New Mac Mini Not a Good Deal for Most People

Apple not only refreshed the MacBook Air and shipped Lion today, but also released a refreshed Mac Mini. You shouldn’t bother though because, when you add in all the extras needed to make this a fully functional machine, you might as well get a MacBook Air or MacBook Pro.

Apple Mac Mini Refreshed

Mac Mini Specs

The Mac Mini is a tiny system with a Sandy Bridge processor and 500 GB of hard drive space. The drive spins at only 5400 rpm making it much slower than an SSD. At the low end you only get only 2GB of RAM, which is just not enough. Sure a Mac runs on less memory than a Windows machine, but most of the advanced software people use for entertainment and content creation cry out for 3-4GB of RAM these days. Unless you only surf the web and write reports in Word or Pages, 4GB is a must if you want to be satisfied.

Extras Needed

What you don’t get with a $599 Mac Mini is a SuperDrive. Apple left it out of the new Mini, since Apple is killing off the optical disk. That’s not a problem for most people. The MacBook Air doesn’t have one either. If you think you will need one, then add $79 for the Apple SuperDrive.

The Mac comes sans the Magic Mouse that iMacs include, nor does it even have a keyboard. The combo of the two jacks up the price another $98, unless you get something cheaper elsewhere. The one thing you use most on a computer is the keyboard, mouse and display. You don’t want to go cheap for these peripherals. Trust me; I’ve tested mice and keyboards that cost less than $50 and they diminish your computing enjoyment exponentially. I recommend forgoing the Magic Mouse for a better mouse like my favorite Bluetooth mouse, the Razer Orochi, at $80.

Apple Keyboard and Magic Mouse

If you plan to actually see what you are working on, then you need a monitor too. Apple hopes you will blow $999 on their beautiful new 27″ Thunderbolt Display. You can find a cheap display for less than a fifth of that price or a really great one for a third, so add at least another $150 to $300.

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With a mouse, keyboard and an inexpensive display the Mac Mini will really cost $599+$49+$49+about $150 for the computer, mouse, keyboard and cheap LCD. That brings you to a total closer to $850. With a display as good as the those on the MacBooks, the cost will be higher. For another $150 you will get most of what you need in a beautiful new 11.6″ MacBook Air that you can take anywhere. Add $100 for 4GB of RAM and you will be happier with your MacBook Air than you would with the Mini because the Air will be faster. An SSD stomps all over the slow 5400 rpm hard drive Apple puts in the Mini.

Dealing with Storage Limitations

If the Air’s SSD fills up quickly, you can get an inexpensive external hard drive for under $100 later on when you run out of space. Apple’s new iCloud might make external storage unnecessary, though. If iCloud fails to measure up, other online options like SugarSync, DropBox and Box.net should provide enough for documents.

If these storage options seem too complicated or limited, get a MacBook Air with a bigger SSD or a MacBook Pro for just a few hundred dollars more. The price is now getting closer to double that of the base price on the Mini, but it is only a few hundred more than the Mini with all the extras needed.

Recommendation

Sure a Mac Mini is a good option for someone who wants to plug a computer into their HDTV. If you already have a display, mouse and keyboard and don’t mind the slower hard drive, it is not a bad deal. Our own editor Josh Smith says he’s likely going to get one.

I think most people prefer the portability of a notebook and this doesn’t have it. I suggest you steer clear of the Mac Mini and wait till you can save up for the MacBook Air or a low-end MacBook Pro.

Comments

  1. Rob Stevens says

    Wow. This article completely misses the point. Mac Mini is intended to replace the dinosaur on your desktop, without making you replace your peripherals. It’s literally supposed to be a swap-out. The fact that it doesn’t come with the peripherals is a PLUS.

    Getting only 2GB of RAM in the base machine is also a plus. Why? Because Apple charges extortionate prices for memory. Go to NewEgg and get 8GB (2x4GB of DDR3 1333MHz) for $54.99. The Mac Mini is extremely easy to upgrade the RAM on. That’s really the only compulsory upgrade, and Apple made that fairly painless.
    The only fair issue here is the Hard Drive. 500GB is a bit small, and 5400 RPM is pokey. But SSDs are still fairly expensive. They should have made it a 7200RPM drive by default. That said, the Mini is using laptop components, and there just aren’t a lot of choices in that range for the price. Why not go with a flash card like the MacBook Air? Because most people will still need a lot of storage on a machine like this. I intend to use one as my media machine (hooked up to my HDTV), syncing my myriad iDevices. For that purpose, disk speed isn’t really that big a deal.

    The killer though is that it’s prohibitively difficult to upgrade the hard drive on the Mini aftermarket. That won’t stop me, but it might someone else. But for the person it would stop, 500GB would likely be fine.

    No Apple product is a “good deal” if you’re just looking at specs for the price, but there are specific use cases that you completely ignored in order to suggest that you’re somehow getting short-changed with the Mini. For me, this Mini will be my next “PC”.

    • Nmodin says

      I agree. At $1099 you get a superskinny i7 / 8Gb RAM monster dev machine. Only grief here is the $600 pricetag for the SSD, which also might be the biggest speed booster for people that actually used their computers for some real work. Apple are probably quite aware of this hence the unreasonable price for that option. Should be said though that we haven’t seen exactly what SSD you get. Apple tend to put premium components in their machine though, so it could be (almost) justifiable if you look at the price for one of the snazziest 256 GB SSD drives sold in retail today.

  2. Guest says

    I agree, the iPad replaces the need for portable computer (laptop).  You pay a super premium for a Mac Laptop and they are easily dropped, damaged or stolen.  I spent nearly $2,000 repairing my last Powerbook when it was damaged on 2 separate occasions.  Also the iPad is far more portable, has better battery life and, essentially, boots instantly.  You still need a home computer, though and after trying to save for an iMac I gave up and bought a Mac Mini. But I was pleasantly surprised with the 2010 model.  This new model is what the 2010 should have been — the i5/i7 family of chips.  Dropping optical drives is premature.  I still have to buy CDs for hard-to-find music and I still rely on Netflix DVD’s for about half of my TV viewing because not all titles are available for streaming.  Also, I can’t upgrade to Lion because several of my more expensive applications are too old, particularly Photoshop and Microsoft Office.  I’m currently testing replacements for these products, but I hate to have to learn a whole new interface AND use products that are different from those I use at work.  I’m not real happy about this move to direct downloads because it will force us to buy from the manufacturer at full retail prices AND provide them with target marketing data that I really don’t want them to have, either for their own use or for resale.  

  3. jim says

    I picking up a new mac mini 2.5 i5 tomorrow. New graphics chip not integrated, great. Can not wait. I need a optical drive but will a get a LG at Best Buy for $50.00

  4. Matt says

    I agree with the first post, the reviewer completely misses the point.  I’ve already purchased the new Mac Mini, and guess what?  I already own all the peripherals I need.  With an i7 processor and 8 gigs of ram, I’ve got a machine that flies with only the peripherals I want, and a machine that will last.  Love it!

  5. Fredbo says

    How did you get a job as a reviewer…you should be writing articles on interview responses….

  6. Zachary Sandberg says

    I can’t drive two external monitors with a Macbook Pro or Macbook air, which is why the Mini is the perfect device for my desktop. Core i7, upgraded 8GB of Ram and a copy of Windows 7 in bootcamp gives me a complete computing experience.  Your article isn’t well thought out when matching capabilities of the Mac family.

  7. Tousaintsharpe says

    All apple products to me is great not sure why they were bashing the mini looking to buy one very soon 

  8. Russell says

    article completely misses the mark. Optical drive ?? I can’t remember the last time I used one, seriously. Its like when Apple dumped the floppy drive and everyone complained.

    Software installs … I get it all from the App Store.

    Install disks for peripherals … show me one peripheral where you can go download what you need.

    As an office machine they are perfect , I actually don’t want users installing crap on the machines.

    Great machine, great price , great performance.

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