The Mac mini has always been the runt of the Mac litter, and not just in size. When Apple upgraded the G4 model, it never announced it. The Mini ran a Core Duo CPU long after everything else had migrated to Core 2 Duo. And now it’s been almost two years since the Mini was last updated.
The Late 2014 Mac mini uses Intel’s Haswell CPUs, and Turbo Boost makes the entry-level 1.4 GHz Core i5 model a lot more powerful than you’d expect. Thanks to Turbo Boost, it can run at up to 2.7 GHz, nearly twice its rated speed.
Other improvements over the Late 2012 Mac mini include Intel HD 5000 graphics, two ThunderBolt 2 ports, 802.11ac WiFi, and a $499 price tag – the lowest ever for an Intel-based Mac mini.
Like the previous entry-level Mini, it has a 500 GB hard drive and 4 GB of RAM, although both can be upgraded. Because RAM in the Late 2014 Mac mini is soldered, you can’t upgrade after purchase, so you need to anticipate your long-term needs when buying. You can have Apple upgrade to 8 GB or 16 GB, and there’s also a 1 TB Fusion Drive option.
The next step up is to a 2.6 GHz dual-core i5 CPU (3.1 GHz with Turbo Boost) with Intel Iris Graphics, 8 GB standard system memory, and a 1 TB hard drive, all for just $699. Upgrade options include a 3.0 GHz dual-core i7 CPU (3.5 GHz with Turbo Boost), 16 GB of RAM, and a 1 TB Fusion Drive.
At the top is the 2.8 GHz dual-core i5 (3.3 GHz with Turbo Boost) machine that ships with a 1 TB Fusion Drive for $999. It has the same CPU and RAM build-to-order options as the midrange Mini.
The biggest change compared to the Late 2012 Mini is the loss of quad-core processors. The previous model has 2.3 and 2.6 GHz 4-core i7 CPUs on the top end, and that provides a lot more power than a 3.0 GHz dual-core i7.
Also missing in action is FireWire. Since its introduction on the Blue & White Power Mac G3 in January 1999, it was the Mac’s standard high-speed external bus, and the Late 2012 Mini introduced Thunderbolt while retaining FireWire 800 for backward compatibility. Now you’ll need a FireWire adapter to connect those old peripherals to Thunderbolt.
Based on the performance of iMacs and MacBooks running the same CPUs, here are our estimates for 64-bit Geekbench 3 performance:
- 1.4 GHz dual-core i5, 2750 single, 5350 multicore
- 2.6 GHz dual-core i5, 3120 single, 6625 multicore
- 2.8 GHz dual-core i5, 3275 single, 6925 multicore
- 3.0 GHz dual-core i7, 3460 single, 7175 multicore
For comparison, the 2.6 GHz quad-core i7-based Late 2012 Mac mini hits 3251 single core and 12693 multicore. For tasks that only use one or two cores, the new 2.8 and 3.0 GHz machines offer better performance, but for software that can use three or four cores, the quad-core Late 2012 Mac mini is the one to look at. (The 2.3 GHz quad-core Mac mini reaches 3003 single core and 11693 multicore, also outperforming the latest models when running tasks that use three or four cores.)
With four CPU speeds, up to three RAM amounts, and several drive options, there are a lot of options. This table provides a quick overview, and all models can be configured with a 1 TB Fusion Drive and 8 GB or 16 GB of system memory, which provides the best look at pricing.
|1.4 GHz||2.6 GHz||2.8 GHz||3.0 GHz|
|4 GB RAM, 500 GB HD||$499|
|8 GB RAM, 500 GB HD||$599|
|8 GB RAM, 1 TB HD||$699|
|8 GB RAM, 1 TB Fusion||$849||$899||$999||$1,199|
|16 GB RAM, 1 TB Fusion||$1,049||$1,099||$1,199||$1,399|
If you plan to do your own hard drive upgrade, the 1.4 GHz model provides the best price point, but if you want to go with Apple’s Fusion Drive, for $50 more you may as well jump to the 2.6 GHz edition.
I can’t see much reason for putting 16 GB in the base model, but you can do that for $200 more than the 8 GB configuration. Then again, with the 2.6 GHz model offering an estimated 20-25% more processing power, it seems a better candidate, and it probably represents the sweet spot for pricing among Late 2014 Mac mini models.
If you’re into gaming, the Iris Graphics on the 2.6 GHz and faster machines could be a real plus. As a non-gamer, graphics performance doesn’t really matter to me.
Comparing Close-Out Pricing
The 2.5 GHz dual-core i5 Late 2012 Mac mini is selling for $599 with the same configuration as the $499 1.4 GHz Late 2014 machine. The only reasons for choosing it over the new model are that you can upgrade the memory yourself whenever you want to and it has FireWire 800 for legacy peripherals.
The 2.3 GHz quad-core i7 Mini is going for $799 with 4 GB RAM and a 1 TB hard drive. Four cores will give you more processing power overall than even the build-to-order 3.0 GHz dual-core i7, you can upgrade memory later, and it has FireWire 800, so it could be worth $100 more than the new 2.6 GHz model for those reasons.
Personally, I have quite a few FireWire hard drives, and FireWire – whether 400 or 800 – is significantly faster than USB 2.0 for hard drives, so I would be more interested in Minis with FireWire.
I love the Mac mini. I’m using a Mid 2007 Mac mini – the first Core 2 Duo model – to write this. It has a 2.0 GHz CPU, 3 GB of RAM (its maximum), a 7200 RPM hard drive, and OS X 10.6.8 Snow Leopard. It’s been my main production machine for a few years, and I would eventually like to move to one than can run OS X 10.10 Yosemite, as well as boot into Snow Leopard for some legacy software, so at this point the past three generations of Mini are out of the picture.
That said, most of you probably don’t have much legacy PowerPC software (in my case, AppleWorks and Microsoft Office 2004), so being able to run Snow Leopard isn’t important. In that case, the newest model represent an excellent value, as they let you choose your monitor instead of being locked into Apple’s offering, as the iMac does.
As far as configuration goes, I would recommend against buying the 4 GB 1.4 GHz model, as that’s going to seem very restrictive in a few years (if not already). You probably won’t find a 500 GB hard drive too much of a limitation, and it’s easily upgraded down the road if you ever run out of space, making the $599 edition a very good deal.
Fusion Drive is a great way to wring out more performance while not sacrificing drive capacity. If you’re going for a Fusion drive, skip the 1.4 GHz machine and choose the one running at 2.6 GHz. Again, you’ll probably be happy with 8 GB for years, and you won’t see a very big difference by going to a 2.8 or 3.0 GHz CPU.
If total processing power is what you’re after, get a quad-core Late 2012 Mac mini while you can. It will run circles around any Late 2014 configuration.
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