Six Colors
Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Stephen Hackett

The Hackett File: What’s a pro?

In that love-it-or-hate-it iPad commercial, it was asked “What’s a computer?”. The answer to that may still be unclear to some, but with the new Mac mini, Apple has another head-scratcher for us:

“What’s a pro?”

When Tom Boger, Apple’s head of Mac product marketing, introduced the new machine, he joked that it came in space gray because “pro customers are going to love that,” before praising it for being “an absolute beast on the inside.”

Boger then laid out his case. The new Mac mini comes with four or six processor cores in every model, can support up to 64 GB of user accessible RAM, and up to 2 TB of SSD storage, leaving all spinning media in the past. This is accessed via four Thunderbolt 3 ports, as well as a couple of USB A ports and an optional 10Gb ethernet upgrade. Apple’s custom T2 chip is onboard, keeping things safe, secure and speedy, and the Mac mini has an all-new cooling system designed to keep all of this hardware cool, quietly.

The new Mac mini is up to five times faster than the machine it replaces, but that dual-core system is four years old, so just about anything should be noticeably faster.

The Mac mini is a home run in the GPU department. All SKUs come with integrated graphics in the form of the Intel UHD Graphics 630 chipset. Needless to say, this wasn’t mentioned on stage when Boger was going through all of other much-improved hardware.

I am not saying this chipset is the end of the world. While it does benchmark slightly lower than something like the Intel Iris Plus Graphics 655 in the $1,7999 13-inch TouchBar MacBook Pro, it is up to the tasks that home user will put it through.

But there’s my sticking point — the Mac mini is supposed to be for pros now. While it’s roughly in the same performance class as the 13-inch MacBook Pro, that means it’s not the machine for everyone.

It depends on your answer to the question: “What’s a pro?”

If you’re looking to do complex video editing, 3D rendering or other high-end tasks, you’re not the sort of pro the Mac mini can serve without the addition of an eGPU, which will easily add $1200 or more to the cost of the system.

You could easily spend entry-level iMac Pro money on a loaded Mac mini with an eGPU and 5K display.

However, if you aren’t the most demanding user, this Mac mini looks like a great option. You don’t have to be making the next Pixar film in your basement to be a pro these days.

Record or edit a podcast? You’re a pro.

Work in Photoshop, Illustrator or Sketch? You’re a pro.

Are you building an app in your spare time? Here, take this hat. It says “I’m a pro” on it.

Buying a pro Mac is complicated. The iMac is a great machine, but with high core counts on the horizon, it makes it a hard recommendation at the moment. The Mac Pro is … coming … soon … probably.

However, the MacBook Pro is more powerful than ever, and only getting better next month with the optional Vega GPU. The iMac Pro is the ultimate combination of power and elegance, and now, the Mac mini is on the table, too, as long as your work isn’t super bound to the GPU and can pay to skip over the entry-level Core i3 CPU.

[Stephen Hackett is the author of 512 Pixels and co-founder of Relay FM.]

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