Erik Ableson 4 minute read
May 7, 2014

Whither the Mac Mini?

Whither the Mac Mini ?

I’ve been a fan of the Mac Mini for ages now and with the ability to run (albeit unsupported) VMware ESXi makes it a wonderfully useful method for hosting multiple virtual machines including OS X VMs. It is my favorite home lab machine. It consumes hardly any power (11W-85W), is tiny, requires no big external power brick, has only a discreet white LED.

The current issue is that it hasn’t evolved in ages with the last update dating back to October 2012 which has been keeping me from buying a new one for upgrading my home lab.

My wish list for the next generation Mac Mini is to see them split it into two streams for desktop and server use. The Mini is already sold in this manner with a “server” model that comes with the OS X Server licence. But since OS X Server has become a $20 app purchase, there’s little practical difference between the two types.

The desktop model can continue with the current lineage with a Haswell processor bump and perhaps a better graphics card for those people that want to use it as a desktop or media station.

On the server front, the following changes would be relatively easy to accomplish and even retain the same form factor :

ECC memory

This is a requirement for VMware certification and support. This would enable sales into companies that want a more robust method for hosting their OS X Server machines in VMs that can then be moved around dynamically and more easily integrated into disaster recovery and business continuity plans. OS X Server is a great small business platform, but lacks in areas of clustering and so on, which is where VMware shines.

Bump the max memory to at least 32 Gb

This is the first core limitation for running a lot of virtual machines. I’ve tested with both the Core i5 and the Core i7 models and at steady state, unless you have some truly processor intensive applications, you’ll run out of memory long before you saturate the CPU. Currently there’s no point in buying the i7 model for most standard server workloads (mail, Open Directory, DNS, file services, caching, messages, etc.). With 32 Gb, you can push the consolidation rate up enough to justify the Core i7.

Dual ethernet interfaces

Currently I end run this problem by using a Thunderbolt adaptor in order to get a second gigabit ethernet interface so that I can separate storage traffic from regular network traffic, but dual integrated ethernet would simplify things immensely. No extra adapter to buy and clutter things up and no driver issues. I’d really really love to see 10GBase-T, but since we saw the Mac Pro arrive without 10 GbE, I don’t think that’s a likely scenario.


These are terribly unlikely options, but ones that would be nice to see :

Expansion options

Thunderbolt is an extension of the PCIe bus and there are solutions out there from Sonnet, OWC and others that let you install regular PCIe cards in a Thunderbolt connected box. But they are all relatively big, expensive and clunky. Currently Apple is the only one that is producing Thunderbolt ports at sufficiently large scale to be able to take advantages of economies of scale so it would be nice if they took advantage and proposed a stackable Mini formatted box with a PCIe slot, even if it was limited to half-length cards.

Management interface

Another one that is exceedingly unlikely, but having a ILO/DRAC style remote management interface would go a long way to making it a truly serious server that lives in a server room and can be managed remotely. But after adding the dual ethernet connections there’s not a lot of room left on the back if we keep the current form factor.

Here’s hoping there will be some news at WWDC…