I want a Mac Mini on steroids

My current computer configuration is hooking up a 13-inch MacBook Pro to a 30-inch monitor and using a wireless keyboard and mouse with it. It works OK, but lately I've been craving some more speed. And some more RAM. And faster disk access. And a better video card than the embedded Nvidia 9400M video.

But what are my Mac options? I could have bought a larger, faster MacBook Pro with SSD and discrete graphics card for more money. Honestly though, I like the 13-inch MacBook Pro's form factor for travel (even though I could easily lose the DVD drive). And what's done is done. So what are my options now?

I could buy a 21.5-inch iMac but I'm not going to get much of a speed boost from that. Even going to the next step, the base model 27-inch Core Duo iMac, isn't much faster than a MacBook Pro.

The Core i7 iMacs, on the other hand are incredibly speedy, but I am paying mostly for that gorgeous screen. Like I said, I already have an even bigger (non-glossy) 30-inch monitor and I don't need two humongous screens.

So the answer for me is a $2500 Mac Pro?

Not so fast.

I don't need a giant aluminum box full of expansion and hard drives. I already have a great NAS device with plenty of expandable storage, I just want a built-in fast video card for a single (large) display and I don't need that many ports nor that much speed. I don't render video for a living.

And I'd like to spend less than half of that money. Certainly the Hackintosh world is a tempting option. Core i7 PC boxes start out at just over $500.

But if I am spending that much money, I'd like to make sure it runs MacOSX properly and a future OS update doesn't render it useless. So, back to Apple.


The current Mac Minis are much faster than they were in the past but they still aren't any faster than a MacBook Pro. So, in their current form they aren't of any use to me.

But Apple could make a $1000 speed demon Mac Mini that would be the perfect upper mid-range computer.

Here's how

  • Put in a Core i7 processor with either NVidia Optimus or ATI Radeon HD 4850 discrete graphics cards.
  • Switch from a slow laptop hard drive to a fast SSD. I don't need anything huge. I keep my media on a NAS. 64GB should be enough for my boot disk, settings and my applications. 128GB-256GB options?
  • Give me 8GB of RAM.

Apple could keep the same form factor and most likely squeeze all of this in without issue. If they can't, break down and make it an inch taller, or make the DVD and optional external part. Big deal.

Could they afford this? Let's take a look a iMac 27-inch with Quad Core i7 at the Apple Store:

With a wireless keyboard and Magic Mouse (value for both: $150), the base iMac Quad Core costs $2000.

We know that screen is worth at least $1100 because that's how much Dell sells it for. Dell sells with low margins so Apple's price is even higher.

The 64GB SSD and the 1TB HDD are about the same price. And shipping would be way less for the Mini.

That means the base Quad-core iMac without the screen (just the computer components) would cost $750 or less. To get 8GB of RAM and and upgrade to Core i7 would be another $400 using Apple's Store prices.

That means for just over $1000, Apple could build and sell (at their current margins) a SSD-based Mac Mini with the high end iMac's internals. I'd be all over this.

Unfortunately, such a machine doesn't exist. That doesn't mean that next time the Apple Online Store goes down, I won't be checking for a speed demon Mac Mini.

Copyright © 2010 IDG Communications, Inc.

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