iMac vs Mac mini – which Apple Mac is best?

by , Senior Technology Researcher Apple 23/03/2014
iMac_vs_Macmini

If you’re thinking of buying a Mac computer for your home, it’s worth having a look at the Mac mini as well as the sleek iMac. The iMac is an all-in-one computer with a processor, hard drive and the rest of its innards housed in its screen. In comparison, the Mac mini is a desktop PC – it’s just the brains of a computer so you have to use a separate screen.

Both offer the premium Apple experience – but providing your own screen and opting for the Mac mini could save you a lot of money. Here we look at how the two devices to see which one comes out on top.

All-in-one reviews – read the latest test results straight from our lab

Apple iMac vs Mac mini – design

imac

In terms of design these are very different beasts. The iMac is a thin, high-resolution screen that houses the processor and memory of the computer. Because everything is contained within the screen, it takes up less space than the mini.

The Mac mini is about the size of a double-layer box of Milk Tray. Compared to other tower PCs, it’s very small. And the silver Aluminum casing is an attractive addition to any desktop. So in terms of design, it’s very hard to say which one wins because you’re comparing different form factors. We’ll call it a draw because both are attractive computers and great examples of Apple design.

Apple iMac vs Mac mini – three key features

No screen for the Mac mini - the iMac is all about its 21.5-inch 1920 x 1080- resolution display. It’s a bright and punchy screen that’s perfect for watching HD films or catching up with the latest programmes on iPlayer.

With the Mac mini, you have to buy a separate screen for about £100 – which, when combined with the cost of the mini, is still £549 cheaper than the pricey iMac. The Mac mini is also it’s pleasing compact – weighing 1.22kg, it’s easy to pick it up and connect it to another screen, such as your TV.

The iMac is faster – both the iMac and the Mac mini come with a choice of processor and memory specifications. Both entry level models feature an Intel core i5 processor, although the iMac is marginally faster when it comes to multi-tasking and taxing tasks such as 3D games. This is partly due to the fact that it has 8GB of RAM compared to just 4GB on the Mac mini.

With a large 1TB of storage, the iMac has double the capacity of the Mac mini. Which means that iMac will happily house more photos, movies and software than the mini. So in terms of specs – the iMac wins – but this is reflected in the price.

Introducing OS X Mavericks - it’s a draw when it comes to the operating system. The iMac and the Mac mini both run OS X Mavericks, the latest desktop operating system from Apple. Mavericks comes with some free software including iPhoto, iMovie, GarageBand and iWorks.

Which? expert view – ‘My money’s on the Mac mini’

jess finalThere’s no doubt that the iMac out specs the Mac mini. It comes with a dazzling screen, it’s faster and offers double the amount of storage space. On paper it wins. Nonetheless, I’d opt for the cheaper Mac mini. The base model will set you back £499. If you already have a screen or are happy to use your TV, then that’s it’ll save you £650 on the iMac.

Overall it offers you a very similar computing experience. Both computers are lightening fast and easy to navigate thanks to the Mavericks operating system. And if you’re tech savvy, you can upgrade the innards of the Mac mini as and when you need, not something you can do on the iMac.

So for those who want the Apple experience without spending a fortune, the Mac mini is a great compromise. In my eyes, it combines performance and great design with value for money – not something you often find with Apple products.
Jessica Moreton – Senior Technology Researcher-Writer

More on this

Apple iMac – full review and test results
Apple Mac mini - the results for our lab
How we test all-in-one PCs – find out how we put AIOs through their paces

6 comments

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Stuart R

I agree – other than the Mac Mini has not been refreshed for some time. If it gets the Haswell / PCIe SSD / AC wifi upgade then it becomes a very attractive proposition. RIght now, though it seems a bit of frustrating waiting game!

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Mark Sadler

Agreed with Stuart above, there’s supposedly a new Mac Mini coming out anytime, but no details on price and spec. It is indeed a frustrating waiting game!
I keep checking Macworld for updates and even spoke with my local Apple retailer (not an Apple store) they knew nothing.
Also a 24″ Acer monitor will only cost about £120 from Curry’s making the cost saving against the 24″ iMac much bigger.

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Dullspark

No doubt the Mini is a great little machine, and very capable. The iMac will win on graphics power too, so bear that in mind. Older minis had graphics on the processor and suffered for it but now a discrete graphics chip has made a big improvement but it’s still outclassed by the iMac. For general all round use it is unlikely to make much of a difference but if lots of video/photography/games are really important make sure the mini is up to your needs.

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Angus Day

You say that “both computers are lightening fast” This should be “lightning fast”.

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Isidore

I’m a great fan of the macmini. One of its advantages is that you can avoid the dreadfully glossy screens that Apple insist on putting in the Imac.

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Imustbecrazy

I bought the Mac Mini, so I’m bias; but, I’d like to say that one thing you never read is about is resale value. A mini will cost $600 USD and it will sell for $100 to $150 USD seven to eight years from now, so the loss is insignificant. An iMac will lose ($1200 USD to $250 or $300) one and one half as much. And, you have to think, the iMac has more parts to break, so the replacement cost is costly. If and when your mini fails, you buy a newer faster one. And, when added together, you spent an equal amount of your first iMac.

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