iMac, Mac mini, MacBook Pro or MacBook Air – there are many different Macs to choose from. On the desktop, the Mac mini and iMac are the two obvious options.
In this guide, we introduce the specifications for the latest, updated Mac mini for iMac. We probably would never have compared these two in the past, but thanks to the price jump on the new Mac mini and the update to eighth generation Intel CPUs on the iMac, there is now some overlap in configurations and features. We consider features like design, performance, and our overall impressions of the new Mac mini, and help you decide which one is right for your work or home setup.
If you're in the market for a new machine, check out the best iMac deals and best Mac mini sales available right now. After all, Apple devices are rarely cheap.
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
Both the iMac and the Mac mini are made of aluminum and are designed as desktops. However, the form factor couldn't be more different. At 2.9 pounds and 1.4 inches thick, the Mac mini is a thin sheet of metal that resembles a super-compact cable box.
The Mac mini is a highlight in our test and is ideal for sitting under a monitor or at the side of a desk. It easily stays out of the way in places with limited space and the fans are as quiet as a whisper. The sleek, gray aluminum design doesn't allow for monitors or keyboards, all of which must be purchased separately. This reflects its history as a Computer for Windows Switchers, which likely already had these accessories.
The iMac is in contrast to the Mac mini in that it is an all-in-one computing solution. The base 21.5-inch iMac is 17.7 inches tall and 20.8 inches wide. However, a 27-inch model is also available.
It also has a 21.5-inch display with a resolution of 1,920 x 1,080, while the Retina 4K model has a display with a resolution of 4,096 x 2,304. There's also a separate 27-inch model with a Retina 5K display that's 5,120 x 2,880 pixels. Apple even included a Magic Keyboard and Magic Mouse 2 so you don't have to make separate purchases.
Some professionals prefer the iMac for its display and all-in-one design, but the Mac mini is more appealing to someone who already has a monitor.
Dan Baker / Digital Trends
Apple redesigned the Mac mini with new internals to make it better to buy for the iMac. The base Mac mini model for $ 799 comes with an 8th generation Intel Core i3 quad-core processor clocked at 3.6 GHz. It also comes with 8 GB of RAM and a 256 GB PCIe-based SSD. The drive is super fast and achieved a read speed of 2,753 MB / s and a write speed of 1,238 MB / s in our file transfer tests. That's twice as much as on similar SSDs in the other desktops we've tested before – except for the iMac, of course, which we'll reach in due course.
For more processing power, a Mac mini model with an 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor with six cores and 3.0 GHz is available for $ 1,099. This is the model we tested. Right where the Mac mini enters iMac territory. It's a very powerful machine – especially because of its size.
Up to 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB of RAM can also be added in all models of Mac mini, and there are options for configurations for 256GB, 512GB, 1TB, or 2TB of SSD storage. Unsurprisingly, given its size, there is no dedicated graphics option. All Mac Mini models come with Intel UHD Graphics 630.
As for the iMac, the entry-level 4K model has the same 8th Gen Intel Core i3 processor and 8GB of RAM as the base Mac mini. Unfortunately, the base model (with the 1080p display) still has a 1TB mechanical hard drive and an older 7th generation processor. Prices start at $ 1,099 – $ 300 more than the base Mac Mini. If we just compare these two options, the Mac mini wins by a mile.
However, when you compare the Mac mini to the high-end iMac models, it gets tougher. A separate 4K iMac with a slightly more powerful 8th generation Intel Core i5 processor with six cores and 3.0 GHz is also available, but this drives prices well into the $ 1,499 range. For even more computing power, Apple offers the 27-inch 5K iMac with an option for the newer Intel Core i5 processor of the 9th generation. You can even step up to an eight core Core i9 if you need real performance. However, this is a way out of the league of the small Mac mini.
The iMac has a ton of dedicated graphics options that the Mac mini doesn't have at all. The 21.5-inch iMac comes with either a Radeon Pro 555X or 560X with 2GB or 4GB of video memory. High-end 5K iMacs come with either the Radeon Pro 570X, the 575X, or the 580X for graphics. You can even upgrade to the Radeon Vega 48 or Vega 20 for extra graphics performance.
Bill Roberson / Digital Trends
Apple has chosen USB-C, and the ports on board the Mac mini and iMac continue that trend. The Mac mini has four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, two USB 3.0 ports, an HDMI 2.0 port, an Ethernet port, and a 3.5 mm headphone jack. The iMac has a similar choice of ports, including four USB 3.0 ports, two Thunderbolt 3 USB ports, an Ethernet port, and an SDXC card slot.
It's hard to decide between them as all of these ports are modern, but the profit may just have to go to the iMac for its ports. Creatives are known to use Macs, and the lack of the SDXC card slot on the Mac mini means many may need to turn to a dongle to transfer photos and other content. It's a slight inconvenience that, for some, could be a determining factor.
Unless you grow up, buy the Mac mini
Julian Chokkattu / Digital Trends
Ultimately, the $ 799 Mac mini is worth more than a $ 1,099 iMac, or possibly even the updated $ 1,299 4K iMac. Remember, Mac mini doesn't get you a display, mouse, or keyboard – but if you still have them, this might not be a problem.
However, if you need serious performance, the top end of the 5K iMac, including the Core i9 model, is way above what the tiny Mac mini can compete with. At the bottom, it's all about the Mac mini. At the top end, the iMac has earned its place. In the middle, you'll have to make choices based more on your computer needs. For more graphical performance or the visual appeal of the all-in-one, the iMac is just right for you. For a more versatile setup, the Mac mini is the way to go.