Review The Mac Mini is a machine I half expected Apple to quietly drop. The decline of the desktop personal computer business in general, and the fact that you’ll never see a Mac Mini as a prominent piece of product placement, means this miniature micro is unlikely to ever to hold a place in Apple's heart like the iMac.
A safe pair of hands? Apple's Mac Mini late 2014 edition
Indeed, it’s been a full two years since Apple last revised the Mini, leaving many of its fans fearful that it might be on its way out, victim of changing tastes in computing products.
But no, just when you’ve given up waiting for the bus and ready to plod your weary way home, along come three — units Apple would once have labelled Good, Better and Best. The year-long wait for Intel’s impressive Haswell processor to come to the Mini is over, and that’s very welcome. Ditto the addition of 802.11ac Wi-Fi. The quid pro quo is the loss of upgradeable RAM.
Let’s be clear: the Mini was never an easy upgrade. Getting the hard drive out involves removing all of the machine’s internals. It still does. But at least it used to be a doddle to expand the previous incarnation’s memory: rotate the base, unclip the Wi-Fi card’s antenna, unscrew a metal plate, and there’s your RAM slot.
Easy upgrade? Depends what you want to change
No longer. The base is clipped in place, and beneath the metal plate ... soldered memory. Apple’s build-to-order memory is less expensive than it used to be — £80 for a 4GB upgrade from the base 4GB isn’t as daunting as £80 was two years ago – but it’s still a darn sight less cost-effective than buying memory from someone like Crucial and fitting it yourself. Doubly so if you want 16GB.
Moreover, being able to upgrade your system as you need — rather than investing all at the start – is half the point of buying a desktop rather than a laptop. The other half is better performance, though with the Mini that’s perhaps less of a concern thanks to its laptop-derived parts and ultra-compact form-factor. This is not a computer for customisation.
Of course, that’s probably why Apple felt it could get away with its margin-enhancing plan to solder down the RAM; it’s why it stopped bundling an HDMI-DVI adaptor too. No one will upgrade the Mini, it thought; you can’t replace the CPU, and the graphics core is integrated so that can’t be swapped out either.
The soldered on-board RAM highlighted in red isn't exactly enticing on desktop machine
OK, so that’s not an unreasonable assumption but it’s nonetheless very disappointing for those of us who like Macs for more than their consumer convenience. You can add RAM to the iMac, for instance, so why penalise Mini buyers, especially when you already have an elegantly engineered mechanism for memory upgrades?