My Love/Hate Relationship with the Mac Mini

There are business owners who have plenty of money to start a new business and then hire people with the skills to turn their vision into a workable company. I’m on the opposite end of that spectrum. I have all the skills needed to do almost any repair on a Mac or the OSX. However, money has always been a factor. We have invested in the basic tools to get the job done, and so the Mac Mini. This blog will talk about my long complex relationship with this overlooked Mac Computer.

Apple has a higher price point

We can argue all day about the “Apple Tax” and some of Apple’s pricing decisions that just leave me scratching my head. However, what I can say is that every time we have purchased a much cheaper PC (And loaded Linux on it so it is not a Mac Vs Windows thing) I have regretted the decision. Apple just makes a better product. I just wish I could afford it. I often joke about someones Mac Pro with 32+ Gigs of RAM “If I owned one of those you would be paying taxes to me”

This is where the Mac Mini comes in. One of the biggest reasons I have purchased the Mac mini is its Price point. This little box does not leave my wallet a smoking crater unlike the iMac or the MacBook Pros. So when I do have a financial windfall you can bet I always at least look at the Mac Mini.

My First Mac Mini AKA “Frankenmini”

Oh, Frank how I miss you. My first mac that was actually mine (Others were work machines) Was when my Parents gave everyone a gift card at the Apple Store. Where my brother and sister had gone for one of those white MacBooks (Like the Vintage Macbook I’m currently restoring in my shop) I was getting into this new thing called Podcasting and was considering starting my own show. So I opted for the Mac Mini and an “Video iPod” (This was a very good choice)

It was the Mac Mini (Late 2006 MA608LL/A) with the new Intel chips. (I was currently working at Intel). This little beast had all kinds of grunt for its size. It was outperforming PCs that were 10 times its physical size. I used up every bit of its power.

Frankenmini’s life was a hard one.

To start with my curiosity I was always messing with the software. I was tweaking file locations, Moving folders from here to there. I had even accidentally deleted the user library (Other techs are shaking their heads at me in disappointment) At the time I knew nothing about OSX but was learning from my mistakes very quickly. I swear that a few Applecare agents knew my voice and thought “What has he done now?” (Though nobody left any snarky case notes … I checked lol )

Then there were the hardware issues.

A common practice in California for rental properties is to not install light fixtures. It is assumed that you will just bring a lamp and connect it to the power-point that is connected to the light switch. Our problem was the room that had the Mac mini only had one power-point … the one that was connected to the light switch. As much as I tried to keep the kids from flipping that switch it happened A LOT. This caused all kinds of hardware issues with the Mac Mini.

By the time I was done I had it booting to an external drive because the internal drive was totally shot. The Wifi card had been replaced and I was using an Gryphon iMic to replace the damaged sound card. And we are not even going to start talking about the operating system. (Remember I was not working at Apple at this point)

Overall the issues I had with “Frank” had nothing to do with being a MacMini and was a really good machine. This little guy was one of the reasons why I got the job at Apple. My experiences with trying to keep the device working even when we could not afford to get it repaired made me stand out in the group interview.

My 2014 Mac Mini

8 years and 14 thousand miles later in Emu Plains Australia… I had been the Asia-Pac Manager of a call centre located in Sydney for a global Point of sale system. Even though I was really good at my job my entire department was made redundant when they outsourced the entire department to Lithuania. The Redundancy package meant it was time to upgrade our computers. And you guessed it .. I decided to maximize this by getting a Mac Mini.

Unlike my previous experiences with the Mac mini. This device was nothing like Frank. I considered getting the lower price point of the device because of the cost. I figured that I would just upgrade the ram later. This was a big mistake because it was at the time the only Mac Mini Model in the entire line that you could NOT upgrade the RAM. This made the higher-end applications that I use very very slow. And of course, I did not find this out till after taking the thing apart to install the ram to find .. NO RAM SLOTS!

I did end up replacing the Mac Mini internal Hard drive with an SSD. This has drastically improved performance. However, that was in 2020. By this time I had almost written off the unit as anything that could deal with my higher-end programs. I’m revisiting that concept at the moment.

Mac Mini Pros

Will not break the bank

The biggest advantage of the Mac mini is that it will not cost you as much as an iMac and has some decent power to it. Though I do recommend that you purchase the higher end models if that is in your budget. If you are new to Mac OSX this is a good place to start. Nothing worse than diving into a iMac to discover it was not your thing.

Really Small

The Mac Mini is very small. Perfect for those who want to have a minimalistic desktop or have more than one stacked on each other. (Though I recommend spacers for air flow)

For its size the Mac Mini packs a lot of power. When I upgrade to a new computer I will still have the current Mac mini set up and honestly you would not even be able to tell.

Mac Mini-Cons

Ports and Power are all in the back

This has always made me a little crazy. I get the apple minimalistic style and having a bunch of ports in the front make the device look like some kind of PC. But this has been such a major problem for me that I have my Mac Mini turned sideways. Even then is has now become a mess of wires totally ruining any imagery the designer had in mind.

What do you mean Not upgradeable and no Microphone jack?

The biggest advice I have about buying a Mac mini is to make sure you know exactly what you need when it comes to Ports, RAM, HD space because you are not going tob e able to upgrade it easly. The Frankinmini did not have an Audio in jack and this was a major problem when trying to start podcasting. (Not so much now as USB mics are really good)

Hard to repair hardware

Macs are a dream to work on. They are designed to have easy access to parts for replacement. In the last tech shop I worked in I could repair three MacBook pros in the time that my coworker was able to get the case off an ACER. Then we have the Mac mini. I always quote extra time for repairs for this device because it is very difficult to get open and you have to remove EVERYTHING to get to the hard drive.

Seasoned Mac Techs brag about how they are good at repairing them claiming that “They are easy”. If it was easy you would not be bragging about it.

My current View of the M1 Mac Mini.

Any of the bad things I had heard about the M1 chip all seem to have someone who used a PC or seems to have an Intel logo or ad on their website somewhere, or the review is entirely clickbait. The reviewers who I have seen to be very balanced all seem to agree that the M1 chip is a major improvement.

Then there is the fact the M1 is in a Mac mini. This makes me a little shy about going down the path of the Mac Mini again. At the same time If I was given one or ran into another windfall where I could upgrade I would still take a long look at the Mac Mini.

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