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Mac mini or MacBook Air: the best low-cost Mac for your money

Karen Haslam | July 15, 2015
If you are looking for a low cost Mac the £399 Mac mini and the £749 MacBook Air are likely to be your top choices, but which one offers the best deal?

Mac mini specs

Apple updated the Mac mini range at the end of 2014. This box is sold in three configurations. The cheapest Mac mini has the same 1.4GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 processor and integrated graphics chip (the Intel HD Graphics 5000) as the MacBook Air and the entry-level iMac. It also features a 500GB hard drive. It is essentially the same specs as the £899 iMac, but costs just £399, that's a saving of £500, more than enough to buy a separate monitor and keyboard and mouse.

The other Mac mini models offer quite a boost from the entry-level model, although they lag behind the now discontinued 2012 Mac mini. 

The 2.6GHz dual-core i5 Mac mini, offers 8GB RAM, a 1TB hard disk, and Intel Iris Graphics. It costs £569. It is possible to upgrade the RAM to 16GB at point of purchase. There are also options for configuring the Mac mini with flash storage or a faster i7 processor.

The 2.8GHz dual-core i5 Mac mini, offers 8GB RAM, a 1TB Fusion Drive (combining a hard drive and flash storage), and Intel Iris Graphics. It costs £799.

These two Mac minis are comparable to the processors inside the 13-inch Retina MacBook Pro, but you can expect the faster flash storage in the MacBook's to give those models a boost.

MacBook Air versus Mac mini specs: Buying Advice

Given the similarities of the specs back in 2014, it was no surprise that the Mac mini's processor and graphics performance was similar to that of the MacBook Air. However, now that the MacBook Air has seen an upgrade and the Mac mini hasn't (yet) the MacBook Air is now the faster machine.

In our tests the entry-level 2014 Mac mini scored 5401 points in the multi-core speed Geekbench 3 processor/memory test.

Back in April 2015, Geekbench 3 indicated an average score for the 13-inch MacBook Air of 2912 points in single-core mode, and 5821 points multi-core. In 2014 the equivalent model scored 2777 and 5400.

The 11in MacBook 2015 model scored averaged results of 2898 points in single-core mode, and 5818 points in multi-core mode in Geekbench 3, that compares to 5392 points for the 2014 11in MacBook Air.

It's not only the processor that should speed up the MacBook, we would expect the MacBook Air to be speedier than the Mac mini thanks to its faster flash storage.

MacBook Air versus Mac mini: Storage

The storage options vary quite dramatically for the MacBook Air and Mac mini ranges.

The Mac mini features a 500GB hard drive at the entry-level, a 1TB hard drive at the mid-range, and a 1TB Fusion Drive at the high end.

 

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