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October 31, 2018

Apple Mac Mini (2018) hands-on review

by John_A

Research Center:

Apple Mac mini (2018)

The last time Apple introduced a Mac Mini was 2014, the year Apple debuted the iPhone 6. Yes, it’s really been that long.

We finally have a new model — the Mac Mini (2018) — which was announced at an event in New York City. Apple calls it a “massive increase in performance,” but anything would be after four years in the tech world. A new Mac Mini is well overdue, but we’re thankful it’s here because it looks like it could be a decent companion to your workstation. It’s just a shame Apple jacked up the price by $300.

Space Grey, more connectivity

The internals of the Mac Mini may be completely different from its predecessor, but Apple doesn’t think the design needed a refresh. All that’s new is a Space Grey finish, which certainly looks sleeker than the old silver color. It’s the exact same size and weight. We do wish Apple tried something different here with design, just for variety.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Some people won’t mind the static design, but there’s no such thing as standing still in tech. The world of compact PCs has evolved pretty drastically in the past four years. You can attach one to the back of your monitor — or even hang one from your keychain. That makes the “mini”-ness of the Mac mini less impressive than it used to be.

Over on the back is an impressive array of ports including four Thunderbolt 3 USB-C ports, which means you can connect it to 4K or 5K Thunderbolt displays, as well as an external GPU. That is a ton of Thunderbolt 3 ports. In fact, it might even be too many, if that’s even possible. It’s the same amount that grace the iMac Pro, and it most certainly has increased the already hefty price tag of this PC.

The Mac Mini’s Intel UHD Graphics 630 GPU won’t be pushing out high framerates in Fortnite anytime soon.

Along with USB-C, there are also two USB-A 3 ports, one HDMI 2.0 port, as well as a 3.5mm headphone jack. An Ethernet port is also available, and it’s configurable up to 10Gb Ethernet for super-fast connections. Overall, we’re happy Apple beefed up port selection rather than cut back.

The only other significant change to the new Mac Mini is in materials. Like the new Macbook Air, Apple said the Mac Mini enclosure is made of 100-percent recycled aluminum. There’s hardly no difference in texture or feel compared to the previous Mac Mini, and Apple said it maintains the same strength and durability. It’s nice to see a company maintain its commitment to make eco-friendly products.

Plenty of configurations

The configurations for the new Mac Mini can be confusing. First off, there are two main models with eighth-generation processors — one with a four-core processor, and the other with a six-core processor. The base four-core comes with a 3.6GHz Intel Core i3, whereas the base six-core packs a 3.0GHz Intel Core i5 with Turbo Boost up to 4.1GHz. You can find an even more powerful Intel Core i7 model with six cores.

Julian Chokkattu/Digital Trends

Apple claims graphics capability has increase by 60 percent, which sounds good on the surface. But again, compared to 2014, anything will make for an impressive jump in performance. The truth is the integrated Intel UHD Graphics 630 won’t be pushing out high framerates in Fortnite anytime soon. We would have loved to see a configuration option that provides some more graphics capability, such as the Core i5-8305G, which comes with AMD Radeon RX Vega graphics onboard. This would have not only brought some entry-level gaming performance to the Mac mini, but also some raw power for demanding tasks like video editing.

We definitely aren’t happy about the Mac Mini’s pricing situation.

The Mac Mini has new thermal system that doubles the airflow that moves throughout the enclosure, but Apple said it will still remain silent. The space we were in was loud, so we’ll have to take Apple’s word for now. We’ll be particularly interested in how the tiny chassis handles the heat generated from the six-core model.

The Mac Mini starts with 8GB RAM, but that’s also configurable to 16GB, 32GB, or 64GB. There’s plenty of internal storage options as well — they’re all solid-state drives (SSDs), which should deliver even better performance — starting from 128GB and going all the way to 2TB.

One new addition is Apple’s T2 security chip, which debuted in 2017’s iMac Pro and later made its way to the MacBook Pro. With this chip, Apple said everything stored on the SSD is fully encrypted, and you get secure boot as well. What’s neat is HEVC video transcoding also takes place here, and it’s reportedly 30 times faster, which sounds like a boon for pro video editors. The T2 also brings “Hey Siri” functionality with it for quicker access to Apple’s voice assistant.

Apple Mac mini (2018) Compared To

Intel Hades Canyon NUC8i7HVK

Intel ‘Hades Canyon’ NUC

Intel NUC Core i7

Alienware X51

Falcon Northwest FragBox

Lenovo IdeaCentre Q150

Asus EeeBox EB1501

Acer AspireRevo

HP Firebird 802

Maingear Dash

HP Pavilion s3020n Slimline

Apple Mac mini Dual Core 1.66GHz

Enpower Media Center Xpress EN-MX1

FIC Condor

Gateway FMC-901X

Price and availability

The Mac Mini (2018) starts at $800 for the four-core model, and $1,100 for the six-core version. If you max out all the features with the highest performing model, you’re looking at a price tag of $4,200. We definitely aren’t happy about that pricing situation.

The previous Mac Mini sold for just $500 by comparison at its base price. As of now, the upgrade doesn’t feel quite worthy of the jump in price. The move to a four-core (or six-core) processor is fairly commonplace in 2018, as is super-fast SSD storage and Thunderbolt 3 ports. We’ll save our final opinion once we’ve fully tested the system, but the pricing alone has left us a little cold.

The new Mac mini is available for pre-order now, and official sales start November 7.

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