Somebody else came up with a good idea. It wasn’t me. I just pieced together various and sundry items from various members of the technorati elite politburo and decided Apple’s Mac mini might make a good Mac Pro.
Apple rumors never fails to catch attention with products that never see the light of day, but in recent years we’ve seen rumors come to pass as actual products; usually a month or so before they announced. What of the new Mac mini Pro?
The Mac mini is a much beloved little beast that seems to cater to two specific target customer groups. First, those Apple customers who want another inexpensive Mac and they already have (or, can find for less money than anything Apple sells) a display, keyboard, and mouse. Entry-level Mac mini’s start at $499, Apple’s least expensive Mac. It’s a Mac that runs all the same software as a $999 MacBook Air, or a $4,999 iMac Pro– if you don’t run professional software that needs professional grade hardware.
Yet, Mac mini can be pumped up and that means the other specific target customer group– professionals– have a small, energy efficient, yet somewhat powerful Mac. That somewhat powerful Mac can be upgrade to a 3.0GHz dual-core i7 Intel Inside– a 7th generation version, no less– 16GB of RAM, and 1TB of PCIe-based SSD storage. This is not a slouch machine.
Mac minis show up in server farms all over the country because they’re durable, flexible, can be outfitted with almost any software– Windows 10 to various flavors of Linux– and they’re cool and sip power. I have a Mac mini that’s been running since 2008.
As it stands now, the Mac mini is not viewed as a professional grade Mac. But what it it was?
Let’s assume that the current form factor, that square case, is something Apple keeps but creates multiple options not currently available. It needs USB-C ports, Thunderbolt 3, but it’s large enough to handle USB 3.x. I think an HDMI port is a good thing. But how much real power can you get into a Mac Pro case?
First, let me start at the low end where Apple could drop in one of its own ARM-based, A-Series CPUs (like those in iPhone X because they benchmark about the same as entry-level MacBook Pro models). An Apple-designed chip in a Mac. A first. For $499.
Then, Apple could diverge from the entry-level and offer a couple of different Mac mini models. The first would be Intel Inside, preferably with the aforementioned ports, and 8th generation, but decidedly a mid-range device, even with more power.
The second line would be aimed at professionals and include different CPUs, too– either Xeons from Intel, or Ryzen Threadrippers from AMD, but decidedly more power in a diminutive size. That’s where it gets interesting. Professionals love the current size because it fits into standard 1U rack mounts. Can Apple put such power into a small case?
Another issue for that second line would be modularity. For example, could the device handle an external graphic GPU the way a new MacBook Pro does not (or, maybe better, macOS High Sierra seems to have issues know how to use eGPUs).
We should not expect a magically powerful Mac mini with high end CPUs for $499. Can Apple apply some of its engineering magic to a more powerful Mac mini, built with modular options, to make it a darling of Mac professionals?
A Mac mini Pro is a great idea for Apple to retain some of the desktop and server market, but are the physics there?