A little over a month ago I made the decision for better or for worse to say goodbye to the Windows OS camp and head on over to camp Mac OS. Having played in the Mac’s pool before meant I was no stranger to these not so foreign waters but nonetheless planning ahead is really what made the transition pretty much seamless. Acclimating to a new environment is always easier when you at the least have a general idea of where everything is and how it works. So a simple thing like knowing what applications are available for the operating system you’re switching to can go a long way to reducing learning curve headaches.
Taking a moment to look back at the initial setup process I don’t think I could be any more pleased at how well it’s designed. Unless there’s a way to remove all user interaction for it to setup itself, it couldn’t have been any simpler or more straight forward. Pushing the [ON] button starts the configuration process by walking you through step by step, connecting the mouse and keyboard, setting up WiFi, transferring data from another computer or hard drive, creating your login credentials, iCloud setup and other pertinent options. Once this is completed it’s all about customizing and tweaking various features to your needs, installing software and moving any data over if you haven’t done so already. Other than that you can essentially just start using the Mac as it is.
For the most part the Mac’s user interface is not so different from Windows that it seems totally alien. The lay out is less cluttered and more organized in my opinion. In general I find user experience more pleasant than what I see with Windows. This can probably be attributed to how the operating system seems to be designed to make complicated tasks appear simple, since it’s geared more towards the general consumer whereas Windows in geared towards being a business solution. The only aspects of the operating system I find myself actually focusing on is mastering the use of terminal commands, scripts for automating processes and keyboard shortcuts.
On the component side the Mac Mini is nicely packed for a soon to be 2 year old computer but that’s not to say a few changes wouldn’t be welcomed. So starting with the RAM I removed the 4GB (2GB x2) it came installed with and replaced it with 16GB (8GB x2) of Corsair’s Vengeance 1600MHz DDR3 (CMSX16GX3M2A1600C10) RAM modules. The additional RAM immediately reduced the startup time and minimized any possibility of a performance hit due to memory intensive applications and running multiple applications simultaneously. A very effective upgrade for anyone looking for a quick and easy performance improvement especially with older computers.
Digging a little deeper inside reveals the 1TB hard drive that conceals a second but empty hard drive slot underneath. Here I occupied the space with a 120GB Intel 520 Series SSD. To make this dual-drive setup even more efficient I used Terminal to change the default locations of some non-system files and folders. This way the SSD has less data to go through when running applications on top of the raw speed advantage an SSD provides over rotating discs.
The component changes were all performance based decisions but not because the out-of-the-box configuration is a slouch. While the extra RAM and SSD did increase performance dramatically I didn’t notice any slowdowns prior to the upgrades. Mac OS X (v10.9.1 at the time) ran smooth and applications didn’t stutter or lag when started. I simply like getting as much performance as I can out of my computers and future proofing them as much as possible before I actually need to do so. If you are into professional photo or video editing such upgrades are definitely in order as soon as possible if a Mac Mini or anything less than a high-end machine is all you can afford. Expansion wise I’m not as cramped as I thought I would be. Bluetooth for example, has more than made up for the Mac Mini’s four USB port setup which was my only real concern. Instead of using the standard USB keyboard and mouse I’ve once again returned to the wireless versions. Although, there are complains about the Apple Magic Mouse I’ve yet to experience any issues with it and the Apple wireless keyboard has also worked flawlessly so far. All the other ports remain adequate since most if not all my other devices connect via USB, Bluetooth, WiFi or a combination of the three.
For such a small machine that’s more than a year old it still packs a decent punch. I originally thought I could wait for the Mac Mini to be updated but after buying one I’m glad I didn’t. There is no guarantee the next version will maintain even this level of upgradability and since the biggest stride in Haswell is geared towards optimizing laptop battery power I don’t feel I’m missing much in a desktop computer yet. My advise to anyone looking at a computer running last generations hardware, especially in the case of the Mac Mini is to evaluate what you need before purchasing. Desktops running Ivy-Bridge processors are still good machines today and more than likely tomorrow but if your itching for a Haswell-based Mac Mini you’ll have to wait this one out a bit longer.