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Apple’s diminutive Mac mini has always been a wildcard in its Mac product lineup, so it’s hard to know what to expect. If rumours are true, however, Apple is going to have some kind of new Mac mini to show off tomorrow. The only questions are, what will be inside, and what will it look like?
The Mac mini was first introduced 16 years ago, on January 22, 2005, as a way to lure more “switchers” into the Apple ecosystem at a time when Windows was a much more dominant platform.
After two larger models that included a DVD-ROM drive, Apple managed to shrink the Mac mini down and give it the classic Apple aluminum unibody treatment in 2010. It lost the optical drive in a 2011 refresh, but apart from the missing front slot and a colour shift to Space Grey in 2018, it’s retained the same general design for nearly 12 years.
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It’s also been sporadically updated, at best. In fact, in its 16-year lifespan, there have only been five generations of Mac mini. That works out to one major update every 3.2 years.
However, it hasn’t even been that consistent. The first model was replaced only a year after it was introduced as part of Apple’s shift from the older PowerPC G4 architecture to Intel in 2006. Modest revisions after that increased processor specs, and in 2009 Apple swapped out FireWire ports for USB and added support for the draft 802.11n Wi-Fi spec (today known as Wi-Fi 4).
From 2010 until 2018, the Mac mini received only similarly modest refreshes, moving to Thunderbolt ports in 2011, and then a few annual processor updates in 2012 and 2014. Wi-Fi 5 support arrived with that last update, as did the first standard 8GB RAM configuration.
After that, however, the Mac mini sat neglected for four years without an update, until the new Space Grey models arrived in 2018. These included the latest Intel CPUs, Apple’s T2 chip, Bluetooth 5, and SSD storage as standard. They also pushed the maximum RAM to 64GB from the prior 16GB cap of the 2014-era model.
While the fifth-generation Apple Silicon Mac mini superseded one of these in 2020, the higher-end Intel version is still basically the same fourth-generation Mac mini as before.
It’s a varied and storied history for a machine that’s never been much of a priority for Apple. However, it also looks like Apple Silicon has changed the rules, returning the Mac mini to its original purpose in some ways: A way to show off what the Mac can do at a price tag that’s low enough to make people willing to take a closer look.
What’s Next for the Mac mini
The rumours about what Apple is doing with the Mac mini are all over the place right now. Last year, we’d heard multiple reports of a supposed “M1X” version coming — a replacement for the higher-end Intel model that would pack in the chips that ultimately became known as the M1 Pro and M1 Max.
Leakers such as Jon Prosser had also shared reports of a major redesign last year, suggesting that Apple was working on a new design that would replace the higher-end Mac mini with a thinner profile and a plexiglass-like reflective surface on the top.
However, none of that materialized last year. It’s probably fair to say that Apple was much more concerned about getting its new 14-inch and 16-inch MacBook Pro lineup out the door, and the Mac mini had to take a back seat to those.
Now, though, multiple sources have confirmed that some form of Mac mini is coming tomorrow. In his Power On newsletter, Bloomberg’s Mark Gurman said he’s told the new Mac mini is “ready to go” along with a new 13-inch MacBook Pro. However, nobody seems quite sure exactly what to expect.
There are a few possibilities, however:
- With rumours of an M2 MacBook Pro waiting in the wings, Apple may simply do what it did in 2020 and update the entry-level Mac mini with the M2 chip as well. In this case, the physical design would likely remain unchanged from before, which is also exactly what we’re expecting from the M2 MacBook Pro — an internal upgrade only.
- The Intel Mac mini is arguably overdue for the Apple Silicon treatment, and rumours of an M1 Pro/Max version have been making the rounds for nearly a year. Of course, it doesn’t take much clairvoyance to expect that Apple is going to do something this eventually, so it’s hard to say how many of these rumours come directly from leaks and how many of them have been augmented by filling in the blanks with educated guesses.
- Apple could release both an M2 entry-level Mac mini, and a higher-end Mac mini with M1 Pro/Max chip, or something else. It could use this opportunity to usher in the new design as well.
Most sources are hedging on the M2 and M1 Pro chips for the Mac mini, and few reliable sources have said much of anything about a new design lately.
Our guess — and it’s only a guess — is that we’ll most likely see yet another modestly refreshed Mac mini, likely moving to the M2 chip. Until last week, we would have thought that the M1 Pro/Max upgrade seemed more likely, but rumours of an impending Mac Studio have thrown some confusion into the mix; some sources have suggested that the Mac Studio is intended to supplant the higher-end Mac mini entirely.
We can’t entirely rule out a redesigned Mac mini, but if this is coming tomorrow, then Apple has done an impressive job of keeping a wrap on leaks out of its supply chain. Mass production of the new Mac mini should already be underway, yet we’ve heard nothing about a new Mac mini being produced.
Most of the leaks of the new design came from several months ago, which means they likely came from prototypes of designs that Apple is working on. At some point, though, it’s likely we would have heard that this design has moved into a manufacturing stage. After all, we’ve heard this about the iPhone 14, and we’ve even heard about Apple’s suppliers cranking out the M2 MacBook Pro, but we’ve heard very little about a new Mac mini.
Despite the lack of a new design, the M2 MacBook Pro came to our attention because Apple’s suppliers kept their factories running at full tilt throughout the Lunar New Year, when most employees should have been off enjoying some holiday time.
The Mac mini understandably doesn’t need to be produced at this kind of volume. If the design hasn’t changed, a new M2 or M1 Pro/Max Mac mini would easily fly under the radar, as it wouldn’t look much different from what already rolls off the same production line every day.
[The information provided in this article has NOT been confirmed by Apple and may be speculation. Provided details may not be factual. Take all rumors, tech or otherwise, with a grain of salt.]