A most under-rated personal computer

Each week, as I put together the Mac-Forums newsletter, I look over the latest posts — many from folks who are not only new to the forum, but new to Mac. Some of these self-described newbies grew tired of the constant changes and security threats to Windows.

And many of these “switchers” ask essentially the same question: What’s the best Mac to start with? Here’s one answer that I rarely see.

Mini size; maximum value

Years ago, I wanted to replace a failed Mac but couldn’t justify buying a relatively expensive MacBook or iMac. After a bit of research, I chose a Mac Mini. I already had spare keyboards and monitors, so a few hundred dollars for the computer seemed like a good deal.

That model was pre-Intel; it had an optical drive but only two USB ports. Fortunately, I found a Belkin add-on that added four more USB ports (plus a couple of Firewire ports I didn’t need). I still have the box and it still works! But because it’s not Intel-based, almost nothing runs on it — not even Netflix or a halfway current iTunes. Anyone have suggestions for putting it to good use?

Recently, my daughter’s MacBook Pro bit the dust and, in a case of déjà vu, she couldn’t justify the thousand dollars for a new notebook. So she settled on a new Mini. (By this time, an iPad was sufficient for her portable-computing needs.) And about the same time, I acquired a fairly new Mini, too.

Today’s models (more info) start at just U.S. $500, and they’re not short on power. An optical drive is, of course, long gone, but the base model comes with a 500GB drive, 4GB of RAM, HDMI, and four USB ports. Best of all, the Mini takes up almost no space on the desktop. I use a wireless Apple keyboard and mouse with my Mini, but you can use almost any USB mouse and modern flat-panel display.

So the next time any would-be Mac user asks what to start with, or if you’re looking for a backup system, consider the Mini. It’s small and simple, but it’s also far more than just training wheels for Apple.

20 thoughts on “A most under-rated personal computer

  1. How does the fact that with the newer models, you are unable to increase or replace the memory affect the ‘value’ of the Mini?

    1. While the current Mac mini does not allow for a memory upgrade after purchase, unlike older generations, this is the current trend from Apple on their lower end models. The 21.5″ iMac (but not the 27″ iMac) also cannot be RAM upgraded. The Retina MacBook Pro series, the MacBook and MacBook Air, all cannot be upgraded later. This is the non-power user world of Apple nowadays. Just the MacPro and 27″ iMac offer user RAM upgrades. Call it a sad state of affairs, but that’s the way Apple goes now. All that being said, and perhaps sad too, in the case of the Mac mini, I think the target audience are not likely to want to upgrade the memory. They should be custom ordered with 16GB of RAM, as 8GB of RAM is marginal under OS X 10.11.x El Capitan.

  2. second the motion. i have a macbook air for laptop use and a mac mini with a big asus screen and a keyboard from someplace and it is a great desktop solution. long live the mini.

  3. I still use my PowerBookG4 17″ everyday.

    For an updated browsing experience, get TenFourFox from http://www.tenfourfox.com
    I don’t know if it will work with netflix or not but it supports HTML5 so it works with YouTube. They are usually a couple versions behind the latest FireFox releases but they keep updating regularly.

    You can use the latest versions of most software BUT you can get a lot of mileage from older applications like iLife 2008, FCP5, iDVD7 or Toast Titanium7, Audacity, PhotoShop CS4, VirtualPC (runs WinXP but realslow), MS Office 2008 or LibreOffice4, QuickBooks2009 to name a few PPC or Universal Binary apps.

    If you visit http://www.otherworldcomputing.com, you can find upgrade options for memory & harddrives. A mercury legacy pro SSD can breathe new life into an old Mac. they aren’t cheap though. You can try your own experiments with other SSD brands & adapters but results vary. Many 6G won’t work, so look for 3G SSDs.

    With new Macs on your home network, you can use screen sharing from the old PPC to a new intel Mac to run new apps that way and filesharing to exchange files as needed.

  4. I have had two minis, and i love them. I also have a wd drive that i use for long time storage. I have never felt the need for additional memory so being unable to add or replace it is a non-issue. If i were running a big website, i might opt for a larger mac, but given the reasons stated in this article, i think the mini is an excellent value.

    1. While the mini is not well suited for Desktop Publishing professionals, it still makes for a nice budget replacement for a Power Mac G4 or G5. Office workers – FileMaker Pro, MS Office, Mail, Safari will find it’s speed fine. The compact size is great and it uses very little power and is essentially silent. Earlier generations could have been purchased with a mobile style quad core processor. Those I have to give credit to being surprising fast, at least compared to older Mac mini generations. The Fusion drive or the PCIe based Flash Storage option on the better models, really makes a big difference in daily use.

      1. I agree with the most of being written except this one – “mini is not well suited for Desktop Publishing professionals.” I work in DTP studio, we make prepress for big printing factory and we have only 5 Mini Macs! Latest Adobe suite is on, Esko software too, and everything works just fine. And we’re talking about prepress for products like food and beverage packaging which means very large sheets containing many printing elements.
        In MHO (based on my experience), Mini is not well suited for video or 3D pros, for everything else – no problem!

  5. The Mac Mini is one of the best kept secrets in the computing world in my opinion. I purposely bought a slightly used 2012 Mac Mini a year or so ago (Intel i7 processor) as opposed to a new one so that I could upgrade it myself … it now has 16GB memory plus a 500GB SSD and runs like a scalded ape as they say. Married it up to a 27″ Asus monitor, Logitech Solar keyboard, Logitech Anywhere MX Mouse, and Samsung external DVD writer. Upgraded the ‘n’ WiFi using a Edimax AC450 WiFi USB adapter which works great with the Mini. Liked the system so much that I bought a used 2012 Mac Mini a couple months ago (Intel i5 processor) and upgraded it to the same specs for my son (i5 isn’t appreciably slower than the i7 it appears). Both of ours were bought used on eBay by the way, and they’re very easy to upgrade (unlike the newer Mac Minis where everything is soldered in and can’t be upgraded by the user).

  6. I use one 16 GB RAM mini Ethernet-linked to a LINUX based data-logger to transfer and analyze data, supervise and control instruments in a mobile lab. Is a very small, non-obtrusive box. It does all the work we need on the field. When available, it also provides Wi-Fi service to our laptops.

  7. I love Mac Minis, you get to choose the keyboard, mouse, monitor and all the other peripherals that suit you best and for Apple stuff they’re not eye-wateringly expensive. I up my MacMini every two years and flog the old ones on eBay for a very good return. And ideal I would imagine for someone switching from Windoze.

  8. I’ve been using Mac Mini’s for years – I have two in my home – one is pretty old and serves simply as the server for my music collection. The other is more up to date – and loaded with 8GB RAM. I boot from an external SSD and it works beautifully. Both minis are about as stable as a machine can be – utterly reliable and powerful enough for most tasks.

  9. Love my Mini, I have had a 2010 from new, totally reliable, expanded the ram to max a few years ago and haven’t looked back. So quiet you can’t tell If it is switched on or not without looking at the indicator light. It is now running latest software, has taken every upgrade like a trouper. Could not imagine wanting anything else. Would not want a new one now though as they no longer have a cd/DVD drive. The cd drive was even more impressive when I first bought it, the solid clunk as a cd nested itself into the drive screamed quality. LOVE my MacMini.

  10. I purchased the original Mac Mini when it came out and it was the most hosepower-challenged computer I had the the displeasure of using. This was during the PowerPC days, and Apple really skimmed on the L1 cache, if memory serves me correctly. I put the thing through plenty and was — in all fairness — likely overloading the poor little thing.

    As soon as I could I purchased a Mac Pro1,1. That was a nice bump from the Mini. When it came time to upgrade again, I intentionally purchased a Mac Pro5,1 rather than trying out the ashtray (or whatever they’re calling it). I didn’t like the fact that it didn’t have any SATA internal storage.

  11. I recently bought a used 2012 Mac Mini server – 8 GB RAM, 2 x 1 TB hard drives, running El Capitan/Server. Just put it in a corner to do some serving for our household, unify our data, and to test out our web site mods. I log on with my 2011 MacBookPro using screen sharing. Works great. Also it put new life into my old 2005 G4 PowerBook, which I had originally planned to sell on eBay. My wife likes to do a bit of web surfing but her iPhone 5S screen is pretty small!! So since she doesn’t like to AirPlay to the TV, she wondered if the old laptop would screen share, instead of buying a new screen/keyboard for the Mini. Turns out it does, running under 10.5.8 Leopard. So now she logs on with the G4 screen sharing to the Mini’s Safari for surfing and YouTube, as the G4 is too old for a lot of web stuff. So it’s a great little shared computer that extends life to other computers, and serves in the background.

  12. Back in 2014, I bought a PowerPC Mac Mini back in the spring of 2014 from a friend who found it the summer before at a yard sale. He told me the girl who was saling it at the yard sale told him it was a external DVD drive for her Dell PC, but her husband could never get it to work with her Dell. I had two PowerPC’s I used at home since 2009. One was a iMac Blue and the other was a Macintosh Performa 6200CD. Back in 2010 I bought MacOS X 10.2 Leopard from eBay for my personal home use. I got to reading and some of the software I wanted to run required MasOS X 10.4 Tiger. At my computer repair store I had a copy of MacOS X 10.4 Tiger on both CD and DVD that we used to repair Macintosh Machines. I read about a hack to install MacOS 10.4 on the iMac by removing it from the unsupported list of the installer on the CD/DVD. So, I copied my install DVD at work and removed all the unsupported machines in the installer. The Performa 6200CD still wouldn’t take Tiger to install, but the iMac with a 28Gig HDD and 1 Gig of RAM took Tiger like a champ. In 2014 I decided after getting the Mac Mini I would sale my other Macintosh computers. I love my Mac Mini PowerPC.

  13. I’m an early aviation historian (mostly before WWI). I write a lot, download and manipulate images for use with articles. I have one of the last Motorola based Minis. I also still use my old 1998 G4. If you don’t stream or download movies, they work well. Both have max memory. I also use a port expander for more USB connects. Both systems have many Apps including ADOBE, movie converters and other useful things. Not as fast as a new system, but have you priced Adobe CS for the Cloud?

    Notes: My wife and I each are using our second MacBooks. Yes, they are far better, but I have 15 years worth of files. We also have the latest Apps that we use and we bought full Adobe CS just before they withdrew it from the market.

  14. I’m on my third mini and it meets the ‘gap’ described here. Most recent model is a 2012 mini bought because it is upgradeable unlike the more recent ones. After a few months it ground to a halt and the Genius bar reinstalled OSX – their solution. I said I could’ve done that and asked why it was so slow. Ummm no response. I also asked about memory and they said 4GB was adequate. Well, it really isn’t. 4GB of memory will not run El Capitan adequately. I ran Etrecheck to verify this – insufficient memory indicated very clearly. I’ve now upgraded to 16GB and it’s fine. I’d advise caution in buying non-upradeable desktops of any kind.

  15. I gave up on Windows was tired of all the baggage of 20 years and got a mini mack. I may not know all the ins and outs of this system but I can say I am a
    lot happier every day.

  16. I am the Queen of Mac Minis! I used them as replacements for iMacs for 6 people in our all-Mac office, and use them to run both our network server and our Filemaker server. We have one attached to a large screen television in the office for presentations. They are real workhorses, and have enabled a small non-profit office to have fast, capable Macs that run our software beautifully without breaking the bank. Check out the latest version of the Mac Mini and you will see it is a great computer for just about all your needs. Get the most memory you can afford, and you will be using this for a long time. We just replaced the one that was running our server for 6 years. You can save some money by getting a discount monitor – or, as my daughter does, she just hooks hers up to her television.

  17. I recently replaced my old failed imac with a mini mac. It came with a T drive, 8G ram and El Capitan and it is a very nice package. Had to purchase a monitor but I got a hundred bucks off Apple’s list price. It still needs an external cd/dvd but I realized this cost going in. Overall a very high rating here.

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