diglloyd Mac Performance Guide

The Speed You Need

2012 Mac Mini

Last updated November 03, 2012 - Send Feedback

With up to a 2.6 GHz quad-core CPU, the new MacMini is a winner for anyone who already has a screen and keyboard.

The MacMini can now be a hot little number!

  • Fast quad-core CPU up to 2.6 GHz (for only $899!).
  • Up to 16GB memory.
  • Up to two internal hard drives or SSDs (960GB X 2 SSD possible via OWC upgrade).
  • Four USB 3.0 ports. This is a critical improvement; it allows connecting high-speed peripherals, such as backup drives. USB 3.0 is especially valuable for hyper-fast SSD-based external drives, but also high capacity external hard drives.
  • One Thunderbolt port, handy for (for example) ultra high speed PCIe SSD support, such as the Mercury Helios, assuming it can be daisy-chained off a Thunderbolt display (unsure here).
  • Firewire 800 port — handy for compatibility.
  • SDXC card slot — easy download of digital camera image files.
  • Gigabit ethernet. Perfect for networking.

What’s missing?

The MacMini is cool.

And disappointing: what would happen if it had four memory slots to make 32GB possible, one short PCIe slot and two Thunderbolt ports and four USB ports and a slightly faster CPU? It would be killer. And so what if it were twice its diminutive size? It would not be quite as chic, but would still be very small, and it would be a Mac Pro alternative for some users. Apple always seems to truncate Mac products short of greatness.

Could a MacMini tide you over until the next Mac Pro model?

Waiting for a new Mac Pro sometime next year? A quad-core 2.66 GHz MacMini with 16GB memory from OWC will cost you about $1014. The memory won’t move forward, but if you install a fast 6G SSD, that handily solves the disk I/O speed issue, and it and any USB 3 backup drives can move forward into a Mac Pro, as can a display.

To be clear, 16GB memory is way too limiting for my uses, but for many users it will do the job. And so the above might make sense for those on the fence waiting and currently without a Mac Pro.

On the other hand, Apple certified refurbished 2.8 GHz quad-core Mac Pros are reasonably priced, so maybe it’s really only a solution if the budget has to be kept in check. We’re talking ~$950 more to get a Mac Pro vs Mac Mini (I’m counting the cost of 16GB for the Mac Pro in there).

So maybe the MacMini is really the best value for those looking for tiny. Or for a file server or music server, etc.

Reader comments

Mark W writes:

I am currently running a Mac Mini server (the 2011 version with 16GB memory).

I had several thoughts:

- With the fast interfaces (i.e. USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt), I think there really an advantage to having ones drives external because of maintenance issues (i.e. one can replace/add/remove drives without having to do surgery on the system) without having to give up on the performance.

- I would rather use hardware RAID than software RAID - seems more reliable to me. I currently use the CalDigit drives and have found them to be reliable.

- The physical footprint of a Mac Mini and a RAID drive (such as the CalDigit VR2) is much smaller than a Mac Pro. Also the power consumption is lower (not a minor consideration as electricity is relatively expensive in the northeastern US).

- I put all user files on the external HW RAID drives and use the second internal drive as a Time Machine backup of the primary system drive. This allows me to rebuild the primary drive relatively quickly should it fail.

- I see the primary disadvantages being the limited memory capacity (16Gb) (as you mention) and potentially the inability to put higher performance video cards in the machine.

Thus, overall, I find the Mac Mini server to be very useful and well priced as a server. Reliability has been superb.

DIGLLOYD: Regarding drive failures, the high quality power supply and cooling system of a Mac Pro are unbeatable (and quiet). Adding/replacing a drive is not “surgery” but very fast and straightforward (not so for an iMac though). External drives are unlikely to have the same quality power supply or cooling system as the Mac Pro, so I’m not going to agree that external is better comparing a MacMini to Mac Pro. Also, the added noise of external drives is not a win, and cables cost money and can have problems too, be crimped, go bad, etc.

On the flip side, power consumption of a MacMini indeed a lot lower (though the gap closes considerably if one uses an external RAID). And it’s a lot smaller. It makes the most sense so long as one uses the internal drives and perhaps one external; once there are 2/3/4 drives, this becomes a mess, and I’d say a Mac Pro starts to look a lot more favorable.

Regarding reliability, I would expect the MacMini to be quite reliable, but it’s the hard drives that are the main concern in most systems.

The best choice comes down to what the machine will actually be used for; the Mac Pro wins hands down as a workstation that doubles as a server (far more expandable, far more top-end memory, PCIe cards, storage, etc), but is a very bulky box for, say, a home media server where one only needs less than 10TB storage. Given that a MacMini with 16GB is over $1000, a Mac Pro 2.8 GHz refurb for $2819 is not very far away and far more attractive if it is to be used as more than a headless server in a closet.


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