Apple Mac mini Review

Updated April 30, 2014
cs-product-header
Mac mini

Apple's least expensive desktop computer has grown into a competent performer even in its base version. Step-up versions are performance powerhouses -- except when it comes to gaming -- that can keep up and even beat like-priced Windows competitors.

PerformanceProsFast performance, Small, unobtrusive case, Strong connectivityConsNo optical drive, Still uses 3rd generation Intel processors, Monitor, keyboard, mouse all not included

Design

Little changed, and that's a good thing. Reviewers say that from the outside it's tough to see any changes from the previous version of the Apple Mac mini. The brushed aluminum exterior, rounded corners and small dimensions result in a box that can be left out to be admired, or tucked away easily.

One of the perpetual knocks over the Mac mini is that those pretty-much essential peripherals are not included. On the other hand, except for all-in-ones, monitors are rarely included with any desktop computer, and the keyboards and mice that are packaged with typical systems are, ahem, not always of the best quality. A bigger concern is the lack of an optical drive of any kind. One of the mini's popular uses is as a home theater PC, and that shortfall puts a little bit of a crimp in home theater viewing, as you'll need a stand-alone Blu-ray Disc or DVD player if you want your entertainment in physical as well as streaming format.

Beyond that, the Mac mini is well equipped with a good assortment of connectivity, including an HDMI output. You'll also find four USB 3.0 ports, and a FireWire port, Thunderbolt port, SDXC memory card slot, Ethernet port, Bluetooth and 802.11 a/b/g/n Wi-Fi. There's also an IR receiver for easier integration with a home theater setup.

Support & reliability

Great build quality, average warranty. Apple's warranty is nothing special at one year -- but only 90 days of telephone support. However, that's supplemented by what's considered to be the best customer service in the industry and generally solid build quality. For those near an Apple store, there's also the convenience of a visit to the Genius Bar if you run into problems.

Value

The "Apple tax" is quite small. Most reviewers note that you pay a premium for Apple's ecosystem and solid build quality. With the Mac mini, however, several follow that up by saying that the price is competitive with Windows boxes of similar quality and power, even if you opt for the admittedly expensive Fusion drive add-on.

Our Sources

1. PCMag.com

Apple Mac Mini (Late 2012), Brian Westover, Nov. 20, 2012

PCMag.com grants the Mac mini an Editors' Choice award based on its review of the middle model in the series, upgraded with an optional Fusion drive. Brian Westover calls the configuration the best Mac mini yet and compliments it for its powerful and fast performance.

2. CNET

Apple Mac Mini with Fusion Drive Review: A Strong, New Mac Mini, with or Without Fusion, Rich Brown, Updated Nov. 11, 2013

CNET also reviews the step-up Mac mini. Rich Brown very much likes the Fusion drive. He says that even without it the mini is a serious competitor to Windows desktop computers in the same price range, as the component lineup is solid and performance is fast.

3. The Verge

Apple iMac and Mac Mini Review (Late 2012), David Pierce, Nov. 30, 2012

David Pierce says the Mac mini might be small, "but it packs a wallop." There are lots of positives, especially in the step-up model with Fusion drive, but the decision to remove discrete graphics makes it a less appealing option for gamers.

4. Macworld

Review: New Mac Mini Offers an Attractive Bang for the Buck, James Galbraith, Nov. 2, 2012

Macworld is one of the few to rate the base Mac mini (with a Core i5 processor). It also looks at the step-up Core i7 version. The step-up version is called more attractive, but the base Mac mini is improved as well, and remains "an affordable option for anyone wanting the Mac experience without paying a high premium."

5. Amazon.com

Apple Mac Mini MD387LL/A Desktop (Newest Version), Contributors to Amazon.com, As of April 2014

The base version of the Mac mini has attracted more than 300 user reviews at Amazon.com, and satisfaction runs high. This Apple desktop computer earns an overall rating of 4.5 stars, with most owners granting it a perfect score (5 stars). Elsewhere on the site, the middle configuration in the series earns a similar score (4.5 stars) but that's based on less feedback (around 180 reviews at last look).

6. BestBuy.com

Apple - Mac Mini - 4GB Memory - 500GB Hard Drive, Contributors to BestBuy.com, As of April 2014

Satisfaction with the Mac mini appears even higher at BestBuy.com. Feedback for the base version is more extensive (around 415 reviews) and the rating is an impressive 4.7 stars. Around 96 percent say that they would recommend this Apple desktop computer to a friend. The step-up configuration gets about half as many reviews, but fares even a touch better with a rating of 4.8 stars and around 98 percent saying they would recommend the Mac mini.