Mac Mini

I’ve touched on this a number of times over the past few years — my current home server is due for an upgrade. The 2011 Mac Mini has served me well, storing our Time Machine backups, our Plex library, our local photo library, and performing various random Mac-specific tasks for the past decade. But it’s stuck on High Sierra and is quite a bit slower than any modern Mac.

I thought about upgrading when the 2018 Mac Mini was released, but the funds never quite lined up and at the point when they did, the Mini had been available for long enough that I didn’t want to order one shortly before a new model was released. Then the M1 Mac Mini came around and I had a bit of a dilemma — should I jump into the Apple Silicon world head first? Should I wait until the second iteration? It was a tough call, really.

Eventually I made a decision and not necessarily what you would expect. I recently ordered a base model 2018 Mac Mini. Yes, it’s older and slower than the M1, but there’s good reason to stick with the previous model for my next upgrade.

  1. It’s less costly than the M1 Mac Mini. The model I ordered cost just $499, brand new. The M1 starts at $699. But even if I ordered a refurbished one, we’re talking in the $600 range.
  2. It has more ports. I don’t expect to plug too much into the Mini at a time, but I do want to move everything to USB-C and Thunderbolt. The M1 Mini only comes with two Thunderbolt ports compared to the 2018 model’s four.
  3. It has upgradeable memory. With the M1 Mini, I need to order one with the amount of memory I need now and what I’ll need in a handful of years when I’m still using it. And that’s capped at 16GB. With the 2018 model, I can order the base configuration with 8GB to start and then upgrade to 16GB, 32GB, or even 64GB down the line when my needs change.
  4. It’s based on Intel, making it more versatile. Sure, there’s been some advancements in getting Linux running on M1 Macs. It will probably be working fully at some point in the future. And Microsoft may, at some point, let you purchase a license for a version of Windows that runs on ARM. But there’s no guarantee. And even though I don’t have any plans to run Windows or Linux on this machine, I’m going to own it for a decade or more — I’d rather leave my options open.
  5. It’s space gray. This is an incredibly minor point, but there is something sort-of cool about owning the only Mac Mini released that wasn’t silver.

There are downsides, of course. Buying an older model might put a shorter lifespan on its usage, especially with the transition to Apple Silicon. And it is slower than the M1. But I think the positives far outweigh the negatives, at least for my usage.

Speaking of usage, I’m pretty excited to get it all setup. It’ll be quite the process, though. I’m not going to be using Migration Assistant to move everything over, I’m going to do it manually. The current Mini’s macOS install is several years old at this point and I think it’s time for a fresh break and a clean install.

That means manually configuring my Time Machine shares and getting a new backup from all my machines, transitioning my Backblaze license, moving Plex’s database files, setting up VNC for remote access, and more. I’m also going to be booting from an external drive so I have a bit more breathing room — I’ll have to enable external booting and installing a fresh copy of macOS on the external drive.

There’s quite a bit to do, but it’ll be a lot of fun. This is exactly the sort of stuff that I enjoy most about computing. And there’s likely to be plenty of opportunities to write about what I learn and discover along the way.

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