When I go to visit a developer friend of mine, I normally take no notice of what he’s got laying around his place. It’s crammed with junk. Stacks of software, boxes, manuals, shipping containers… half-built computers, cables, wires, hard drives… good golly… the number of hard drives.
But there, next to his keyboard was something that looked vaguely familiar, except it was so very tiny. It was the Mac Mini Pro that Mac users have been clamoring for for years. Was this a new test model? I became very intrigued an poked around.
Please excuse the small size of the images. I didn’t expect to see these cool design test units so I only had my cell phone to take pictures with whenever he left the room.
The first model I saw was this thin vertical model. Personally, I hate the metal handles- they just waste space and make it more difficult to integrate into existing racks of gear. But this one was kinda cool because the optical drive was on the side, vertical- so the whole unit could be laid down on its side and then those handles are on the sides and a lot less bothersome.
I spun it around real quick once I saw that he didn’t have it connected to anything. Why did he have it sitting next to the monitor then? But I snapped a quick picture of the back showing that this clearly is an early physical mock-up of a potential design because I could see the white Mac Mini poking out of the back of the case, but there was additional wiring I could see through the perforated chassis.
There was also a round hole that looks exactly like the power plug for the iMacs, except there was no hardware inside the case yet. Maybe that part isn’t finished and is still being worked on. It would be great to not have to also lug around a big power adapter. The Mac Mini is cool, but the power adapter is nearly the same size as the computer itself! Putting the power supply back inside the computer- like Apple does on the Apple TV and their new Time Capsule. Those new components are very small, yet Apple can put the power supply inside of them.
My buddy had to take a phone call, and had left the room. Apparently it was something he couldn’t talk about with me being in the room with him. But yet he left these sitting right out in the open. Okay, it was a bit more cluttered at first so I slid away some of the other junk that was on the table, and I threw a bunch of other cables, and I don’t know what, onto the floor. It blended in with everything else so I don’t think he’d even notice that I moved stuff.
While he was blabbering away, and the radio was playing in the other room, I took a closer look and saw that the Mac Mini Pro has a slot-loading optical drive. Booooo. I was hoping for a normal tray-loading drive that we could easily swap out with the drive of our choice. It would also be cheaper than these rather exclusive slot-loading drives. How many slot-loading Blu-ray drives are out there? Hmmm. That’s my point. Standard-sized, tray loading drives not only handle both large and small optical media (no Apple slot-loading drive handles 3″ optical camcorder disks) but Blu-ray burners are already out there and cheap!
Behind a little door I did find that Apple has upgraded the Mac Mini Pro with a full-size hard drive. It is quite easy to get to behind a big side panel that just lifts off. Very cool. I hope this feature makes it into final production.
While I was taking pictures of this one, I head him coming back so I slide the junk back next to the Mac Mini Pro. He asked if I wanted anything to drink. I asked for a soda. Looking around, I wondered where I would be able to put it down because the clean flat surfaces in this “computer room” (aka geekfest) were few and far between. I noticed that he only uses those sport bottles- I guess to contain any drink that might spill. Great idea.
While he went to get us some soda, I was looking around and saw something even cooler tucked away in a corner of the floor. I quickly grabbed it and saw that it was another design concept for the Mac Mini Pro and I loved this one even MORE!
The drive was mounted horizontally, and it has four USB ports across the front. Maybe this further signals Apple’s phasing out of FireWire— just like the MacBook Air has no FireWire. Is this the beginning of the end? How will I connect my HDV camcorder? ARGH! I was about to try and take a picture of the back of this real cool Mac Mini Pro when I heard him coming back again so I hastily dropped it back in the corner and greeted him at the door while I put my phone back in my pocket.
I suggested we maybe go out and get a bite to eat. I didn’t trust anything he might have in his fridge. He agreed so we left. But I can’t wait to get a chance to get back in there and see what other little gems lay hidden in plain sight.
The thinner model would be great as a “half-rack” unit which would allow various video decks and other forms of production gear to me mounted in a rack along with the Mac Mini Pro. But I didn’t see a way to put rack ears on it. Maybe someone will come out with a 3rd party conversion kit like Marathon Computing used to do for the G4 towers.
Any way you look at it, these Mac Mini Pro computers are exactly what end users have been demanding for years. Thankfully, Apple has been listening. Maybe not to those who want a rack-mountable unit… but at least there’s some inkling there that Apple understands that users need something between an underpowered Mini and a way too big and expensive Mac Pro. The molded aluminum case concept is a bit dated today, since it’s been around for many years- developed first for the G5 Macintosh Tower- which needed all that extra space to cool the wicked hot chips. Now that companies are putting Core 2 Duo and even Quad Core chips in laptops, as well as very small PCs, there’s really no need for Pro users to be saddled with a tall and heavy tower that fits nowhere.
Apple has surprised us before. Maybe these are just functional prototypes and there is a completely different department developing a very cool-looking and functional case that Pro users will love and immediately snap up to integrate into their existing racks of gear.
There’s a few more photos but I don’t want to put them on here in case Apple’s lawyers get irate and try to shut me down, or sue me, or make me delete this whole awesome tidbit of exciting news. I certainly hope these are inklings of things to come! Come on Apple! It’s time to ship the Mac Mini Pro! You know we’ve been asking for it for years!