Mac Mini Setup Guide from Noob to Pro

The absolute unit of computing called the Mac Mini is both powerful and versatile. This is a guide to help you setup your Mac Mini to get the most out of it Posted by erwinkarim on 6:05 PM, August 15, 2021 Last updated on 3:07 PM, December 2, 2022 Filed in: mac mini, setup guide, how-tos, mac,

When Steve Job first unveiled the Mac Mini, one of the by line that he presents is the BYODKM (Bring Your Own Display Keyboard and Mouse) Mac. Unlike every other Mac that is usable right out of the box, this is a headless unit aimed at customizers and those who wanted a taste of Mac. The original launch price was $499. When counted for inflation, the original Mac Mini was $697 in 2021 dollars and today, you can basically get the base spec Mac Mini at $699 (before discounts).

Note: prices mentioned are correct at press time. All links to amazon are my affiliate links which I will get a cut at no extra costs to you. Happy reading


Mac Mini then, now and possibly the future.

Of course, now after 15 years on the market. The Mac Mini has come a long way from the underpowered, laptop-based component in a desktop body to an absolute unit of computing. It’s quite amazing that Apple’s base spec Mac Mini can actually compete with high end chips from Intel and AMD in certain workloads.

Features 2005 Base Mac Mini 2021 Base Mac Mini
CPU PowerPC G4 (200nm) Apple M1 (5nm)
RAM Base 256MB, Up to 1GB Base 8GB, Up to 16GB
Storage 40GB, Up to 80GB HDD 256GB, Up to 2TB SSD
Video Card ATI Radeon 9200 Apple M1
Ports 2x USB, 1x Firewire, Audio, DVI 2x USB-A, 2x USB-C, Audio, HDMI
Networking Wifi 3, 10/100 MBs Ethernet, Bluetooth 1.1 optional Wifi 6, 1G (10G optional) Ethernet, Bluetooth 5

What 15 years of progress brings you

Mac Mini Capabilities and Limitation


Like the Porsche 911, the design has not been changed for over 10 years. In computing world, that is basically like 100 years.

The basic design and principle of usage has not changed over the years. In fact, the current aluminum unibody chassis has not changed much since 2010. There were tweaks in the design like the removal of the SuperDrive and a darker shade to indicate a higher level variant, but the base design does not change at all. Why mess with a good design anyway?

Like all computers, the Mac Mini performance is limited by what the chip can handle. Unlike the yesteryears of computing, the limits are quite high. Not to say high-end users will hit the limit pretty fast, but for normal use, the M1 Mac Mini can handle anything that you throw at.


The Mac Mini can drive the 6K Pro Display XDR. Don't let the fact that the display setup alone is almost 10 times the price of the base Mac Mini get in the way. Or the fact that the display stand is more expensive than the Mac Mini itself.

Nevertheless, let’s discuss what the Mac Mini can and cannot do. The Mac Mini can drive up to two 4K displays. You can connect one of the USB-C ports to a 6K Monitor (like the Pro Display XDR) but test has shown that the Mac Mini is a little jittery when doing so. There’s 2 USB-C ports, which is a multi-purpose port that can even connect to a monitor and 2 “traditional” USB-A ports. There’s the HDMI port for you to connect to your TV or monitor and an Ethernet port. That Ethernet port can be optionally spec for 10GB and test has shown that it can sustain that speed even when maxed out. With Wireless and Bluetooth, you basically have a Mac Mini tour.

Some caveat: The M1 is the first chip made by Apple. It is called Apple Silicon and was first announced at WWDC 2020. Because the M-series chip is architecturally different from the Intel counterpart, the application needs to run under the new binaries instead of being translated from Intel binaries. Furthermore, the M-series chip has been optimized for Apple workflow. So to get the best results in video editing, you need to use Final Cut Pro editing ProRes streams. Or if you into music production, Logic Pro works best.

Some things about the Mac Mini

Now here’s a little neat thing about the Mac Mini. It is the smallest Mac in Apple’s line up, so it can be put literally anywhere. There’s even a caution from Apple that you should not operate the Mac Mini while putting it in your backpack or sling bag. I guess somebody did that with deleterious effects.


Mac Mini is small and light that you can basically put it behind a monitor using VESA mounts

Traditionally, the Mac Mini has always been capable albeit underpowered compared to their Windows desktop siblings. This is because the Mac always uses laptop components instead of higher powered but hotter desktop components like other PC builds. But with the advent of the M1 chip, the game has changed. The typical power draw for the M1 Mac Mini is around 10 watts, just enough to power a light bulb, but can pounce Intel and AMD finest. What’s more exciting is that the Mac Mini is expected to be updated to a newer higher power chip in the Fall 2021. What a time to be alive.

Another thing to note is that the macOS platform and personal computing in general had advanced quite well that it is not unusual to keep a Mac working for 3 to 5 years. With SSD, better memory management and better cooling, it is possible to keep the Mac Mini working far longer as long as the workload remains the same. That being said, the benefits of such longevity is that you can upgrade all the accessories over a period of time when the budget allows for it.

How we do this build

For the General Purpose build, we set a $250 budget for the “Low Budget” category, $500 for “Decent Budget”, $1000 for “Fat Budget” and $1500 for “I Have Cash to Burn Budget”. We could put the top budget with someone who won the lottery, but I have a feeling, if they won the lottery, they might looking at Mac Pro for their desktop solution instead of a Mac Mini.

Official from Apple


The Mac Mini comes as a headless unit and Apple suggests bringing your own keyboard, mouse and display. However, Apple does sell all those things, and if you want to go the official Apple way, here are the suggested specs. Apple peripherals feels premium and commands a premium price, but in general, you can get a better deal by going to 3rd party solutions. The newer trends in Apple peripherals is providing some ecosystem functionality, like having TouchID on the keyboard and Center Stage on the monitor, things that 3rd party solutions do not provide at this moment.

Peripheral Budget Full Spec
Keyboard Magic Keyboard ($99) Magic Keyboard with TouchID ($149)
Mouse Magic Mouse ($99) Magic Trackpad ($129)
Display Apple Studio Display ($1,599) Pro Display XDR ($4,999) + Pro Stand ($999) or VESA Mount adapter for Pro Display ($199)

General Purpose


Basic setup. This will get you out most of the day.

For the basic setup, just plug in the keyboard, mouse, monitor and you are good to go. The quality of the setup would not change how you interact with macOS, but it will change how you feel when interacting with macOS. A higher resolution monitor allows you to see more and do more. A better keyboard will sound and feel better and a better mouse will ensure that the pointer moves more smoothly. Superficially, those things might not matter much, but the experience does add up.

Accessory Low budget Decent Budget Fat Budget I have cash to burn budget
Monitor HP V223ve 21.5" FHD Monitor ($114) LG 27UL500-W 27-Inch UHD ($250) Samsung 32" M80B UHD HDR Smart Computer Monitor ($689) Studio Display ($1,595.00) / 32" Pro Display XDR ($4,799) + Apple Pro Stand ($999)
Mouse Microsoft Wireless Mobile Mouse 3500 ($18 / ) Anker Wireless Vertical Ergonomic Mouse ($28 / £22.99) Logitech ERGO M575 Wireless Trackball ($50 / £41.69) Logitech MX Master 3s ($99.99 / £86.74)
Keyboard Dell Wired Keyboard ($20 / £14.99) Microsoft Ergonomic Keyboard ($50 / £47.99) Keychron K2 ($99 / £99.00) Keychron Q1 ($169) / Keychron Q2 ($209.99)
Speaker - Creative Pebble 2.0 USB-Powered Desktop Speakers ($20 / £18.99) Bose Companion 2 Series III ($127) KRK RP5 Rokit 5 G4 Pair ($378) + iFi Zen DAC V2 ($189)

Gaming


Mac Mini Gaming setup (w/ streamer side)

Yes, gaming on the Mac sound like an oxymoron since Mac is not known for gaming because of a myriad of factors. Most AAA games are not on macOS. Apple decision to drop support for OpenGL in favor for their in-house solution Metal pushes developers away from a premium platform that has a small user base. Macs premium price with limited upgrade potential to include your own graphic cards pushes more people away. Unlike Windows where Microsoft allows manufacturer to write their own drivers, Apple prefer to work with manufacturers to write their own drivers. Some manufacturer does not see eye to eye with Apple methods and the relationship deteriorate to the point Apple refuse to work with such manufacturer. This is the case with Nvidia. That’s basically 80% of the discrete GPU market.

However, there are few things that are changing that will make gaming on the Mac a viable proposition. Firstly, contrary to popular belief, Apple places an important emphasis on gaming. Just not on the Mac. In fact, gaming is so important to Apple that by revenue, Apple is one of the top five gaming companies in the world. It is just all the gaming is done on the iPadOS and iOS platform where Apple has it’s monopolistic control through the App Store and in-app purchase cut. Secondly, with the advent of the M-series chip, iOS and iPadOS apps is now natively supported. There are demos on iPadOS games being played in macOS, although right now the problem is in the interface between a mouse base interaction to a touch based interaction.

So the bottom line is, you can game on your Mac, there’s a lot of games from the iOS / iPad platform to play from and this will give incentive to AAA game studios to port games to the Mac.

So gaming on the Mac will require a good monitor, even better mouse and keyboard inputs and a decent speaker. Having a single monitor would be enough in most scenarios but having an ultra-wide can give a more immersive experience.


Gaming on the Mac might be an oxymoron, but it's money maker with the company that they devote significant resource to build Apple Arcade and get AAA games on to the Mac
Accessory Low budget Decent Budget Fat Budget I have cash to burn budget
Monitor Same as GP spec Same as GP Spec LG 32GK650F-B 32 (~$400 / £366.11 ) SAMSUNG Odyssey G7 Series 32-Inch WQHD ($553)
Mouse Razer DeathAdder Essential Gaming Mouse ($20) Logitech G203 Wired Gaming Mouse $(30 / £21.99) Logitech G502 HERO ($48) Razer Basilisk Ultimate Hyperspeed Wireless Gaming Mouse ($80)
Keyboard Same spec as GP Redragon S101 $(30 / £47.99) Keychron K2 ($95 / £102.60) CORSAIR K70 RGB TKL ($129 / £119.99)
Audio Pahsaur Gaming headphones ($10 ) Razer Kraken X Ultralight ($40 / £52.99) Corsair Void RGB Elite ($79 / £67.00 ) EPOS I Sennheiser GSP 600 ($150 / £122.02)

Streamer


Streamer Setup

Most streamer setup are like gaming setup as most of the streamers around social media are gamers. One major difference is they have additional equipment to record their sessions. Part of the streaming equipment is a video camera to capture video, mics to capture their speech and lighting equipment to ensure they look good. Chair is optional. They might have additional screens to help visualize their session and also to monitor chat streams.

Accessory Low budget Decent Budget Fat Budget I have cash to burn budget
Monitor Same as Gaming Spec Same as Gaming Spec Same as Gaming Spec + Dell SE2419Hx 24" FHD Monitor ($226 / £274.99) Same as Gaming Spec + Samsung S70A 27" 4K Monitor ($339 / £327.00)
Keyboard Same as gaming spec
Mouse Same as gaming spec
Audio Same as gaming spec
Microphone Use gaming headset Rode PodMic Cardioid ($99 / £87.00) + Microphone Boom Arm ($99 / £70.10)
Video Capture Generic Webcam ($17 / £15.00) Logitech C270 HD Webcam ($25 / £19.20) Desptech 4K Webcam ($70 / £59.49) Logitech BRIO 4K Webcam ($199 / £161.32)
Lighting Equipment - 10" Ring Light ($35 / £25.89) Neewer 2-Pack Dimmable 5600K USB LED Video Light with Adjustable Tripod ($45 / £48.99) Neewer RGB Led Video Light with APP Control ($199 / £169.49)

Music Producer


Music Studio Setup

Traditionally you would need a powerful workstation to use DAW (Digital Audio Workstation). Music mixing seems to be just making some noise business, but when you start to add all the tracks, the plugins and the effects to make the music, the CPU resources they consume will be fairly significant. A video below shows a professional music producer running a project with over 1000 plugins and the M1 Mac Mini performed flawlessly. This kind of power is simply not possible in the previous version of the Mac Mini. Of course, in the Music Producer Mac Mini, the monitor screen is not important, but the monitor speaker is very important for the music producer.


Accessory Low budget Decent Budget Fat Budget I have cash to burn budget
Monitor Same as GP Spec
Keyboard Same as GP Spec
Mouse Same as GP Spec
Audio Interface / Mixing Console Pyle Professional Audio Mixer ($79 / £105.82 (3-channel version)) G-MARK GMX1200 ($192) Harmony HCPRE2442DHW ($320) Icon Pro Audio DAW Controller ($1000 / £723.35)
MIDI Keyboard MIDIPLUS AKM320 ($40 / £48.56) Korg MICROKEY237 ($100 / £58.00) Akai Professional MPK Mini MKII ($200 / £105.00) Roland A-49 ($220 / £124.99)
Studio Monitor + DAC PreSonus Eris E3.5 ($99 / £87.00) + Fosi Audio Q4 ($67 / £69.99) Yamaha HS5 W ($199 / £168.00) + FiiO E10K ($75 / £61.90) KRK RP5 Rokit 5 G4 ($350 / £139.00) + BEHRINGER MONITOR2USB ($150) Yamaha HS8 W ($350 each / £299) + Mackie Big Knob ($350 / £219.00)
Musical Instrument Various prices according to your preferences

Video Producer


Videographer / Colorist station

For the video editor / producer / colorist, two of the most important features of the workstation are color accuracy and sound accuracy. This is because to ensure that your final product quality is the best it can be, your editing station must give the most accurate results. While you can easily spend $30,000 for a reference monitor, we will not put such a recommendation, because if you are in the market for such a monitor, you’ll be shopping for a Mac Pro instead of a Mac Mini. Instead, we will focus on a workstation that is decent for Youtube which means a modest budget by studio production standards.

Accessory Low budget Decent Budget Fat Budget I have cash to burn budget
Monitor Same as GP Spec ASUS ProArt Display PA248QV ($219 / £226.69) BenQ PD2700U 27" 4K Monitor ($500 / £429.00) + LG 27UK500-B 27" 4K Monitor ($265 / £375.00) BenQ SW271 27" 4K Monitor ($999 / £1,291) + Dell S3422DW 34" Ultrawide WQHD Monitor ($500 / £351.99)
Keyboard Same as GP Spec
Mouse Same as GP Spec
Studio Monitor + DAC PreSonus Eris E3.5 ($99 / £85.71) + Fosi Audio Q4 ($67 / £69.99) Yamaha HS5 W ($199 / £168.00) + FiiO E10K ($75 / £61.90) KRK RP5 Rokit 5 G4 ($350 / £139.00) + Focusrite Clarett 2Pr ($499 / £379.00) YAMAHA HS8 ($369 each / £229.00) + Universal Audio Apollo Twin MkII ($999 / Link)
Optional accessories

Developer / Programmer


Developer's station

Now, finally, we come to the place where it started: the developer’s desk. The developer’s station is where all the magic happens. Without developers, all the tools might not exist. The developer might not be the best videographer, producer, artist, gamer or writer, but without developers, all the tools that the later wouldn’t exist and all the artisan, visionaries and producers could not make their greatest works. For a developer, the best assets are a large screen or two screens, one which is in a vertical orientation, a decent powerful computer and quiet headphones for concentration.

Now here’s a question of why develop on the Mac when Windows or even Linux would do the job. First, you develop a macOS application, you will need Xcode which is only available on the macOS. Mac Mini would be the cheapest entry into macOS development. While there are cross-platform solutions that can do both Windows and macOS, a prudent developer would still need to test the application on the actual platform and the legal way to get it is through Mac Mini.

Accessory Low budget Decent Budget Fat Budget I have cash to burn budget
Monitor AOC U2790VQ 27" 4K Monitor ($240 / £319.99) Samsung M7 43" 4K Monitor ($599 / £627.21) Dell U4320Q 43" 4K Monitor ($869 / £896.47) LG 34WN80C 34" 4K Ultrawide WQHD Monitor ($839 / £846.00) + Dell UltraSharp U2720Q 27" 4K Monitor ($650 / £664.25)
Keyboard Same as GP Spec
Mouse Same as GP Spec
Headphones Sony MDRZX110NC ($28 / £35.99) Sony WHCH710N ($99 / £99.00) Sony WH-1000XM4 ($299 / £238.00) or Bose QuietComfort 35 II ($250 / £229.99) Bowers & Wilkins PX7 ($399 / £249.00) or Apple AirPods Max ($499 / £449.00)

Home Server


A well placed Mac Mini in a network rack can be a really good home server.

Mac Mini, despite having a very small form factor, packs quite a punch. From the base of M1 (or soon to be M2) SOC to potentially having M1 Max that can compete with high end laptop graphics, the Mac Mini is suitable to act as a home server / small render farm for your project.

Although not designed to be rack mounted, there are kits that allow you to put around two Mac Mini devices in a 1U rack space. Attach a monitor on a network rack and that monitor to the Mac Mini, you’ll have yourselves a live network monitoring tool. Or a render farm, or a video surveillance monitor.

The point is that the Mac Mini form factor and power-to-space ratio is so high that you can use it as a server solution. In case if you are wondering how to setup your home network to go with your brand new server, here is a guide to go with that.

Accessory Low budget Decent Budget Fat Budget I have cash to burn budget
Network Rack StarTech.com 6U Wall Mount Network Rack ($48) NavePoint 9U Wall Mount IT Open Frame ($106) StarTech.com 15U 19" Wall Mount Network Rack NavePoint 12U Wall Mount ($193)
Mac Mini Rackmount module StarTech.com 1U Server Rack Shelf ($32) Rackmount.IT RM-AP-T1 ($150) SoNNeT RackMac Mini ($200)
Switch TP-Link 16 Port Gigabit Ethernet Switch (TL-SG1016) ($77) NETGEAR 26-Port PoE Gigabit Ethernet Smart Switch (GS724TP) ($340) NETGEAR 10-Port 10G Multi-Gigabit Smart Switch (MS510TX) ($389) NETGEAR 28-Port PoE Gigabit/10G Stackable Smart Switch (GS728TXP) ($1,219)
Firewall / VPN FORTINET FortiGate 30E ($265) WatchGuard Firebox T20 Security Appliance ($380) Cisco Secure Firewall: Firepower 1010 (FPR1010-NGFW-K9) ($554)
Network Storage (Renewed) HP ProLiant DL360p Gen8 1U RackMount 64-bit Server ($250) QNAP TS-431XeU-8G-US ($674) BUFFALO TeraStation 5410RN ($1,559) BUFFALO TeraStation 51210RH ($2,799)

Conclusion

Now there you have it, some idea in how to customize your Mac Mini to best fit what you are doing. Mac Mini despite being the smallest, and cheapest Mac available, it’s also the most versatile because you can basically plug things in and make it your own. If you have any ideas about what is the perfect build in what you do, please share your thoughts with us.

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