My New Mac: Why I’m Downgrading from a Mac Pro to a Mac mini

Almost 8 months ago, I wrote about how my Mac was fast enough, and how I wasn’t planning to buy a new Mac for a while. Well, my Mac Pro is now within a few months of the end of its AppleCare contract – the one thing that will get me to buy a new Mac – and I’ve decided to buy a new one. This time, I’ve opted for a Mac mini.

It all started as the weather got warmer. My Mac Pro gives off a lot of heat, and not having air conditioning (here in France, with “French windows”, you can’t just stick an air conditioner in a window) means that this computer heats up my office too much in the summer. I wanted to consider replacing it, in part because of the heat, but also because of that looming AppleCare deadline. Knowing that it’s easier to sell a used Mac if it has AppleCare – even a few months – meant that my upgrade window was fast closing.

My first consideration was an iMac. But Apple only sells iMacs with glossy screens, and, looking at my son’s iMac, I realized that I couldn’t work if I saw myself on the screen all day. In addition, I already have a 24″ Dell monitor, so buying an iMac would mean either using two monitors (nice, but I don’t have the desktop space), or putting the Dell in the basement.

I actually hadn’t considered the Mac mini at all, until my fellow Macworld author Rob Griffiths suggested it. There always seemed to be something missing in the Mac mini; it seemed to be a stopgap designed for switchers who didn’t want much in a Mac. But looking more closely at the specs, and comparing its speed with my MacBook Air, I realized it would be more than fast enough for what I do. As I said when I wrote about my Mac being fast enough, the only time I really use its processors is when I rip CDs or convert music. I do these things often, but not that much that it would change my life if they were slower. Another thing I liked about the Mac Pro was the ability to have four internal hard disks. But as the Mac mini has FireWire 800, I could daisy chain two big externals (1 TB each), and have all the disk space I need.

I ordered the maxed-out model of the Mac mini: 4 GB RAM, a 320 GB hard disk, and the faster 2.26 GHz processor. It will be faster than my MacBook Air (2 x 1.8 GHz), which is more than sufficient for most of what I do. I could have tried to upgrade the RAM and hard disk myself, as Dan Frakes recently wrote about in Macworld, but I didn’t want to bother with it, and didn’t want any worries about my warranty.

The more I thought about the Mac mini, the more it made sense. It’s basically a MacBook in a brick, as Rob Griffiths pointed out. Fast enough for most everything I need, and with 4 GB RAM, the only time I’ll not have an ideal amount of RAM is when running Windows. But it’s smaller, quieter and cooler than my Mac Pro, and uses less electricity. After all these years of technical progress in computers, it seems almost illogical to use a huge tower instead of a tiny box. Granted, when I bought the Mac Pro, I wanted, for the first time, to have the fastest Mac, but now I just don’t care any more. As I have said before, my Mac is more than fast enough for everything I need, and the Mac mini will be sufficient for most tasks.

The only thing I’ll miss, however, is a fast CD drive. The Mac mini comes with a 24x SuperDrive, which is about the same as the stock drive in the Mac Pro I have. However, with the second optical drive bay available, I installed a 52X CD-only drive. Since I rip a lot of CDs, it saved me a lot of time. I haven’t found any external CD drives that run at that speed.

So I await delivery of my Mac mini, which should be here in a few days. At the same time, I’ve ordered a couple of additional 1 TB hard disks and an enclosure, so I can set up two external disks to use with the mini. It has been suggested that, to improve speed a bit, one can boot off an external drive using FireWire 800. This allows you to use a 7200 RPM disk, instead of the internal 5400 RPM disk. While this may make a difference in the time required to open applications or start up the mini, I don’t think it will have much of an overall effect on the mini’s speed. I may try it, but as I’m looking for simplicity, I will probably not go that route. I’ll post another article after I’ve got the mini up and running, and tell you how everything’s going.

P. S.: In response to a reader question as to why I need a new Mac just because my AppleCare is running out, I’ll copy and paste this paragraph from the article I wrote 8 months ago:

One possible consideration for buying a new Mac will be when my three-year AppleCare contract runs out. Since I use my computer for my professional activities, I can’t be without a working computer, and I need to have a service contract. Living in a rural area, only AppleCare can help me: the nearest Mac repair center is a 2-3 hour drive. (Fortunately, AppleCare includes on-site repairs; a technician replaced my motherboard after about a year, when the front USB plugs stopped working. He drove the 3 hours to come here and do it in my home.) In addition, accounting rules here in France make me amortize my computer over a three-year period. Not that accounting would make me buy a new computer, but financially it makes sense to buy one every three years.

Check out the Mac mini at