Skull Canyon quad-core i7 NUC that was released in the second half of 2016, and uses it every day for one task or other.

Skull Canyon NUC ports


For a similar street price than a quad-core i7 Mac mini, the NUC defeats it in every possible way -- save two.

The NUC, in practice

Despite my presence here, I do not bleed in six colors. Alongside the family's Macs, we have a Windows PC here and there, and a couple of Boot Camp installs.

Given that I'm basically AppleInsider's eGPU guy, A NUC for a gaming machine made sense when I was considering what to replace my older gaming machine with. So, I went for the NUC6i7KYK with 2.6Ghz quad-core i7, Thunderbolt 3, and support for 32GB of RAM.

I added a 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD, and 16GB of RAM. All told, in January, I spent about $800 on the system.

The integrated Intel Iris Pro 580 graphics on the NUC aren't fantastic, but they're still leagues better than Iris 5100 that the Mac mini has.

From a benchmark perspective, the NUC6i7KYK delivers a score of 4580 single-core and 13838 in multi-core. The 2.3GHz late 2012 i7 quad-core Mac mini cranks out a 3458 in single-core, and a 11868 in multi-core -- but it is long-gone at retail.

The currently available late 2014 Mac mini with 3Ghz dual-core i7 that retails for $999? It only manages a 3815 in single-core, and a 7400 in multi-core -- and has a hard drive, not a SSD.

And it gets worse for the Mac mini

Intel's got the "all in one" concept licked in the imminent NUC refresh. The "Hades Canyon" NUC model NUC8i7HNK now shipping for $800 minus drive and RAM uses the i7-8705G Radeon RX Vega M GH hybrid chip, bringing pretty decent GPU performance. It also has a slew of ports, including a SD card reader, 6 USB 3.1 generation 2 type A ports, one USB 3.1 generation 2 type A port, a pair of Ethernet ports, two MiniDisplayPorts, two HDMI 2.0b ports, and two Thunderbolt 3 ports.



Regardless, the higher-end NUC units have an emblazoned skull on the upper case -- but if that doesn't work for you, the box includes not just a cover without one, but a VESA mount as well in case you want to bolt it to the back of your monitor.

Other vendors have their own computers in this form factor now. Kangaroo has an interesting modular system, Gigabyte has a wide range of them, and a host of industrial companies have them as well. We'll be looking at more of these versus the existing Mac mini when we get them, as time goes by.

The two ways the NUC doesn't beat the mini

Simply, it doesn't run macOS out of the box. Windows has come a long way, but as you might expect from somebody who works at AppleInsider, macOS is my preferred way to get the job done.

That said, it's reasonably easy to install macOS on it -- but that's really an ethical and legal decision for the user to make. And, certainly, not supported in any way.

The second way that the mini beats the NUC is pretty minor -- the NUC has a discrete power supply, where the Mac mini does not. This could be a pro or con, depending on your point of view, though.

It doesn't have to be this way

We've done a piece on what we want to see in the Mac mini already, and that stands. But, we're pretty sure that Apple won't deliver something like the NUC that I've been using.

Steve Jobs with Mac mini box


Here at AppleInsider we all like diving into machines elbow-deep and bending them to our will. We're also realists, and understand that Apple has decided to not cater to that audience, and any nods in that direction beyond a RAM door are purely unintentional. So, angling for a machine like the NUC with an easily removable top panel for RAM and storage is tilting at windmills, no matter how much we wish it were otherwise.

Intel has clearly and powerfully demonstrated what can be done with the space that Apple pioneered. We don't know for certain why Apple has let the mini atrophy when it didn't have to. It could very easily have cemented the lock it had on the segment in the early days given the scale that it operates on -- and almost four years since the last half-baked refresh isn't a great look.

We have vague promises that the line is somehow important to Apple. But, it's well past time for Apple to walk the walk, or at least take a glance in that general direction.
blastdoorAlex1Ngodostoyke
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 190
    sflocalsflocal Posts: 4,242member
    I've been wanting to purchased a Mac mini for some time now for an office, but kept waiting for a refresh.  I hope Apple does something sooner or later, or if anything, put a fire-sale on the current Mac to reflect the real price depreciation of the unit and I'll snap one up.

    What a shame.  I think Apple is dropping the ball here.
    wozwozmike54toysandmeh2pAlex1Ncornchipmarksundaegeanrevenant
  • Reply 2 of 190
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 267member
    Agreed. The MM is an embarrassment. In addition to the Intel NUC, HP has their Z2 small form factor computers which are head, shoulders, and everything else better than the MM. Now the Z2 is much more expensive, but it is vastly more powerful even than a tricked out MM in the same price range. It is the MM Apple should have come out with a year or two ago. 
    wozwozmike54Alex1Ncaladanianmarksundsunwukong
  • Reply 3 of 190
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,577member
    Oh boy...here we go! Continuous bitching about the Mac mini. I doubt most here are gonna buy one anyways. 
    edited May 11 supadav03urahararavnorodomlkruppcornchip
  • Reply 4 of 190
    I could not agree more with this. I have a website that I host myself using a NUC. It was on a 2012 Dual CPU Mac Mini but some solder issues forced that into retirement a few months ago.

    The NUC is exactly what the Mac Mini should be. I run CentOS on the NUC and the site works fine.

    Come on Apple either announce that you are killing it off or give us a new one.
    I really would like a small MacOS server.

    Even the latest Raspberry Pi is probably powerful enough to run my site. I already have a 3B+ as my home firewall.
    muthuk_vanalingamAlex1Nmarksundsunwukong
  • Reply 5 of 190
    dcgoodcgoo Posts: 199member
    The NUC is also a solid platform for VMWare ESXi.  I installed ESXi on a Mac Mini once, but quickly became frustrated and took it off. 

    Add to that the demise of OSX Server, I think the handwriting is on the wall for the Mini. Too bad IMO
    edited May 11 h2pAlex1N
  • Reply 6 of 190
    Four and half months - almost 150 days into the year - and all Apple has released is a cutdown iPad. 
    If that is not failure I do not know what is?
    Apple has become a utility company.
    wozwozcgWerkswilliamlondonaegeanelijahgsunwukongjbdragon
  • Reply 7 of 190
    tylersdadtylersdad Posts: 136member
    Yeah, but instead of having power, the Mac mini has that cool Apple factor and Apple industrial design. That's far more useful than actual computing power...
    baconstangravnorodomwilliamlondoncornchipelijahgrevenant
  • Reply 8 of 190
    I think you've answered your own question by buying a NUC that is centered around PC gaming. That's their primary reason for existing, and the prices that include RAM etc. end up very similar to MacBooks and iMacs at the low-end. So why not just buy a MacBook or iMac?
    Alex1Naxcoatl
  • Reply 9 of 190
    Since Steve Jobs passing, I've slowly left the Apple Ecosystem that I was once pulled into.

    Apple either abandoned software programs or striped them of so many features I've moved on to Third Party software.
    Apple abadnoned monitors so I've moved on to third party monitors.
    Apple abandoned routers so I've moved on to third party routers.
    Apples abadoned the mac mini so I created several hackintoshes to fill the void but those are mostly running windows 10 now full time.

    I've fallen in love with the Microsoft Surface line since they have managed to merge laptop/tablet/desktop well enough that you don't encounter the sever trade offs you get between Mac OS and iOS software and devices.

    Homekit is a joke. Where are the products and, what is there, have sever issues. Follow Googe Nest and make your own line of products Apple. Your no longer a computer company but consumer company so fulfill that role.
    wozwozmike54williamlondontokyojimuelijahgsunwukong
  • Reply 10 of 190
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,686member
    macxpress said:
    Oh boy...here we go! Continuous bitching about the Mac mini. I doubt most here are gonna buy one anyways. 
    You really think that only the "most here" types read AppleInsider?
    elijahg
  • Reply 11 of 190
    DAalsethDAalseth Posts: 267member
    macxpress said:
    Oh boy...here we go! Continuous bitching about the Mac mini. I doubt most here are gonna buy one anyways. 
    I really wanted to. In 2016 I seriously concidered it. I had a monitor that I could use. I wanted to keep the cost low. But the MM was just too long in the tooth, even then. I seriously looked at a Z2 or something like that running Linux. In the end though I got an iMac. I really like the iMac, but I would have prefered to have built a system around a MM. 
    djames4242Alex1Ncaladanian
  • Reply 12 of 190
    anantksundaramanantksundaram Posts: 18,686member


    Apple either abandoned software programs or striped them of so many features I've moved on to Third Party software.
    Apple abadnoned monitors so I've moved on to third party monitors.
    Apple abandoned routers so I've moved on to third party routers.
    Apples abadoned the mac mini so I created several hackintoshes to fill the void but those are mostly running windows 10 now full time.
    I recently bought.... gulp... an Amazon Fire TV. I did buy another AppleTV too, yet....
  • Reply 13 of 190
    tylersdadtylersdad Posts: 136member
    I think you've answered your own question by buying a NUC that is centered around PC gaming. That's their primary reason for existing, and the prices that include RAM etc. end up very similar to MacBooks and iMacs at the low-end. So why not just buy a MacBook or iMac?
    Which MacBook or iMac gives you 2.6Ghz quad-core i7, Thunderbolt 3, 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD, and 16GB of RAM for around $800? I realize the NUC doesn't come with a monitor, but iMac or MacBook-quality monitors can be had for well under $300.  

    The iMac with 2.3GHz i5, 16 GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD is $1499.

    Apple does not have anything that competes with this at this price point.
    cgWerksArfshesaid...Alex1Nelijahgsunwukong
  • Reply 14 of 190
    Robots78Robots78 Posts: 14member
    It's pretty sad that the most profitable corporation in the world somehow can't marshal the resources to keep their product lines up-to-date. 
    wozwozblastdoormike54williamlondonAlex1Ntokyojimumarksundelijahgsunwukongrevenant
  • Reply 15 of 190
    tylersdad said:  Which MacBook or iMac gives you 2.6Ghz quad-core i7, Thunderbolt 3, 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD, and 16GB of RAM for around $800? I realize the NUC doesn't come with a monitor, but iMac or MacBook-quality monitors can be had for well under $300.  
    If you follow the link that the author provided, the next NUC on the page that actually includes RAM etc. (without a monitor) is almost $1200. I think people are forgetting what the point of the Mac mini was for Apple. It wasn't to compete for small $$ in the mid-range PC gaming hardware market. 
    baconstangAlex1N
  • Reply 16 of 190
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,577member
    macxpress said:
    Oh boy...here we go! Continuous bitching about the Mac mini. I doubt most here are gonna buy one anyways. 
    You really think that only the "most here" types read AppleInsider?
    No but its not exactly a big seller and doesn't make much money for Apple so I can see why they're not doing much with it. As I recall, the Mac mini even when it was updated a lot wasn't exactly a big seller. Its pretty much always been near the bottom of the sales list back when they broke sales down by models and I believe Apple has even admitted both the Mac Pro and Mac mini were on the bottom of the sales list consistently. 

    I still think Apple is planning on releasing a Mac mini with an Apple based CPU inside it, but I guess Apple could give it a "speedbump" with more modern Intel CPU's but I seriously doubt its gonna do much for sales. People seem to think Apple should make the Mac mini into this Mac Pro mini machine with interchangeable RAM and storage and I just don't ever see that happening. By the time you buy a screen to go with it along with a keyboard and mouse you might as well just get an iMac. I bet this is what Apple see's in the end. 


    radarthekat
  • Reply 17 of 190
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,577member

    tylersdad said:
    I think you've answered your own question by buying a NUC that is centered around PC gaming. That's their primary reason for existing, and the prices that include RAM etc. end up very similar to MacBooks and iMacs at the low-end. So why not just buy a MacBook or iMac?
    Which MacBook or iMac gives you 2.6Ghz quad-core i7, Thunderbolt 3, 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD, and 16GB of RAM for around $800? I realize the NUC doesn't come with a monitor, but iMac or MacBook-quality monitors can be had for well under $300.  

    The iMac with 2.3GHz i5, 16 GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD is $1499.

    Apple does not have anything that competes with this at this price point.
    Bahahahahaha! Yeah right!
  • Reply 18 of 190
    macxpressmacxpress Posts: 4,577member

    Four and half months - almost 150 days into the year - and all Apple has released is a cutdown iPad. 
    If that is not failure I do not know what is?
    Apple has become a utility company.
    This never happened when Steve was here...NEVER! /s
    edited May 11 wozwozbaconstangAlex1N
  • Reply 19 of 190
    tylersdadtylersdad Posts: 136member
    tylersdad said:  Which MacBook or iMac gives you 2.6Ghz quad-core i7, Thunderbolt 3, 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD, and 16GB of RAM for around $800? I realize the NUC doesn't come with a monitor, but iMac or MacBook-quality monitors can be had for well under $300.  
    If you follow the link that the author provided, the next NUC on the page that actually includes RAM etc. (without a monitor) is almost $1200. I think people are forgetting what the point of the Mac mini was for Apple. It wasn't to compete for small $$ in the mid-range PC gaming hardware market. 
    The author says he spent "about 800 dollars on the system". Regardless of what that link says, the author did not pay $1200.
    Alex1Nelijahg
  • Reply 20 of 190
    tylersdadtylersdad Posts: 136member
    macxpress said:

    tylersdad said:
    I think you've answered your own question by buying a NUC that is centered around PC gaming. That's their primary reason for existing, and the prices that include RAM etc. end up very similar to MacBooks and iMacs at the low-end. So why not just buy a MacBook or iMac?
    Which MacBook or iMac gives you 2.6Ghz quad-core i7, Thunderbolt 3, 512GB NVMe M.2 SSD, and 16GB of RAM for around $800? I realize the NUC doesn't come with a monitor, but iMac or MacBook-quality monitors can be had for well under $300.  

    The iMac with 2.3GHz i5, 16 GB RAM, and 256 GB SSD is $1499.

    Apple does not have anything that competes with this at this price point.
    Bahahahahaha! Yeah right!
    So...uh...would you care to elaborate on your comment? I can tell you I just priced out iMacs and MacBooks with comparable (somewhat) specs. The NUC still has much better specs. A comparably equipped MacBook is nearly $2000. 

    So, tell me, which Apple offering has reasonably close specs at a reasonably close price.
    elijahg
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