2018 Mac mini review roundup: Pricey but impressively powerful

By

Apple Mac mini 2018
Apple packed a lot of power inside the new Mac mini's space gray case.
Photo: Apple

The Mac mini is back! It’s no longer the ultra-affordable entry to macOS it once was. But it’s still the cheapest Apple computer you can buy — and there’s a good reason for the price hike.

This year’s upgrade (the first since 2014) makes it the fastest and most impressive Mac mini yet. Intel’s latest chips, coupled with faster RAM, ample storage options and all the ports you need are squeezed inside its tiny shell.

Here’s what the reviewers are saying so far.

2018 Mac mini reviews

The new Mac mini is a tiny powerhouse

There’s one big reason why the Mac mini now starts at $799 — $300 more than its predecessor. Apple squeezed all the power it could inside. The standard configuration comes with a quad-core Intel Core i3 processor, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD.

If you want to, and you have the budget, you can take the Mac mini to the max with a six-core Intel Core i7 processor, 64GB of RAM, and a 2TB SSD. There is no option for dedicated graphics, unfortunately, but for everyday tasks, the Mac mini is a speedy machine.

“The new 2018 Mac mini is impressively powerful, even for the entry-level model,” writes Andrew O’Hara for AppleInsider. “It is encouraging to see Apple deliver such a well-thought-out upgrade that was desperately needed.”

“This new Mac mini is exactly what it needs to be,” writes Jason Snell for Six Colors. “This update allows it to span a wide range from basic server needs all the way up to high-end applications that require a great deal of processor power, fast storage, ultra-fast networking, and even beyond.”

Multiple cores for more power

There's a lot going on inside the 2018 Mac mini
There’s a lot going on inside the Mac mini.
Photo: Apple

“In the Geekbench 64-bit Multi-Core test, the $799 Mac mini more than doubled the performance of the three older models,” writes Roman Loyola for Macworld. “Bottom line: If you use apps that can take advantage of multiple cores, you’re going to see a huge speed increase with the new Mac mini. It’s well worth the cost of upgrading.”

“Of course, even the lowest-speced version should be plenty fine for most tasks,” adds Brian Heater for TechCrunch. “I’ve shifted my standard tech blogger work flow over the machine for the last couple of days and am perfectly happy with the results.”

Developer Marco Arment, one of the few to receive a high-end Mac mini from Apple, was even more impressed with its performance. “This Mac mini builds my app, Overcast, much faster than my maxed-out 13-inch MacBook Pro, and about as quickly as my 10-core iMac Pro!” he writes.

Apple touted the new Mac mini as a creative machine during its recent keynote, and it’s great to see that the device is living up to the company’s promises. Granted, those who do “pro” work every day — video editing, etc. — might want something with a bit more kick (and discrete graphics). But for the vast majority, the new Mac mini will tackle everything with ease.

The Mac mini has all the ports you need

If you take away its space gray finish, the new Mac mini looks just like its predecessors. Apple didn’t make any changes to its aluminum shell. That might disappoint some, but it has an upside: There’s still plenty of room for all the ports you need.

Those ports have been updated, however. You get four USB-C ports, two USB-A ports, HDMI and an audio jack. There’s also a Gigabit Ethernet connection. (If you need it, you can pay a little more to upgrade to the latest 10Gb Ethernet standard.)

Apple Mac mini 2018 has all the ports you expect from a desktop
Mac mini has all the ports you expect from a desktop.
Photo: Apple

“Also notable here are the crazy number of ports available on the rear of the device,” notes Heater. “The biggest turn on the I/O side of things, however, is the inclusion of an impressive four Thunderbolt 3 ports. That’s the same number found on the iMac Pro and twice as many as you get on the 2017 standard iMac.”

“The ports are different, and versatile,” says Snell. “Like the iMac Pro, the Mac mini recognizes that it’s useful to offer both USB-C/Thunderbolt 3 and USB-A ports.”

The Mac mini is user-upgradeable!

Under the hood, there are some nice surprises, too. Apple apparently accepted the fact that nobody likes having their RAM soldered to the logic board. So, unlike the 2014 model, the 2018 Mac mini can be user-upgraded. (Sadly, you can’t upgrade the storage.)

“The 2018 model offers more traditional SO-DIMM slots, so you can swap out RAM, allowing you to upgrade the unit after purchase,” says Tom’s Guide. “It also means you’ll be better able to keep the Mac mini up to date if Apple takes another four-year break before introducing the next model.”

“Considering Apple’s costs on memory upgrades, the fact that the chips are slotted and not soldered into the board is giant,” adds AppleInsider. “It’s a fairly simple procedure, though not as easy as some of the previous minis from 2012 and earlier, necessitating a spudger, and a set of security Torx drivers.”

Upgrading your Mac mini’s RAM won’t void your Apple warranty. However, you won’t be covered if you inadvertently break something while you’re doing it. If you don’t know what you’re doing or you feel uncomfortable, have a professional technician do it for you.

2018 Mac mini: The verdict

2018 Mac mini
The Mac mini is finally fit for creatives.
Photo: Apple

There’s a lot you don’t get with the Mac mini, like a dedicated graphics chip (as we’ve mentioned). And, more obviously, you need to supply your own display, keyboard and mouse. So, even with the improvements Apple made, is the 2018 Mac mini worth $799?

Absolutely!

“The Mac mini is undoubtedly a powerful upgrade over its predecessor and an interesting glimpse into the future of the Mac ecosystem,” concludes TechCrunch. “The mini is still the best-priced gateway into a desktop Mac ecosystem, but the definition of entry-level has clearly shifted for Apple since the last ‘go round.”

“This is either the first in a series of regular updates with which Apple proves that they care about the Mac mini again, or it’s the last Mac mini that will ever exist and we’ll all be hoarding them in a few years. We can’t know yet,” writes Arment. “But today, this is a great update, a wonderful all-arounder for lots of potential needs, and just a fantastic little computer.”

“One major benefit of Apple’s four-year gap between updates is that there’s no confusion about the new Mac mini — it’s better than any of its predecessors. And if you’ve been looking for a chance to upgrade from an older model, there’s no reason to wait,” adds Tom’s Guide. “It’s also much more versatile, with a wide range of configurations that should appeal to home-theater users and media pros alike.”