The next Mac Mini?
aka - My thoughts on the next generation.
I suspect a number of us were waiting for a Haswell refresh of the current Mac Mini. I’ve given it some thought and I don’t think it’s going to happen until mid-year. The reason I say that is because Apple’s industrial design language has changed from flat and wide to tall and small footprint. We’ve seen the new design language in the new Airport Extreme, Airport Express and the 2013 Mac Pro. The next Mac Mini will be a small cuboid-shape like the Intel NUC.
If we take the Airport Express’ height as "1 unit", I suspect the new Mac Mini will be 1.5-2.5, units high (my guess is almost exactly twice the height), with the same depth and width as the Airport Express. I say that high because I don’t see Apple regressing on integrated PSUs, which means by necessity, the new Mini will have to integrate the external brick that accompanies the NUCs.
What will it look like? I’m not a designer, so take the following PowerPoint (YEAH, I said POWERPOINT) schematics with a huge grain of salt. I suspect it’ll be silver – white seems to be reserved for networking, black for pro. Someone with actual design chops could probably make this into a nice 3D render which will then be passed around the usual sites as "wooo, new Mac Mini, y'all!"
"But," you say, "that’s too tiny!"
No it isn’t. Consider the Macbook Air 11". The motherboard on that occupies roughly the same volume, except in a long-and-narrow form factor, instead of a cuboid form factor. So if you go for a sandwich motherboard approach that takes up two-thirds of the volume for the computing guts, and a third for the PSU, you could make this work. Top to bottom, you can put the CPU (using the case as a heat sink) on the top of board 1, soldered RAM on the bottom of board 1, connected to another board with I/O one side and a half-length M.2-sized SSD on the other. Conceivably, the SSD can fit on the same side as the I/O, and the bottom of the stack will be the Airport card with .11ac and BT4 - antenna at the bottom. There will probably be a single fan for the (max) 35W chip, probably taking in air at the bottom and blowing it through the stack out the top.
You’ll get, probably, two USB3 or 3.1 ports, one Thunderbolt port, and sound in/out. Possibly, we’ll get four USB3 ports, and two Thunderbolt ports, but I somehow doubt that'll fit unless they opt for a larger chassis, but the 11" Air suggests Apple's happy with the two USB/single Thunderbolt setup.
Price is going to go up, sadly - my guess is $649 for the base model with an i3-4130T (2 core, 4 thread, 2.9GHz locked frequency), 4GB of RAM and a 128GB SSD, and a $849 model with an i5-4570T (2 core, 4 thread, 2.9GHz base, 3.6GHz turbo), 8GB of RAM and a 256GB SSD. You’ll be able to upgrade for $200 to the i7-4765T to give you 4 cores, 8 threads, a base freq of 2.0 GHz and a turbo of 3.0GHz, and usual Apple pricing on the rest of the components. Add $50 to those prices if you think Tim Cook will need to defend Apple’s margins in a conference call with financial "analysts" and/or $100 if Apple opts for laptop-class components which carry a price premium instead of the desktop-class components suggested above. Total PSU size would need to be about 50W with the desktop setup, 35W with laptop setup.
What that means for us Mac Mini lovers: well, it’ll still probably be one of the best HTPCs out there, even though we’ll need to now buy the obligatory $39-$49 miniDP to HDMI adapter. Where it will fall short, though, is as a server. The current Mac Mini is brilliant as a server. The new Mac Mini will likely need additional hubs for cabling, and will probably not come with an Ethernet port, so you’ll need the $29 USB to Ethernet cable unless you plan to run the server headless.
So that's my thinking, and even if this is only half-right, I've got mixed feelings. I really like ability to customize the current Mac Mini, but given Apple's SMALLER! design philosophy, I don't see that happening, alas. Thoughts?