Assorted Thoughts on the Mac mini

Those that listen to the B&B Podcast know, that in response to my MacBook Air needing to go in for service, I bought a Mac mini to use and test out. My hope was that the fast processors in the Mac mini would make the machine at least on par with my MacBook Airs speed, thus allowing me to replace the Air with the mini. 1

I bought the Mac mini on Monday (6/11/12), with these specs:

The Mac mini model I purchased.

On Friday afternoon (6/15/12) I returned this machine to Apple. I owned it for four days and used it only two of those days — no really.

Putting aside all the silly woes that I had with getting the machine up and running (of which there were many, but user error on the setup problems), I didn’t have a good experience with the machine at all. I’ve pared down my bad experience to three reasons, so let me share those with you (just in case you agree thinking about buying a mini).

HDD

By far the most noticeable part of the mini is the HDD. I’ve been using SSDs since 2010 and can tell you that it’s practically impossible to go back to a slow HDD after you’ve been using SSDs for so long, there is just too much lag.

Whereas on my MacBook Air I constantly feel that all the performance related issues are a direct cause of the CPU not being fast enough and nothing else. That was a performance tradeoff that I was ok with, but on the mini this isn’t the case.

On the mini every single thing I did felt like it was being bogged down by the hard drive. Want to search for a file, sure thing, just let me think about that for 15 seconds.

Boot up and shut down was slow.

Search was slow.

Opening apps was slow.

Scrolling large lists of files in a Finder was slow.

Everything I did on the mini was slower than it was on my MacBook Air, with the exception of a few CPU intensive tasks like running a noise gate on podcasts.

To be fair: you can get a Mac mini with an SSD, but it will set you back $1399 for the model I bought to have an SSD in it. $1399. For $100 more you can get a 13″ Air with the same sized SSD, that also comes with a screen, battery, keyboard, and trackpad. I get that for some the mini will be a better buy because it should be slightly faster with an SSD, but it makes no sense for most people to buy a mini and then get an SSD.

In my mind it’s a waste to put an SSD in a Mac mini — better to spend your money buying a different Mac.

The HDD is the sole reason I still don’t own the Mac mini. It’s just too slow of a machine if you are coming from an SSD. Using the mini was an exercise in frustration to the point where I was upgrading to using my iPad for tasks at times. I just cannot recommend a mini unless it has an SSD in it, and I simply cannot justify spending the money to have an SSD installed in a mini.

Bluetooth

Actually, the Bluetooth works fine, but I ran into constant lag in connecting to my keyboard and trackpad. Perhaps this is because I was using the mini in an odd way, taking it to and from home everyday, but every time I started the machine up I had to go through a ridiculously long process of getting the keyboard and mouse working. It was a pain in the ass.

This likely would be a non-issue if you don’t turn the mini off much, but it drove me nuts.

Not to mention: booting into recovery mode with a Bluetooth keyboard will make you feel as if you are going crazy. I pressed command-R… I swear!

Slippery

Overall the Mac mini is a decent feeling machine from a build quality perspective, solid really, but there is one thing I was constantly annoyed with: it’s slippery little butt.

I tried the mini on a few different desk surfaces and found it impossible to plug in, or unplug, a USB cable using one hand. I do it all the time on Mac laptops one handed, but this mini decided to just slide instead.

This isn’t a deal breaker by itself, but you should be aware of that annoyance if you are looking to buy one, because it would drive me nuts long-term.

Finding its Place

I was reluctant to write this post because I was worried that all these issues were only things that mattered to me — that my feelings weren’t representative enough to share — however, after thinking about it more, I decided I wanted to share this because of one thing: I don’t think it is worth your time to buy a non-SSD Mac. 2

The MacBook Airs have reached a performance and price point where they make the most sense for average computer buyers. I’ve no doubt an Air will be a great machine for 3 years of ownership and they will be faster than an HDD based Mac for most every user. Not to mention that this is the cheapest way to get an SSD based mac.

If you are thinking about buying a mini, stop. Start thinking about getting an Air, you’ll be much happier with the performance. After all, I chose a 2010 Air over a brand new mini.

  1. I have a Core 2 Duo variety.
  2. Unless you have a very specific need for huge amounts of storage, then be sure the drive is at least a fast one.
Originally posted for members on: June 18, 2012
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