At Apple’s recent event where the company introduced its new iPad Mini tablet, the updates to its desktop Mac lineup — including the Mac Mini — went largely unnoticed. Not because they aren’t noteworthy, but because they were simply drowned out.
The Mac Mini is Apple’s entry-level Mac, a few steps below its more powerful iMac all-in-one in terms of both power and price. Part of the reason it’s cheaper is because its performance isn’t as good, but another part is because it doesn’t include any extraneous parts. If the iMac’s an all-in-one, the Mac Mini is practically a nothing-in-one; it doesn’t even include a DVD drive. And yet you can hook it up to a screen, a mouse, and a keyboard, and have a fully working computer system.
What does the Mac Mini come with, what will you need to buy along with it, and which kind should you get?
Mac Mini models
There are three kinds of Mac Mini available: The budget $599 model, the deluxe model for $799, and the Mac Mini server. If you’re in the market for server hardware, you already know what you need to get, so let’s take a look at the other two.
One difference is straightforward: The $799 Mac Mini comes with a 1 TB hard drive instead of a 500 GB one. Less obvious, however, is the fact that only the $799 model lets you select the Fusion Drive option when customizing it. This $250 add-on basically straps a 128 GB solid-state drive onto the hard disk, acting like a turbocharger for your whole system by keeping the Mac OS and your most frequently-used files on its high-speed flash memory.
The other difference, processor speed, is a little misleading. Sure, the more expensive Mac Mini runs at 2.3 GHz instead of 2.5 GHz, but it’s also a quad-core processor instead of a dual-core one. That makes it substantially more powerful for things like gaming and video editing. Just don’t expect the same kind of gaming performance as a MacBook Pro, or the same speed as a MacBook Air, unless you spring for the Fusion Drive.
Mac Mini accessories
What’s in the box? A power cord and an HDMI to DVI adapter. That’s it. There’s not even a cord to connect it up to your monitor.
Whether you already have a monitor or HDTV that you’re going to plug your Mac Mini into, or you’re buying a new one to go with it, check the ports on both and make sure that you get the right cable. If you’re getting a budget monitor with a VGA port, for instance, you want one of Apple’s Mini DisplayPort to VGA adapters. And if you’re planning to plug it into your HDTV, as sort of a super-deluxe Apple TV box, you’ll need a standard HDMI cable.
Which keyboard and mouse you get are up to you. A compact wireless keyboard and mouse go great with the Mac Mini, since its small size lets it fit in spaces where larger peripherals can’t, but you’re free to use whatever you’ve already got so long as it’s USB or wireless.
The Mac Mini comes with Apple’s iLife suite for photo- and video-editing as well as music creation, plus basic OS X apps. There are a ton of free Mac apps out there if you want to upgrade, and Apple’s iWork suite is only $19 per app … a lot cheaper than Microsoft Office. Also consider third-party alternatives to Office and Photoshop, like Bean and Acorn.
Whatever you get, make sure that it suits your needs, and have fun with it!