The Apple Mac mini is a solid machine, perfect for those who want a Mac but don’t have a huge budget. You can configure it to be as cheap as $800 or as expensive as $4,200. Likewise, this version offers a huge improvement over the last Mac mini, with more configuration options.

First of all, you can upgrade the RAM after purchase and the Mac mini has loads of ports. It seems to be a different kind of machine than what Apple has been offering recently. For example, most current models do not allow for RAM upgrade and are famously limited in terms of connectivity.

In contrast, this is the first computer in a long time that Apple has released without a screen. The Mac mini seems a bit too good to be true. Generally, the Apple Mac mini is a solid machine, but it’s not without its imperfections.

Configuration Costs

At its cheapest, the Mac mini comes with an Intel i3 CPU, 8GB of DDR4 RAM and 128GB of SSD storage. Regardless of the configuration, the Mac mini does not offer a discrete GPU. Moreover, when fully maxed out, the $4,200 Mac mini comes with a 3.2GHz 6 core Intel i7 CPU, 64GB of DDR4 RAM and 2TB of SSD Storage. That said, the RAM and the storage are the biggest additions in terms of cost.

For this review, we wanted a machine that was strong enough, but not overly built. So, we selected a system with a cost of $2,500. It has the 3.2GHz 6 core i7, 32GB of RAM and 1TB of storage. That said, 512 GB of storage would be acceptable, too, because the Thunderbolt 3 ports open up the option to add more affordable storage externally. Although the RAM is upgradable, Apple says it needs to be sent to their service center for an upgrade.

With the right tools and some confidence, the RAM can be swapped out by a user and the RAM will be much more affordable than getting it from Apple. Consider this, getting 32GB of RAM from Apple is a $600 upgrade. Buying two sticks of 16GB of RAM is just $200-250. With that difference, one might be emboldened to get the tools to change it out themselves to save a few hundred bucks.

Everyday Use

The Mac mini is a beautiful box, with all the ports you need. Its small size fits nicely on a desk, though it’s a bit bigger than you might think. Still, it’s larger than Apple TV and the original Mac mini, and about the same size as the previous Mac mini. It can handle three monitors at a time via its HDMI and two Thunderbolt 3 ports. We expected to see Thunderbolt 3 ports, as Apple wants everyone to love them. However, it also includes two USB type-A ports, so you’ll be able to operate it without having to buy a dongle or five.

For common internet browsing, spreadsheets and the like, the Mac Mini is a boss.

For common internet browsing, spreadsheets and the like, the Mac mini is a boss. Even at the entry-level configuration, it does these things with ease. However, this is not going to be a video gaming computer. It’s not likely to run any major games at an acceptable frame rate. This is due to the lack of a discrete GPU. Though it does have the integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630, that’s nothing to brag about. Once we started to use the system to edit video, we began to see its limits.

Video Editing Performance

We tested three editors on the Mac mini: Final Cut Pro X (obviously), Adobe Premiere Pro CC and Avid Media Composer. All three editors were able to do simple editing with 4K footage. It wasn’t till we layered text, blurs and color correction that the system started to struggle. Additionally, when it was working hard, it got very warm. This should be concerning as excessive heat will cause long-term problems to the health of the system and the security of your data.

That said, to get over the lack of GPU, you could use an external one connected via Thunderbolt 3. In fact, Blackmagic Design offers one that can only be purchased via Apple called the Blackmagic eGPU. Bear in mind that Mac OS will only allow for AMD GPUs to be used without the hassle of unofficial workarounds. The eGPU will give the same GPU power as the iMac Pro. Depending on what AMD Radeon graphics card you get, the eGPU will set you back $700 to $1,200.

Marketplace

The form factor of the Mac mini makes it a unique system. Sure, you can get all of the components in a larger system for less. However, if a small form factor is desired, the mac mini is surprisingly competitive. The best apples-to-apples comparison is the HP Z2 Mini G4. For $2,550, the Z2 can be equipped with the same CPU and GPU and the same amount of RAM. However, storage is limited to a 256GB SSD. A Mac mini with the same size of storage costs $1,900. Next is the Dell Precision 3430 for $3,500. It has the Same CPU and amount of RAM but adds a discrete GPU.

Final thoughts and recommendations

The Mac mini has the ability to be configured in many different ways and can range from affordable to expensive, depending on what you choose. Opt for a smaller internal storage drive and install your own RAM and you can get a system with a very attractive price point. It’s priced well in the market and is cheaper than its direct competition. If you plan on doing more than simple cuts, you might want to consider an external GPU. We were impressed with the Mac mini overall, though we wish adding a discrete GPU was an option.

SUMMARY

Apple

STRENGTHS:

  • Small size
  • Large range of configuration 

WEAKNESSES:

  • No discrete GPU

RECOMMENDED USES:

  • Online Video Production
  • Casual Video Production

TECH SPECS:

  • CPU: 3.2GHz 6‑core 8th‑generation Intel Core i7 (Turbo Boost up to 4.6GHz)
  • RAM: 32GB 2666MHz DDR4
  • GPU: Intel UHD Graphics 630
  • Internal Storage: 1TB SSD storage

3 COMMENTS

  1. The HP Z2 is a better value. The 256 GB SSD may be all that HP offers, but it’s easily swapped out or augmented. I bought one for my wife that has 512 GB SSD and I added an internal 2 TB 2.5″ HD.

  2. For 4k editing you will definitely need an external GPU. Even with USB-C connections you will lose about 10% performance versus an internal GPU. The external GPU’s can be very fast with the right card but they can be a bit glitchy with MacOS 10.15.5. Supposedly 10.15.6 is more stable. There are a number of external GPU enclosures: BlackMagic, AkitIo, Razer to name a few. You will also need an external disk enclosure as well for video. So your desk now has a big eGPU enclosure plus a disk enclosure, with the tiny Mac mini sitting next to them. It’s a very nice system but once you add the external enclosures needed for video editing, it’s no longer mini, but still a bit cheaper then a Mac Pro.

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