Which Mac mini To Buy? Get The $799 2.5Ghz Intel Core i5 Model With 4GB Of RAM. Here’s Why

Which Mac mini To Buy? Get The $799 2.5Ghz Intel Core i5 Model With 4GB Of RAM. Here’s Why

Apple’s refreshed 2011 Mac minis are a tempting choice for users who want a roc solid, low-footprint desktop machine on a budget. But exactly how much of a budget do you need to allot yourself?

No matter which Mac mini you buy, you’ll be getting a deceptively small machine, absolutely packed with some top-of-the-line tech, like Thunderbolt. But if we had to recommend just one, we’d recommend the $799 Mac mini with a 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 processor and 4GB of RAM.

Here’s why.

Why 2.5GHz, Not 2.3GHz?

To be honest, the difference between the entry-level $599 Mac mini’s 2.3GHz Core i5 CPU and the $799 Mac mini’s 2.5Ghz Core i5 CPU is pretty unimportant. Why not go for the cheaper option?

Easy: the graphics.

In the $599 Mac mini, Apple is using the Core i5 CPUs integrated graphics chip. It’s a way inferior graphics chip to the $799 mini’s dedicated AMD Radeon HD 6630M. Not only does the integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 GPU piggyback off of your system’s DDR3 RAM, taking valuable memory from your system, but some argue that the integrated graphics of the Core i5 series is inferior even to the entry level mid 2010 Mac mini’s discrete NVIDIA GeForce 9400M GPU.

OS X is a 3D operating system, and needs a good GPU. While the bump to clock speed in the $799 Mac mini is nice, it’s the addition of a discrete GPU that makes all the performance difference in the world. With the AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics, the $799 Mac mini should be a capable enough machine for most video editing and even some current 3D games.

As for bumping the processor up to a 2.7GHz Intel Core i7 processor? It’s only $100, but for most users, we doubt you’ll see much of a difference.

What About Upgrading The RAM?

Don’t upgrade the RAM… at least, don’t upgrade it through Apple.

Honestly, you want to stuff most computers with as much RAM as you can afford. The problem with Apple’s memory upgrades, though, is they are outrageously expensive: to upgrade your Mac mini to 8GB of RAM, you need to add $200 to the price of the machine.

That’s expensive, and it should be possible in the coming weeks to purchase a supplemental 4GB stick of DDR3 1333GHz RAM that works with the Mac mini for significantly less. And even though Apple has been fairly unfriendly to DIY types with their recent designs, the Mac mini should still have user upgradeable memory.

We think you can pass on having Apple upgrade your Mac mini’s RAM for you, for the time being. 4GB should be just fine.

What About More Disc Space?

Honestly, it’s just not worth the premium. A 250GB jump to a 750GB HDD @ 7200 RPM costs an outrageous $150. Plus, with that Thunderbolt port, you can simply buy a Thunderbolt equipped external drive and supplement your storage with that without noticing much (if any) of a performance hit… and if you ever trade in your Mac mini for a new machine, you can take the drive with you.

What about an SSD? For a $600 fee, Apple will install a 256GB solid state drive. The performance benefits of an SSD can’t be overstated, but even so, that’s just too much money. If you’re really feeling adventurous, you can wait for the likes of OWC to release an SSD upgrade kit for the Mac mini and do this upgrade yourself later down the line for a much lower price.

Anything Else?

This isn’t for everyone, but if you’re bothered by the fact that Apple ditched an optical SuperDrive in the 2011 Mac minis, you’ll probably want to pay $79 for an external superdrive at checkout: an external USB optical drive will be the only way to watch DVDs (or burn them) from here on out.

Wrap-Up

The biggest decision to make when buying a new 2011 Mac mini is how important graphical performance is for you. Even so, because of the advantages of the AMD Radeon HD 6630M GPU, we think the $799 Mac mini, stock, is the best all around option available, supplemented — as needed — with Apple’s $79 external superdrive.

Conclusion: 2.5GHz Intel Core i5 Mac mini With 4GB of RAM

What do you think of our recommendation? Agree? Disagree? Let us know which Mac mini you’d get in the comments.

Related
  • Charlotte Ducours

    Well, that’s sounds good, but if I want to use it as a media center to play 1080 movies, I guess the cheapest one is ok, right ?

  • JustinKendall

    The only parts I disagree with are:

    Telling people not to upgrade to a bigger hard drive because “Plus, with that Thunderbolt port, you can simply buy a Thunderbolt
    equipped external drive and supplement your storage with that without
    noticing much (if any) of a performance hit”. Problem is at the moment the only Thunderbolt equipped hard drive is a Pegasus Raid System that starts at $999 from Apple. Their are currently no external Thunderbolt drives and who knows when they will be available. You could have just told them to get a external hard drive and left out mention of Thunderbolt from that sentence.

    And “the $799 Mac mini should be a capable enough machine for most video editing”. If they’re doing home movies on iMovie then you’re probably right. But if they are a small independent filmmaker trying to edit a hour plus long movie on either Premiere Pro or Final Cut Pro then they’re going to need the 8GB of memory. Realistically they should just get a Mac Pro but not everyone has that kind of budget, especially independent filmmakers. If I was a independent filmmaker and was buying a Mac Mini I would pay the $200 for the additional memory to come installed. $200 upfront is better than slowed productivity and waiting a month or so for memory to become available that works with the Mac Mini. Another thing to consider is what if Apple changed the design and users can’t upgrade the memory on their own?

    Also, I would pay for the 2.7GHZ i7 for the speed increase if doing anything regarding film or animation. I’d also recommend getting the external Superdrive just for the fact that a lot of people, especially designers already own the software they want to use on the machine and will need a way to install it.

  • brownlee

    Sure.

  • brownlee

    Well, yes, pros will need more than a Mac mini, but this isn’t about endless granularity: this is about recommending the machine that is the best buy for the vast majority of consumers.

    You’re right about the Thunderbolt drive, but that’s not going to last long. 

  • Viral Pig

    What about upgrading to the Mac Mini Server with the quad core i7 chip?  Faster processor, but limited to the Intel integrated graphics.  

  • Evan Benford

    They removed the optical drive…the mac mini to a lot of people will now be worthless since many plug it into their television. Perfect update would’ve added 4GB RAM standard and blu-ray (which Apple will never do).

  • dagamer34

    Because most people will take advantage of the GPU more often than the other two cores of the CPU. Those are only truly useful for tasks like video encoding. The entire compositing stack is built on the GPU, so it’s good to have a powerful one.

  • dagamer34

    Most people own a computer that has a CD drive in it, so you can use Remote Disc to access it. And I’d recommend ripping all of your discs to a .dmg file for later use anyway because it’s a lot easier to deal with than a CD. 

  • Tomcat

    Going to be going for the i5 with Amd graphics. Best all rounder for everyday use. Ive got a  Sony USB drive that I used with my netbooks so no biggie for me that it has no SuperDrive.

  • techgeek01

    Buy an entry level iMac.  Much better deal.  Plus you get a screen, keyboard and mouse with the computer as well.  ;)

  • huyett

    Video editing professionals aren’t looking for a mac mini.

  • Fado

    But thankfully OWC (and LG) does blu-ray: http://eshop.macsales.com/item

  • AnthonyFear

    The iMac is much better value, but if you can’t afford an iMac (try the refurb store to save a few $), or you need a small footprint computer for something specific i.e. as a server (which I do), then buy the cheapest Mac Mini it’ll be plenty good enough. Then upgrade the RAM yourself.
     

  • BeholdersEye

    I was waiting for the new mini and …… bang, Jobs screw us again, I will not buy a mini now unless they offer a free air super drive. No USB 3, thunderbolt?what?, what connects to a thunderbolt? Nothing I buying.

  • ajpipp

    So I am not a heavy gamer but I do like to play wow and run the detail high. Will this ones gnu fan ramp up so I can not think straight like my 13 Mac book pro? Thanks for any info.

  • Aaron

    I had essentially the same question as Viral Pig. I use Photoshop, Final Cut, Motion, Aperture, Logic Pro and Abelton Live, and I’m mostly concerned with the performance of those pro-type apps. Will I get more out of the Quad-core with lesser GPU or Dual Core with better GPU?
    I’m concerned more with Photoshop/Illustrator and Final Cut performance than anything else. 
    (Also, I know a Mac Pro is ideal for my type work, but the Mini is in my budget range and seems to pack a lot much more punch than it used to… basically on par with low-mid lvl MBP)
    Please, anyone, chime in with thoughts on CPU vs. GPU for video editing….

    Thanks

  • dagamer34

    Go with the dual-core version with a better GPU. While Final Cut Pro X would benefit from more cores, since it does background rendering, you aren’t going to notice when it’s “done”. And if you are using Final Cut Pro 7, more cores won’t help you as it’s a single core app.

    Everything in OS X is GPU accelerated, and it helps to have a powerful GPU to do with with it’s own video RAM. System RAM can be plentiful, but it is not as fast as VRAM.

    Lastly, you can play games on the $799 version!

  • Nicholas Peterson

    putting memory in the mini takes about a 2 minute trip to newegg, selecting the right memory, and shipping. It will be at your house before that mini ever arrives. Memory is so easy I don’t know why mac fans make it seem such a pain, just pick a matched set of SO-Dim at the same speed and voltage as stock mac memory. $50 will get you 8gb. Never upgrade memory from Apple store.

  • Technokush

    SNOB ALERT!!!

  • Technokush

    Did you find the answer to this pal?  I’m not fussed about graphics, just audio, so would like a nice quiet computer…

  • Technokush

    iMac has a nasty shiny screen and isn’t really portable, besides this article is about which mac mini is best value so what you on iMac commission or summat?

  • Nathan Scandella

    Uh, Sorry.  Ripping to .dmg is not easier that using a CD.  CDs (or DVDs) are ubiquitous and could not be simpler.  This is a bad decision by Apple.

  • Christian Stadler

    If I only care about watching big, beefy HD video files (1080p), do I need this graphics boost, or can I just get the entry-level?  I’m not going to be playing 3d games or editing video…

  • Dewdana

    I know this is an old post but incase someone is watching…. I want to use a Mac mini as a ‘media center’ I stream HD, download torrent video and assume the entry level will work for that but I would also like to run something like parallels or similar to occasionally be able to do work related stuff. I have a 2009 MBP at the moment with 2.53 core2 duo and 4GB ram (OSX lion) and often feel like I am operating at the limits of the hardware (I have never even attempted something like parallels b/c of this) so it just does not seem possible that the entry level will be better? Will the processor make that much of a difference?

  • Grwm

    Im an editor. Just ordered the i7 with ssd and 750 with 4x2gb raid. It’ll be faster than my 1.1 gen Mac pro.

  • Bacilio C

    I don’t remember when the last time i used a CD or DVD was, so to say it’s worthless is only meant for people who are still attached to archaic forms of media.

  • Bacilio C

    Ubiquitous but archaic.  When i first saw it i thought to myself “wait… no cd drive? that’s stupid”, but then i started thinking to myself “wait… when was the last time you used a CD or DVD?”

  • Bacilio C

    I’m still debating on which one to get myself.  It seems like we’d be using it for the same reason.  The entry level would be fine for Parallels just make sure to upgrade your ram to 8gb (you may not NEED it to be able to run Parallels but at $50 from sites like crucial.com, i really don’t see a reason why you shouldn’t).

  • nottinhill

    deleted

  • cyclekarl

    I can’t believe how cheap the Mac Mini is in America the cheapest model costs £529 in Britain which is $824 I did want one of these,but the price has put me off,I think I will look out for an older used model instead.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his wife and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

(sorry, you need Javascript to see this e-mail address)| Read more posts by .

Posted in News, Opinions, Top stories | Tagged: , , |