A Giant Leap Backward?
Apple's launch of their new Intel "Haswell" based Mac Minis yesterday (October 16, 2014) was long anticpiated. The last refresh of the Mac Mini product line was in 2012 - dog years ago in the high tech gadget world.
What may shock the Apple faithful is that the new Mac Mini line is significantly slower and more expensive that the lineup from 2012.
How much slower? The new top-of-the-line Mac Mini is 37% slower than the previous top-of-the-line Mac Mini in some benchmarks.
The new Mac Mini does feature Intel Iris Graphics, which provide a significant bump in 3D gaming capabilities compared to the old Mac Mini, but that graphics bump comes at the cost of a big drop in general computing power.
Keep reading for a detailed review of the hardware inside the new Apple "Haswell" Mac Mini and a comparison to the Lini PC.
It's All About the Cores
The big difference between the new and old Mac Minis comes down to core count. The new top-of-the-line Mac Mini is only a dual-core machine vs. the old top-of-the-line Mac Mini, which was a quad-core.
Intel's branding for CPUs, what Charlie Demerjian calls "iSomethingMeaningless," leaves a lot to be desired when it comes to accurately informing consumers about the relative performance of processors.
Even though both the new and old Mac Minis feature "i7" processors, the old Mac Mini comes with a quad-core i7, while the new Mac Mini tops out at a dual-core i7.
Even though the new Mac Mini has a next generation "Haswell" processor, the dual-core still ends up being 37% slower that the old quad-core according to the commonly used Passmark CPU Benchmark.
Lini vs. Mini
Lini PC has been shipping Intel "Haswell" processors for a year now. While the Mac Mini uses Notebook processors, Lini PC uses Desktop processors. As a result Lini PC is up to 93% faster.
The Lini 3, with a Pentium G3240 desktop processor, is only marginally slower than the new Mac Mini with an i5 notebook processor. The Lini 5 blows away any of the new Mac Minis, and the Lini 7 is even faster.
Intel Iris Graphics: The New Mac Mini's Main Advantage
The new Mac Mini ships with Intel's Iris Graphics - on the 2.6 GHz and 2.8 GHz models. This is a significant upgrade from the old Mac Mini, but only a marginal win compared to Lini PC.
Once again, Lini PC is already based on Intel "Haswell" processors, and Lini PC uses desktop processors instead of notebook processors. The "Iris" HD 5100 GPU in the new Mac Mini is about 12% faster than the HD 4600 GPU in Lini PC in the 3DMark Firestrike benchmark.
Apple, like most retailers, offers base models at cheap prices, but charges progressively higher margins for upgrades.
For instance, the 2.6 GHz Mac Mini has a base price of $699 with an i5-4278U processor. To upgrade that to a top-of-the-line i7-4578U costs an additional $300 dollars. The difference in list price for these procesors is about $100, so Apple is netting a $200 dollar profit off this upgrade.
Lini PC not only offers higher performing parts overall, but also offers upgrade options at much more reasonable prices. As a result, the performance/price ratio for Lini PC vs. Mac Mini gets progressively better as you move up to higher end systems.
This Performance/Price comparison is simplistic because it only takes into account CPU performance and not the performance gains from component upgrades like SSD and Memory, which are harder to quantify.
Even so, two notable trends emerge: Lini PC dominates on Performance/Price overall, and the Performance/Price ratio for Lini PC increases as you move towards higher end units, while the Performance/Price ratio for Mac Mini decreases as you move towards higher end units.
Apple's new "Haswell" Mac Mini is a somewhat legendary entry in the annals of consumer computing history. No other case comes to mind where a company has released a new version of a two year old product that is significantly slower and more expensive than the product it is replacing.
This is just another case of "Apple being Apple," but for people who need a computer that actually works, the new Mac Mini lineup is dead-on-arrival.
Lini PC continues to lead the market on both absolute performance and performance/price when it comes to mini desktop computers.
Lini PC has been offering "Haswell" processors for a year, and has already silently rolled out "Haswell Refresh" processors. The official launch of "Haswell Refresh" Lini PCs, along with the new "Lini X" is coming soon.