Mac mini 2018 Review: Apple's mightiest mini yet

Posted:
in Current Mac Hardware edited November 6
With the Mac mini finally refreshed after four years, we finally have our hands on the newest model. We've spent some time running it through the wringer to test Apple's mightiest mini yet.

2018 Mac mini
2018 Mac mini

In the box

Apple's Mac mini has always been a bare-bones machine and this new model still only ships with the device itself plus a color-coordinated black power cord. Keyboard, mouse, display, all are necessities you will have to provide yourself.






We also have the usual getting started guide, which walks you through the new ports, as well as highlights the Mac mini connected to a display that looks eerily similar to an updated version of Apple's long discontinued Thunderbolt Display. Apple has teased a new Pro display coming next year alongside a refreshed and modular Mac Pro. Perhaps this is our first look at it?

What you get

Our review unit has an Intel i3 quad-core processor with a base speed of 3.6GHz, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of PCI-E flash storage. But, if you're so inclined, there are i5 and i7 versions with six cores, RAM options up to 64GB, and storage up to 2TB of flash storage.




That is a wide range of configurations and is perfect for this machine that spans so many different use case scenarios, from a home media server to sitting in stacks within a render farm.

If you want a maxed out one, however, be prepared to pay -- it'll cost you over $4,200. Our configuration retails for $799.

First impressions

Initially, the Mac mini looks like a lot of the same. It has that same stout body, just with a new finish. We wouldn't hold it against you if you confused the new mini for the old.

Old and new Mac mini colors
Previous Mac mini (top) and 2018 Mac mini (bottom)


Apple made a big point to note that like the MacBook Air, the Mac mini's enclosure is made from 100-percent recycled aluminum. The quality of the metal looks as good as ever, creating a great and minimalistic look.

Flipping it around, there is a quartet of Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB-A ports, auxiliary audio out, Gigabit or 10-Gig Ethernet depending on configuration, and HDMI 2.0. The cooling system has been redesigned, as has the external vent on the back of the machine which is slightly narrower than the previous, four-year-old model.

2018 Mac mini ports (from left to right): power, Ethernet, (4x) Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, (2x) USB 3.0 Type-A, 3.5mm headphone jack
2018 Mac mini ports (from left to right): power, Ethernet, (4x) Thunderbolt 3, HDMI 2.0, (2x) USB 3.0 Type-A, 3.5mm headphone jack


We're guessing there will be some tears shed over the lack of any optical audio output, but ultimately that will become a non-issue. For most users, HDMI 2.0 will do a better job and is more flexible than the optical TOSlink connector. It will pass Dolby TrueHD and DTS HD Master Audio, neither of which can get transmitted across that TOSlink cable.

We opted to pair our new Space Gray Mac mini with Apple's Space Gray Magic Mouse 2 and Magic Keyboard to complete that all-black aesthetic.

Upgradability

Our base model came with 8GB of RAM, though it can go all the way up to 64GB. Considering Apple's costs on memory upgrades, the fact that the chips are slotted and not soldered into the board is giant.

This means a user can actually open up the bottom and upgrade the RAM themselves.

2018 Mac mini
2018 Mac mini


It's a fairly simple procedure, though not as easy as some of the previous minis from 2012 and earlier, necessitating a spudger, and a set of security Torx drivers. We'll be going into the upgrade process at a later date.

Should you opt to upgrade the RAM yourself, you won't void your warranty, but if you happen to somehow damage the machine in the process, you will be out of luck.

You should also keep the original RAM handy because Apple straight won't service the mini without that original pair of chips. Luckily, since they are relatively easy to swap, it isn't a big deal to pop them back in when taking into the Apple Store or Apple Authorized Service Provider -- and frankly, if you're troubleshooting some problem, going back to the original RAM is a good test.

As a downside, the storage is soldered into place, so replacing that yourself is a not possible. Fortunately, external storage is a lot more acceptable on a desktop device.

Benchmarks

Soon, we will be putting the Mac mini through more intensive thermal testing, but for the review, we threw it up against the CineBench R15 and Geekbench 4 tests.

Now that the mini starts with a 3.6GHz quad-core 8th generation Intel Core i3 processor, it should show quite an improvement.

Mac min with Space Grey Magic Mouse 2
Mac min with Space Grey Magic Mouse 2


We ran Geekbench 4 a number of times, averaging 4,769 and 14,202 on the single and multi-core tests. That compares well to the late 2012 Mac mini with an i7 processor -- the previous multi-core champ -- running at 2.3GHz which pulled 3300 and 11480 on the single/multi-core tests.

This also compares very well to the 2014 dual-core 3GHz Core i7 which was the previous single-core champ with 3705 and 7062 single and multi-core performance respectively. Both of these tests put the new low-end Mac mini ahead of all previous models in the family.

The performance gap gets even larger as you go up to the six-core i7 processor, which we will be talking more about in the future.

For CineBench R15, we averaged around 40 fps on the OpenGL test and a tick above 220 on the CPU test.

A max amount of mini improvements

Other than upgraded processors and ports, Apple packed in a ton of other improvements to this year's Mac mini.

Internally, we've got Apple's T2 security chip which performs a variety of different functions. Other Mac's use it for running the Touch Bar and Touch ID, but the Mac mini doesn't come with a keyboard and so far there isn't an optional one that includes these features. So for this machine, the T2 chip is relied on for secure boot, on-the-fly disc encryption, and hardware-assisted video encoding.

Mac mini with Thunderbolt 3 Akitio Node Lite SSD
Mac mini with Thunderbolt 3 Akitio Node Lite SSD


We also love that there are so many Thunderbolt 3 ports, as many as there are on a MacBook Pro. This opens up so many possibilities from external GPUs to crazy fast SSD storage.

One area that didn't see much an upgrade is the internal speakers. They exist, but they aren't amazing. Especially as the volume goes up they start to sound a bit fuzzy and they certainly don't have much bass.

Distributed computing

Once upon a time, there was Xgrid, and it was promising, but in actuality finicky as hell and hard to configure properly. Apple killed it as a discrete product in macOS 10.8 "Mountain Lion" -- but the concept of distributed computing lives on.

Apple obliquely referred to users having a stack of them, which set off a flurry of speculation that Apple had some kind of fancy interconnect between machines. However, the truth is more mundane than that.

Apple's Compressor has the ability to distribute the "embarrassingly parallel" batch task for media transcoding across multiple computers connected to a Gigabit Ethernet network, and this is what Apple both talked about on stage, and demonstrated in the hands-on area after the reveal. But, at present, distributed processing can't be used for jobs sent to Compressor from Final Cut Pro X or Motion.

Coders can benefit from this stack, however. Xcode allows for distributed builds that can theoretically speed compiling times on big projects -- but your mileage may vary on any one of a number of factors that are beyond the scope of this review.

A huge upgrade, with a matching price

The new 2018 Mac mini is impressively powerful, even for the entry-level model. It is encouraging to see Apple deliver such a well-thought-out upgrade that was desperately needed.

We are sure that there will be a wide variety of uses for the new mini, but perhaps not as wide audience for it as there could be. The price has gone up now to $799 for the entry-level model, an increase of $300 over the previous. As a result, fewer people will be able to buy into the new mini.

2018 Mac mini
2018 Mac mini


People who are looking for a basic Mac are stuck deciding between the newly inflated price or going for the cheaper, and woefully outdated predecessor, at least while it's still available at third-party retailers.

Still, Mac mini remains the cheapest Mac you can buy and it is more powerful now than it has ever been. While the "low-end" Mac mini packs a lot of performance in a small box and is a decent value assuming you don't need a ton of storage space internal, the ecosystem could use a less expensive one, at a $499 or $599 price-point.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Where to buy

Apple's 2018 Mac mini is available for preorder from Apple authorized reseller Adorama with no sales tax collected on orders shipped outside New York and New Jersey. Orders are shipped on a first come, first served basis and your cart will not be charged until your Mac mini is ready to ship.

For a full list of deals and product availability across multiple Apple authorized resellers, be sure to check out our 2018 Mac mini Price Guide. And for more information on how to save up to $310 on Apple's new hardware at Adorama, check out our buyer's guide.
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Comments

  • Reply 1 of 151
    ... does the render farm reference explain the high end configurations for those willing to pay a premium for 6 core compactness, along with the lack of a discrete GPU ...?

    The HP Z2 has a P1000 GPU as a proof of concept at $1,529US
    https://store.hp.com/us/en/pdp/hp-z2-mini-g4-workstation-p-5ee62ut-abc-1

    edited November 6
  • Reply 2 of 151
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,601administrator
    ... does the render farm reference explain the high end configurations for those willing to pay a premium for 6 core compactness, along with the lack of a discrete GPU ...?

    The HP Z2 has a P1000 GPU as a proof of concept at $1,529US
    https://store.hp.com/us/en/pdp/hp-z2-mini-g4-workstation-p-5ee62ut-abc-1

    I don’t think I understand your question fully? Is there a question?
    mwhiteericthehalfbeelolliver
  • Reply 3 of 151
    I believe that the quad-core i3 CPU in this Mac Mini has only four threads instead of eight threads; that is there’s only one thread per core. Please confirm that.

    If this is the case, the multi-threading performance of this i3 CPU should be inferior to the multithreading performance of the 2012 Mac Mini’s quad-core i7, which has eight threads (two threads per core).  


    sflocal
  • Reply 4 of 151
    Could you please confirm that you’ve opened up the Mini, and that the RAM upgrade is indeed simple? Other reviewers claim its tough, or a “nasty surgery”, and also claim that warranty is voided. Thanks!
    shamino
  • Reply 5 of 151
    entropysentropys Posts: 1,343member
    you know, all apple had to do was have both the RAM and the SSD in slots, and I think that would be a worthy Mac Mini. RAM only is only half way there.  Apple should be ashamed of what they charge for SSD upgrades. Ashamed.

    So, if I was to pick a configuration, I would probably go for an i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, then add an extra 8GB RAM myself and have a decent sized thunderbolt 3 external drive to boot off cabled under the desk.
    edited November 6 vulpinewilliamlondonbryanuspakitt
  • Reply 6 of 151
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,601administrator
    Could you please confirm that you’ve opened up the Mini, and that the RAM upgrade is indeed simple? Other reviewers claim its tough, or a “nasty surgery”, and also claim that warranty is voided. Thanks!
    It isn't a nasty surgery, nor is it just popping off the door -- and it requires a security Torx set. We'll be talking more about it shortly.

    If you don't break anything, and keep the Apple RAM and put it back in before any service, it does not void the warranty.
    edited November 6 caladanianbigpicsneo-techdavgreg
  • Reply 7 of 151
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,601administrator

    sirozha said:
    I believe that the quad-core i3 CPU in this Mac Mini has only four threads instead of eight threads; that is there’s only one thread per core. Please confirm that.

    If this is the case, the multi-threading performance of this i3 CPU should be inferior to the multithreading performance of the 2012 Mac Mini’s quad-core i7, which has eight threads (two threads per core).  


    While it does have four threads -- one per core -- your performance assumption is not. The multi-core performance, which encompasses multiple threads, is better on the new mini, and the benchmarks on the i7 model that we've seen this morning put it roughly in line with the 2013 Mac Pro.

    This shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that the processor is five years younger.
    edited November 6 entropysRayz2016caladanianchasmnetmage
  • Reply 8 of 151

    sirozha said:
    I believe that the quad-core i3 CPU in this Mac Mini has only four threads instead of eight threads; that is there’s only one thread per core. Please confirm that.

    If this is the case, the multi-threading performance of this i3 CPU should be inferior to the multithreading performance of the 2012 Mac Mini’s quad-core i7, which has eight threads (two threads per core).  


    While it does have four threads -- one per core -- your performance assumption is not. The multi-core performance, which encompasses multiple threads, is better on the new mini.

    This shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that the processor is five years younger.
    What about four threads vs eight threads for virtualization purposes?
  • Reply 9 of 151
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,601administrator
    sirozha said:

    sirozha said:
    I believe that the quad-core i3 CPU in this Mac Mini has only four threads instead of eight threads; that is there’s only one thread per core. Please confirm that.

    If this is the case, the multi-threading performance of this i3 CPU should be inferior to the multithreading performance of the 2012 Mac Mini’s quad-core i7, which has eight threads (two threads per core).  


    While it does have four threads -- one per core -- your performance assumption is not. The multi-core performance, which encompasses multiple threads, is better on the new mini.

    This shouldn't be much of a surprise, given that the processor is five years younger.
    What about four threads vs eight threads for virtualization purposes?
    We haven't done a lot of virtualization work yet. Depending on how you allocate machines, the single-core performance in the new mini is great, though. We've got a lot more coming.
  • Reply 10 of 151
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,601administrator

    entropys said:
    you know, all apple had to do was have both the RAM and the SSD in slots, and I think that would be a worthy Mac Mini. RAM only is only half way there.  Apple should be ashamed of what they charge for SSD upgrades. Ashamed.

    So, if I was to pick a configuration, I would probably go for an i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, then add an extra 8GB RAM myself and have a decent sized thunderbolt 3 external drive to boot off cabled under the desk.
    The machine I ordered for myself is the i7 with 8GB, and 128GB SSD, and I will do precisely this. Thunderbolt 3 opens up a lot of possibilities.
    StrangeDayshodarchasmbigpicsneo-techdtb200
  • Reply 11 of 151
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,884member
    To me it looks fine. I can imagine that if one extended a line across time through the vast void of emptiness during which Apple refrained to lift a finger to upgrade this machine, this is what one would naturally expect to see released in Fall 2018. So yay. 

    The idea of buying multiple and stacking them is appealing to me... much of my work is embarrassingly parallel. It's of the single program, multiple data variety. 

    But frankly it's too little, too late. I jumped ship for a 32 core 2990wx Threadripper system running Ubuntu. For $4k I got 32 cores, 64 GB of RAM, and a 512 GB SSD. 

    Don't get me wrong... my Linux Threadripper system is far from ideal. The 2990wx is a bit of an odd duck due to it's memory access issues. And I definitely prefer the ease of use and familiarity of Mac OS to Linux. But still -- $4k, 32 cores. To get something ballpark equivalent in terms of a stack of mins would cost in the $6k to $7k range (and then you have to manage things across computers, which I can do, but it's easier to have a single computer). 

    But I'll definitely keep watching Apple's progress. If they can show a sustained commitment to pro machines, I'll take a look the next time I'm in the market. 


    bigpics
  • Reply 12 of 151
    We are sure that there will be a wide variety of uses for the new mini, but perhaps not as wide audience for it as there could be. The price has gone up now to $799 for the entry-level model, an increase of $300 over the previous. As a result, fewer people will be able to buy into the new mini.
    Yes, but no : at the same time, that former “entry-level model” was one with a tiny spinning disk drive and a paltry 4 GB of RAM. In the previous line-up, the equivalent to the new entry-level Mac Mini was about the same or even a tad more expensive. In 2018, the former entry-level model was a very bad choice, as you had underlined yourself when you had compared to Intel’s NUC.

    By the way, now that you have the 2018 Mac Minis, you should compare them once again to the same Intel NUC. (On Intel’s pages, the Intel® NUC7i7BNKQ is currently 899$, with Intel® Core™ i7-7567U processor, M.2 SSD internal drive, HDMI 2.0a; USB-C (DP1.2) graphics output, no USB-C, no ethernet. The NUC7i3BNHXF is 499$ with a Core™ i3-7100U processor, rest is similar to the aforementioned.)


    edited November 6
  • Reply 13 of 151
    Mike WuertheleMike Wuerthele Posts: 3,601administrator
    pascal007 said:
    We are sure that there will be a wide variety of uses for the new mini, but perhaps not as wide audience for it as there could be. The price has gone up now to $799 for the entry-level model, an increase of $300 over the previous. As a result, fewer people will be able to buy into the new mini.

    Yes, but no : at the same time, that former "entry-level model" was one with a tiny spinning disk drive and a paltry 4 GB of RAM. The equivalent to the new entry-level Mac Mini was about the same or even a tad more expensive. In 2018, the former entry-level model was a very bad choice, as you had underlined yourself when you had compared in to Intel's NUC.

    By the way, now that you have the 2018 Mac Minis, you should compare them once again to the same Intel NUC. (On Intel's pages, the Intel® NUC7i7BNKQ is currently 899$, with Intel® Core™ i7-7567U processor, M.2 SSD internal drive, HDMI 2.0a; USB-C (DP1.2) graphics output, no USB-C, no ethernet. The NUC7i3BNHXF is 499$ with a Core™ i3-7100U processor, rest is similar to the aforementioned.)





    The NKQ and HXF both have one Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) port, and ethernet. 
  • Reply 14 of 151
    dewmedewme Posts: 1,759member
    This is a worthy upgrade that predictably builds on Apple's reputation of delivering premium products at a premium price. It is now safe to say the Mini is  not going to be Apple's budget or entry level product that some folks were hoping for. It's one thing for us to say "the ecosystem could use a less expensive one, at a $499 or $599 price-point" but quite another to identify what we're willing to give up on the lowest end configuration to hit that price point. By the way, Apple accepting a lower margin is not a viable answer and is not going to happen. This is still a premium engineered, amazingly industrialized, and thoughtfully sourced product that Apple put a tremendous amount of resources into to preserve what Apple values in a product it is proud to present to customers. They are not simply slapping a bunch of off-the-shelf components into an ugly white box that's stuffed with whatever they can get cheapest this week.

    I'm still hopeful that Apple can find a way to justify delivering a true entry level machine. To do this they will need to approach the problem from a different angle. For example, if Apple decided to significantly ramp up its investment in keeping newbie programmers on the professional development path they could consider something like a Mac "Coding Machine" that consisted of a what is basically a scaled down and spec'd down Mac Mini, perhaps in a poly-carbonate case, that is priced say at $299. Perhaps it only has i3 and fewer ports. I'm thinking something that is in the same sphere of focus as the Raspberry Pi but a full Mac OS machine (with XCode) that is more akin to what professional programmers are using compared to an iPad with Swift Playgrounds, which I as more like Lego Mindstorm for early exposure to programming. Apple needs to create an easy and natural path from Playgrounds to XCode, so having an educational focus coupled with an entry level product relieves Apple from having to have the "premium" wick turned up quite so high as what we see with the new Mini. Apple can do it, but needs to redefine the rationale that's driving their engineering and product development machine to make it happen. Education, STEM, robotics, and "everyone can code" may be exactly the rationale they need.

    Of course an entry level Mini won't please the current crowd here at AI, but Apple can't please everyone all of the time and they still have a business to run. We CAN pay for premium, even though we like to complain about it from our thousand dollar phones.

    radarthekat
  • Reply 15 of 151
    blastdoorblastdoor Posts: 1,884member
    dewme said:
    This is a worthy upgrade that predictably builds on Apple's reputation of delivering premium products at a premium price. It is now safe to say the Mini is  not going to be Apple's budget or entry level product that some folks were hoping for. It's one thing for us to say "the ecosystem could use a less expensive one, at a $499 or $599 price-point" but quite another to identify what we're willing to give up on the lowest end configuration to hit that price point. By the way, Apple accepting a lower margin is not a viable answer and is not going to happen. This is still a premium engineered, amazingly industrialized, and thoughtfully sourced product that Apple put a tremendous amount of resources into to preserve what Apple values in a product it is proud to present to customers. They are not simply slapping a bunch of off-the-shelf components into an ugly white box that's stuffed with whatever they can get cheapest this week.

    I'm still hopeful that Apple can find a way to justify delivering a true entry level machine. To do this they will need to approach the problem from a different angle. For example, if Apple decided to significantly ramp up its investment in keeping newbie programmers on the professional development path they could consider something like a Mac "Coding Machine" that consisted of a what is basically a scaled down and spec'd down Mac Mini, perhaps in a poly-carbonate case, that is priced say at $299. Perhaps it only has i3 and fewer ports. I'm thinking something that is in the same sphere of focus as the Raspberry Pi but a full Mac OS machine (with XCode) that is more akin to what professional programmers are using compared to an iPad with Swift Playgrounds, which I as more like Lego Mindstorm for early exposure to programming. Apple needs to create an easy and natural path from Playgrounds to XCode, so having an educational focus coupled with an entry level product relieves Apple from having to have the "premium" wick turned up quite so high as what we see with the new Mini. Apple can do it, but needs to redefine the rationale that's driving their engineering and product development machine to make it happen. Education, STEM, robotics, and "everyone can code" may be exactly the rationale they need.

    Of course an entry level Mini won't please the current crowd here at AI, but Apple can't please everyone all of the time and they still have a business to run. We CAN pay for premium, even though we like to complain about it from our thousand dollar phones.

    The "easy" path to an entry level Mac at a lower price point is to dump Intel. Intel's gross margins are over 60%; TSMC's gross margins are just under 50%. Every time Apple ships a product with a processor fabbed by Intel rather than TSMC they are paying an "Intel tax" of sorts. An A12-based Mini would be a very strong entry level machine at a lower price point. An A12X could be offered as a BTO option for higher performance. 
    tipooMisterKitnetmage
  • Reply 16 of 151
    MacProMacPro Posts: 17,736member

    entropys said:
    you know, all apple had to do was have both the RAM and the SSD in slots, and I think that would be a worthy Mac Mini. RAM only is only half way there.  Apple should be ashamed of what they charge for SSD upgrades. Ashamed.

    So, if I was to pick a configuration, I would probably go for an i5, 8GB RAM, 128GB SSD, then add an extra 8GB RAM myself and have a decent sized thunderbolt 3 external drive to boot off cabled under the desk.
    The machine I ordered for myself is the i7 with 8GB, and 128GB SSD, and I will do precisely this. Thunderbolt 3 opens up a lot of possibilities.
    The storage being soldered is a shame until Apple makes it really easy to put Boot Camp on an external I see this as an issue if you start out too small.  Or did I miss an update and you now can?
     
    Part of me wishes Apple had followed the NUC strategy and offered a base configuration without RAM or SSD.  I'd buy the Apple configured one (256 GB minimum though) but it would stop a lot of the moaners if a bare-bones version was an option.
    edited November 6
  • Reply 17 of 151
    tipootipoo Posts: 971member
    It's curious to me that they called out T2 accelerating encode on the Mini, but didn't for other Macs when it's been out for, almost a year?

    Some testing should be able to show if it's enabled on all machines with T2, though I do seem to recall the iMac Pro was slower than the consumer macs on some export tasks because of lack of Quicksync, which should mean it wasn't using T2's encode. Curious. 
    tht
  • Reply 18 of 151
    Now I need a mac-mini-shaped hard drive enclosure to put a 6tb hard drive with my media files in there, and stack it under the actual mac mini. My life will be complete. 
    netmage
  • Reply 19 of 151
    tipootipoo Posts: 971member
    Now I need a mac-mini-shaped hard drive enclosure to put a 6tb hard drive with my media files in there, and stack it under the actual mac mini. My life will be complete. 

    Yeah, there must be a market for that and someone's probably already working on it. A GPU enclosure that's shaped like it would also be a great idea. 
    dtb200
  • Reply 20 of 151
    shaminoshamino Posts: 401member
    sirozha said:
    I believe that the quad-core i3 CPU in this Mac Mini has only four threads instead of eight threads; that is there’s only one thread per core. Please confirm that.

    If this is the case, the multi-threading performance of this i3 CPU should be inferior to the multithreading performance of the 2012 Mac Mini’s quad-core i7, which has eight threads (two threads per core). 
    You are correct.  The i3 and i5 models are not hyperthreaded so their 4 and 6 cores, respectively, translate to 4 and 6 threads.  The i7 model is hyperthreaded, so those 6 cores give you 12 threads.

    But comparing it against previous generation minis is not reasonable, because you're looking at many generations of CPU evolution.  The new mini uses 8th-gen processors.  The previous minis (2014) use 4th-gen processors.  And the 2012 model uses a 3rd-gen processor.  Even with half the number of threads, I would expect that 8th-gen i3 to outperform a 3rd-gen i7.
    MisterKitnetmage
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