Which Mac Mini to get?

Normally, the answer to my question would be: “The fastest one you can afford.”

But two things are weighing against that:

1. I’m considering a Mac Mini primarily as a media server that would need to run Plex and HDHomerun, which grabs over-the-air tv signals. This would connect into a new cat6 ethernet network in our under-construction home addition. most, but not all of the Plex delivery will be over ethernet, with a bit of eero in our old bedroom and in the living room.

2. I’m convinced that the first Apple Silicon hardware will be a Mac Mini. It’s not a crucial piece of hardware in the marketplace but it’s flexible enough for the very early adopters to want to play with.

#2 is meaningless, honestly, other than my anticipated buyer’s remorse when the next Mac Minis are announced.

But, here’s the question: Can I get away with an i3, or do I need to step up? The only other job this headless computer would need to do would be serve as a central point for in-house computer-to-computer backups and, then, as the primary backup point for Backblaze. Lots of network traffic, not a lot of CPU-intensive work.

Thanks for your ideas!


Things to keep in mind. Apple’s Mac’s, as you know are next to impossible to upgrade in the future as needs and or technology changes. The CPU’s and memory for the most part are soldered in. The i5 CPU would be a good starting point with as much memory as you can afford. Choosing the i7 CPU and as much memory as you can afford would take you way out before needing a major upgrade.

I’ve run Mac minis as servers (Plex and many other functions, even running a Windows VM) for 11 years now. I’m on my second, a 2012 I bought as a refurb in 2014:

I got the high end at the time to get the quad core processor particularly to handle the VM, and put in 10GB of RAM. I replaced the original HDD with a SSD. I also have 13TB in external HDDs.

Any mini bought now would be much faster. But let me say the performance has never been needed. Here’s the processor usage in the past week:

And here’s the memory usage:

So don’t sweat it. And know that having Apple Silicon won’t matter. Heck, I’m even running (low) Sierra.

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For the tasks you have mentioned I think the i3 is probably good enough unless you anticipate having to do transcoding in Plex. For that you might want to step up to the i5.

For a file-server any mini would do, but either spend the $200 to upgrade to 16Gb RAM, or be prepared to do light surgery to install 3rd -party RAM yourself.

If I were buying for your purposes my first choice would be to save some money by buying refurbished from Apple, with full, as-new 1-yr warranty and the ability to buy AppleCare+ as well.

I have a refurbed 2018 mini base model from before they upped the storage to 250gb. With Xcode running, safari tabs open, and a couple of small programs open I’m running just over 6gb of ram (out of 8). The ram would be my biggest concern for you because it’s soldered on as people have mentioned.

For just over half of that $200, I can get 32GB of RAM from OWC. Assuming the video for the 2018-2019 models still holds for the most recent, that looks very doable, after having gone deep, deep inside my 2019 iMac!

I looked at refurb, but all they have are the near top-of-the-line i7s.

I see Amazon is selling refurbed late 2014s, but as they’re just barely inside the Big Sur certified window, I’d rather go for something with a few more OS upgrades in it.

Sounds like the base model, with a side trip to OWC.

It appears to be standard socketed RAM, but accessible only after 20 minutes of careful disassembly of the mini.

Have you heard more about soldered RAM?

Oddly, Apple seems to be selling only the i3 and i7. Or is that a BTO that I"m missing?

Thanks, Tom! Very helpful.

Good advice that’s I’d almost always heed. I don’t see, though, the Mini being used as a desktop computer, so I wonder if I’ll run into headroom issues if I just give it a lot (32) of RAM.

FYI 19 out of 31 Mac minis currently at that link are i3 or i5 units. Stock often changes by the day.

It depends on your needs, obviously. I wouldn’t want to use one for editing videos on FCPX but they’re more than adequate for home computing.

This. Transcoding grinds the i7 in my 2012 pretty hard, depending on the media format - so I don’t know that I’d go with an i3 in a 2018 if that’s a possibility.

Yup. My only Macs are Minis. A 2012 that got me through this last winter, and a 2018 that I got just because I was seeing the 2012 getting a little old, so I wanted to get current with processors, RAM, etc.

I always get the i7 processor and bump up RAM (16 GB in the 2012, 32 GB in the 2018).

I do some basic video editing, transcoding, a lot of graphics work, web development, etc. and I’ve never been unhappy at all with performance - even with large DEVONthink databases open constantly.

On the other end of the spectrum, my dad has a “basic” 2014 one and for his web browsing, spreadsheets, etc. it’s perfectly fine.

Sorry @timwindsor ifixit publishes a memory replacement guide (Ifixit) . I think that Apple claims that the memory is not user upgradeable but it’s technically possible.

I just meant this particular Mini being pressed into desktop service. They’re great little computers. And if Apple actually sold a 27-30 inch monitor, I might go that route!

I was seeing just i7s earlier today. And now I see what you’re talking about. Stock does change quickly!

I recently purchased a new Mac mini to act as my main computer for a year or so (until we get sight of Apple’s new silicon) before it will transition to a server role. I’m hoping it will fulfil that role for the next decade or so.

I went with the i7, 16 GB of RAM and a 1 TB SSD. Thus far, I’m pretty happy with my purchase.

The only thing that baffles/annoys me is that sometimes the fans start up because various internal temperatures suddenly rise for no apparent reason.

Strongly disagree on the RAM part - get 8gb and install your own RAM if you are even remotely comfortable opening the computer. I put 32gb in my 2018 max mini for ~$120.

I also can’t remember exactly which episode but I swear that when the 2018 Mac mini came out there was an episode where the hosts talked about which config they are buying. One said they felt confident the i3 was plenty. It was either Connected, Upgrade, or ATP - sorry for my spotty memory.