Apple Mac Mini 2018 review: Powerfully cute
The Apple Mac Mini 2018 is adorable and powerful, but it's hard not to think that the iMac is the better machine for most everyday Mac users.
- Nice design.
- Lots of port flexibility.
- Powerful performance.
- High price with low storage.
- iMac is arguably a better overall buy for desktop Mac fans.
Apple Mac Mini 2018: Design
- Classic Mac Mini design.
- Quieter than the old model.
- It has a headphone jack!
Apple is a company with a serious design obsession, and it's been years since we've seen a new Mac Mini. So you might expect that Apple would have gone to town with the new Mac Mini 2018, with an even smaller form factor, tinier interfaces and perhaps even a PRODUCT(RED) variant.
Apple did none of those things, instead opting to change the Mac Mini's colour to a more pleasing black tone, but keeping the essential dimensions stable at 19.7 x 19.7 x 3.6cm. The reasoning behind this is that there is a plentiful market for Mac Mini buyers shoving them en masse into server racks, and changing the size would have abandoned those folks, according to Apple.
Not that it hasn't tinkered with the design, changing up the way the fans and cooling systems work to allow improved airflow and, as a result, significantly quieter performance. Gone are the mechanical hard drives and even mixed-mode "Fusion" drives of old in favour of a pure SSD (Solid State Drive) storage solution. SSDs have no moving parts, which means no mechanical drive noises and much lower heat production, all of which adds up to a much quieter Mac Mini.
One of the key selling points of the Mac Mini line is that it's a bare bones Mac, sold without display, keyboard, mouse or any other peripheral.
Apple has also tinkered with the Mac Mini 2018's port allocation, with (from left to right on the rear of the device) 4 combination Thunderbolt/USB C 3.1 ports, HDMI output, 2 USB 3.1 A ports and a 3.5mm headphone jack. There really aren't that many Apple products left with a full headphone jack, making the Mac Mini 2018 somewhat remarkable on that score alone.
One of the key selling points of the Mac Mini line is that it's a bare bones Mac, sold without display, keyboard, mouse or any other peripheral. You don't even get an HDMI cable in the box to connect it up to your display of choice.
What's odd here is that while I'm not a great fan of Apple's peripheral hardware – they're pretty, but from a productivity viewpoint I think Logitech or Microsoft do it better – there's no option when ordering a Mac Mini online to bundle in a mouse or keyboard. Apple's own Cinema Displays are no more, but it's downright weird that it's giving away the option to tempt consumers already willing to buy Apple the opportunity to bundle in a few extras and make even more money.Back to top
Apple Mac Mini 2018: Performance
- Much faster than the old Mac Mini.
- Graphics power isn't stunning for some 3D applications.
- Tricky to expand memory, impossible to expand any other internal component.
While the external side of the Mac Mini hasn't changed much beyond the colour scheme, internally Apple has made some big changes to the Mac Mini for its 2018 incarnation. First and foremost, it has upgraded to the 8th Generation Intel Core processor family, with a range of full desktop processors to choose from. The model supplied by Apple was the entry level Core i3 model with an RRP of $1,249, but pricing can be configured all the way up to a wallet-busting $6,499 – yes, $6,499 – for a 3.2Ghz Core i7 model with 64GB RAM and a 2TB SSD.
The standard Mac Mini comes with a gigabit ethernet port, but if you feel like a lot more speed (and have the network infrastructure to feed it), you can opt for the optional 10GB ethernet port for an additional $160. You'll know if you need that kind of speed, and it would be wise to opt for it if you do, because it's not an add-on extra, but a permanent part of your new Mac Mini.
So how good is the new Mac Mini? Well, if you are coming from an old Mac Mini you will definitely feel the speed improvements, as well as enjoying its new quieter, cooler stature, but then you'd expect that out of a computer that hasn't seen a proper upgrade in multiple years.
On the software front macOS Mojave is very nicely optimised for Apple's new Macs, and like any other Mac, it's very much a question of what you choose to do with it.
Apple's own demonstrations tout the video editing prowess of the Mac Mini 2018, especially against the older models, and it's certainly nippy enough there. However, relying as it does on Intel's own Intel UHD Graphics 630 solution, it's not exactly a 3D visuals powerhouse. You would need to pair it up with a pricey eGPU if you wanted more graphics grunt, again at additional cost.
User memory is configurable when you buy your Mac Mini, and unlike many of Apple's other product lines, it's also feasible to upgrade it, because it's not soldered into place. That's not to say that Apple makes it easy to do so, with its stated preference being that you do so through an authorised Apple service agent at Apple's prices. Apple's memory prices have always been abhorrently high, and the Mac Mini 2018 is no exception, with the top-rung 64GB memory module adding a painful $2,240 to the asking price.
Third party memory won't cost anywhere near that much, but trying to fit it yourself could void your Apple warranty. Sadly, memory is as far as you get in terms of Apple-approved upgrades, with everything else absolutely sealed within the Mac Mini's body. If you want to upgrade the storage (or change any other aspect of your Mac Mini's performance) you will have to do so via an external drive or enclosure.Back to top
Apple Mac Mini 2018: Should you buy it?
- An obvious upgrade for existing Mac Mini owners.
- For almost anyone else, an iMac might be the better buy.
The Mac Mini 2018 is a fine upgrade to the older Mac Mini, and it's great to see that Apple is still committed to providing a standalone Mac desktop machine.
However, as I reviewed and tested the Apple Mac Mini 2018, I couldn't help be reminded of another, earlier Mac product that looked great at a somewhat high price.
Back in 2001, Apple produced an amazingly stylish, astonishingly compact system called the Apple Power Mac G4 Cube.
No, it's not the previous Mac Mini (although it has been a while since it updated the Mac Mini line), but all through the testing time for the Mac Mini 2018, I couldn't help but think of the Power Mac G4 Cube.
Like the Mac Mini 2018, it was a great looking standalone desktop Mac system that seemed to be before its time, sold at a premium price. It didn't sell well, because it was never really clear who the Power Mac G4 Cube was for. Those who wanted configurability would buy the regular G4 Macs (and I do miss those clever flip-out cases, if anyone at Apple is listening) making the Power Mac G4 Cube a real niche product.
I can't help but get that feeling about the Mac Mini 2018. Yes, if you're an existing Mac Mini owner who has been holding out for an update, it's an easy recommendation, because it's faster and more flexible than the old Mac Mini.
But here's the rub.
The older Mac Mini models were considerably cheaper than the new Mac Minis, and in a way that made them a very good choice overall compared to Apple's output at the time.
The asking price of a Mac Mini 2018 is lower than that of the cheapest iMac, but that's for a unit with a paltry 128GB of onboard storage. Bump that up to a more acceptable 256GB, and you're looking at a price point more than that of the entry level 21 inch iMac – a unit that comes with a 1TB hard drive.
It's not quite as fast as the Mac Mini, because you'd be opting for a 7th Generation Intel Core processor but for the everyday consumer, it's more than fast enough, and you get all the peripherals you need at no extra cost. If you didn't want or need them, you could conceivably flog them off online and recoup a little bit of your iMac buying price. Well, except for the screen of course.
At the Mac Mini 2018's price point, for most users it's hard to justify. There's a niche that will love its flexibility, or the fact that there's once again a "headless" Mac to buy, but for most users looking for a new computer, if Apple's the way you want to go, the 21 inch iMac is arguably the better buy.Back to top
Apple sells the Apple Mac Mini 2018 in a variety of configurations in Australia, with pricing starting at $1,249 for a Core i3 version with 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, with pricing increasing depending on processor, storage, RAM and preinstalled software choices.
Apple Mac Mini (2018) i3 128GB
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Apple Mac Mini (2018) i5 256GB
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Apple Mac Mini 2018 Specifications
- Product Name
- Apple Mac Mini 2018
- 8th Generation Intel Core i3/Core i7
- Operating System
- Windows 10 Home
- HDMI, Gigabit/10GB Ethernet, 4x Thunderbolt 3, 2x USB A, 3.5mm headphone jack
- Gigabit/10GB Ethernet, 802.11 ac/b/g/n
- From $1,249
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