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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?

The MacBook Air offers the choice of a 128GB or 256GB SSD - this flash storage is considerably faster than the old fashioned hard drive in the Mac mini.

However, the Fusion Drive option in the top-of-the-range Mac mini gives you the best of both worlds - the addition storage offered by a hard drive combined with the faster flash storage.

We'd say that the fact that you can pick up a 1TB Fusion Drive as standard on the £799 Mac mini is a point in its favour, you can't upgrade the MacBook Air to a Fusion Drive at all. The most storage you can opt for in the MacBook Air is 512GB and that will set you back £240.

Buying advice

If you were prepared to pay £799 for your new Mac the Mac mini with the 1TB Fusion Drive for £799 may well be a better option than the entry-level MacBook Air with its paltry 128GB of storage. However, you could always buy yourself an external hard drive to store media files on that might fill up your limited storage, it's pretty simple to run your photo and music library off of an external hard drive for example.

MacBook Air versus Mac mini: Ports

When it comes to ports, the Mac mini has one thing in its favour, it includes an HDMI port, which makes it really easy to plug it into your TV, making it the perfect choice if you wanted a media centre for your living room. You could use an adaptor to turn the Mini DisplayPort output on the MacBook Air into HDMI, but at an extra cost.

Prior to Apple's 2014 upgrade to the Mac mini we'd have been able to say that the other port that the Mac mini includes that the MacBook Air doesn't is a FireWire 800 port. Unfortunately that is no longer the case. The old MacBook Pro is the only Mac that still features this port.

Other ports on the Mac mini include Gigabit Ethernet, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, four USB 3 ports, the HDMI port, audio in and a headphone port, an IR receiver, and an SDXC card slot.

The ports on the MacBook Air are as follows: one Thunderbolt port, one USB 3 port, and a headphone port. Only the 13-inch model offers an SDXC card slot.

Crucially the MacBook Air lacks Gigabit Ethernet so you can only use this Mac wirelessley - unless you purchase a Thunderbolt or USB to gigabit adaptor (£25 each).

Buying advice

Here the Mac mini kind of has the edge because it has an HDMI port, which is great if you were hoping to attach it to your TV. The Mac mini also features faster Thunderbolt 2 ports, and Ethernet. However, the ports offered by the MacBook Air may be enough for your needs.

 

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