If we look back at the history of Apple, there have been Macs in many shapes and sizes: from the original all-in-one Macintosh towards the thin-edged iMac; from the short-lived PowerMac G4 Cube to the "trashcan" Mac Pro. There has been towers and cheese graters and pizza boxes; there has been drab beige corporate Macs and bulbous, colorful iMacs.

One Mac sticks out for its unique size, and it is name describes it perfectly: the Mac mini. Introduced 16 years back, and touted, at the time, as "the most affordable and compact Mac ever," the $499 Mac mini was marketed like a gateway Mac. The first Mac without a display in lots of years, the Mac mini allowed users for connecting existing monitors, and this feature was used to attract "switchers," people moving from Windows to Mac at the time.

Over time, the Mac mini has remained a stalwart from the Mac lineup. While it’s never been on of the largest Macs, it has its fans, and it is well suited for numerous use cases. And today’s Mac mini is among the fastest Macs ever.

The Mac mini over the years

The first Mac mini were built with a PowerPC processor, and, as has been the situation since then, was essentially a laptop in a squarish case. It had the same processor as the then-current iBook, an it came with an optical drive , and offered upgradable configurations with an AirPort Extreme card, Bluetooth, along with a SuperDrive.

Not only did the Mac mini not have access to a presentation, but it didn’t have a keyboard or mouse. Apple told users to "BYODKM ," highlighting the truth that this computer works with existing hardware the target demographic already owned.

Uptake on the Mac mini was slow, but it started creating a niche following. Aside from switchers, people who wanted a Mac but didn’t want to purchase an all-in-one computer found the Mac mini the best way to make use of an existing display. For several years, the Mac mini had small, incremental upgrades, moving to Intel processors in 2006, and in early 2009, when many Mac users speculated the Mac mini might not be continued, this computer got a substantial upgrade to the architecture.

Later that year, Apple released the Mac mini Server, which removed the optical drive and added a second hard disk. 2009 was the last year that Apple updated the Xserve, their high-end rack server, and also the Mac mini began to be employed for non-demanding server applications, for example web hosting, and was an ideal Mac for all those wanting a home server.

Change in form factor

In January 2007, Apple released the first Apple TV, whose shape looked like that of the Mac mini, but it was wider and lower. The mid-2010 Mac mini adopted the same overall size, 7.7" square, but would be a bit higher, notably to possess enough room to have an optical drive.

The Mac mini has kept that form factor over the years, even after dropping the optical drive. Updates throughout the 2010s featured minor improvements, and, for some time, after the 2021 iteration, lots of people thought the Mac mini had reached the end of its life. In October 2021, an updated Mac mini was launched, but, as time went one, many thought the Mac mini was again after the road.

Last November, Apple released a brand new Mac mini included in its first salvo of Macs with Apple silicon. This M1 Mac mini has once more placed this diminutive computer at the heart of Apple’s line-up. By having an entry-level price of $699, the latest Mac mini isn’t a lot more expensive than its first iteration, more than 15 years earlier, but is still an incredibly capable computer.

Why use the Mac mini?

While the Mac mini is a fine desktop computer for people who don’t need the fastest Macs – at least that was the case until the latest M1 model, which, due to Apple’s chip and architecture, is blazingly fast – it has mainly been a distinct segment device.

Users wanting a small server to run within their home or office could configure the Mac mini with Mac OS X Server software, which provided all of the standard services they’d need, for example file sharing, contacts, calendars, email, instant messages, and more. Users ran this device "headless," without a display, and connected to it from another Mac via screen sharing to configure it. However, in 2021, Apple removed many of these "server" features in the software, stripping it right down to something to "configure and monitor" Apple devices, handling device management, app distribution, software updates, and similar features.

It was, and still is, extremely popular among users with large music libraries, who dedicate a Mac mini to housing and streaming their music collections. Unfortunately, Apple removed the Toslink optical output using the 2021 version, which has dismayed many of these users, who prefered using that form of output instead of USB.

People with large video libraries love the Mac mini, since it’s powerful enough to operate media management software such as Plex, and stream movies within their home, and with the inclusion of an external hard disk, has nearly limitless storage.

The future of the Mac mini

With the new Mac mini being a low-power high-speed computer, capable of working with Apple’s 6K XDR display, this computer may undergo a renaissance. Inexpensive, discreet, and fairly quiet, the Mac mini’s single-core benchmarks show it as being the quickest Mac ever. This may be hard to believe, however this can be done because of the amazing speed of Apple’s M1 processor. In additional intensive multi-core operations, it comes in just slower than the 2021 iMac Pro or the 2021 Mac Pro, both computers that also feature 8 cores in their processors.

It won’t maintain these positions in benchmark tables for long, because when Apple releases more Macs running the company’s own processors, we’ll see much faster computers. However the Mac mini will invariably remain a small, discreet computer that can be used for many tasks, along with the new Apple silicon powering this device, it could possess a long life in front of it.