The entry-level Mac officially comes of age – let’s look back over its history, and to the M2 future
A Mac for everyone
The Mac mini – a Mac for the masses.
Apple never likes the word cheap to be used about their products. Affordable, or economic, fits in far better with their marketing mantra. Only trouble is, someone forgot to tell that to Steve Jobs as he sauntered onstage at Macworld, January 2005;
“This is the most affordable Mac ever. In fact, it’s the cheapest computer Apple’s ever offered.”
It is now 18 years since this venerable, and die-hard, Mac made its debut. It is often overlooked, or for periods, unloved, but it always survives.
Macs were, until that day, seen as the domain of creatives, celebrity, and the well-heeled. But with the Mac mini, that was all about to change.
Apple had continually been asked to bring out a more affordable Mac. Indeed, Jobs himself said at the launch, ”I wish I had a nickel for every time somebody asked me, ‘why doesn’t Apple offer a stripped-down Mac that is more affordable?”
The way that he, and Apple, decided to bring this Mac to market, was by supplying a Mac, for the first time, without an attached display, and no mouse, or keyboard being shipped with it either. And so, the famous acronym ‘BYODKM’ was born – Bring Your Own Display Keyboard & Mouse.
It was a new era, and marketplace for the Mac – they supplied the brains, and you supplied the rest. The idea was, very much, that you could travel, and take the Mac mini with you anywhere. Released alongside the iPod Shuffle, Apple were reacting to demand with the Mac mini, it squarely being aimed at the more budget-conscious buyer.
Although the original, 2005 Mac mini was met with a lukewarm reception, it had done enough to create its own niched spot in the Mac line-up. The main criticism of the Mac mini, on release, was the slow hard drive, and the lack of sufficient I/O. The fact it also had non-user upgradeable RAM was equally not received well either.
The price, however, was very well received – just $499 (roughly $760 in today’s money).
Jobs mentioned, as he was about to announce the second generation Mac mini, that it had ”had been really well received, and people are doing all sorts of things with it that we never dreamed of when we introduced it.”
When the second generation came to market, it had a faster processor. Recognising the Mac mini’s value as a server, saw the first Mac mini server units released in 2009. These were aimed mainly at small financial companies, and academic institutions.
In these interim years, there were concerns for the future of the Mac mini. AppleInsider said at the time, “It has seen just four updates since inception, one of which was so insignificant in Apple’s own eyes that the company didn’t even bother to draft a press release.”
The next meaningful update came in 2010, with the third generation. The outer case was slimmed down, and was now made from aluminium – a unibody design. Again, the processor was improved, and so to the I/O – it now boasted an SD card slot, and an HDMI port. There was no external power-brick on this model either.
This version saw numerous iterative improvements, such as dual, and quad-core Intel processors being used, and the addition of Thunderbolt ports. This third-gen, eventually supported up to 16GB of memory too.
Again, though, the wait for any meaningful improvements to the mini, was a long and painful one.
The event in 2014 alluded to the fact change may be coming, but all that was actually announced was a price drop. The price had gradually risen to $699, but in the ‘It’s Been Way Too Long’ event, the price returned to the original $499.
The Mac mini tumbleweed continued to roll-through, though, with nothing new announced in 2015, 2016, or 2017.
2018, did, finally see some major upgrades for the Mac mini. It was to be based on an Intel i3 quad-core processor with a base speed of 3.6GHz, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB of flash storage. There were even options for an I5 and i7 versions with six cores.
Other improvements saw upgrades to the connectivity, and Thunderbolt ports. Ram options now ranged from 8GB through to 64GB, with a maximum storage of 2TB being available. The price was back up, though, now costing $799.
The fifth generation of the Mac mini runs on Apple silicon, making it an incredibly fast machine, particularly considering its cost, and footprint.
The Mac mini was one of the first Macs to receive Apple’s new chip in November 2020. Although users loved the speed of Apple silicon, they were not keen on the reduced number of ports, and, that, there was no modularity. We have since got used to this being the way of Apple silicon, with the Mac Studio being an example. Just make sure you tick the right boxes when buying your Mac mini.
M2 and the future
Apple still continues to sell one Intel-based mini, but that looks likely to change in 2023.
M2 should find its way to the Mac mini this year. Mark Gurman reported that Apple is developing new Mac mini models with M2 and M2 Pro chips. The M2 chip features an 8-core CPU and up to a 10-core GPU, and the M2 Pro will be even more powerful.
There is even a possibility that the design may change, and that the mini may have a plexiglass-top, and that, due to the thermal efficiency of the M-series chips, the size may be reduced further.
If they do decide to re-style the body, then it is possible new colours, could come to Mac mini, or even a duotone colour scheme.
Connectivity will be the best yet – with four Thunderbolt ports, two USB-A ports, an Ethernet port, and an HDMI port, along with the same magnetic charging cable used for the 24-inch iMac.
The Mac mini refuses to go away.
It’s lovers, and supporters just adore it. With Apple silicon, it now, more than ever, represents a massively powerful, affordable, and comprehensive Mac. If you already have a display, keyboard, and mouse, being able to buy in to the Apple ecosystem for only £699 is fantastic value for money.
And, this year, with M2 Apple silicon coming to the Mac mini, it looks as if the entry-level Mac will be around for sometime to come.
Long-live the Mac mini…
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