Falling prices heat debate: Mac Mini or custom PC for $599

Computer components are currently for sale at never-before-seen prices, making it a perfect time to upgrade your storage drive or memory. At a base price of $599 for a Mac Mini, building a capable computer for graphic-intensive work or gaming is now possible. But what’s the best choice? The debate is hot as 60 experts shared their opinions with Cybernews.

Mac Minis are the undisputed champions among mini computers, combining stunning CPU performance with adequate graphic power and an unbeatable price tag of $599 for the base model. Most tech reviewers can agree to that.

However, the Mac Mini base model's main disadvantage is the lack of storage and RAM (random access memory) with no ability to upgrade. Having 8GB of random access memory (RAM) and 256GB of storage is below what’s considered the minimum for a capable work computer.

Upgrading a Mac Mini to 1TB of storage and 16GB of RAM would cost an additional $600.

In the meantime, you can find a fast 1GB M.2 SSD starting as low as $28 for a PC. For RAM, 16GB kits are available from $17 for the older DDR4 variant and $37 for the newer DDR5 type.

This decline in component prices can be attributed to a downward trend in the computer memory market, as manufacturers are forced to sell off excess stock due to decreased demand.

This presents a unique chance for individuals to upgrade their PC systems or build new ones.

building computer

Mini PCs would feel like a downgrade unless you pay more

You can find a mini PC for a price similar to the Mac Mini or lower. For example, Intel NUC machines can come with a usable amount of RAM and storage, yet they wouldn’t be any faster.

The Apple M2 processor's Geekbench test scores (2630 points in single-core and 9722 points in multi-core) surpass even capable and power-hungry desktop CPUs, with the exception of the latest and greatest. And mini-PCs typically incorporate slower mobile processors.

It’s the same story with integrated graphics. The fastest integrated graphics from Intel or AMD often carry a higher price and still lag behind the performance of the slowest Mac mini M2.

The M2’s base 8 GPU cores stand on par with older dedicated AMD Radeon RX 570 or Nvidia GeForce GTX 970 video cards, also boasting contemporary encoding engines that accelerate video editing and similar workflows.

In the synthetic 3DMark Wild Life test, the Mac mini base model outperforms Intel's UHD Graphics 770 by threefold and surpasses Intel Iris Xe Graphics with its 96 execution units by twofold. These two integrated GPUs are commonly found in compact form-factor computers. Although the fastest integrated graphics option from AMD, the Radeon 780M, puts up a fight, the M2 remains 17% faster in the same benchmark.

Mac mini

Could you build a faster computer for $599?

Even with cheaper components, building a faster Windows computer is challenging when considering the Mac mini’s advantages.

But if you don’t care about the size, integration in the Apple ecosystem, build quality, sleek design, support, software stability and optimization, have no regard for your time, and you’re willing to tinker with UEFI and drivers, could you at least build a faster, bigger machine from PC parts?

Firstly, the budget should be even smaller, as Mac Minis often go on sale (at the time of writing – for $499).

Secondly, the Windows 11 Home license alone officially costs $139, while Macs have free macOS and some useful software. This leaves even less money for an actual computer.

The ultimate answer is – it depends. PC builders would need to strike a balance, opting for a faster processor with slower graphics or a faster graphics card with a slightly less powerful processor. The latter is likely a sensible choice, particularly for tasks where Macs might lag, such as demanding graphics work, machine learning applications, or gaming.

For our calculation, let's assume the buyer already possesses a license or has other cost-effective means to acquire Windows.

With a budget of $595, you can build a powerful computer with Nvidia RTX 3060 12GB graphics that could serve for entry machine learning applications, video or photo editing, or gaming. For example, Youtuber PC Builder came up with this build:

  • Budget AMD Ryzen 5 5500 processor – $94.58
  • Cooler – included
  • Asus Prime B450-A II Micro ATX AM4 Motherboard – $79.98
  • 16GB of RAM (Silicon Power Gaming, DDR4-3200 CL16) – $29.97
  • 512GB storage (Teamgroup MP33 NVME SSD) – $22.49
  • Video card MSI GeForce RTX 3060 12 GB – $279.99
  • MicroATX Case (DiYPC F2 or alternative) – from $39.39
  • 600W Power Supply (Apevia Prestige or alternative) – $51.99

Such a PC would deliver a faster experience due to the increase in RAM, it will also have more storage. The primary advantage would lie in its video card, which would be at least three times faster than the Mac mini’s. This component alone would have more memory than a unified 8GB of Mac mini.

Since not all software is interchangeable, the choice ultimately depends on individual use cases, needs, and preferences.

What do experts have to say?

The PC vs. Mac debate is as lively as ever. Sixty experts weighed in on my question, which I posted on the helpareporter.com platform: “What’s the better option – a 599$ Mac mini or a PC build for the same price?”

The camps were divided as follows:

  • 33 for PC,
  • 10 for Mac,
  • 16 were undecided, saying: “It’s a personal choice that depends on use cases.”
  • 1 proposed a third option, a prebuilt mini PC

Here are some arguments from Apple fans:

“If you're looking for a compact and powerful system, the Mac mini offers exceptional value starting at $599. With its M2 Apple Silicon chip, it handles a wide range of tasks efficiently, including browsing, office work, and even photo/video editing. The Mac mini's integration of dedicated video encode/decode engines and machine learning capabilities adds to its versatility,” Nikita Sherbina, CEO of Aiscreen.io, opinionated.

“Personally, my travel-based lifestyle draws me more towards Mac Mini. Its size, inbuilt security, and integration features outweigh a PC build's customization in a stationary setup,” says Yulia Saf, travel guru and owner of misstourist.com. “Integration across iOS devices is optimal for me as a frequent Apple user.”

“Consider the M2 processor – even the basic model’s got 8 cores CPU, and the GPU has 10 cores. It’s also optimized for a variety of tasks, including productivity, coding, and more. Just one thing to note: choose a model with at least 16GB of RAM. It’s going to cost more than the $599 minimum, but it’ll be worth it,” Tina Grant, Technical Manager at Aerospheres, stated.

“While there are certainly benefits to both, I think that for most people, a Mac mini would be the better choice. Personally, that’s what I would choose too. Both have virtually the same capabilities, but Mac Minis require significantly less power, so if you have a PC build, you’re going to be using up a lot more electricity. I’m a big fan of Mac minis, so I think they are a worthwhile investment,” said Rex Freiberger, CEO & Editor at gadgetreview.com.

“I would choose a Mac mini because I appreciate its smooth functioning, user-friendly interface, and ease of syncing with my Apple devices. The Mac mini is a small and powerful computer produced by Apple. It has a contemporary appearance and is powered by macOS, which is known for its user interface and fluid performance. The Mac mini is ideal for both general computing and creative tasks such as photo and video editing,” Jack Kennedy, an editor at Thailand Nomad, shared.

“I would choose the Mac mini for my own use. I value the ease of use and reliability of the Mac mini, and I do not need a computer for gaming or demanding tasks. I also appreciate the fact that the Mac mini is compact and can be easily moved around,” said Ameya Dalvi, Business Head at Top10Ratings.

Daivat Dholakia, VP of Operations at Essenvia, would have chosen a PC a few years ago. However, now the M2 chip appeals more to him as it “gives you a pretty powerful GPU along with the powerful CPU, which saves you a lot of money and time.”

PC enthusiasts often value flexibility and practicality:

Jan Chapman, Managing Director of IT company MSP Blueshift, was unsparing. “The cheapest iMac or Mac Mini has 256GB of storage, which is how Apple takes advantage of consumers. You must pay an additional $400 to increase that to 1TB of storage. For a custom PC, the price difference between a 256GB M.2 SSD and a 1TB one is... $50. The cheapest iMac has 8GB of RAM, but for an additional $200, you can upgrade to 16GB. For a custom PC, the price difference between 8GB and 16GB is... $25. A desktop Apple computer should only be purchased if you are a fan of the brand.

“Personally, my inclination leans toward the PC build. Why? My marketing expertise emphasizes data-driven insights and campaign optimization. The PC's customization aligns with my need for tailored setups, crucial for data analysis and graphic design, yielding measurable marketing results,” George Smith, Marketing Manager at InfiSIM, shared.

Aleksa Krstic, CTO of Localizely, a SaaS translation platform, prioritizes performance, flexibility, and cost-effectiveness regarding his technology choices.

Mac and PC

“I would lean towards building a budget gaming/multimedia PC with a dedicated GPU. This would give me the ability to upgrade components in the future as needed and potentially achieve better performance at a lower price compared to the Mac Mini,” he said.

“The versatility of a budget PC with a dedicated GPU offers a lot of bang for the buck. Design work, multimedia tasks, and gaming suddenly become exciting prospects without breaking the bank,” argues Eloisa Hife, CTO at BarkLikeMeow.

Gaming is important to Khaled Bentoumi, software engineer and co-founder of anyIP, and Apple still has a lot of work to do here.

“Gamers' top priority is performance. Games must function properly and look fantastic both now and in the future. And the truth is, you can play games on a PC with performance that’s at least twice as good as a Mac Mini's for the same price or even better at a much lower price,” Bentoumi said.

“I’d prefer a PC over a Mac for the same price. The first reason is that Macs are unrepairable; the chances are literally slim to none that you’ll get one get fixed. Many tech shops simply refuse to take any cases of Mac because the security that Apple is known for is also their problem. The components are largely soldered into the motherboard, making it difficult to trace or look for any issues,” said Ryan Faber, founder of Copymatic.

Tim Daniels, a commercial photographer and photo trainer at lapseoftheshutter.com, recently built his own PC for around $500, primarily for photo editing.

“I went with a PC because it gave me more flexibility in terms of setup – for example, as a photographer, I need lots of RAM but don't need such a powerful GPU – so I can direct my budget to only the components that matter to me. Most people in creative professions prefer Macs as they don't require any fiddly OS setup, unlike Windows-based PCs, but you definitely pay a premium for the convenience of Macs and lose the ability to customize your computer,” he said.

“I’m a PC person, I’m used to the OS and know my way around the machines and the way they operate, which makes a PC a more functional and optimal choice for me. I’m also a long-time gamer, so a purpose-built machine that facilitates and allows me to enjoy that pastime is always going to tick all of my boxes,” said Tim Cundle, a digital PR specialist for Protect Line.

Many respondents argued that either option could be great, depending on the user's needs. Better pricing on PC components and computers has introduced an intriguing choice that’s yours to make.