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The State of the Mac mini


Unofficial. But probably quite accurate.

Last week during the Apple Notebook Special Event, Tim Cook gave the "State of the Mac" presentation and offered some promising numbers for the Macintosh line. Even though this was a notebook event, many customers were hoping on some news for the Mac mini, the long deprived but still lovable desktop Mac. It turns out that there was no information offered, and no updates since that time.

So , Macminicolo will offer our own unofficial "State of the Mac mini" with things we've learned. (With as much as we work with Mac minis, I think we're just about as familiar with the Mac mini as anyone.)

The Mac mini Today
As you'd expect, we get a lot of emails and phone calls from people looking to use the Mac mini in different ways. Many people are looking to use their Mac minis as servers in data centers such as ours. However, there are also quite a few who just need some advice on setting it up in their own situations. For instance, here in Las Vegas, I know there are at least 10,000 Mac minis running in the different hotels and casinos on the strip. Many are used for video security points. Certain casino companies use Mac minis in each of the slot islands on a casino floor to manage the backend. I know of one nationwide salon franchise that uses two Mac minis for each one of their stores. (One onsite and one offsite as a backup.)

My point is that there an incredible amount of Mac minis in business. If you ask a Business Consultant at your local Apple Store, they'll likely tell you that Mac minis sell to businesses over consumers 2 to 1. When I read online of people stating "poor mini sales" I'm surprised. The Mac mini is consistently in the top five of Amazon's Bestselling Desktop Computers. (It's currently number one.) If you watch Apple's Refurb site, anytime some Mac minis are posted they sell out in under an hour. Even the three year old G4 Mac minis on ebay go for a price close to the brand new Intel machines sticker price. The market speaks even if Apple doesn't.

I think the misconception of poor sales comes from two things.

First, Apple is quite slow to update the mini to better specs. That may be taken as "Apple doesn't care about the mini because it doesn't sell well." I think this is wrong. I think it hasn't been updated because it still sells well. If a company can use less expensive parts and still sell for the higher price, it makes sense that they would do that. The Mac mini was never intended to be a screamer like the MacBook and iMac lines. In their current condition, the Mac mini works just fine as casual consumer desktops. And they work great as servers.

The second reason people assume low sales is because they don't see Mac minis around very often. This is counter productive since the very nature of the Mac mini is that it's small and it's easy to keep out of the way. The best selling MacBook is all over the place because it is mobile and easy to spot. But the mini just sits in the background quietly doing it's job and staying out of the way in homes, offices and store fronts across the world.

The Future of the Mac mini
So how about the future of the mini? Is it nearing the end of life or just waiting out the refresh cycle? (Surely this is the reason many of you are reading this article no matter how highly I think of my above opinions.)

Macminicolo is certain there is another mini on the way. Here are some changes we expect to see:

  • The Mac mini will use the new Mini DisplayPort that was recently showcased on the Macbook line. This will save considerable port real estate on the back of the Mac mini.

  • The Mac mini will join all other Macs in being able to address 4GB of RAM. Currently, they are officially sold with up to 2GB of RAM, but can also support 3GB of RAM. (Though the latter configuration loses the minor dual channel benefits.)

  • Like the new Macbook, the Mac mini optical drive will be changed to a SATA connection. (It is currently a standard ATA/IDE cable.) This will obviously increase performance. But this change offers even more benefit for those who use the Mac mini as a server. (I have hundreds of Mac mini servers in here that have never once used their optical drive.) In ordering a Mac mini from Apple, there will be an option to have two SATA HDDs and eliminating the optical all together. With the new Remote Disc introduced with the Macbook Air, this option will be tempting for many.

In this list above, we have 100% confirmed two of these upgrades. The other is just a 99% educated guess.

There will likely be other changes. Below is a list of other changes we'd hope for, but have no confirmation like the three listed above.

  • The Mac mini will likely join the rest of the line with the black and aluminum. I wouldn't expect the desktop Mac to use the new unibody aluminum casing as that would surely push it out of the Mac mini price range. (And probably isn't as useful for desktop computers anyway.)

  • Without the higher cost of unibody casing, and more space with the switch to Mini DisplayPort, we'd expect FireWire to stay on the Mac mini.

  • Our hopeful nature would point to a move from integrated graphics to NVIDIA GPUs though I'm not sure how close they'll want to bridge the performance with the iMac and Macbooks.

  • Surely the Mac mini will see an upgrade to 802.11n. At this point, I assume it'd be more expensive to continue to produce the non-n card solely for the Mac mini than use the same card that is in every other Mac. Plus, with some if the new minis relying on Remote Disc, that extra speed would be essential.

And that's the (unofficial) state of the Mac mini.

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