Apple Mac Mini (2018) Assessment

Apple Mac mini (8 GB, 256 GB)

"The Mac Mini is the best in the Mac line."

  • Compact, simple design

  • Very quiet

  • Outstanding processor performance

  • Best-in-class hard drive performance

  • Terrible game performance

  • MacOS updates are poor

Believe it or not, Apple's Mac Mini is 13 years old, making it the second oldest product line in the Apple portfolio. It is even out of date for the MacBook Pro, which was released in 2006.

In contrast to the MacBook Pro, the Mini was neglected. A quick update followed the original, but the third generation didn't appear until 2010. Apple sold the same design for eight years and didn't update the internals for four years (since 2014). So inexpensive Mac fans have been satisfied with old hardware.

Now we finally see the fourth design. The new Mini with the latest Intel chip solves this problem. However, it is not a charity. Mac fans will have to pay at least $ 800 to $ 300 more than the previous entry. It's not an outrageous price, but it puts the Mac Mini in competition with another league of hardware. Is the Mini still the perfect entry-level tool for potential Apple addicts?

Blink and you'll miss it

Although the 2018 Mac Mini is a redesign, the previous look is not discarded. It's still a thin metal plate that sits on a round rubber base that is invisible when the desktop is used. The front and sides are almost completely flat, only interrupted by the Apple logo at the top and a tiny LED in the lower right corner. Even the power switch is at the back where it connects the ports.

It's the same size as before in every dimension and almost the same weight at 2.9 pounds. However, the color has changed. Previously only available in silver, the new model will only be delivered in space gray. This is an easy way to tell the two apart, and helps the 2018 Mac Mini blend in with other modern Apple devices where silver, although widely available, is no longer the most fashionable choice.

If Apple could ship a desktop with a stealth device, it would, but the Mini is the next best.

There isn't really much to say, and that's the point. If Apple could ship a desktop with a stealth device, it would, but the Mini’s subtle elegance is the next best thing. It is designed to be ignored.

Still, the Mac Mini doesn't feel as small as it used to. The Intel Hades Canyon NUC is roughly the same size (albeit rectangular), but has a discrete graphics chip. Intel NUC models with integrated graphics are slightly more than four inches per side and one to two inches thick, depending on the model. Asus, Zotac, and MSI make a variety of small desktops that exceed the Mac Mini in size – though not all have eighth-generation Intel processors.

Size is not the only reason why a Mac Mini can be blended into its surroundings. Noise is an absolute minimum. The fan only rises to a noticeable level when the workload is high and even then it is a whisper. We can't remember the last time we tested a desktop so quietly.

Thunderbolt 3 is in, but it's not all-in

The connectivity distinguishes the new Mac Mini from the old model and every PC competitor. Flip it over and you'll find three Thunderbolt 3 ports, two USB 3 ports, Ethernet, HDMI 2.0, and a 3.5mm headphone jack.

Apple Mac Mini

Apple Mac Mini 2018 review Applemacmini 13

Trust in Thunderbolt 3 is very Apple. It is also a bit absurd. Thunderbolt 3 remains the connection of premium devices, so four of these ports are strange on an affordable desktop. Intel's NUC devices offer more USB-A 3.0 ports, but pair them with a single Thunderbolt 3 in newer models. We think this is a better balance.

However, we are not too upset. Unlike MacBooks, the Mac Mini Thunderbolt 3 offers a reasonable selection of alternatives. There is USB-A 3.0 for mouse and keyboard and HDMI 2.0 for use with a monitor or HDTV. Most Mac Mini devices only pair with a small handful of peripherals, so connectivity is more than adequate here.

You could update memory but don't want to try

Apple doesn't care much about user upgrades, and the new Mac Mini is no exception. It is technically possible to update the RAM. However, you'll need to pry around the rubber base to access the screws at all, and then you'll have to completely remove the motherboard to remove and replace the RAM. The hard drive cannot be serviced by the user.

Most small desktops are difficult to upgrade, but some make limited upgrades easier. With Intel's NUC family of products designed specifically for home improvement, hard drive and RAM upgrades are as easy as removing the cover.

However, the benefits of upgrading such components are limited. If you want a desktop that you can improve in the future, consider a suitable tower PC like the Dell Inspirion 5680.

See how it works!

The base Mac Mini comes with an Intel Core i3-8100H that can be upgraded to either a Core i5-8400B or a Core i7-8700B. The Core i5 and i7 processors not only have more cores (six out of four), but also higher thermal design performance. In other words, the chips are designed for higher power consumption, which results in much better performance in all scenarios.

Our test device was the $ 1,100 model with a Core i5-8400B processor, 8 GB RAM, and a 256 GB solid-state drive. It worked well in our tests.

While the Mac Mini doesn't set any records, the performance of the Intel Core i5-8400B is excellent. Geekbench 4 shows a multi-core score of 20,432. That easily defeated the Intel Hades Canyon NUC, which scored a score of 16,176. In fact, the Mac Mini trades with desktops that contain the Core i7-8700. While it's possible to buy a Core i7-8700 desktop for a few hundred less than the Mini, most worthwhile rivals are in the same price range and are often full-tower PCs.

While the Mac Mini doesn't set any records, the Core i5-8400B's performance is excellent

We haven't tested the Mac Mini with a Core i3 processor, but Geekbench 4's public benchmark protocol makes comparison easier. The results for the Core i5 model are also favorable here. Upgrading from Core i3 to Core i5 leads to a single-core performance gain of around 12 percent, which is not earth-shattering, but the multi-core score increases by 50 percent. That's a difference you'll notice if you throw even a modestly challenging task on your Mac Mini.

What about the Core i7 model? It's still faster, but it remains a six-core chip like the Core i5, so the gain on multi-core chips is less than 15 percent. It's worth it for power users, but the Core i5 is the sweet spot.

Apple Mac Mini 2018Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends

Oh, and here's a funny fact. Apple has not yet updated the iMac processors, so our Core i5-based Mac Mini doesn't support most configurations. You'll need to upgrade to the fastest processor available in the iMac (and we're talking about the iMac, not the iMac Pro for $ 5,000) to beat our Mac Mini in single-core tests, and yet the iMac will run in multi Mode easily lose -core tests.

That doesn't mean you would notice a difference in normal use, but it's impressive given the Mac Mini's smaller size and cheaper price.

Transfer files at lightning speed

As is so often the case with Macs, the hard drive with a read speed of 2,753 MB / s and a write speed of 1,238 MB / s (according to the BlackMagic benchmark) is awesome. We have never tested a comparable desktop with hard drive performance at this level and most are half as fast at best.

The hard drive is amazing and reaches a reading speed of 2,753 MB / s and a writing speed of 1,238 MB / s

Even the Intel Optane drive in our Hades Canyon NUC test device reached a reading speed of 1,333 MB / s. Unfortunately, this is not a comparison of apples to apples because the benchmark we use to test Windows computers does not support MacOS. Nevertheless, the storage performance of the Mac Mini differs from its competitors.

Do you have a game Take it somewhere else

So far, so good, but the Mac Mini has a huge gap in its performance. Play.

All versions of the Mac Mini are shipped with Intel UHD Graphics 630. No discrete graphics option is available. That means you're out of luck if you want to play the least demanding 3D games yourself.

Apple Mac Mini 2018Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends

We started the Rocket League and found that the gameplay wasn't smooth enough to have fun, even with power quality and 1080p resolution settings. Lowering to 1,600 x 900 helped, but the game looked like a PlayStation 3 launch title.

Civilization VI is another game that we test a lot and it was hopeless. Even at 1080p and medium details, we saw an average of 9 frames per second. It is not playable and is still fun.

That's a problem. Gaming is mainstream, but the Mac Mini cannot handle most titles. Many desktops with similar prices come standard or with a discrete graphics card as an option. Intel's Hades Canyon NUC is the most noteworthy entry, as it is smaller than the Mac Mini but offers enough power to play every modern title with 1080p and medium details. Larger desktops like the Dell Inspiron gaming range offer everything for the same price as our Mac test device – although they are admittedly much larger.

MacOS has become a weakness

The price of the new Mac Mini of $ 800 is $ 300 higher than that of the outgoing model, but it is still the cheapest Mac available. That makes it a point of contact for price-conscious buyers. Many people won't choose it because they want the Mac Mini specifically, but because they want MacOS.

Alternatives

However, this is not the advantage it used to be. The recent MacOS updates have made little difference to the average owner, and in many ways the operating system has become less attractive over time. It's still easy to use, but Apple clearly prefers iOS and showered it with updates, while MacOS relies on a number of small improvements in quality of life.

Playing on the Mac used to be reasonably practical, but few new PC games need to be transferred to the Mac. This is undoubtedly the reason why Steam's user survey found that the Mac's share of users is around 2.5 percent. Apple's Mac App Store isn't as useful as its iOS peer, and probably not as trustworthy. And the multitasking features of the Mac didn't keep up with Windows 10.

All of this means that MacOS is no longer as appealing as it used to be. If you prefer, do it. Learning a new operating system is tedious. If you are a Windows user considering switching to MacOS for the operating system, think twice. You're signing up for an operating system that receives nondescript updates and is only a small part of Apple's business. However, Windows 10 is still a tent pole for Microsoft. This is reflected in the faster update of Windows and better support from third-party software.

Our opinion

Apple's Mac Mini is a strong performer in everything except gaming. So strong indeed that most people have no reason to buy a more powerful Mac. The Mac Mini we tested with a Core i5 processor is a simple, intuitive desktop that will keep owners happy for years to come.

Is there a better alternative?

Intel's NUC offers better overall performance in a similar form factor, and you can buy standard models with an operating system version installed. They can even be upgraded somewhat. However, their design and functions are aimed at hardware freaks.

There is also a large selection of small desktops from companies like MSI and Zotac. These are also aimed at enthusiasts, not ordinary people who just want a working computer. Availability may also be incomplete for these brands.

For most people, the real question is this. Do you need such a small desktop? If you do, the Mac Mini is a good choice. If you don't, a small tower PC like the Dell Inspiron 5680 can do more for your money.

How long it will take?

Modern desktops often last for at least five years, and we doubt that the Mac Mini will be different. The standard one-year warranty is nothing special, but the Apple Store offers an excellent service experience in case you have a problem.

Should you buy it

Yes. Forget the iMac. The Mac Mini is the Mac that most people need.

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