Selecting the specs for your budget Mac mini
If you've been waiting for Apple to refresh the Mac mini line, so you could update your primary system, you're probably working on a budget. So which choices should you make when picking options for your new mini install? I talked with Josh Carr of Rocky Mountain Mac Repair to get his insights on where to get the best value for your money.
When it comes to mini, you have three basic CPU choices. According to Carr, the 2.5GHz Intel i5 is a "very capable processor", suitable for anyone looking to buy a budget Macintosh, but if you can spare the extra $200, the quad core 2.3GHz i7 is worth the upgrade for most anyone looking to buy. The better model offers extra processing zip.
If you're a developer, as I am, or do any other kind of high-intensity processor-heavy work, Carr recommends the 2.6 GHz quad core i7. It's $300 above the base i5, but a great buy for those who live in the land of Xcode.
On modern mini's, RAM is officially user-servicable. Apple writes, "[T]hanks to a removable bottom panel, it's easy to add more. Just give it a twist, and you're in. Pop your new memory into the SO-DIMM slot, and you're out." That's important because a fully loaded 16GB install costs a cool $300 premium.
Take that system to a nearby Apple Authorized Service Provider, and you could cut that cost to about $100. Or, if you're up for it, order and install the RAM yourself. This won't void your warranty, but if Apple ever said you had an issue with your memory, you'd be responsible for taking care of it. That's why you might be better off working with a provider you trust, who could follow up with any issues.
Apple's Fusion drive costs $250 over the basic 1 TB 5400 RPM Serial ATA that ships with the i7 mini. (Fusion drives are not available for the i5 dual-core Intel mini.) So should you spring for one?
That's a bit of a conundrum because you have to decide whether the boot speed plus flexible internal storage is enough of a win to justify the cost. For me, it will be. I have to reboot a lot as part of my work day and the slow/fast access is perfect for what I need.
Most users however, would better benefit from installing a third-party SSD drive internally for fast boots and using the USB 3.0 ports for extra storage. The 256 GB SSD adds $300 to your mini if you buy from Apple. That's actually a pretty good price value-wise, but many people don't need that much space on their boot drive.
You can save some money by dialing the SSD down to 120 GB or so ($200 at a reasonable AASP) and make up the difference in space using a USB 3.0 external.
Carr tells me that USB 3.0 drives are relatively inexpensive these days; a 3 TB external drive from Seagate retails for around $160. "Having the USB 3.0, there's really no bottleneck and you get the full performance out of the drive," Carr adds.
If you're trying to balance speed and space, and that's what's making you think about choosing the Fusion drive, an internal SSD plus an external USB 3.0 drive -- possibly one you already have on hand -- may deliver the performance you need.
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