Written on: 28/03/2013 by diablo944 (16 reviews written)
I have been a PC user since the days when windows 98 was still new. The move to a Mac was always something I had avoided, mostly due to cost and software limitations (as in not a lot of it around for Macs). Recently I ran into an issue with my PC and a new GoPro camera. It just wouldnt play the video back from the camera without converting it first. Lots of hair pulling and forum reading finally made me look at a Mac as an option. The budget wouldn't stretch to the higher priced power macs, so a Mac mini was the only one I was willing to consider.
There are words of warning here. year by year the Mac mini has changed specifications so just saying its a Mac mini is not enough, Hence the description here of the spec I am using.
This review is based on the Highest spec processor available (a 2.6Ghz quad core i7) in a brand new 2013 (2012 spec being the latest as this is written but bought in 2013) mac mini supplied by Apple and the machine is fitted with 16Gb of ram now as opposed to the 4Gb it came with.
A base level model of a Mac mini may struggle to handle large video editing tasks. It can be done, but it could prove painfully slow. None of the current range of MiniMacs have a dedicated graphics card, instead opting for the Intel 4000 shared graphics card across the range. It is capable enough for my purposes, but it is worth noting that fitting bigger memory gives the Shared graphics more ram to play with making for a slight increase to its performance.
The lack of dedicated graphics card means the main CPU is doing all the work, so for me I needed the fastest processor. Bear in mind that although it is a quad core processor, not all the programs on the Mac will utilise all 4 cores. It can get very complicated very quickly if you are trying to work out which specification is best for you.
In terms of expense? again it is a dangerous area full of pitfalls. Apple advertise the Mini as starting at 499.00 but that is for the absolute base level model. it comes with a 2.5Ghz Dual core i5 and only a 500Gb hard drive. Upping the spec to the 2.3Ghz quad core i7 adds a whopping 179 pounds to the cost but does bring a 1Tb drive to the setup. Going the whole way to the fastest processor adds another 80 pounds over and above the cost of the 2.3 quad core (and a two week delivery instead of next day as it seems they are made to order rather than sitting on a shelf ready to go).
For another 200 pounds you could specify a fusion drive (a 1Tb HDD combined with 128gb Flash memory). The combo fusion drive uses the flash ram for the most used programs and over time transfers the programs and files you use most to the flash memory to decrease loading times. I couldn't justify another 200 pounds so the Fusion drive was an option I didn't take up.
All the 2012/13 Mac Minis come fitted with a 5200rpm hard drive and all are fitted with 4Gb of ram as standard. Options exist during ordering to upgrade the memory. Beware the Apple memory costs, they are not cheap and 16Gb will hit you for another 200 pounds. You can buy the same Sodimm memory online for around 70 pounds and unlike older versions of the mini, opening the case is a simple twist of the base to expose the memory slots and allow you to pop the memory out and easily replace it with the new sodimms. It is a replacement, there are only 2 slots so you need two 8gb sticks and the 2 original 2gb sticks become redundant. Replacing memory is the ONLY internal replaceable component that can be done by a non tech savvy user.
The mini comes with nothing else but a HDMI adapter cable and a power cable. Mine is used with a full HD television and initially I used a USB PC keyboard and a Microsoft Bluetooth mouse to control it. It was an ok arrangement but was massively improved once I bought the magic trackpad (silly name, good piece of kit). Like everything else Apple, it wasn't cheap.
I bought a keyboard from ebay soon after and that and haven't regretted it. The silver slim keyboard and the trackpad were both begging for the addition of a twelvesouth magic wand though, so that was bought soon after ( a simple and elegant way to fix the 2 together, nothing more and nothing less).
In use the machine itself has proved more than capable of what I am asking of it. Slowly but surely it is beginning to tempt me away from the PC. I still haven't committed fully to the Apple mac mini and still use my PC for some things as they are still my first port of call. But in many ways the Mac is catching up.
Importing an hours worth of video from the GoPro takes around 20-30 minutes. Exporting that same footage as a complete film once edited (from iMovie as an example) takes around 15 minutes. Fast enough for me. Plus the Mac mini plays the footage flawlessly where my PC just ground to a halt so I cannot complain really.
Anyone considering their first mac would do well to consider a Mini, it isnt cheap by any stretch, and I am sure you could get a better spec windows PC for considerably less, but the Mini (at least in the spec I chose) is an admirable little unit.
It runs near silent, the Only time I have heard the fan is when I was doing a lot of video editing the other night, but that was the first time I have heard it since I bought it some months back. I was obviously working it hard that night.
There are things I dont like, but these are things to do with the Apple operating system (Mountain lion by the way, or OSX). The X in OSX is a ten by the way, so dont go calling it OS Ecks or Apple fanboys will rib you for it. Losing right click cut and paste is odd for a windows user. The options are still there, but they need to involve shortcuts to work. Slowly they become second nature, but it is definitely hard to adjust to the differences between windows and the Apple way of doing things.
I wish there were more USB ports, the 4 USB3 ports on the back are soon used up. There is no DVD rom drive on the Mini. I had an old PC external for a netbook and it works fine, but it does use 2 USB ports, one for power and one for data.
Located on the back and next to the ports is an SD card reader slot. It isn't the best place for a card reader and again exposes Apple form over function philosophy. It would be better on the front but it would ruin the looks of the case.
XBMC works fine on the Mac mini, and pairing a bluetooth remote with the mini is simple and quick making the unit into a more than capable media centre with a miniscule footprint.
One other area that PC owners NEED to know if they are buying a mini is that Mac OSX can read an NTFS format drive but writing is another issue altogether. Out of the box OSX cannot write to an NTFS drive. I did spot an app on the machine this week that relates to NTFS but havent played with it yet. For those buying an external hard drive though, you need to get one that you are willing to let OSX format for you if you intend using Apples Time machine software. Look into it BEFORE you buy an external drive. I bought a 3Tb network drive shortly after buying the mini and had nothing but trouble with it. despite the drive saying 'for mac and PC' on the box, it turned out all the main features were for the PC while the Mac side was rudimentary at best. transferring files over 2 Gb to the drive took an eternity, one 2.5 gb file took 50 minutes to transfer. Hitting the seagate forums soon confirmed it wasnt something I was doing wrong, it was a limitation of the network drive. be careful with external HDD choices.
In general use the Mac mini is turning out to be a joy to work with. Yes it has less software available than a windows pc, but in my case it is doing exactly what i want of it and it is doing it well.
If you already have Apple products like iphone and ipads in your house, the connectivity side is fantastic.
The mini comes with iWorks as part of its software suite, so there are a number of useful things built in to cater for the video and image handling side of things.
I can see why people who bought a Mac as their first computer would hate windows Pcs, while a PC owner changing to a Mac may find things frustrating until they get used to the operating system. I for one am finding that the Mac mini is an admirable performer. I am still suffering mental breakdown type thoughts at how much it has cost, but in a strange way I am not regretting it.
I am glad I bought the fastest processor though. I rarely see the spinning circle (like the old hourglass of windows) and when I do it is only for a brief moment, but every time I do see it I am thankful for the fast processor as it reminds me why I spent the extra money. If I am seeing it with the fastest CPU and 16Gb of ram, I hate to think what the slower processor and 4gb of ram would mean in terms of time spent watching the spinning wheel and waiting for something to load.
In terms of giving a rating (which this review page is waiting for when I finish typing this) A new user with no computer knowledge would find a mac easy to use. while someone from a windows background might struggle a little for a while.
Setting it up is simplicity itself, but in terms of value for money? I personally feel tat anything Apple is overpriced. Often gorgeous to look at and functional to use, but still expensive. The Apple KINKIE (Keep It Neat Keep It Expensive) approach makes for a hard justification when it comes to value for money. For that reason I will only give it a 3 out of 5.