Mac Mini 2014 review
Processor: Dual-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-4278U, RAM: 8GB, Front USB ports : None, Rear USB ports: 4x USB3, Total storage: 1TB hard disk, Graphics card: Intel Iris, Display: N/A, Operating system: OSX Yosemite
The Mac Mini has always been a popular choice for those either looking for their first OS X system, or for anyone that wanted to use their own monitors but didn't fancy the expense of the Mac Pro. After a few years waiting for a new model, the 2014 Mac Mini is here. It costs £100 less for the entry-level model, with prices starting at £399; we got sent to mid-range model to test, which costs considerably more at £569.
It may not be cheap, but in terms of design it's great. The new Mac Mini 2014 uses the same chassis as its predecessor, so it gets no complaints from us there. Encased in a 36mm thick aluminium unibody chassis, it's a sleek and elegant system. The Mini is made from a single block of aluminium and it shows through the lack of joins and its beautiful curved edges. It’s not as small as some compact PC systems, such as the Cyberpower Fang Mini; it is small enough to easily hide away. As it’s so lovely to look at you may well want it on show.
Aside from an Apple logo on its top, there’s little to distract. A small white LED is on the front, as is an IR receiver for use with the optional remote, but other than that there isn’t anything else on the front or sides. All of the system’s connections are tidily hidden away on the back, which you might find inconvenient if you plan on regularly connecting USB devices or reading from SD cards. It's for this reason that we tend to place this computer on the edge of the desk with the rear pointing sideways so that the SD card slot is easily accessible. We have to admit that Apple's choice does maintain the system’s clean, uncluttered appearance.
There are four USB3 ports and two Thunderbolt 2 ports, so you’re not left wanting for high-speed transfer potential. This gives you an additional Thunderbolt 2 over the previous Mac Mini, which will make connecting two DisplayPort (or Apple Thunderbolt) displays possible; it also gives you more flexibility if you're using Thunderbolt external storage. For regular displays, or for connecting to a TV, there's also an HDMI port.
There’s the aforementioned SDXC card reader as well as Gigabit Ethernet for wired network connections. The new Mac Mini now also includes built-in 802.11ac Wi-Fi that should also improve your wireless networking speeds if you have an 802.11ac router.
As with all Mac Minis, the system isn’t supplied with any peripherals, so you’ll need to have your own keyboard and mouse, as well as monitor. You might find that Apple’s own mice and keyboards make for the best companion peripherals due to their OS X dedicated shortcuts. They also match the design nicely if that’s important. Our personal preference is the Apple USB keyboard, which has a numeric keypad and a more spacious layout than the wireless version. We completely recommend the Magic Trackpad, as it gives you gesture shortcuts that make navigating OS X so much faster and easier.
You are able to configure the Mac Mini starting with a dual-core 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 processor with 4GB of RAM and a 500GB hard disk for £399. At the other end is a dual-core 2.8GHz Intel Core i5 with a 1TB fusion drive (a combination of flash and mechanical storage) and 8GB of RAM for £799. Our middle model includes a dual-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i5, 8GB of memory and a 1TB regular hard disk for £569. All of the systems use Intel’s ‘Haswell’ processors and it’s also possible to configure the two higher-end models further with SSDs and more RAM, although only the high-end model gives you all of the options, including a 2TB fusion drive.
We do recommend that you buy a model with a Fusion Drive or an SSD. OS X is written to take advantage of flash storage, and it's considerably quicker to load and more responsive in use with one.
You'll need to make the right choice at the time of purchase, as the new Mac Mini is not user upgradeable. With the old model, you could unscrew the bottom and change the RAM, but the 2014 edition uses modules that are soldered to the motherboard. It was tricky, but the old model also allowed you to access the hard disk bays (there were two), so you could upgrade the hard disk or fit a second model. With the 2014 edition, you can't.
The hard disk isn't much of an issue, provided you follow our advice and get flash storage, as you can always expand by using external disks. It makes the memory a bit more of a pain, but we recommend getting at least 8GB of RAM to give you enough headroom both now and in the future.
Mac Mini: The rivals
If you're looking for a mini PC but want something with a bit more expandability or just need something that runs on Windows, there are a couple of alternatives.
- Acer Revo RL85 - this little miracle machine costs just £399 for its Intel Core i3 variant, but with that you also get a wireless keyboard and mouse and some impressive expandability. You get a 2TB hard disk as standard but there are two 2.5in drive bays, effectively allowing you to make a small, Windows-powered NAS for very little money. Its glossy white styling and cute chassis are a delight to behold, making the Acer Revo RL85 one of our favourite PCs of the year.
- HP Pavilion Mini - The i3 version of the Pavilion Mini is just £349, making it a great budget choice. It doesn't come with a keyboard or mouse and expansion is limited, although not impossible. Performance is reasonably sprightly, and the stylish grey and silver chassis make it stand out from the crowd.
Putting the Mac Mini through our application benchmarks that look at image editing, video transcoding and multitasking it managed an overall score of 62. This isn’t stratospheric performance by any means, but it shows the Mac Mini is sufficient for most desktop tasks. The Zotac ZBox EN760 Plus, a similarly priced Windows mini-PC, only managed 47 although in fairness it made up for lacklustre application performance with surprisingly good gaming prowess for such a diminutive system. The Mac Mini had decent bootup and shutdown speeds but would be improved if you opt for the Fusion Drive or SSD options.
The Mac Mini system we reviewed was equipped with Intel Iris integrated graphics. Our usual benchmark games of choice aren’t available on OS X so we had to use Call of Duty 4. Playing the game in 1,920x1,080, 4x anti-aliasing and High graphics only managed 20fps, which was poor. Turning off any anti-aliasing will grant you 40fps but you’ll need to drop to 1,280x720 resolution if you want a silky smooth 60fps. The Mac Mini isn’t much of a 3D gaming system but will be able to handle older and simpler titles, such as indie games from Steam.
The Mac Mini comes pre-installed with OS X Yosemite, the latest version of Apple’s operating system. Some of the OS’ main upgrades will be better felt by those who own other Apple devices such as the iPhone. There’s Continuity that allows interoperability with Apple’s iOS devices by allowing you to answer calls from your Mac as well as send and receive SMS messages. You can also use Handoff that allows you to send over your app’s current state between your Mac and iOS device, so you can resume where you left off. This works with most of Apple’s apps and developers can build compatibility into their own apps.
Regardless of whether you use those features, Yosemite is a powerful and reliable operating system. With a virtual desktops and Mission Control providing a quick way to switch between applications, you'll find that OS X is a lot slicker than Windows. We're also big fans of Time Machine, which automatically backs up your files and applications, saving you from any potential disasters.
In the end, the Mac Mini 2014 is a worthy follow-up to the older model. It’s kept what made its predecessor so good and reduced the price - at the bottom end at least. It’s a shame that upgradeability has been sacrificed but otherwise the Mac Mini 2014 is an excellent compact system, either as an entry-level computer or a Mac that gives you the flexibility to choose your own displays and peripherals, or a great PC to put beside your TV if you want more flexibility than an Apple TV can provide.
|Processor||Dual-core 2.6GHz Intel Core i5-4278U|
|Motherboard chipset||Not disclosed|
|Ports and expansion|
|Front USB ports||None|
|Rear USB ports||4x USB3|
|Other ports||2x Thunderbolt 2|
|Networking||1x 10/100/1000, 802.11ac Wi-Fi|
|Case size HxWxD||36x197x197mm|
|PCIe x1 (free)||None|
|PCIe x16 (free)||None|
|Serial ATA (free)||None|
|Memory slots (free)||None|
|Drive bays 2 1/2" (free)||1 (0)|
|Drive bays 3 1/2" (free)||None|
|Drive bays 5 1/4" (free)||None|
|Total storage||1TB hard disk|
|Memory card reader||SDXC|
|Optical drive type||None|
|Graphics card||Intel Iris|
|Sound card||Not disclosed|
|Sound card outputs||Combined optical digital input/audio line in, combined optical digital audio output/headphone out|
|Operating system||OSX Yosemite|
|Operating system restore option||Restore partition|
|Price including delivery (inc VAT)||£569|
|Price excluding monitor (inc VAT and delivery)||£569|
|Part Code||Mac Mini A1347|