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:


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:


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:


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.


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.

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60 Responses to “Opinion: Will the next Mac mini be a lot more mini than ever before?”

  1. mockery17 says:

    As Apple is apparently moving to flash storage (the only Macs that use hard drives are iMac and Mac mini now), they’ll be able to shrink the size once they take out the hard disk drive.

    That’s the only logical reason why Apple has held off from updating the mini that I could think of. And I am very excited to see what the next mini will look like.


  2. I really hope that they don’t make them smaller. ‘Smaller’ means that the likelihood of upgrading them yourself will most likely be slim to none. The current generation of Mini’s is easy enough to open and install memory but to get the hard drive is a bit of a task. Not impossible… but a bit difficult. Also, the current number of USB ports is limited. I can only imagine that with a smaller form factor they would be reduced even more. ‘Smaller’ is overshadowed when you still have to buy a USB 3.0 hub in order to add all of your devices.


    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Whether we like it or not, that’s been the trend. It’s one of the reasons I’ve stuck with my MacBook Pro 17: I upgraded both the RAM and the hard drives (replacing the optical drive with a second hard drive), and expect to replace the drives with SSDs once 1TB ones reach slightly more sensible price levels. But we’re geeks: the mass market cares nothing for upgradability …


    • I disagree, even though you have valid points. I have several minis and I think I’ve only upgraded one ever. I tend to buy as much ram as I need at that time. I think if the next mini has 8gigs of ram as an option like it does now, you probably wouldn’t need to upgrade from that. The biggest slow down, down the road isn’t the size of ram, (depending on what you use it for) it will be the cpu if they go with a ssd hard drive. The ssd is going to be the biggest upgrade and most likely for any smaller sized mini. I’m assuming they’ll move over to the pci ssd for speed and uniformity which seems to be easily installable even though the chips are barely available and still pricey. (owc has them)

      Are we still using usb for anything besides hard drives? Wireless printers are under 100 bucks and I use bluetooth for everything else. It would be nice if the new mini has 4 usb 2 thunderbolt still but, I could get away with 2 of each. I think the style is still fairly cool but, it will be interesting to see if they go smaller and by how much.


  3. Any chance they’d make it black and round? As in, a flat mac pro?


  4. I think if they can make it smaller they will, but I am wondering if perhaps they will take a cue from the Airport Extreme and the Mac Pro and change to a taller, more cylindrical format.

    The Airport Extreme now has a taller shape to accommodate a hard drive that stands on end, and all Apple’s SSD drives are now taking a “stick” format with the plug at the bottom. So why not make it only 3″ square, but 5″ tall? Maybe even make it a pyramid for stability, or even semi-hemispherical like the old Airports.

    I’d like to see them do something different in any case.


    • Ben Lovejoy says:

      Tall and thin would indeed be another possible approach, even – picking up on Steve’s idea – making it a baby Mac Pro in shape


      • I don’t think it’s possible to do a “Baby Mac Pro” without it being made in that shape for aesthetic reasons alone, (i.e. not for design reasons) which is something Apple generally doesn’t do.

        If they keep the Mac Pro cylinder design, then despite the lower spec, a Mac mini in that form factor would be basically the same size as the Mac Pro or very near to it. If they make it smaller, then it won’t be the same design, just something that looks the same on the outside which I don’t think they will do.

        Who knows though. It’s fun to speculate.


  5. If they make it too small and light I can foresee the IO cables affecting its stability and lifting up the front etc.


  6. Paul Threatt says:

    The next Mac Mini will have a black aluminum enclosure with a neodymium base that attaches to a monitor. It will be half as thick and 3/4 the width and height of the current model. It will only have one Thunderbolt port and a new tiny (proprietary 120v power port. No moving parts. No expansion. Wireless HDMI, 802.11ac and bluetooth. Keyboard and mouse are sold separately. The enclosure will be filled with a non-conductive fluid that relays heat to the enclosure which serves as the only heat sink.


    • You had me up until you said it would be liquid cooled. On one hand, it’s an awesome idea and could work well with an SSD and onboard video. On the other hand, mass producing a liquid cooled computer seems like it has so many logistical nightmares from fabrication to shipping that it doesn’t seem feasible. But, if there is a company that’s going to figure out how to do it and do it well, Apple is that company.


      • likearabbit says:

        Apple mass produced a generation of liquid cooled PowerMac G5s, the 2.5Ghz June 2004 generation. It was one of the (possibly the first) mass produced PCs to use the technology.

        As a former technician I cringe thinking that they could even consider going this route again. I’ve seen way too many PowerMac G5s damaged by leaks in the cooling system.


    • Tallest Skil says:

      >> a new tiny (proprietary 120v power port.

      Why, when the existing port is neither proprietary nor too large?


    • V120 is never going to happen. A v120 – v240 combo maybe, but the power port is small enough as it is. No need for even smaller.


  7. I’d like to see a Mac mini the same size as the Apple TV and AirPort Express. Get rid of the old tech inside, stick in a Haswell processor, RAM, Flash Storage and Intel Iris Graphics, 802.11ac, Bluetooth, USB 3.0 and Thunderbolt 2 on the back and you’re in business. You lose the upgradeability, but to get the size it seems the right thing to do, plus other Macs are non-upgradeable anyway.


  8. zoidbert says:

    I saw a mock-up once online; it was like a double-stack AppleTV:


  9. I just need them to ship the damn things already…either that or drop $100 off the current model to make them price competitive. I sell these things against Windows boxes to small businesses. I have a pretty high success rate in getting customers from Windows to the Mac in under 18 months (in the small business world, that’s fast). This fiasco with the mini has been painful, and I don’t think Apple fully realizes where all the mini sells into (see previous, copious rumors of its demise). I can’t sell a small business on an iMac when they already have keyboards and monitors, the price is just way too high. But by the time you figure in my labor, etc, I can put them on minis as a stopgap. At $600, they’re competitive. Or, at least, WERE six months ago. Apple did this with the current model too; I was in the SAME boat during the summer of 2012, with customers buying Lenovo and small-form-factor Dells. Apple was dragging its feet releasing the updated mini, instead waiting for when they shipped “the iMac that completely missed Christmas”. Now that the iMac is updated, and Haswells have hit the rest of the line, there is NO reason they shouldn’t have shipped an updated mini by now. That the Intel NUC has been shipping since late last year causes me to shake my head. The mini is a model that belies Tim Cook’s PR line that Apple strives to always provide the best computer to their customer…bullshit.


  10. Apple TV approaches Mac Mini with iOS-style apps for 99. Mac Mini goes smaller with base i3/4gb RAM 64 gb for 399. this is all possible with decent margins now.


    • And you get your a** it will tank in sales. If I want an iPad or an AppleTV to extend my Apple ecosystem I buy them. I don’t buy the entry level Mac so I can absorb the AppleTV or knee cap the desktop for an iOS desktop. That’s counter-productive and would cloud the product matrix.

      Putting in a custom SSD won’t drive the cost down. It’ll drive it up. If Apple had any balls they’d put in an APU by AMD with an actual modern GPGPU ala Kaveri and coordinate with AMD on the product.

      Alas it will be a crippled Intel i3/i5 with mediocre integrated video. Iris by Intel is still garbage, no matter how much people think it remotely competes against an APU AMD provides.


  11. Ben i Think Mac mini will not see the upgrade. I am disappointing but my theory is that the Ipad will soon have the performance / price factor required to replace the Mini. i also don’t see the Need for a Mini now simply because the people who were targeted for the mini by apple are now most likely Ipad consumers


  12. I’ve got so many thoughts on this, and since I was planning on getting a Mini for my next computer, I’ve anxiously been waiting to see what Apple does.

    Like it’s already been mentioned, I’ve been wondering if the new Mac Pro would signal a shift in the design of their coming desktop products. I don’t know how it could influence the iMac, but it sure it would be nice for the next Mini to follow in the Pro’s footsteps – a round, anodized aluminum machine with almost no moving parts. I do want a beefy amount of storage space for all my media though, so I don’t know if I’d want it all SSD. It’s nice, but still pricey.

    Speaking of media, I think software should be part of the equation as well. As many of us have increasingly turned to iTunes for buying television shows and movies, I would love to see some type of revamped Front Row make a return. Yeah, there are plenty of media center alternatives, but Front Row was great for its simplicity and convenience, and the Mac Mini makes a great little media center.


    • For what it’s worth, Apple’s “Remote” app, (while pretty awful for controlling your AppleTV), works exactly like a Front Row remote used to. So if you are on the same home network, the Apple Remote App can be used to control the music, movies and so forth on that network. It’s actually a bit better than the old remote because you don’t even have to be in the same room as the computer to pick songs etc.


      • That is a good point. I have used that a couple of times, but I’d pretty much forgotten it could do that. I need to keep that in mind. I’d still like a new Front Row though. Just seems like it would be right at home when you combine Apple’s desktops and the iTunes store.


  13. With the iPad ever-increasing in power (64 bit CPU, etc.), it’s not hard to imagine the next Mac Mini being that far off from an iPad without a screen and some I/O for peripherals.


  14. Any thoughts on it being Round like the Pro?


  15. greenbelt2csp says:

    Chromeboxes rely on Google’s servers to do heavy lifting, so heat is less of an issue. But still, once again Apple shows they were miles ahead in the design space…


  16. I really wish Apple would allow an external thunderbolt drive to make the fusion drive. This would be useful with both flash-only Mac Minis as well as the new Mac Pro.


    • danbridgland says:

      Surely you can if you do it yourself. I made my own fusion drive, followed a guide online. The guide demonstrated how to fusion a USB hdd and the stock on board drive, works well. Thunderbolt can’t be any different… Unless Thunderbolt needs it’s ktext’s and isn’t loaded at the boot loader?


  17. Interesting that you should mention the iMac. My parents just upgraded their old Mac Mini to an iMac. The one thing that struck me was that Apple’s drive to make everything thin has reach the point of ridiculous. In making the edges, and only the edges, of the new iMacs so thin they had to move the SD card slot to the back of the computer. The BACK!

    This has to be the most ill informed and worst usage cases that I have seen from Apple in years. It is so inconvenient that my parents bought a USB card reader. The card reader in the side of my iMac is simple and easy to reach. It is a good design. This new design is terrible. And for what? A super thin edge on a device that still takes up just as much desk space as my older thicker model, but is now much less usable.

    Smaller, thinner, lighter is great for portable devices. It is stupid to move beyond a certain point for a desktop device. If the smaller size loses more in usability than it gains in space savings then it is a bad decision, and the newer thinner iMacs were a bad decision.


  18. yaalanhoo says:

    One difference between the Asus and the Mini (not sure about the HP at this point) is the power supply. The current mini uses an AC cord and has the supply inside, the ASUS is a DC input meaning an external power brick. That’s a serious advantage to the Mini but comes at the cost of some size.


  19. I think Apple could fragment their Mac Mini lineup, similar to their iPads. Considering that they only just introduced the Fusion drive, which is a great solution for cash strapped customers wanting SSD speeds – or those who need tons of storage because they can’t part with the eight seasons of Charmed they downloaded; it would be nonsensical to eliminate this product from their offerings. I think they’ll keep the older version at $100 to *crosses fingers* $200 less than it is now, and offer a new slicker and faster model at the current price point. They could buck trend and offer the new product at a higher price, since they don’t have much in the $600 to $1000, and offer the new model for around $749. I think the possibility of bringing in even more customers at the $399 dollar price point is very enticing to Apple. They are selling the eco system solution. Once a Mac customer there chances of buying an iPad, iPhone, MacBook go way up. Not to mention the increased likelihood they’ll buy from the App Store or iTunes – bringing in more revenue. The new model will be 1 inch or less – Apple’s shown they could go as skinny as 0.65 inches as with the MacBook Pro. At that dimension they could actually stand the usb ports lengthwise to fit even more ports, while reducing the overall device size. Personally, I think they could keep the design more like the iMac – unless the MacPro is serving to be an example of where they’re taking the desktop design. I don’t think they are – but that’s just me.


  20. Oflife says:

    How about a battery powered Mac mini? Slip it into your pocket/manbag. Arrive on train/plane/at destination, plop mini on the table, slip out your Bluetooth keyboard and mouse of choice, slide out 10 to 13″ IPS LED display, position it on your Stump weighted rubber dock – and Bob’s your sexually confused Auntie, your custom ergonomic modular ‘PC’ (Portable Computer) !

    I’m serious! Always wanted something like this.


  21. I hope they make it the size of the apple tv!


  22. golden child says:

    It is small enough as it is, any smaller and it will impossible to get inside to upgrade the drive, which is the way Apple wants it. They want you to pay them for the overpriced upgrades.


  23. Even getting rid of the space reserved for the optical drive would allow them to make the mac mini thinner.
    what would really be nice is, if they made it shaped like a small mac pro.


  24. Samir Shah says:

    The most important thing for Mac Mini is to be “Being There” in the market with Haswell, with smaller size or size that is now. AT PRESENT SIZE DOES NOT MATTER.


  25. The current one is holding dual HDDs. The new one could go fusion drive direction or PCIe flash drive & soldered in RAM. I do not mind PCIe SSD, as they are ridiculously fast and obviously going to be a direction, but also I wouldn’t mind a second HDD bay. On the other hand you could have external USB drive constantly plugged in, but that defeats the the aesthetics purpose.
    Soldering in RAM is a bitch, knowing the prices they charge for it.


  26. The thing is… once these get smaller and smaller, it starts to matter less… because essentially your monitor becomes the biggest component anyway, so you kind of go back to square one where the iMac makes the most sense anyway.


  27. Edward Stern says:

    here is my dream machine MacMini w i7 quad core 3.9 GHz and expansion to 32GB memory with a PCIe SSD drive. I don’t care much for many thunderbolt ports, TB is way too expensive. I sold my mac pro over the summer and moved to using full time my MacBook Air 2012 with i7 2.0GHz, 8GB memory & 256GB SSD and its just as fast as my old MacPro (2011) which runs Lightroom, my main program just fine. I have 3 External USB 3.0 drives to work from and a Samsung 27″ inch display (SA850). I don’t want an iMac because its all integrated and if the Display dies out of warranty its too expensive to replace. So i’m hoping for a Prosumer Mac mini the current Mac Pro is for the 1% crowd


  28. Modularity would be so awesome. You could connect several together for more processing power. Or beef up your MacBook Air for professional tasks in the office or at home.

    And if it becomes really small it could be interesting to actually build it INTO other stuff, like an Arduino or Raspberry Pi. Build Robots from it. Or incredible music machines.