Five things the Mac mini needs to make it a true pro machine

Stop the presses, we have a new
Mac mini rumor
. Well, at least the germination of a rumor.
According to Bloomberg’s very connected Mark Gurman and
Debbie Wu
, Apple is planning “a professional-focused
upgrade to the Mac mini desktop later this year,” and “new
storage and processor options are likely to make it more
expensive than previous versions.”

That’s a lot of words for not really saying anything at all.
While Gurman is basically confirming
Ming Chi-Kuo’s earlier report
that the long-in-the-tooth
mini will be getting an update this year, he leaves an awful
lot of blanks to be filled in between now and its release,
presumably sometime in mid- to late fall. Even if he’s right
about the new pro focus, everything else about the new Mac mini
remains a mystery.

But if Apple is indeed giving the Mac mini a reimagining, there
are a few things it absolutely needs to include if Apple hopes
to return it to its glory days.

A sub-$1,000 starting price

Gurman hints that the new Mac mini will cost more than it does
now, which would make sense if Apple is going to target pro
users. However, with every other Mac in Apple’s lineup starting
at or above $1,000, the current Mac mini fills an important
role, even if Apple isn’t selling as many of them as it once
did. If Apple prices the Mac mini too high, it’ll get lost in
the shuffle of iMacs and MacBook Pros.

Besides, not every pro is willing to spend thousands of dollars
on a new PC. No one would complain about a $1,500 tricked-out
Mac mini as long as Apple doesn’t forget the point of the tiny
headless PC. With a current starting price tag of $499, Apple
has some wiggle room, but the Mac mini needs at least one
configuration to stay under $1,000—and hopefully much lower
than that.

High-end BTU options

Apple shocked naysayers by actually including
Intel’s latest Core i9 silicone
as a BTO option in the new
MacBook Pro. And if the new Mac mini is going to target the
same audience, the best chips need to be an option, even if it
pushes the price to more than $2,000.

Of course, anything will be an upgrade over the current Haswell
processors, but packing the Mac mini with the best possible
processor would make it a machine worthy of positioning
alongside MacBook Pros in an Apple Store. We saw how awesome
this Core i7-AMD RX Vega M GPU pairing is inside the equally
tiny Intel
Hades Canyon
, and we’d love to see what it can do inside a
Mac mini, thermals and other packaging considerations
permitting.

A whole bunch of ports

mac mini ports Apple

The current Mac mini is loaded with ports.

The 4-year-old Mac mini might be lacking in power, but it makes
up for it in ports:

  • Two Thunderbolt 2
  • Four USB 3 ports
  • HDMI
  • Gigabit ethernet
  • SDXC card slot
  • 3.5 mm headphone jack

Apple in 2018 isn’t quite as fond of ports, however. The
MacBooks have way fewer ports that they did just a few years
ago, and if the Mac mini shrinks down (which it’s almost
certain to do), Apple will be tempted to dump a couple of ports
to keep things slim and thin. This would be a huge mistake. If
they can’t fit them on the back, then they should throw a few
on the front for easy access. More would be nice, but just
don’t give us fewer ports—and whatever you do, please
don’t dump the headphone jack.

A more portable design

Hades Canyon NUC - Comparison with other mini-PCs
Adam Patrick Murray / IDG

Intel’s mini PCs are smaller and more powerful than the Mac
mini.

Back when it released in 2005, the Mac mini was a marvel of
minuscule minimalism, but in 2018, its 7.7-inch square
footprint is no longer impressive. The current Mac mini is easy
enough to fit into a bag, but compared to the Apple TV, it’s a
downright monster. So if Apple is going to redesign the inside
of the Mac mini, the case could use a facelift too. Intel has
done some interesting things with its 4X4-inch
Next Unit of Computing (NUC) mini PCs
, and a Mac mini with
a similar form factor would be the ultra portable machine we
always wanted to it to be. It’s not just about getting thinner
or even smaller. With a new Mac mini, Apple has an opportunity
to wow us again by breaking new ground.

Expandability

When the Mac mini launched in 2005, it had a neat trick. There
was a tiny door on the bottom that could be opened to install
more RAM. Like the rest of its products, Apple took user
upgradability that away with the
2014 refresh
. But if Apple is going to make the Mac mini a
true pro machine, it really needs to bring it back.

And not just RAM, but storage too. Apple could take a cue from
Intel’s NUC boxes for inspiration, selling the bare minimum
that users need and letting them easily upgrade after the fact.
While I don’t expect Apple to let users swap out the processor
or graphics card (we have the
Blackmagic eGPU
for that), letting users add more RAM and
storage would make the mini much more attractive to pros and
tinkerers than it is now.

%d bloggers like this: