Only the worst sort of ingrate would complain about finding an iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch stuffed in their holiday stocking. But if you want to really impress your favored Apple fan, there's nothing that does the job like placing a brand-new Mac under the tree. But, budget considerations aside, which current Mac is the most appropriate for the Apple lover in your life?
Should it stay or should it go?
Before slapping down your credit card for a new Mac (or, if you have an iPhone 6, waving your phone under an NFC terminal), it's not a bad idea to learn how your recipient uses a computer. If you spy them routinely lugging around an old laptop, that's a clue that they're a mobile maven. If, on the other hand, a computer monitor holds down a prominent space on the kitchen counter, you have some idea that a less-traveled Mac would be the appropriate choice.
Once you've broadly determined the kind of Mac they should have, it's time to explore the options within each product family. We'll start with the desktop models.
After years with no updates, Apple finally unveiled the latest version of the Mac mini in October 2014. Some people hoped that this would be the diminutive desktop Mac that finally delivered serious power in a small package. Those people were disappointed.
While today's Mac mini is more affordable than the previous model, it's hardly a powerhouse with its 1.4GHz ($499), 2.6GHz ($699), or 2.8GHz ($999) dual-core Intel Core i5 processors and built-in graphics system. And its RAM is soldered in place so you don't have the option to later upgrade it should you wish to.
That said, it does offer a number of ports including four USB 3 ports, two Thunderbolt 2 ports, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, and a SDXC card slot. And it uses both 802.11ac Wi-FI and Bluetooth 4.0. As with the last couple of Mac mini models it has no media drive for playing CDs or DVDs.
Who should you give it to?
The Mac mini would be appreciated by a variety of people. Elementary and high-school students who need a capable computer will find the mini a fine tool for helping with their homework. If the object of your gift-giving affection is a bit of a media nerd, that person will find the mini to be a great media server (though you'll want to throw in an external hard drive to hold their large music and video collection). And if you know someone who's been hankering to give a Mac a try--a partner who's had it with Windows or a sibling who loves her iPad and would like to see if Apple's elegance extends to the desktop--the mini is a great (and affordable) place to start.
Sign up for Computerworld eNewsletters.