Frequently asked questions about the 2018 Mac mini RAM, storage, and more [u]

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited November 2018
As you might expect, our forums and email addresses are over-run with questions about the Mac mini. AppleInsider tackles a few of the issues, and tells you what you can expect when and if you buy one of the new machines.

2018 Mac mini port array
2018 Mac mini port array

What are the ports?

One Gigabit Ethernet or 10-Gig Ethernet port depending on configuration at time of purchase, four 40 gigabit per second Thunderbolt 3 ports which can also be used as 10 gigabit per second USB 3.1 type C generation 2 ports, a HDMI 2.0 port capable of 5K, a pair of USB 3.0 type A ports, and a headphone jack -- note that this is not a microphone port as well.

Four Thunderbolt 3 ports! Does that mean I can have four 5K displays?

Nope. Practically, this means that a user can have two displays with 4096 x 2304 resolution at 60Hz connected via Thunderbolt 3, plus one display with 4096 x 2160 resolution at 60Hz connected via HDMI 2.0. Alternatively, the user can have one display with 5120 x 2880 resolution at 60Hz connected via Thunderbolt 3 plus one display with 4096 x 2160 resolution at 60Hz connected with the HDMI 2.0 port.

Of course, you could always hang an external GPU off of it and have loads of displays.

While Apple employees at the unveil told us that there was a single Thunderbolt 3 controller supplying all four ports, a teardown is showing a pair of controllers.

Is the RAM user-expandable?

Yes. The slots are SO-DIMM slots, and are mostly accessible to the user. In conversations with Apple corporate employees, we've been told that users with a "modicum of skill" can get to the pair of RAM slots.

SO-DIMM slots on the left
SO-DIMM slots on the left


AppleInsider isn't going to recommend this for all users just now because of the remark, and the current lack of clarity. But, we will be examining what it takes to get to the slots as soon as we can.

If I buy my own RAM, what do I need?

Apple says that the new Mac mini uses 2666MHZ DDR4 SO-DIMM RAM. Specifically, it looks like DDR-4 PC4-21300, non-ECC unbuffered RAM. On Crucial.com today, a 16GB kit is $146, with a 32GB kit at $292. RAM is a commodity, and pricing can vary greatly day-to-day, so if you've found this post a long time after the October 30 reveal, the prices may be higher or lower.

OWC will have kits for up to 32GB by the time the machines ship, with the 64GB kits two weeks later.

This is not additive. You'll have to pull out the RAM you bought with the machine. Keep it handy, though. If you need warranty repair, you'll have to put it back in before Apple will look at it.

Is the internal drive accessible to the user?

No. It is not a slotted M.2 drive, nor SATA. Buy what you need for internal storage when you get the machine.

Realize, though, that it has four 40Gbit/sec Thunderbolt 3 ports, so consider external storage. A USB 3.1 type-C generation 1 enclosure for a SATA SSD is about $20 from Amazon. One that can take two drives and is USB 3.1 type-C generation 2 is about $60.

We'll be talking about options for truly ridiculous storage for the new machines before not too long.

Why, though? This seems dumb.

The storage in the Mac mini is PCI-E storage, with Apple claiming that the drive has sequential read speed of up to four times faster than the previous model, with a peak of 3.4 gigabytes per second.

A SATA drive is limited to about 550 Megabytes per second read, about one-sixth the speed. Standard M.2 drives are faster than that, of course, but still not up to the 3.4 gigabytes per second.

Use cases vary, of course. What works for one user very well is overkill for another. Speaking of overkill...

LOL, $4200 is too much for a Mac mini!

Yes, the highest configuration for a Mac mini is $4200. However, a large portion of that is expensive SSD.

If you're the kind of AppleInsider reader that "needs" a $4200 Mac mini, then you're also the kind of user that buys their own RAM, and will get an external enclosure and pack it full of your own drives.

Is the processor upgradeable?

No. We've been told that the processors are all soldered and not socketed. Get the fastest one you can afford.

... this also seems dumb.

For a small segment of Apple's users. it isn't optimal, but it isn't dumb. Apple's choices in how they design machines -- including processor mounting -- has dramatically cut down on the service rates in just a handful of years. But, like we said before, more on this later.

As a reminder, just because there have been machines that can take a CPU upgrade by the truly adventurous, like the 5,1 Mac Pro and now the iMac Pro, that doesn't make it a good idea for everybody. Apple has only very rarely explicitly allowed CPU upgrades, and even then, it was in days of yore.

Can I use the USB-C iPad Pro as an external monitor for the Mac mini?

This is more about the iPro than the Mac mini, but let's address it anyway.

You can't plug in a USB-C to USB-C cable with no other software to do so at present, no. USB-C to DisplayPort or HDMI is a specific "alternate mode" negotiation, and it would require additional software at a minimum and hardware more likely in the iPad Pro to allow this.

There are always software options like Duet Display that benefits greatly from a high-speed wired connection like USB-C will provide, or wireless solutions like AstroPad's Luna Display, though to do this.

That stack of Mac minis looks sweet, how does it work?

First of all, there's nothing truly new there. There are no fancy interconnects, or special connectors that Apple used or released on Tuesday.

At the New York event, Apple had a stack of Mac minis, cranking away on a problem that is easily broken into chunks -- called embarrassingly parallel -- with compatible software. Not every task can be broken up like this, nor will stacking five Mac minis give you any inherent advantage on day-to-day tasks.

But what about...

We're still getting a lot of questions about the new machine. As we collect questions, and gather answers, we'll update accordingly.
muthuk_vanalingam
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 136
    From the photo of the new fan, you can see that the fan must be removed or at least lifted to get to the DIMM slots to add/replace the memory. I guess that is what Apple mean by "modicum of skill".
  • Reply 2 of 136
    Answered my question.  
    edited October 2018
  • Reply 3 of 136
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    kayess said:
    Will it connect to a 5k monitor?
    Yes, one without an external GPU. Second item in the piece.
    Polaris1983
  • Reply 4 of 136
    It's stated that the CPU's are soldered, but all of the CPU's translate to socked CPU's, are you 100% certain they are soldered?
  • Reply 5 of 136
    wizard69wizard69 Posts: 12,860member
    Nice start on Mini reporting.   I might point out that SSD,s are no where as expensive as the use to be.   This even for “high performance” drives.  It is really difficult to justify Apples high prices, thankfully external options already provide a huge number of options.  

    In any event the new Mini is nice but The price tag is a bit of a party pooper.  
  • Reply 6 of 136
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    fuzzyuu said:
    It's stated that the CPU's are soldered, but all of the CPU's translate to socked CPU's, are you 100% certain they are soldered?
    We've been told they are all soldered. We'll let you know when we get ours, and I'm sure iFixit will tell you too.
    edited October 2018
  • Reply 7 of 136
    About the internal SSD:

    I'm debating getting either the 512GB or the 1TB which is an astounding $400 more.  I looked into external Thunderbolt 3 SSD drives and found out that they are at least $700 for a 1TB version (https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Portable-SSD-Thunderbolt-MU-PB1T0B/dp/B07GBWZJFG?th=1).  

    So if I were to get the lowest spec'ed Mac Mini with the max CPU upgrade (6-core i7), 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and 10-GB Ethernet, my cost comes to $1,200.  Add in $700 for the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD and it comes to $1,900.  Throw in another $300 for 32GB RAM kit upgrade from outside of Apple, it goes to $2,200.  

    Now, suppose that I opt for the internal 1TB SSD with all the specs remaining the same (i7, 8GB RAM with the $300 32GB kit, 10-GB Ethernet) and excluding the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD.  My cost would then be $2,300.

    So the difference is really only +$100 more for an internal 1TB vs. 128GB, assuming that you buy an external 1TB Thunderbolt 3 SSD to compensate for the latter.  

    Thoughts?  Is the internal 1TB SSD option better than an external 1TB if the total cost is more or less the same?
    edited October 2018 caladanianchia
  • Reply 8 of 136
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,799member
    There will be a huge market for matching TB enclosures with storage ability. Perhaps even raid solutions that will still work out cheaper than the price Apple charges for SSD. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Nobody is buying a Mac mini for outright performance.
    thtlorin schultz
  • Reply 9 of 136
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    kharvel said:
    About the internal SSD:

    I'm debating getting either the 512GB or the 1TB which is an astounding $400 more.  I looked into external Thunderbolt 3 SSD drives and found out that they are at least $700 for a 1TB version (https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Portable-SSD-Thunderbolt-MU-PB1T0B/dp/B07GBWZJFG?th=1).  

    So if I were to get the lowest spec'ed Mac Mini with the max CPU upgrade (6-core i7), 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and 10-GB Ethernet, my cost comes to $1,200.  Add in $700 for the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD and it comes to $1,900.  Throw in another $300 for 32GB RAM kit upgrade from outside of Apple, it goes to $2,200.  

    Now, suppose that I opt for the internal 1TB SSD with all the specs remaining the same (i7, 8GB RAM with the $300 32GB kit, 10-GB Ethernet) and excluding the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD.  My cost would then be $2,300.

    So the difference is really only +$100 more for an internal 1TB vs. 128GB, assuming that you buy an external 1TB Thunderbolt 3 SSD to compensate for the latter.  

    Thoughts?  Is the internal 1TB SSD option better than an external 1TB if the total cost is more or less the same?
    Well, this is the problem with fast SSD storage -- it isn't cheap. What's the use case? Apple's SSD is faster than the external drive in this case, so all other factors equal, I'd get the internal, assuming you need that kind of speed.
    edited October 2018 caladanianmuthuk_vanalingamSantiagero
  • Reply 10 of 136
    So only 2 slots - not just 2 slots are visibly occupied.  I did not think there were any reasonably sized 32GB SO-DIMMS modules only up to 16GB
  • Reply 11 of 136
    kharvel said:
    About the internal SSD:

    I'm debating getting either the 512GB or the 1TB which is an astounding $400 more.  I looked into external Thunderbolt 3 SSD drives and found out that they are at least $700 for a 1TB version (https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Portable-SSD-Thunderbolt-MU-PB1T0B/dp/B07GBWZJFG?th=1).  

    So if I were to get the lowest spec'ed Mac Mini with the max CPU upgrade (6-core i7), 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and 10-GB Ethernet, my cost comes to $1,200.  Add in $700 for the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD and it comes to $1,900.  Throw in another $300 for 32GB RAM kit upgrade from outside of Apple, it goes to $2,200.  

    Now, suppose that I opt for the internal 1TB SSD with all the specs remaining the same (i7, 8GB RAM with the $300 32GB kit, 10-GB Ethernet) and excluding the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD.  My cost would then be $2,300.

    So the difference is really only +$100 more for an internal 1TB vs. 128GB, assuming that you buy an external 1TB Thunderbolt 3 SSD to compensate for the latter.  

    Thoughts?  Is the internal 1TB SSD option better than an external 1TB if the total cost is more or less the same?
    Well, this is the problem with fast SSD storage -- it isn't cheap. What's the use case? Apple's SSD is faster than the external drive in this case, so all other factors equal, I'd get the internal, assuming you need that kind of speed.

    What are the benefits of a fast internal SSD if my use case are just every day home computer use (Word, Excel, email, some Photoshop, occasional video/photo editing, etc)?  Would I be fine using an external USB 3 SSD drive?
  • Reply 12 of 136
    MykeMyke Posts: 1unconfirmed, member
    I think the price they are charging for PCI-E storage is insane. You can get a PCI-E NVMe drive that has a Max Sequential Read of Up to 3400 MBps and a Max Sequential Write of Up to 2500 MBps for around $140 for a 500GB/512GB or $250 for a 1TB one. I get this is how Apple likes to make it's money, but the argument that Apple's PCI-E drives are this amazing blazing fast thing worth every cent is just wrong.
  • Reply 13 of 136
    AppleInsider said:
    On Crucial.com today, a 16GB kit is $146, with a 32GB kit at $292
    This is what drives me crazy about buying Apple hardware. I checked a few mainstream retail outlets to get a sense of a fair "street" price, i.e. not the lowest, margin-crushing, discount rate, but a price that is likely to survive more than a day or two, for a pair of 16GB sticks (32GB total). I was hard pressed to find a way to spend more than CAD$400 (~USD$300), yet to have Apple install it at time of purchase is CAD$720!!! (~USD$550)

    I get that Apple can get away with charging more than street prices, even if only for reasons of convenience, but DAMN! That's a helluvalot more than just realizing a healthy margin for shareholders, that's out-and-out gouging. It sends a message that Apple perceives us as either profoundly stupid (which we may well be, if we accept this) or being wealthy beyond caring. Maybe most of you are the latter. I'm not.

    AppleInsider said:
    No. It is not a slotted M.2 drive, nor SATA. Buy what you need for internal storage when you get the machine.
    The problem is the massive chasm between what I need and what I can afford! See above. CAD$720 (~USD$550) for about 750GB of storage (1TB minus the 256GB included in the base price). Yeah, yeah, I know, better than SATA, up to 4X the speed of light, yada yada yada. Again, I realize the storage Apple is offering is going to cost more than generic aftermarket, but the issue is how MUCH more?! To me these prices seem excessive.

    Realize, though, that it has four 40Gbit/sec Thunderbolt 3 ports, so consider external storage. A USB 3.1 type-C generation 1 enclosure for a SATA SSD is about $20 from Amazon. One that can take two drives and is USB 3.1 type-C generation 2 is about $60.
    This is the saving grace for the mini. It's not going anywhere, so adding some less expensive external storage is no big deal. Unfortunately that's not the case with laptops, so we're stuck with either paying Apple's insane BTO prices or putting up with half-assed cloud or "another thing to carry and power" compromises.

    I would prefer that Apple stop using upgrades as a way to subsidize entry-level machines and just make pricing consistent and within reason across the board.



    Now that I have that all off my chest, I'm sure looking forward to finally getting a new Mac mini! Between upgrading the RAM myself and using external storage, it's a winner. Now I just need to figure out what we're going to do about new laptops for my wife and daughter, both of whom insist on 15" screens (should I start another rant about 15" screens being available only on high-end machines, or should I wait for a thread about the new Air for that? :))
    Mykemuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 14 of 136
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    bkkcanuck said:
    So only 2 slots - not just 2 slots are visibly occupied.  I did not think there were any reasonably sized 32GB SO-DIMMS modules only up to 16GB
    Just two slots. There are 32GB chips, but they aren't cheap or widely available at the moment.
    caladanian
  • Reply 15 of 136
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator

    Myke said:
    I think the price they are charging for PCI-E storage is insane. You can get a PCI-E NVMe drive that has a Max Sequential Read of Up to 3400 MBps and a Max Sequential Write of Up to 2500 MBps for around $140 for a 500GB/512GB or $250 for a 1TB one. I get this is how Apple likes to make it's money, but the argument that Apple's PCI-E drives are this amazing blazing fast thing worth every cent is just wrong.
    I tend to agree with you on the pricing for Apple's storage.
    Mykecaladanianmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 16 of 136
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 4,757administrator
    kharvel said:
    kharvel said:
    About the internal SSD:

    I'm debating getting either the 512GB or the 1TB which is an astounding $400 more.  I looked into external Thunderbolt 3 SSD drives and found out that they are at least $700 for a 1TB version (https://www.amazon.com/Samsung-Portable-SSD-Thunderbolt-MU-PB1T0B/dp/B07GBWZJFG?th=1).  

    So if I were to get the lowest spec'ed Mac Mini with the max CPU upgrade (6-core i7), 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, and 10-GB Ethernet, my cost comes to $1,200.  Add in $700 for the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD and it comes to $1,900.  Throw in another $300 for 32GB RAM kit upgrade from outside of Apple, it goes to $2,200.  

    Now, suppose that I opt for the internal 1TB SSD with all the specs remaining the same (i7, 8GB RAM with the $300 32GB kit, 10-GB Ethernet) and excluding the external Thunderbolt 3 SSD.  My cost would then be $2,300.

    So the difference is really only +$100 more for an internal 1TB vs. 128GB, assuming that you buy an external 1TB Thunderbolt 3 SSD to compensate for the latter.  

    Thoughts?  Is the internal 1TB SSD option better than an external 1TB if the total cost is more or less the same?
    Well, this is the problem with fast SSD storage -- it isn't cheap. What's the use case? Apple's SSD is faster than the external drive in this case, so all other factors equal, I'd get the internal, assuming you need that kind of speed.

    What are the benefits of a fast internal SSD if my use case are just every day home computer use (Word, Excel, email, some Photoshop, occasional video/photo editing, etc)?  Would I be fine using an external USB 3 SSD drive?
    I'd keep applications, system, and Photoshop scratch space on your fast internal SSD, and move absolutely everything else to a slower, cheaper external. A 1 TB external SSD slower than the Samsung can be had for $250-$300ish.
    edited October 2018 caladanianmuthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 17 of 136
    The fact that you can bring your own RAM is crucial (no pun intended) in keeping the true cost of this machine down for many of us.  Just buy the fastest processor & SSD storage you can afford and go.  I wasn't expecting an upgradable SSD.  Even when Apple did do SSD sticks, they were proprietary.

    I will have to say that this is the Mini I've been waiting for.  I was hoping that it was going to be the 8th gen Intel stuff with a 6 core option and it looks like we got it.  And I think the 6 core version is hyper threaded too.  I need a server machine to replace my aging 2008 Mac Pro which still puts up a pretty decent multicore fight with 8 Xeon processors but Intel's consumer stuff is all faster than the best from a decade ago.  And my Drobo 5D3 will appreciate the Thunderbolt 3 which I can't use with the Mac Pro.  Fun fact: only the MacBook Pro 15" also has 4 TB3 ports and the Mini throws in two USB A ports for good measure....no dongles required!  

    Since all my storage needs are external, I will be happy with a 512 GB boot volume just for an OS and some applications.  And 10GB Ethernet is icing on the cake.  I'm sure the Mac Mini server farm cloud providers really wants that feature and Apple delivered.
    fastasleep
  • Reply 18 of 136
    eightzeroeightzero Posts: 2,432member
    wizard69 said:
    Nice start on Mini reporting.   I might point out that SSD,s are no where as expensive as the use to be.   This even for “high performance” drives.  It is really difficult to justify Apples high prices, thankfully external options already provide a huge number of options.  

    In any event the new Mini is nice but The price tag is a bit of a party pooper.  
    Yes, but wait. The current macmini update cycle was 4 years, so in 6 mos -  1yr time frame, deals will be out and the prices drop. But the flip side is (sorry AI for bringing this up) the tariffs are coming, so that consumer tax will soon apply. 
  • Reply 19 of 136
    entropys said:
    There will be a huge market for matching TB enclosures with storage ability. Perhaps even raid solutions that will still work out cheaper than the price Apple charges for SSD. It just leaves a bad taste in your mouth. Nobody is buying a Mac mini for outright performance.
    This raises another question for me: Should Apple be using the most expensive storage format in mid-range machines? Is there an argument to be made for using more "generic" storage in machines like the mini and Air? Like you said, no one is buying a mini for speed-intensive work. That's what the "Pro" machines are for. I do not presume to speak for anyone else, but I'd actually be happier with slower and cheaper.

    I really don't understand Apple's approach to this issue, as it's inconsistent with other parts of their machines. They don't use top-of-the-line CPUs, the mini and Air both use integrated graphics rather than dedicated chipsets, and even in the days of hard drives we had to pay extra just to get a 7200 rpm drive instead of 5400. Why are they now driving up the price of Macs by using only bleeding edge storage? Why single out this one aspect of overall performance when "good vanilla" is acceptable for other parts of the machine?
    muthuk_vanalingam
  • Reply 20 of 136
    sevenfeet said:
    [...] And 10GB Ethernet is icing on the cake.
    I can't think of a way to make 10GBe a reality in my home right now, but at only ~$100 to add it, I'm going to anyway -- just in case.
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