mini

When it first launched in 2005, the Mac mini was almost unimaginably small. The original aim of the machine was to convert owners of desktop Windows machines. Because those people already owned monitors, keyboards and other peripherals, selling them just the computer itself would enable them to switch to Mac for far less than the cost of buying an iMac.

The typical Windows desktop box of that era looked like this:

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A system unit that measured just 6.5 inches square and only 2-inches thick was an incredible feat of engineering. Today, however, it looks rather less impressive … 

The current Mac mini is thinner, but actually larger than the original at 7.7 inches square, thanks to squeezing the power supply also inside the casing.

Up until 2010, there was a good reason the box couldn’t get much smaller:

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The optical drive set a minimum footprint for the machine. Today, of course, optical drives are but a memory.

Hard drives also used to be a significant size-hog, but today’s SSDs are just a bunch of slim chips on a circuit-board. So just how small could Apple make the machine today?

Fortunately, we don’t need to speculate, thanks to a new generation of Chromeboxes. Early Chrome PCs were extremely low-powered devices effectively able to do little more than run a web-browser, with all the apps themselves sitting on the web. Today, that’s all changed: there are now Chromeboxes with a lot more power.

Both Asus and HP have announced i7-powered machines that make the latest Mac mini look positively porky. Here’s the ASUS Chromebox, due to go on sale next month, measuring just five inches square:

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HP has also announced its own i7-powered Chromeboxes. No dimensions have been given as yet, but if you use the USB ports as a guide, I’d say it has only a slightly larger footprint and is somewhat slimmer.

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Xi3 was also wowing visitors to CES with its x86-based modular computers like the Z3RO Pro that are being used as servers, desktop computers, and other scenarios Mac minis are popular.

Given that these machines are all beefy enough to drive a 4K monitor, there’s no reason at all the next Mac mini couldn’t slim itself down to the same sort of size.

One could, of course, argue that there is no particular reason to do so. The existing size isn’t exactly outrageous, and a desktop PC isn’t something you tend to carry around. But one could make the exact same argument about the iMac: there was no particularly good practical reason to make it slimmer. Apple did so anyway because it, and its customers, like sleek.

That argument – that sleek and slim aesthetics is reason enough – applies every bit as much to the Mac mini. Watch this (noticeably smaller) space.