How Apple Could Revitalize the Mac mini

Mac mini

The original charter of the Mac mini is obsolete. It’s time for the Mac mini to become a more integral part of the Mac family.

Beloved Mac mini
This design is dead. No more please. Image credit: Apple

To think of the Mac mini as a standalone Mac, independent of all that Apple does, is to pigeon-hole both that Mac and Apple opportunities. With the Mac Pro coming in 2019, now is the time for Apple to leave the old Mac mini behind and build a new line of products. My most recent thinking on this has been:

[Why Apple Won’t Need to Launch a New Mac mini After All ]

What if, and this is my new thinking, Apple engineers realized that a bare bones 2019 Mac Pro, with a chassis, power supply, motherboard and a modest, plug-in CPU daughterboard with an Intel Core i5 and modest graphics card is, in fact, the same computer as the Mac mini that has been on the drawing board for a few years?

More Mac mini Opportunity

Given the new rumors about an imminent 2018 Mac mini, it would be a terrible thing to endure if Apple merely did a CPU upgrade. After four years! There would be outrage.

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What would be really cool is if Apple thought along the lines of a family of headless Macs. Two. Maybe even three. In this scenario, the Mac mini becomes an entry level workstation. It has some considerable customizability both before and after purchase. The result would be that the low end system would sell for about what the 2014 Mac mini sold for. At the high end of its configuration, it would approach the a bare bones (2019) Mac Pro. Or something in between.

The example I like is the HP Z2 Mini, which I have reviewed. This PC starts at under US$900, but it can be customized with a high end Intel Core CPU, 32 GB RAM, and a TB SSD, ending up less than $2,000.

The HP Z2 Mini compact workstation.

If the Z2 Mini is inadequate for high pro end needs, HP has a range of Z4, Z6 and Z8 tower workstations to escalate to.

Now I’m not saying that Apple should clutter up its Mac line with this wide range of options. What I am saying is that a closed (2018) Mac mini without the ability to configure it with very serious purchase options would 1) Greatly frustrate customers and 2) leave a huge gap in Apple’s product line. This kind of enforced gap between, say, a generally $1,000 Mac mini and a $10,000 (2019) Mac Pro would leave customers ready to look elsewhere for their desktop needs.

A Common Desktop Platform

One way to deal with the giant gap between these two Macs is to develop a common platform: appearance and architecture. Previously, I wrote:

In fact, it [Mac mini] may even inherit some of the modular capabilities that are in the works for the Mac Pro. It’s been awhile since Apple has delivered a new Mac that we swoon over. I think this will be it. The old design is certainly dead.

The other opportunity that presents itself is a new look, a new industrial design language. The Mac mini was born in a day when there were plenty of options for a serious but affordable desktop Mac. The mini served its purpose to provide a lost-cost, low complexity lure for PC switchers. It’s simple design followed function.

Today, with Apple’s renewed emphasis on the Mac and with its corporate allure, the function of the headless Mac is to entice creative and technical professionals who don’t need a $10,000 Mac Pro, but do need a powerful workstation that’ll work with their displays and peripherals in the workplace and home.. Our thirst for new, capable hardware conflicts with the legacy simple-mindedness of the old Mac mini.

The legacy Mac mini design cannot endure. And so a modest upgrade to the 2014 model would be a travesty. It would, in my view, be a virtual insult to the Mac community.

7 thoughts on “How Apple Could Revitalize the Mac mini

  • I’ve been using a Mac Mini (Late 2012) for the past 6 years as my daily-driver desktop system at work, hooked up to a pair of 24″ HD monitors. For my use case, all I would like to do is replace it with a new version with current CPUs and 32 GB of RAM. There is definitely a market for that sort of mini-desktop machine. At home I have a 2010 Mac Pro, 2.8 GHz quad CPU, also hooked to a pair of monitors, 32 GB of RAM, and an SSD in a PCIE slot. Both machines work reasonably well today, but they’re kind of CPU bound at present.

    For a lot of use cases, I think the Mini footprint is just fine.

  • I’d share a photo of my desktiop(s) if I could. Mentioned in an earlier comment, I have one current design Mac mini standing on edge, 7.5″ tall. Beside it are two Mac minis of the original design (with optical drives) and two matching external hard drives. The four stacked are 7.25″ tall. By going back to the original design you could stack a main CPU and three components in an area of 6.25″ X 6.25″ X 7.25″ – 6.25″ tall if Apple removed the optical drive from the original design. A Cube of four stacked components in an area less than what the current Mac Pro takes up.

  • John:

    I like this vision.

    Given the capacity of the iMac Pro, the Mac Pro will have to be gobsmacking capable, unless Apple intend to compete with one of their own products (not unheard of). I concur that the Mac Mini as originally defined is dead.

    For the revised Mac Mini to sell, it’s going to have to bring something to define its own niche in a compelling environment; otherwise unless it’s simply dirt cheap, it’s dead on arrival, not to mention that the HP Z2 is a compelling option for people willing to switch.

    You’ve described a viable niche. Let’s see how it squares with delivery.

  • No one is buying Entry level Desktop anymore, business are the biggest market, 2nd being Gaming market. so may be an Entry Level Mac will have to come from MacBook.

    Then what we have left is the Mac mini and the Mac Pro serving the business, possibly gaming and all other Desktop top uses. Basically what we need is like iMac lineup, we need a Mac, and Mac Pro.

    1. Have you looked at the Intel NUC? They are selling like hotcakes. The bottom end is about as entry level as you can get. The upper lev4ls are pretty solid systems. Come to think of it that’s what JM was describing for the MM.

  • Apple dropped the ball about eight years ago in terms of computing for professionals who just needed functional equipment that wouldn’t break the bank. Considering that it is taking them about two to three years to get back on board with a Mac Pro this make sense; Mac Pro 2013 was probably in the pipeline from as early as 2010.

    Is essence, Apple really should not have had to do much to keep current with the Mac Pro of that time. The cheese greater design was timeless and a design classic, the Porsche of computers. In terms of industrial design it was the best made desktop I have ever seen. Yes it was a bit big and a bit heavy but I never heard a professional really complain about this. The 2013 Mac Pro is a very clever design but it was flawed.

    Hopping Apple bucks the trend of the last decade and becomes less computing for the upper middle classes.

  • It had occurred to me that it’s possible the Mac Mini and Mac Pro product lines could merge. When you look at the endless expansion possibilities Thunderbolt 3 brings (ex. eGPU’s ability to give even the lowliest laptop high end desktop class performance), I could see a Mac Mini Pro being a series of stackable module add-ons – such as RAM, hard drive, GPU expansion, etc.

    Apple executives did say they’re completely rethinking the Mac Pro, while tight lipped about what they’re doing about the Mini (except that they consider it “important”). Barring any price or performance barriers I may be unaware of, this seems like a logical progression for both desktops.

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