I hereby coin the term: “Invisi-PC”. It’s not quite in the cloud, but it’s so small–it’s hardly there at all. The term “desktop” seems to apply less and less to the modern computer, as manufacturer solutions continue to lose weight. We now have mini-ATX sizes and HTPC sizes, for your diminutive computing needs. Apple says “Honey I shrunk the Computer even further” with their Mac Mini comp dealy. Not to be out-done, Samsung enters the fray with their equally diminished Samsung Chromebox announced just a week ago.
With little stealth or subterfuge, Samsung unashamedly places the Mac Mini squarely in its crosshairs. Each is focused on the pedantic penny-pinching sub $600 market. Yet each offers a wildly different set of specs and features. Which is truly the better bite-sized bit-cruncher? That will be decided by our own hands-on evaluation. But we can definitely speculate here using what we know of each device–which brings us to: Two “boxes” enter. Only one can be victorious. FIGHT!
The design divergence between these two is centered on the target audience. Apple is aiming a trusted Apple enthusiasts with more disposable coin and a penchant for growth and upgradeability. Samsung is shooting for both frugal spenders and those tech tinkers interested in hacking up a mad storm with that malleable Chrome OS. Opting for the Mac Mini mean the option to upgrade memory via the Apple Store. Such is not the case with the Samsung Chromebox. The memory onboard stays onboard. It’s a shame. While both feature 4gb of system memory, the Mac Mini can be boosted to 8gb, which sinks the win for the Mac Mini. But don’t expect to do any high-end gaming or video editing with the Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor. For my money, Apple offers a version of the Mini with an AMD Radeon HD 6630M GPU and 256MB of dedicated GDDR5 memory.
Winner: Apple takes the design win with its upgradability and stylish facade.
Looking at the horses under the hood, the Chromebox is powered by an Intel Celeron B840 Dual core CPU clocked at 1.9GHz. Apple sort of giggles at that with the Mac Mini coming in 2.3GHz – 2.7Ghz flavors.
Winner: Mac Mini
At first glance one could mistake the two for siblings, if it weren’t for the logos. Each comes in that flat square box form factor with the rounded edges. The Mac Mini weighs in at 2.70 pounds with measurements 7.7 x 7.7 x 2.7 while the Samsung Chrome hits the scale at 2.45lbs and fitting in dress sizes: 7.6 x 7.6 x 1.3 inches.
Winner: Chromebox! It’s slimmer by an inch and just a tad lighter.
In an attempt to be future-proof, each shows an affinity for the niche crowd. Apple holds firm that the newish Thunderbolt data transfer connectivity feature, is the way of the future and has included it on the Mac Mini. Samsung caters to those looking beyond 1080p and opts for dual DisplayPort connections. These DP connections support 30inch displays and resolutions as high as 2560 x 1600. The Chromebox also supports the old DVI route for your display connection needs. The Mac Mini only offers HDMi display/TV connection.
Mutliple USB ports make the rounds on each box. Sadly, neither system offers USB 3.0 high speed option. Samsung wraps the Chromebox with 6-USB ports. Four are at the rear with two more on the side. Unfortunately all are USB 2.0. That’s true to for the Mac Mini’s 4-rear USB ports.
Completing the Mac Mini feature list is a IEEE Firewire port, Gigabit Ethernet RJ45 port, an SDXC card slot for expanded storage options and ports for audio-in and audio-out. The Samsung Chromebox loses ground a bit with similar ethernet port but no support for firewire, SD media cards and there is a single unified port for headphone and mic. Some user setups will definitely require a port for each.
Winner: Hold on there, Tex! I love the 1600p resolutions capable with the Chromebox’s DVI and DisplayPort connections. But the muted graphic crunching prowess leaves one wondering “what’s the point?” Mac Mini takes another win due to expanded sensible feature set. I don’t care about Thunderbolt. But an SD card and Firewire are smart inclusions. Plus I for one need my audio input to be separate from output.
Two completely different ideas were at play for storage choices in these miniscule media devices. Apple has slapped a ubiquitous 500GB (rather slow 5400rpm) hard drive in Mac Mini. Apple says it can be “configure” to 750GB. There is a 256GB solid state drive option for much more coin. But remember, the Mac Mini offers SD card support for expandable storage in smaller chunks.
Samsung does a complete 180, offering a meager 16GB solid state drive for storage. Sure, this is a zipper offering than the Mac Min . Pair with the Chrome OS and you’re garaunteed lightening fast boot-up and shutdown speeds. But for expanded storage a combination of cloud storage options and external hard drives are undoubtedly what the future holds for the Chromeboxer.
Winner: Despite its lack of speed, the Mac Mini’s 500GB HD walks all over the speedy competition.
But wait! Here’s the pendulum swinging back in favor of the Chromebox. Lets face it, so far the box that Samsung built is looking kind of roughed-up by the Mac Mini. But the lower end Mini will run you $600 Vs. the Samsung Chromebox’s much more attractive $329.99. We’re talking a near-50% savings. So you must ask, “What’s it worth to ya?” While you ponder that, lets hear it for savings.
Winner: Samsung Chromerbox
In an ideal world these two would get hitched and combine features. I means seriously… What’s the point of upgrading your Mac Mini with an AMD Radeon and a burly 2.7GHz Intel Dual Core, if it’s only kicking out that ubiquitous 1080p standard. I hate standards! Give me the aftermarket Radeon and the DisplayPort, with its enhanced vibrancy and the lovely 2560 x 1600 resolution that comes with a good 30inch monitor. Dare to dream, right? In light of the split feature set, the Mac takes it. It is the most well-rounded machine with upgradability and a sense of purpose. I just don’t understand the Samsung Chromebox. DisplayPort, yes! Support for 2560 x 1600, hell YES! But where’s the gpu power to sufficiently foster smooth 1600p playback? It’s on the Mac Mini’s upgradeable higher end. Argh! So frustrating!
Ok. So, yeah, maybe I do understand the Chromebox! Sure, the Mac Mini wins. But if you want to ease your way into the ground floor of “-box” computing then the Samsung Chromebox is a really nice way to get your foot in the door. If you’re the type that has to do everything Big! and stlyish–going for the highest end right out the gate, then the Mac Mini is the only way to go. The remain unsure masses who are frugal with funds, the Chromebox is for you.
Overall Winner: Mac Mini
It’s a cool comparison n’ all, but both units is targeted in two different directions. The Chromebox’s soul purpose is to browse the web and satisfy your basic computer needs (documents, youtube, spotify etc.) not install software or run video editing tools like the Mactini. To see which of them actually browses the web faster, smoother, better experience etc. would be a “better” comparison.
Shawn, there are a few errors in this article.
yes, the Mac Mini has a SD card port but you cannot write new data to it. It is read only.
Both are upgradable by a semi-competent hacker.
RAM CAN be increased in the Samsung to 8gb per other online articles, as can the SSD (but it can only hold one SSD).
Chrome OS will not boot with certain larger SSDs so this is an ongoing issue.
But if one loads Ubuntu, the Samsung works fine with its new innards.
Yes, one can upgrade the Mac Mini with more memory and SSD and/or HDD but by the time you have done that you have a $1000 machine.
Not so with the Samsung Chromebox. (yes, you have perhaps doubled your investment, but it still equals about half the cost of the Apple box.)
This was EXACTLY the sort of article I was looking for, Thanks!
I know little about each device and don’t have the time to look up tech specs and compare them manually. Sure, they might be very different to each other but that’s what this article explains! How they’re different, why they’re different, and what each would be best suited for.
Isn’t that EXACTLY the purpose of a comparison? If they were too similar to one another then a comparison wouldn’t really be needed, as they’d be the same!
The Mac Mini destroys the chrome box for obvious reasons, however your left out several details that really over kill the situation. The Mac Mini that supports the Radeon GPU is up gradable to 16gb of ram not your stated max of 8gb, and this model can house 2 hard drives the extra hook up floats inside the body housing completely unused. The Mac Mini with Radeon “fully” loaded with the duel core i7 and 16gigs of ram with 2x 500 gb SSD drives just dumps all over the relative competition. Granted you need to have a bit of computer hardware smarts but none the less… :D
Mac mini is indeed a great product. However, it goes without saying how lightweight chrome os really is. 1.9 ghz for chrome os is like 3.5 ghz for mac os. So, we have to rethink this in whole. chromebox is a thin client with a pc capacity. it’s gotta be huge.
I found it a useful comparison. I have a MacBook Pro which I now use for everything, ferrying it back and forth from desk to couch where I hook it up to my TV for watching movies and playing music. I use a Mini-Display Port to HDMI adapter and cords running everywhere. I am considering doing what Charlie Pinker did with a dedicated media computer, even though I will need to use additional external hard drives. I was wondering if there was anything cheaper that would fit the bill. Apple TV is $100 but I’m not sure it can play media from my MBP or just stream via iTunes, Netflix and other paid services. The Mac Mini would tuck away inside my media cabinet, with a up to four 3TB external USB HDs, and I could have a wireless keyboard and trackpad on the coffee table. My vintage Marantz amplifier hooked up with audio mini to double RCA, PS3 in the same cabinet with another HDMI input to my TV. And I could use a hidden hard-wired Ethernet connection to my router, as I do with the internet TV and PS3. It’s worth it just to get rid of all the cords. Laptop as laptop, Mini as media centre. Now I just have to start saving money. It appears from this comparison that the Chromebox wouldn’t meet my requirements.
Been a Mac freak since the early-90’s. Several years ago I cleared my desk of the old, trusty, Mac tower and two CRT monitor system, replaced it all with a (1st generation) Mac Mini and a 22″ flat-panel monitor – and I’ve not looked back. It’s an amazing little machine.
Now I have two (less than 1-year old) Mac Mini’s, with the main machine connected to a 27″ flat-panel. They have never let me down and always do what I ask. I run FormZ, rendering software, design apps, you name it… and everything always works – and these are just basic, nothing added, machines.
I keep saying that I don’t know why Apple isn’t marketing the heck out of them.
Why would you compare them? Because they come in similar sized boxes?
This may as well have been sugared donuts vs dried pasta.
They too come in similar type boxes and are both foodstuffs after all.
One is about twice the price of the other of course and they are not really meant for the same purpose at all really.
So – very much like the items in your review.
And why are they meant for a ‘pedantic penny-pinching’ market?
Thunderbolt port can be used for DisplayPort which you can get 2560×1600 res using a DisplayPort adapter of your choice… DVI, VGA, or HDMI.
Different products for different users… incomparable!
To anyone curious as why these two were pitted against each other… It’s simple. People are curious. Sure the Mac Mini is much more powerful and is decidedly the winner in a head to head showcase. But if you read the article entirely you will notice this was stated. It was also stated that they are targeting completely different customers. This is a valid comparison as some uneducated will opt to go with the cheaper Chromebox and not necessarily understand the stark contrast between the two devices and who the target is for each.
Thank you. That is all!
Shawn, I appreciate your obvious enthusiasm here but I think you’ve missed the point!
These two computers are completely different! The Mac is a traditional local-storage-based computer while the Chromebox runs a fairly immature web-based OS that relies on cloud storage and has limited local application support (you said yourself it only comes with 16GB local storage). This is a major difference. If you look past the hardware and specs, you’ll see these computers serve completely different purposes. My Mac Mini is my media centre hooked up to my TV, which I use to download and watch TV shows, movies etc, as well as being the hub for all my photos and music. I doubt the software is available to allow the Chromebox to compete with those sort of functions.The only thing these computers are competing in is aesthetical design. If you are looking to buy a computer for any other reason, I can’t see how these two would ever appear in the same comparison list (one is twice the price of the other for a start!).
why was a 2011 Mac Mini reviewed against a new chromeOS computer? Everybody knows the new Mac mini doesn’t have and optical drive and can have as much as 16 gigs of ram installed. FAIL article.
Tim, this was just an oversight on my behalf. I used the wrong pic. The comparison is still accurate.
This review is good so far as it goes, but it ignores the operating systems and the user experience. Obviously MacOS X is gorgeous and versatile, better overall. But ChromeOS has strengths too – even better security and stability, automatic updating (easy/low maintenance for your elderly parents), and best of all everything is “backed up” to the web so you can seamlessly resume the exact same experience on a Chromebook with ALL your files, photos etc synced automatically, and getting a new machine or replacing a broken one couldn’t be easier – just crank in your user name and password and everything’s there as you left it.