My Mac Mini Saga

I had been waiting a long long time for the 2018 Mac mini refresh. When it finally did arrive, it didn’t go as smooth as it should have. In spite of that, I still would have to do it again because, well…. its still an Apple. Although I’d change some things, because it was quite a mess. Here’s my saga…

Desperate Needs

I had been waiting and waiting – and then waiting some more – for Apple to finally do something, ANYthing, with desktops for prosumers and professionals, for years and years. I was on the verge of giving up and building a Hackintosh and had been researching the latest about Hackintosh tech every few months, for those years that Apple left me out in the cold. Putting it off, on the rumors and more rumors of a Mac mini refresh and a new Mac Pro. Basically Apple left me with money burning a hole in my pocket.

I not only needed a Mac desktop, but I also needed desperately to replace some ancient and slowly dying Windows PC servers I have to run 24/7. These are, or now were, 20 year old PC towers that over the years were literally dying. Parts failing, hard drives failing – even RAM failing, that’s how old these things were. Solid state circuitry was failing !!!! Not just the moving parts like hard drives and fans.

Wow, Apple Did Good Finally

We were all pretty worried that Apple would kill off the Mac mini. Or perhaps worse, screw it up somethin’ fierce. Like knee cap the tech specs, or the ports. But they did good. It’s expensive for sure. More than previous years. And upgrading the processor, RAM and SSD is way too stupid expensive. But you get Apple’s great build quality and macOS.

Mac mini 2018 has a lot of ports for such a small case

Holy Thunderbolt, Batman !!!

The tiny Mac mini having 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports running off of 2 Thunderbolt 3 buses, is a huge deal. Even a year after it shipped.

I just checked Dell’s and HP’s web sites and can’t even find a desktop that comes with any Thunderbolt 3 ports. For example, searching Dell for Thunderbolt 3 returns no desktops. And a search of HP for Thunderbolt 3 has no desktops that include Thunderbolt 3. You have to buy an add-in card to get any Thunderbolt 3 ports. They have a friggin’ workstation class desktop, the HP Z8 G4 Workstation, that starts at for over $3,500 with no Thunderbolt 3. That’s totally BANANAS !!!!

In the area of Thunderbolt Apple is, and has been for years now, totally destroying the competition.

And BTW, having Thunderbolt 3 in the MacBook Air since 2018, and the MacBook Pro since 2016, is insane. Especially compared to the totally lame PC market. Especially at the MacBook Air’s price, to get 2 Thunderbolt 3 ports on 1 bus is awesome. Windows notebooks at twice the price don’t even have 1 Thunderbolt 3 port.

I would not even waste my money on anything, desktop nor notebook, that did not have Thunderbolt 3. Which means, I have to buy Apple, even if I hadn’t already chosen Apple, after enduring decades of Windows and PC hardware suck-atude.

Insanely Great Build Quality

The build is as solid as an iPhone or MacBook. That is to say, way better than PCs.

And macOS still kicks Windows’ ass, even with the software quality issues that Apple has been letting creep into their software over the last few years. Sadly, and ironically, the macOS bugs make it feel more like Windows. A bad thing, but macOS still beats the crap outta Windows.

Mac mini Problems

Mac mini 2018

So when the Mac mini FINALLY was announced and shipped in 2018, I had to jump on it and buy some. If only before my antique PC servers died completely. I ended up buying 2. But that wasn’t the original plan.

My original plan was to buy just 1 Mac mini with enough processor cores, RAM and SSD to run a couple of Virtual Machines (VMs) 24/7 to replace the 2 PC servers. And also to use it as a desktop at home. While using a MacBook Pro when not at home.

The processor in the base Mac mini is an Intel Core i3 with 4 cores. So those requirements meant I should upgrade that to an i7 with 6 cores. Which costs $300.

The Core i7 processor was an important upgrade for the Mac mini that I would use as a desktop and run multiple VMs on, because it has Hyper-Threading and twice the L3 CPU cache. Compared to the base i3 which has 6MB of L3 and no Hyper-Threading. The i7’s 12MB of L3 and Hyper-Threading tech gives the i7, 12 virtual (logical) cores – double the number of physical cores. Both will improve performance under loads, like when running VMs.

Mac mini Got Stupid Expensive FAST

The Mac mini problems began showing up right away when I tried to configure one in Apple’s Online Store with the RAM and SSD I needed. I did expect Apple to charge more than market prices for RAM and SSD, but holy hell !!! A Mac mini with 3.2GHz 6‑core i7, 32GB RAM and 1TB SSD costs an INSANE $2,499. I could build 2 Hackintosh towers with better specs than that for that price.

So I had to research third party RAM and external SSDs, which would be notably cheaper, but still more expensive than building a Hackintosh. The Mac mini had not shipped yet so deets on replacing RAM were non-existent, but some reports speculated it would be possible in the 2018 mini. Ya see that’s an big issue, because the specs of the earlier Mac mini models before the previous 2014 refresh, allowed the RAM to be upgraded. Apple screwed that completely with the 2014 Mac mini which had soldered in RAM. So the possibility of the 2018 refresh allowing us to again upgrade RAM would be a good sign that Apple was once again finally recognizing the needs of professional customers. While opening the mini was probably never really supported by Apple and voided warranties, at least it was possible if you didn’t mind that.

So I decided to gamble that the RAM was upgradable, and pre-ordered a 2018 mini with 3.2GHz 6‑core i7, 8GB RAM and 512GB SSD for $1,499. Still a lot more than I was hoping to have to spend, but ehhhh.

Not So Easy to Upgrade RAM

Mac mini 2018 RAM – Not as upgradable as it looks

Then it shipped, and reports came in that upgrading RAM was more difficult than the 2012 mini, and you needed to buy special tools to do it safely. While I am way comfortable tinkering inside computers – I had been doing that forever with PCs and even upgraded the RAM and drives in my 2010 MacBook Pro notebook way back then – and I was sort of OK with voiding the warranty, this was just too much risk for too much money. So I broke down and ordered the stupid expense config at $2,499, and returned the $1,499 one to an Apple retail store. Which BTW was super easy – so at least there’s that.

Then Stupid Expensive Mac Mini Failed

I ordered the stupid expensive $2,499 Mac mini on Nov 9. Then in late Dec it started exhibiting a hardware failure. It would randomly reboot and sometimes needed multiple tries to boot successfully. These problems got more and more frequent, so I had to return it on Jan 11. Just past its extended return period – extended because of the holidays. But I worked with Apple Support on the phone for hours and hours, and got them to approve a return. And when I brought it into the Apple retail store I did get some push back on the return – they wanted to send it for a repair.

I wanted a complete refund because I no longer trusted the hardware any more. Which is a very very big deal for me, because this was crazy expensive hardware. And I had been a very technical customer of PCs and Windows for many many years, and I finally had to give up on PCs and Windows because I couldn’t trust them to be reliable – never were.

So in 2010 I switched to Mac and never looked back. And in 2007 got the very first iPhone on the very first day (June 29, 2007), because I could never trust other mobile phones before that, especially the mobile Windows based phones and Blackberrys I tried.

The Apple Genius who I first brought the failed Mac mini to and who tested the Mac mini himself to confirm it had totally failed and could no longer boot at all, resisted a complete refund and was insisting on a repair since it was just days past the extended return period (I think it was like 2 or 3 days past, but I’m not positive on exactly how many days past, but it wasn’t much). So I asked for the Apple store manager and explained it to him. The manager also resisted the refund, but after I very much insisted and he could see I wasn’t going to cave, he agreed to a full refund. I told them the whole story of how I was a long and loyal Apple customer, in spite of this, and that I intended to buy another Mac mini to replace this failed one.

Well at least there was some silver lining. That this mess totally justified my earlier decision to not try to upgrade RAM. I could have been mightily screwed out of hundreds in repair costs or maybe a couple thousand bucks.

Then There Were Two

I decided to replace the stupid expensive failed Mac mini with 2 that would cost less. One with the cheapest base config of 3.6GHz 4-core i3, 8GB RAM and 128GB SSD for $799, that I would use only to host 1 VM. And a 2nd mini with 3.2GHz 6‑core i7, 16GB RAM and 256GB SSD for $1,499 that I would use as a desktop and be able to run 2 or 3 VMs simultaneous that I use for testing lots of stuff. A total of $2,298, making it 2 minis for $201 less than the 1 stupid expensive mini for $2,499.

Mac mini 2018 on a desk with a Space Gray Magic Keyboard & Magic Mouse 2

That’s the shot on Apple Mac mini product page. But my desk looks pretty close to that, including the Space Gray Magic Keyboard & Magic Mouse 2, black monitor and black table. I didn’t design it to match the Apple photo – I just now realized my setup looks similar when I grabbed photos for this article. I just chose the colors that looked good.

Still Too Expensive

For the specs it has, except for the 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports which is crazy cool, the base Mac mini at $799 is still too expensive. All the previous years minis were less expensive. And the cost of upgraded processors, RAM and SSD is just insane.

I could still go the Hackintosh route some day. But the macOS upgrade hassles of a Hackintosh are what make buying more expensive Apple hardware the way to go for me. For now…

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