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Apple Mac Mini (2018) review: Apple teaches an old design new tricks

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The Good Apple wrests excellent performance out of even the low-end Core i3 processor in the base configuration. The small system remains unobtrusive. The four USB-C/Thunderbolt ports and 10Gb Ethernet option provide for more storage with fast external data transfers.

The Bad You're stuck with integrated graphics unless you fork over the bucks and desk space for an eGPU. Relatively high entry price once you spring for the accessories and a display. It no longer serves as a budget option despite being the most affordable Mac.

The Bottom Line The Apple Mac Mini 2018 continues to serve as a satisfying, gets-the-job-done desktop system that delivers surprising value when you want something designed to be seen and not heard.

8.1 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 7
  • Performance 8

After years of silence on the Mac Mini front, fans of Apple's diminutive desktop computing slab had given up hope of ever getting a replacement. But Apple's delivered a great upgrade with its 2018 models. And there's only one possible drawback.

In addition to modernizing the connection options with USB-C/Thunderbolt ports, updating to HDMI 2.0 and offering a 10-gigabit Ethernet option, Apple fixed one of the big complaints about the 2014 model: soldered memory. Upgradable memory is back, and it takes two industry-standard DDR4 SO-DIMMs.

But like most Apple products, you can't upgrade it at home. Instead you'll have to take a trip to a service center. This undercuts one of upgradeable memory's perks: The option to buy less expensive memory elsewhere. But if it's going to be another four years until Apple updates the Mini again, then every little bit of upgradability helps.

We tested the "cheap" entry-level model, equipped with an Intel Core i3-8100B, 8GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD. There isn't much to say about how it feels to use. It's similar to the old model. It drove a Dell Ultrathin 27 S2719DC display via Thunderbolt without any unexpected issues (and at the monitor's maximum 75Hz refresh rate). The speakers are still kind of tinny, but the system still has the quaint 3.5mm headphone jack that Apple's dropped from its other products.

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The 2014 Mac Mini's connections (bottom) versus the 2018 model's (top). Gone are the SD card slot, two of the USB-A connections and audio input. In exchange we gain more Thunderbolt capacity and better venting.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The B series of the Core processors are recent low-profile, thermally capped versions of their desktop counterparts designed for embedded systems and mini PCs. This is how Apple was able to switch from the last generation's mobile processors while keeping essentially the same design and without increasing its fan noise or noticeable heat. The i3 wouldn't really stress the small box's cooling system so we can't speak to how it would handle a more demanding processor.

But the new generation of the Core i3 delivers performance almost on par with the previous generation's i5. This Mini's processor fares well against last year's midrange iMac, though that uses a mobile version of the processor with very low power. Apple will probably switch the to the new generation of CPUs for the iMac in 2019, so the Mini won't necessarily remain comparable. (We didn't retest the 2014 Mac Mini for comparison, but Apple would have had to actively try to slow it down in order to deliver worse performance than those four-year-old components.)

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