Buying a Cheap Mac Mini vs Building a Hackintosh – Pros and Cons (Late 2014 Edition)

Early this week on October 16th, Apple announced some new additions of iPads, and a brand new 5K 27’’ iMac. However, there is also an interesting news from the announcement that introduced a brand new update to the existing Mac Mini. This new update of Mac Mini marks the end of a 2 year draw. Apple also quietly dropped the base model of the new Mac Mini to the starting price of $499. This marks a very attractive entry price for people who want to explore the Mac world with limited budget in their pocket.

$499 Mac Mini vs Hackintosh

If you are a long time reader of this blog, you might know that we have a series extensive coverage on how to build a Hackintosh from selecting hardware to installing the operating system. It’s a fun and rewarding process if you are geeky enough in pursing the thrill of building you own Mac from a wide range of hardware selections with the result that is so rewarding. However, a Hackintosh is still a compromised version of Mac that doesn’t always equal a native Mac. Even though it runs Mac OS X natively, you might still not gain all the features a native Mac has, even comparing to the cheapest Mac Mini model.

Here, we listed some of the Pros and Cons in greater details on what you are gaining and losing when you buying a cheapest Mac Mini vs building your own Hackintosh. Hopefully after this, you will have a better idea of what you want to achieve.

Pros (of buying a Mac Mini vs Build your own Hackintosh)

  • Save time on selecting all the different hardware and waiting for them to be shipped
    • This can be arguable in both ways. The way I see it, this is a gain, because selecting the hardware you want can be a daunting process especially when you are not familiar with the choice of the hardware. Keeping up to date of the hardware selection by itself can be a challenge. Don’t even mention the amount of pieces you need to compare and pick. You also save time on the shipment of waiting individual hardware to come, and the possibility of receiving a defect component. When you are buying a Mac Mini from Apple, you can always expect receiving a decent machine designed and manufactured by Apple, a brand dedicated to quality.
  • Do not worry on all future update incompatibilities
    • By having a true Mac over a Hackintosh, you will not worry what happens next year when a new version of OS X is released… will the hardware that you bought today still be supported next year and the year after? Those are the questions you don’t need to worry. That by itself to me is a huge plus, but if you are ambitious and don’t mind the challenges year over year of maintaining a stable Hackintosh up to date then this won’t be an issue.
  • Small footprints than any other micro ATX motherboard based Hackintosh
    • There is no way your customized Hackintosh can be as efficient of putting all the hardware together as the Mac mini. Even with the smallest Micro ATX motherboard and a compact case, you are still looking at double the size of a Mac mini in your room or on your desk. If spacing isn’t a concern then this won’t be affecting you.
  • Runs Windows perfectly
    • Switching between Mac and PC are as easy as holding an Option Key during the boot up. Apple has updated Boot Camp to support Windows 8.1 and installing Windows on a Mac are easier than ever. By getting a Mac you will not loss a bit from PC, and all the years of experiencing of using Windows. Windows runs natively and perfectly fine on Mac.
  • Thunderbolt 2, HDMI and all other additional I/O supported out of box
    • Thunderbolt 2 is something Apple invented, very few third-party motherboards out there have this port available. Even some do, they may not be working when you install the Hackintosh. This also include other ports like HDMI, SD cards, and USB 3.0, proven to be difficult to make it work. That’s another huge gain if you want to use the computer to connect to other media devices.
  • Faster Wi-Fi with 802.11ac, native Bluetooth 4.0 support (all underline hardware and software integration)
    • Similar to the point above, by having those key hardware components working out of the box you will save a lot  of frustrations on troubleshooting why some features don’t work. For instance, the latest OS X Yosemite’s continuity feature will not work if your Wi-Fi and Bluetooth model are not supported.

Cons (of buying a Mac Mini vs Build your own Hackintosh)

  • Dollar per performance ratio is low compare to a Hackintosh with same budget
    • This is the biggest drawback when buying an entry-level Mac from Apple vs putting your own hardware together. It is guaranteed that you will get more of out the money you spent on the hardware for the same amount of money you spent on a cheap Mac mini. And if you ever change your mind and don’t like the way OS X works, you can always go back to PC. But with a cheap Mac it isn’t very worth it to begin with.
  • RAM not upgradeable (also hard drive can still be upgraded)
    • This is a change since previous model, the latest Mac Mini (late 2014) has RAM soldered on the motherboard. Hence you will not be able to upgrade the RAM whatsoever. It hurts the lifetime of the machine. It might not be an issue for some people but will certainly do for others. When deciding approaching to get a Mac Mini, keep in mind that you will not be able to upgrade beyond the base 4GB RAM that comes with the machine. However, you can still upgrade the hard drive. Looking inside the machine there is also enough room for a second hard drive to be installed.
  • Lack of customization and upgrade options can be pricey
    • You don’t have much to choose from, and the upgrade path from the base model are extremely steep. If you do choose to upgrade, this will further magnify the cons in dollar per performance as the ratio will be reduced even further. Questions would then be, does it really worth it ?

Jonathan Hu

Programming by day, Web Development, Canucks & Movies for spare time!
Co-founder of Next of Windows and a cool geek 🙂

Last updated: 11/09/2014

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