The Mac mini just got a big update, with new Intel processors, expanded memory, faster storage and a beefier selection of ports. It's the first significant update since 2014, and it's a major jump forward for the littlest Mac.
For years, the square shape and bare-metal design of the Mac mini helped define the mini PC, and popularized the smaller form factor in a way that earlier mini PCs did not. The aluminum enclosure has become as iconic as the rest of the Mac lineup, but the compact PC has languished without an update.
The new Mac mini is getting a new twist on the familiar design, with a space gray finish and 100-percent recycled aluminum chassis. The dimensions are the same, and the layout familiar, but the new finish makes the Mac mini look sleeker and more modern, better in keeping with Apple's current products, like the space gray iMac Pro. But the biggest changes are inside.
The new Mac mini is available with Intel 8th generation processors, with a quad-core Intel Core i5 base configuration, configurable up to a 6-core Intel Core i7 CPU. Apple boasts a five-fold improvement in processing power, touting the mini's ability in demanding apps like Photoshop.
Apple has also added the T2 chip to enhance security and improve video processing, and Apple claims that it offers drastically improved HEVC video encoding – up to 30 times faster. The T2 chip delivers on-the-fly data encryption, a speedy SSD controller, and faster video transcoding in higher resolutions.
Memory can be configured up to a whopping 64GB of RAM, with user-accessible SO-DIMM slots, it can be configured with plenty of memory, or upgraded after purchase. Storage is also enhanced, with a switch to all Flash memory, configurable up to 2TB of solid-state drive storage.
Port selection is still located on a single rear panel, but the capability has been enhanced, with four Thunderbolt 3 ports (using USB Type-C connections), a single HDMI 2.0 port and a Gigabit Ethernet port. If you need more data connectivity, you can also get the mini outfitted with a 10 Gigabit Ethernet port. The Mac mini still includes a pair of USB-A ports and a 3.5 millimeter audio jack.
Apple has also shown off some new use cases for the Mac mini. While the tiny PC is best known as a popular streaming box or compact desktop, Apple also showed off the Mac running in a smaller cluster of three or four units, a single mini used with a Macbook to offload processing to compile code, or even racked together with thousands of other units to power apps and services.
The base model of the 2018 Mac mini is equipped with an 8th-generation Core i5 processor, 8GB of RAM, and 128GB SSD. The Mac mini starts at $799, with new models available to order today for deliver on November 7th.
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Brian Westover is currently Lead Analyst, PCs and Hardware at PCMag. Until recently, however, he was Senior Editor at Tom's Guide, where he led the site's TV coverage for several years, reviewing scores of sets and writing about everything from 8K to HDR to HDMI 2.1. He also put his computing knowledge to good use by reviewing many PCs and Mac devices, and also led our router and home networking coverage. Prior to joining Tom's Guide, he wrote for TopTenReviews and PCMag.