The Mac Mini Rules

Dave Caolo of TUAW wrote a paean to the Mac Mini.
This machine has been absolutely rock solid. ... In a world where the new and shiny gets most of the attention, the plain and reliable is often overlooked. So here's a post to meant to praise the Mac mini. The tiny, go-anywhere, do-anything, ultra-reliable computer that I absolutely love. No wonder there are racks full of them at Macminicolo and other facilities.
I use a Mac Mini (2009 base model upgraded with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive) as my main machine. I'd picked it up as a stopgap, imagining that I would get a Mac Pro at some point, but I find it completely satisfactory for the light-pro work I do (Photoshop and audio, but no transcoding, video editing or rendering), so it stays. When its life as a tiny, perfectly-formed desktop PC is done, it shall become a tiny, perfectly-formed home server. If you meet the following three requirements, the Mac Mini is the computer you should buy. • You don't play the latest games or use demanding professional apps. • You already have peripherals. • You don't want a laptop or a built-in display. I'd even consider it if I preferred Windows to OSX, but only if I had a retail copy to install. Who could resist a Mac Mini carefully mounted on the back of a 30" Cinema Display? Apart from someone who likes money.

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30 Responses to The Mac Mini Rules

  1. KitWorks says:

    I hate to sound like sour grapes, but I found the mac mini completely worthless. Granted, I seemed to have bought an earlier one then any of you.

    However, my experience was that it froze if I tried running a couple firefox tabs, let alone running a more serious program like photoshop. Granted, being a mac, only the one program froze, not the entire system, which was nice.

    However, I found it pretty useless for anything but the most simplistic functions. Even my mom, a computer-as-typewriter sort, had trouble.

    But maybe mine was an isolated experience.

  2. aTanguay says:

    You know, swap out the 5400RPM 2.5″ hard drive with a peppy 30GB OCZ SSD, and you’ve REALLY got something.

    A friend was looking for an upgrade from an older G5, but didn’t need the big Mac Pro and didn’t want an iMac. But he was turned off by the hard drive speed of the Mini. So we found this reasonably cheap solution (a 30GB can be had for around $100-$130).

    Take the drive that was inside the Mini and put it in an external case to hold your files and away you go! You leapfrog right over the normal 7200RPM hard drive in most desktops.

    Hello 20 second boot times!

  3. bex says:

    yes with added memory and a bigger hard drive the mini is a good (ish) machine. but £500 for a machine hamstrung with 1GB of memory and a skimpy hard drive , Apple are extracting the Urine

  4. oheso says:

    There’s definitely something appealing about the Mini, but it comes with quite a few caveats. It’s a very difficult machine to try to repair. (The “Most Difficult” title in my experience goes to the eMac, which really steals it away from any number of laptops I’ve cracked open. But I never tried to open an original Mac.)

    For the price of a Mini, I recently assembled a computer with a lot more performance, and a lot more expandability. It’s not a Mac, and it’s not cute and small, but it’s a much better general purpose computing machine. Likewise, you can get a lot more computer from several other vendors at the same price — monitor included.

    I’m responsible for the care and feeding of about 80 Macintosh computers. I really wish Apple offered something at the price of a Mini that was easily serviceable, has expansion capability, and does not include a monitor (so I can choose my own). The cheapest thing they offer matching that description costs four times as much as a Mini. (Yes, it’s a very, very different machine.)

  5. I’ve been a Macuser for 20 years, and the Mini is the first computer I could ever afford to buy new out-of-the-box. I even bought a second one for the kids. Took it on vacation with me once. My boss said “You took a computer and it’s not a laptop?” I told him it was a Mac Mini, which explained how simple it was to transport.

  6. Dan says:

    I’ve been using a Mac Mini as my multimedia PC for my big-screen TV now for 3 years, and I have just one complaint — it could use a better audio out than just a 1/8 inch jack. Otherwise it plays my DVDs, CDs, iTunes, and I watch Hulu, YouTubes, NetFlix, Vimeo, Apple trailers. I run photo slide shows from Flickr or iPhoto. The iTunes visualizer is amazing on a big screen — almost worth it for that alone! It’s an amazing machine.

  7. Clay says:

    We use a Mini as the server at my office! Granted, it’s not a very big office, but we’re serving big PSDs off it all the time. Although I do worry a bit about how long our Firewire daisychain is getting… 127 means we can have 127 hard drives, right?

  8. RyanH says:

    I’ve been looking at one to use as a media centre for a while now. THe sticking point for me is that OSX does not have any bluray playback support.

    Sony makes a very nice slimline slotload bluray drive for laptops. If OSX supported it, I’d pick up a mini and swap one of those drive in in a heartbeat.

  9. gnusosa says:

    They are really good and reliable for a web server.
    In my job, we replaced old Dell Server for MacMini’s
    , and now the server is silent and cold.

  10. hambox says:

    A Mini was my stimulus package present to myself last year, with enough left over for a wireless keyboard and mouse. Already had a display.

    I love it, although I try to tell myself every time not to be too cheap with storage size. I maxed THAT out fast. But yay! I had seriously considered a PC that time, for the cheapness, but glad I sticked with my 20-year run of Apple. Perhaps it’s in the blood — dad started off with an Apple II.

  11. dculberson says:

    I have been seriously tempted to pull the trigger on one a couple of times but just lose motivation every time because of the price. On a spec sheet comparison level, it really is a pricey machine. Yes, it’s got better design and design is worth something, but I always consider computers to be borderline disposable devices so won’t pay as much more for good design as I might in, say, a chair.

    But they still speak to me on some level, so perhaps some day one shall be my home computer.

  12. krylon says:

    I have an early intel imac with the vertical line problem; I am, at this point, wishing I had just gotten a mini.

  13. bigbadvoo says:

    @ #22:
    Unless it’s a very new development, the Mini has digital audio output from that 1/8 inch jack – I use it on my iMac G5 to output DD and DTS to my stereo. Perfect sound. I even have some DTS audio files (in Apple Lossless format) in my iTunes. No analog conversion till it hits my speakers (all 7 of ‘em)!

  14. odograph says:

    The Mac Mini is a great machine, and in the scale of things, $500 isn’t a lot of money for a computer (I paid an inflation adjusted $8404 for my Mac II – $4500 in 1986 dollars).

    That said, I can’t help comparing with the $499 Dell quad core, 4gb, 500gb … with Win 7 it’s a slightly worse OS with a lot more hardware.

  15. Doctor Popular says:

    I was talking to my boss about buying an Apple TV for my new apartment, but he suggested getting a Mac Mini instead. Considering over half the video I would be watching would be coming from Hulu, and most of the rest would be from video files, this sounds like a perfect solution.

  16. Anonymous says:

    I have not found my mac mini to be any faster or more reliable than the machines I build from crap I pull out of recyling bins. For my purposes (I do not use the machine for art or music) the operating system is rather inferior to Ubuntu.

    But I gotta admit, that case is dead sexy. Very nice, minimalism without brutalism.

  17. schmod says:

    Yikes. Impressed that a Core Duo is capable :-P

    A Core Duo Mini is currently the fastest machine I own, and I don’t consider it the tiniest bit shabby. I’d love something faster, although the time to upgrade is still a few years away.

    I’m almost at the point where I’ll need to consider upgrading my 12″ G4 Powerbook. However, even that is still a little way off.

  18. JMax says:

    I have several minis, including one which sits silently and almost invisibly in my living room with various pieces of audio and video equipment connected to it. I also have a pair of these running as servers, running Ubuntu linux. Absolutely silent; absolutely solid. Love ‘em.

  19. RedDruid says:

    I really like my Mac Mini. It has allowed me to test the waters and try out the world of Apple without a large investment. As a Windows programmer I had no real need to go to Mac – I was going to have to keep Windows regardless. I already had a really great monitor, keyboard and mouse. And a high quality KVM switch. Nothing else in the Apple line would have worked for less than twice the price.

    I now use my Mini for almost all of my mundane internet activity. I do my job on the PC and live my life on the Mac. I don’t play video games so that’s not an issue at all. The Mac does pretty much all I need for audio and video.

    I’ve never had my model crash, or hang. (2gb, dual core, about 2 yrs old). The only accessories I have added are a Macessity stand / USB hub and a remote hard drive for the time machine. It is quiet and runs cool. The wireless worked flawlessly when I needed it, but now the unit is wired to the router. I have no need for bluetooth, or firewire, so those are just extra nice-to-haves. It’s a great machine, and fills the need of a customizable home or SOHO computer very well.

  20. Nick says:

    Having worked in an Apple shop, I have to disagree. If yours has been rock solid, count yourself lucky. Like some other Apple products, the attention to form over function made the Mini prone to lemondom.

    You can build way more machine for far less money using a PC form-factor. It may not be as aesthetically pleasing, but you’ll end up with a much more flexible and upgradeable computer. Also you won’t be reliant on Apple’s obnoxiously expensive power supplies, video adapters, etc.

    I’m being kind here. No offense to the author, but these things are junky. For the novice seeking a small, simple machine, they’re passable but the high price offsets any advantages. Why buy a Mini when for $200 more you can get a MacBook? It would be equally reliable if you were to set it on a desk and never move it.

  21. ginshirou says:

    I loved my G4 mini, and used it up until last year, when I got one of those MSI Wind desktops. (Funny twist – I got rid of the G4 because Snow Leopard wouldn’t run on it. A week after getting the Wind, I put OS X on it. Benchmarks a little better than the G4, and will probably run Snow Leopard, go fig.)

    Why Apple went with the Apple TV instead of putting the TV’s features and an iPod dock built into the mini… just, wow. It seems more obvious than any tablet or Newton revival, or even the iPhone.

  22. Nick says:

    This makes my inner IT geek scream in agony. Please don’t follow this example.

    >#5 – 1:14 PM June 26, 2009
    >They are really good and reliable for a web
    >In my job, we replaced old Dell Server for
    >, and now the server is silent and cold.

  23. PLeblanc says:

    I have a mac mini (from the pre intel days) and the form factor at the time simply couldn’t be beat. It was revolutionary (and since I followed htpc stuff very closely at the time, I can say that without fear of being contradicted).

    But today? You’re touting it today? isn’t there a post here on BB gadgets showing a much smaller pc? The intel atom/ nvidia 9400 combo (the Ion) is a much more appealing answer and cheaper.

    To say today that the “Mac mini rules” is almost farcical. It did rule… but does it rule today? Unless you are bound to OSX (and not a hackintosh) that seems to be a pretty ridiculous statement to be posting right now.

  24. NickTheDick says:


    >#5 – 1:14 PM June 26, 2009

    >They are really good and reliable for a web
    >In my job, we replaced old Dell Server for
    >, and now the server is silent and cold.

    This makes my inner IT geek scream in agony. Please don’t follow this example.

    With the possible exception of the aging Dell server being literally on fire, a Mini is not an acceptable replacement for any production server task. Especially if it’s stuffed in a make-shift “server room” (read: wiring closet) at a small business, which is the type of environment I’m guessing gnusosa is using it in. The dust alone will choke the thing to death inside of 6 months.

    Minis are swell for the novice seeking a small, simple machine. But, having worked at an Apple reseller/service-center, I can attest to the fact that they aren’t terribly reliable. If yours has been, count yourself lucky. Like other Apple products — *cough* Xserves — their attention to form in lieu function resulted in a product that’s highly prone to lemondom.

    You can get way more machine for far less money using a PC form-factor. It won’t be as sexy, but you’ll end up with a computer that’s far more flexible and not reliant upon Apple’s obnoxiously overpriced accessories.

    My advice: Drop the extra $200 and get a MacBook. It’s a better box and will be equally reliable if left untouched on a desk somewhere. And it has the added flexibility of being a functional stand-alone computer.

  25. hohum says:

    One thing’s for sure – Apple’s control over their hardware, and the limited options available means that you can get serious work done on any of their offerings. And each version of the OS seems to make older machines snappier (some new features like Spotlight may make things slower, but the core functionality always gets quicker in my experience.)

    I do freelance graphic design, I specialize in motion graphics for video, and I do a good bit of video editing on the side (FCP and Avid). I have an 8 core Mac Pro, and I use this most of the time. But I also have a first-gen MacBook (Core Duo – not Core 2 Duo!) and I’ve edited short films entirely on that machine. The encodes, renders, &c take longer, but the machine is completely capable. That impresses the hell out of me.

  26. SimeonW says:

    I bought a refurbished Mini for my then 4 year old son a couple of years ago. He uses iTunes, iPhoto, and the web, watches DVDs and plays some games. It has been trouble free, and before I got my MBP, it was easily the best computer in the house. I used to use it for work while he was at school. Two years in, in our 4 computer home, the Mac Mini remains the most reliable machine.

  27. Anonymous says:

    An old 2nd hand mac mini has very successfully replaced a mammoth media center PC. The media center was dual CPU, liquid cooled had a pair of DVD drives, a DVD changer (of all things), something like 8 firewire ports… Took up as much space as a small dog house and ate electricity for 3 meals a day.

    A friend was getting rid of his Mac Mini, cut me a deal on it (The “so I don’t have to mess with people on Craigslist” discount) and it has easily replaced the old beast.

    Before it was sold to me it was used as a production machine in a music studio. They replaced it with a macbook.

    Yeah, there’s a surprising amount of goodness in there. The only person I know who has bought a full size computer in the past two years is doing daily video editing. That’s the only person I know who should have one.

  28. Matt J says:

    I absolutely agree with this post, particularly WRT reliability. A Mac mini core solo has been my main computer for nearly three years (it will be replaced by a Macbook pro next week) and although it can be a little slow when I run too many applications at once, it has been pretty reliable. I’ve never had problems with updates, unlike some people with more expensive machines, and it’s run Xcode perfectly well. It’ll next go into service as a media server.

  29. winkybb says:

    The lack of Blu-Ray support is a bit of a pain for those wanting to use a Mini as media centre. My understanding is that the Blu-ray DRM is so obnoxious in the way it forces its tentacles all through the OS, that Apple just can’t come to terms with the compromises that would arise from providing the OS support. This being the case, I can live with a separate box for my Blu-ray playback.

  30. Halloween Jack says:

    Yep. If I’d waited for the new version with the nVidia graphics (mine’s the second-to-last version), I wouldn’t use my Windows machine at all; as it is, games are the only thing that I really need the Windows box for.

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