For users who want a solid desktop Mac but balk at the thought of spending several thousand dollars on a workstation-grade Mac Pro, the Mac Mini has long been an affordable option for an entry level desktop computer. With a base price of only $599, the Mac Mini is the cheapest Mac that money can buy.
With that in mind, one would expect a compromise in quality compared to the other, more expensive Macs available. The good news is that this is largely not the case. The Mac Mini is a versatile, efficient machine that delivers impressive power given its small size and low price tag.
With a compact design and an aluminum unibody shell, the Mac Mini packs considerable punch within a case that is only 6.5 inches wide and 2 inches thick. The unit features an Intel Core i5 processor with base 2.3ghz processor and 2GB RAM, which is enough to handle most non-intensive applications with fluid ease. Upgrades to 2.5ghz and 2.7ghz are also available at a higher cost. During the more demanding moments, the processor’s Turbo Boost function can temporarily increase processor speed up to 3.4ghz.
Although not designed for professional-grade multimedia editing, the Mac Mini’s AMD Radeon graphics processor carries 256MB of GDR5 memory and makes for a nice gaming machine. Casual multimedia editing for family and personal entertainment is also well within reach.
The Mac Mini does not yet feature USB 3.0 ports, although it does come with the new Thunderbolt data transfer ports, which allow for data transfer speeds of up to 10gbps. Mac Minis also come standard with SDXC and FireWire800 ports as well as four USB 2.0 ports. Networking via both Wi-Fi and Bluetooth is included, making wireless keyboard and mouse usage possible as well.
The only true downside of the Mac Mini is its tiny 160GB hard drive. This can be doubled, although it would add at least $100 to the total cost. Since the low price is one of the main selling points of the Mac Mini, this would be something of a blow to its overall value.
If the user also wanted to upgrade the RAM and CPU to their optimal levels, the Mac Mini would end up at over $1,000, a price range comparable with the MacBook Air or many higher powered HP models. Perhaps Apple assumed that the typical audience for the Mac Mini would be less likely to fill up their hard drives with large file libraries and intensive applications, or demand the maximum amount of processing speed.
While it will not suffice for processor intensive, graphically demanding purposes, the Mac Mini is a perfect investment for the casual user and also makes a great first computer for children. However, users who bought the last Mac Mini will probably not find it worth the cost to upgrade, especially since the rumored 2013 upgrade of the Mac Mini will likely include the newly released Ivy Bridge chips.
It’s still a great budget computer, although the optional performance upgrades take it out of the budget realm and into the $1,000+ range where it becomes somewhat redundant. On the other hand, Mac Minis are more often purchased as entry level computers for more casual users who are less likely to upgrade or update at every opportunity, and this audience will no doubt find much to admire from the Mac Mini. For anyone who just wants a good price for standard applications, games and web capabilities, the Mac Mini 2012 will serve just fine.