New, improved, slower Mac Mini

The long awaited - by fans of the little silver Mac - updated Mini has arrived. Verdict: heavy on I/O and light on CPU. Here's what you need to know.
Written by Robin Harris, Contributor

The 2014 Mac Mini has some notable improvements. Haswell processors. Dual Thunderbolt 2 - 20Gbps each - ports. Faster graphics. 4k display support. And, at the low end, a $499 entry price.

But there are some major losses as well. No more beefy quad-core i7 processors. No FireWire 800.

Forget about video editing on these new Minis. They won't have the horsepower.

Dual vs quad

It will be a few days before the hardware sites get detailed benchmarks out. But we know that Intel processor performance has been essentially flat for the last 3 generations as they've pursued lower power consumption and greater battery life instead of performance.

Expect the fastest i5 MacBook Pros to be ≈15-20 percent faster than the 2 year old models. Not a bad thing, but hardly noticeable in normal usage.

The loss of the quad-core will hurt power users. The 2012 quad-core Mini is 30-40 percent faster than the newest dual-core i5 on parallelizable apps like video, audio and image editing.

Thunderbolt 2x2

But if your work is data rather than CPU intensive, this is your Mac Mini. With dual Thunderbolt 2 ports you can support up to 10 large Thunderbolt arrays - over 300TB currently and soon to be near a half petabyte - and store thousands Blu-ray movies or many hours of uncompressed HD footage.

With the 4k graphics support you could watch those movies on a nice 4k display - well, a 3840-by-2160 resolution at 30Hz - on your new Mini. And at 20Gbps, those Thunderbolt 2 channels won't bog down. The CPU? Maybe.

The blo-end Mini

The new $499 Mini will be deservedly ignored. The 1.4GHz i5 is pathetic and the 4GB of RAM insufficient for anything more than casual email and browsing. The 500GB disk drive will further cripple the user experience.

For people most likely to use the low-end Mini the new iPad Air 2 will be faster and easier to use. Way more portable too.

The Storage Bits take

The Mac Mini was last updated 2 years ago. The 2012 version was the first non-server Mini to offer a quad-core CPU. And maybe it will be the last.

That's too bad. While the added graphics and I/O performance of the new Minis will be attractive to some, the loss of the quad-core i7 will ensure the continued popularity of the 2012 quad Mini.

While Moore's Law still doubles the number of transistors every couple of years, those transistors aren't much help with performance. Instead, more features are implemented on the chip, reducing costs and power, not adding speed.

Best uses for the new Minis? Storage servers

Comments welcome, as always.


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