Getting to Know the Mac mini

Apple has been known for innovative home and business computing since the days of the Macintosh. From the portable MacBook Air to the powerful iMac Pro, the company produces machines to meet a variety of consumer needs. The Mac mini is a unique device within the Apple product line. With its 7.7-inch square shape, it is hard to believe that this is a real computer.

Designed for Versatility

The Mac mini is the only desktop computer that Apple currently makes. It is the size of a typical smart speaker. By focusing on the computer rather than the peripherals, the Mac mini allows users to design a system that best suits their needs. If you are a gamer, you can pick the screen, keyboard, and input devices that will give you the experience you desire. Businesses can set the Mac mini to run up to two 4K displays. For home users, the Mac mini can serve as part computer and part entertainment center with its ability to stream Apple content directly to an HD television.

The current generation of this device, the Mac mini 8.1, has an HDMI 2.0 port for high-definition viewing. There are two USB 3 ports and four Thunderbolt 3 (USB-C) ports that can handle the latest peripherals. In addition, the unit has a standard Ethernet connection as well as internal Wi-Fi and Bluetooth capability. Although not included in the basic unit, users can also purchase adapters for Thunderbolt 2, HDMI, DVI, and VGA connections. With this unit, you can build a system that works with your current equipment.

Powerful Computing in a Small Space

Computer components continue to increase in power while decreasing in size. Users also want a system that can last for a fair amount of time before it becomes obsolete. It needs to have more than enough computing ability to handle current applications and graphics so that it can be ready to handle the next generation of programs. The basic Mac mini 8.1 has the necessary components to tackle demanding applications and can be upgraded for even more computing power.

The base model of the fourth Mac mini generation comes with a 4-core Intel i3 processing system. You can purchase a more powerful 6-core configuration with a 12MB shared cache. Anyone who uses the system for intense graphic displays may want to consider the increased processing capability. This group would include gamers, but it also would include businesses that use the system for creative marketing displays or those doing high-resolution work like GIS mapping. The current generation of Mac minis uses the Intel UHD Graphics 630 processor.

Much of the design of the 8.1 is focused on speed, and there are several configurations that will improve the system’s performance. The standard model comes with 8GB of internal memory, but it can be configured with up to 64GB. In terms of internal storage, the standard package has 256GB, but this can be increased to 2TB. All internal storage in the Mac mini is now solid-state. This increases the computing speed and decreases the amount of heat produced by the unit. This is part of the reason that the Mac mini can be housed in such a small package compared to the large tower units of the past.

Separate Speaker and Headphone Outputs

The Mac mini 8.1 has two separate processing units for speakers and headphone jacks. This means that you can create asynchronous sound outputs if you choose. Send your notification sounds through your speakers while separately streaming audio through your headphones. Personalize this to your taste by configuring it through the sound effects preference settings.

A Variety of Uses

The biggest advantage of the Mac mini 8.1 is the way it puts the computing ability of a powerful desktop into a portable size. It's 7.7 inches square and only 1.4 inches tall, so you can take your Mac mini anywhere you need to be. While a laptop or tablet may be more portable, it will not match the processing speed of this tiny desktop. This makes it a helpful device for graphic artists, musicians, and film editors who want to collaborate at an off-site location. Just hook up your mini to the closest monitor, and you are ready to access its full desktop capabilities.

Computer scientists are also finding creative uses for the mini. They are learning how to speed up the process of compiling code into machine language by using several Mac minis working in parallel. This arrangement will also find use in science labs and other areas that have to process large amounts of data.

Finally, some home users have found the Mac mini helpful in satisfying their entertainment needs. With its fast processing speeds and versatile connections, this unit can stream digital programming and handle high-intensity gaming without skipping a beat.

Four Generations of Mac minis

Through four generations, the Mac mini has grown from an entry-level home computer to a versatile, portable desktop. Here is how the four generations compare.

First Generation Second Generation Third Generation Fourth Generation
Models PowerMac 10.1-10.2 Mac mini 1.1-3.1 Mac mini 4.1-7.1 Mac mini 8.1
Dimensions 6.5x6.5 inch square, 2 inch height 6.5x6.5 inch square, 2 inch height 7.7x7.7 inch square, 1.4 inch height 7.7x7.7 inch square, 1.4 inch height
Processor 1.25 to 1.5 GHz PowerPC G4 1.5 to 2.3 GHz Intel Core 2.4 to 2.8 GHz Dual Core Intel Core i5 3.6 GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 up to 3.2 GHz 6-core Intel Core i7
Internal Memory 256MB - 512 MB 512MB – 2GB 2GB – 8GB 8GB – 64GB
Optical Drive Slot-in CD/DVD DVD-RW None None
Internal Storage 40GB – 80GB hard drive 60GB – 300GB hard drive 320GB hard drive – 1TB solid state 256GB – 2 TB solid state
Connectivity Wi-Fi 3, Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.0 Wi-Fi 4, Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.1 Wi-Fi 5, Ethernet, Bluetooth 2.1 Wi-Fi 5, Ethernet, Bluetooth 5.0
Peripheral Connectivity USB 2.0, Firewire 400, audio out mini-jack USB 2.0, Firewire 800, audio out mini-jack USB 2.0, HDMI, SDXC card slot, 3.5-mm headphone jack USB-C, USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, 3.5-mm headphone jack

Find the Right Mini PC for You

With the success of the Mac mini, several other manufacturers have released mini-desktops of their own. Many of these units are designed for specific purposes and vary in their abilities.

While they are all classified as mini computers, because they are all designed with different primary uses in mind, these computers do have different specs. Depending on what you want to do with your mini computer, some of these specs might be more or less suited to your purposes.

Mac mini 8.1 Azulle Byte3 Intel Hades Canyon NUC Acer Chromebox CXI3
Designed for General Computing Home Entertainment Gaming Chrome Computing
Processor 3.6 GHz quad-core Intel Core i3 64-bit Quad-Core Intel Apollo Lake Intel Core i7-8009G/AMD Radeon RX Vega M GH hybrid Intel Core i5
Internal Memory 8GB – 64GB 2GB - 8GB 16GB 8GB
Internal Storage 256GB – 2TB 32GB – 64GB 512GB 64GB
Peripheral Connectivity USB-C, USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0 USB-C, USB 3.0, HDMI, SD Card, VGA USB-C, USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0, MicroSD USB-C, USB 3.0, HDMI 2.0

The latest version of the Mac mini is a powerful computer, but it may be more powerful than you need for how you intend to use it. Earlier versions of this device still pack strong computing capabilities in a small package. Consider looking at third-generation models like the Mac mini 7.1 or Mac mini 6.1 that will give you many of the features of the 8.1. Even a model like the Mac mini 5.3 gives you high processing speed. This tiny desktop can help you design your perfect home computing system.

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