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Mac Mini – The best way forward?


A new way forward for the Mac Mini?

The Mac Mini, as we have reported previously, currently languishes as the unloved ugly duckling of the Mac family. Full of potential, but consigned to the ‘naughty corner’ by an Apple seemingly uninterested in paying more than lip service to the machine.

Though Tim Cook has stated, “while it is not time to share any details, we do plan for Mac mini to be an important part of our product line going forward”, there has been nothing to suggest more than passing interest in it being other than a very basic entry level device.

If Apple seriously wants to maximise the Mac Mini’s appeal, they have to go back to the days of late 2012 when there was a range, from basic entry to a solid i7 4 core, with upgradeable memory and storage (the latter with some determination involved)

PROVIDED Apple are serious about securing the Mac Mini’s future, there may be a relatively easy way forward.

Intel/AMD to the rescue?

This week’s announcement of the Intel/AMD partnership in bringing high end graphics to the 8th generation mobile processors opens a great option for Apple to secure the Mac Mini’s place in the Mac lineup.

Intel AMD graphics

Not only would it secure the Mac Mini’s future, it could also position it for significant sales growth similar to that seen with Apple’s revamped 2017 MacBook Pro and iMac.

In a move that almost no-one saw coming, Intel has announced the 8th-generation H-series mobile processors will have a feature that’s nothing short of amazing: they’ll integrate AMD GPUs.

The 8th-generation mobile processors currently on the market are U-series chips. These are 15W processors using a revised version of the 7th-generation Kaby Lake architecture. The GPUs of these chips are part of the same piece of silicon as the CPU. In moving from 7th to 8th generation, the number of CPU cores and threads doubled to four and eight respectively. Aside from some minor changes however, the GPUs’ portions are largely unchanged since the 6th-generation Skylake and fall well behind AMD and Nvidia offerings in performance.

With the 8th generation, there will be significant changes:

The chip package will contain multiple silicon Die.

An Intel CPU

A custom-built AMD Radeon GPU

Stacked second-generation High Bandwidth Memory (HBM2)

Connecting the GPU and memory is Intel’s new “Embedded Multi-Die Interconnect Bridge” (EMIB), a high-speed, short-range interconnect designed to join different chips within a single package. Intel says that EMIB will enable the creation of faster, thinner packages, enabling the multi-chip module to fit into slimline laptop form factors.

Intel AMD2
As you can see from the above comparison, EMIB offers significant space savings, before considering the performance benefits. EMB uses silicon to join the chips, rather than the usual circuit board traces found in conventional multi-chip modules. These silicon interconnects (shown below) enable much denser packing of the interconnects. Intel claims using EMIB shaves about 2.9 square inches (1,900 square millimeters) from the motherboard and halves the power usage of a traditional design.

Intel emib

At this stage, little is known about the actual AMD die being used, however a good guess would be one of the Vega modules.

Revitalise the Mac Mini (and MacBook)

Though designed for gaming level performance in ultrathin notebooks, this would be a no-brainer inclusion in a new Mac Mini design. Imagine that level of CPU and graphics performance in the module, surrounded by memory, storage and iO, in a device potentially less than half the volume of a current mac Mini. It would make all those Intel, and other NUC’s look like bloated swine.

How about it Tim? Commit to a screamer of a Mac Mini; industry standard (user upgradeable) NVMe M.2 hard drive module, and user upgradeable memory. The Mini would again be what it always should have remained;  user upgradeable and perfect for everything from a compact great performing desktop, to a media machine, or even well performing server.

There would still ample room for even higher performing MacBook Pro, iMac and Mac Pro machines to fill out the ‘High Performance’ end of the Mac spectrum.

One final thought. While you’re at it, replace the anaemic processor in the MacBook with this sweet module, and make the most of that great form factor with a machine that is truly useful.

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