A look at: Late 2014 MacMini

The MacMini is one of two computers in my roster that remains largely unknown. Until now.

While my classmates are living it up in Mexico or Colorado, I went home and decided to look at the MacMini. I’ve been thinking about making another computer (well, device) purchase and I thought about trading in the MacMini for credit towards that purchase. To do that, I had to unbox the MacMini from storage and turn it on.

Before that, let’s talk about this machine and the “how” and “why” I got it.

The Past

Around the time I took my internship at the local newspaper office, I was having some issues with my Asus Essentio series (now the MintTin.) At the local newspaper office, I began using a 2005 (the original) MacMini G4 to write stories and stuff.

I used the original 2005 MacMini G4 during my internship at a local newspaper office.

Then the hard drive in the Essentio series died. This was during the Windows 8 fiasco (long story short – I wasn’t going to buy a PC that had Windows 8 on it.) I wanted to switch to the Mac ecosystem, so I begged my parents to buy the cheapest MacMini. And despite the MacMini being a little more expensive than they’d otherwise pay, they made it work and we bought a MacMini.

I remember the day we went to pick up the MacMini. Unlike the MacBook Air, we actually drove (a hundred miles) to the nearest Apple Store to pick the thing up.

I was ecstatic, but not just to get the Mac. That day was the first – and only – time I had ever been inside an Apple Store. I felt we looked out of place. The new machines – iMacs, MacBooks, iPhones and iPads were all lined on shelves while people walked around playing with them.

We picked the machine up on November 26, 2014 – the day before Thanksgiving. After getting back home, I promptly connected the Mac up and immediately went online.

Being the cheapest (literally) new Mac offered for sale, it had poor specs that rendered it a very lousy machine – even to Apple aficionados. The Core i5 clocked at 1.4 GHz was lack-luster, and the 4GB of RAM was definitely not future proof. It had integrated graphics and a 500GB mechanical hard drive – in a time where Apple was starting to transition to their Fusion and solid state drives.

Even worse for the late 2014 MacMini model, Apple made it a sealed machine. There is no way the machine can be user-upgraded, and even the Genius Bar can’t upgrade it for you. The machine had its RAM and processor soldered directly to the logic board and the case was welded shut.

Despite all of this, I got a lot of use out of it. For the first year, it was my daily driver. I edited a huge video project using iMovie on the MacMini – including rendering the video. (File storage and publishing [burning to discs] on that project, however, was done on the MintTin.)

At the time, I also ran a website and graphic design business. I made two websites and a booklet for a local non-profit using the MacMini.

Then, the MacMini got pushed to the side. In August 2015, I purchased a new computer – the early 2014 MacBook Air. I wanted something more portable. The MacMini remained my “daily driver” for personal things for a while until the Asus monitor that it displayed on (the monitor came with the MintTin originally) burned out, rendering the MacMini useless.

After that, the MacMini got shelved while the MacBook Air became my daily driver for everything. The MacBook Air was subsequently replaced with my Lenovo ThinkPad T420 in June 2016, after I wanted to transition back to Windows 10.

The Present

Recently, however, I’ve been seriously wanting to transition back into MacOS. I use Macs – specifically iMacs – on a daily basis in my classes and at my job. I plan on trading the MacMini in for a new device – more on that later.

The early 2014 MacBook Air is still in regular use – albeit by my dad. He uses it to surf the web, and I use it intermittently when I’m at home.

The MacMini, on the other hand, has been in storage since it was replaced by the MacBook Air. It has only been pulled out once since to retrieve a file.

The late 2014 MacMini has been stored in its box since it was replaced by the early 2014 MacBook Air.
The entry late 2014 MacMini boasted a 1.4GHz Intel Core i5 with a 2.7GHz turbo boost, 4GB RAM, 500GB mechanical hard drive and integrated graphics. Nothing could be upgraded.
The bottom of the MacMini box displays the ports.

To determine the value of the MacMini, Apple requires the machine serial number and condition. I decided to setup the machine with the keyboard I purchased for it in order to test it and see how well it works.

Unlike the original MacMini (from 2005 – the one I used during my internship,) the late 2014 MacMini just has an IR sensor window and power LED on the front.
The MacMini has a wide selection of ports on the back: power, ethernet, HDMI, two Thunderbolt ports, four USB ports, an SD card reader and microphone and headphone connectors.
Don’t let the cover on the bottom fool you. It supposedly can be removed, but just reveals a fancy grill. In older MacMini models, the cover can be removed to reveal access to the RAM and wireless card.
After being frustrated by using the old, worn-out keyboard from the MintTin – I upgraded to the Apple USB extended keyboard. This keyboard is, in my opinion, fairly decent and good to type on. I use an identical model in classes and at work.

The machine took 10 to 15 minutes to boot into macOS, and some more time to login and get ready. It’s really slooooow. Perhaps reinstalling macOS will help it go faster?

A Tragedy

I went ahead and formatted the hard drive to reinstall macOS.

Unfortunately, things didn’t go much smoother after that. After formatting the hard drive, the machine froze up after trying to reinstall macOS in the recovery interface.

After a hard reboot: nothing. It briefly displayed the infamous “flashing question mark” icon (of course, because I just formatted the entire hard drive) but then there was nothing. No display, nothing. Even after switching the placement of the Thunderbolt dongle in both ports, there was no display output.

The Thunderbolt-to-VGA dongle is required to display the video output on a VGA monitor, as the late 2014 MacMini model lacks a VGA port.

The monitor I’m using the machine with is an older Dell display that is so old (and inexpensive) that it doesn’t go to sleep when no signal is present. Rather, it annoyingly shows the “Dell Self Test Feature Check” block when no signal is present. But the dongle and monitor are both ruled out, as both work fine on other machines like my W541 and MacBook Air.

I tried holding various Command shortcuts (Command+R, Command+Option+R, Command+Option+Shift+R) to try to at least get a recovery menu. No dice.

After seeking out help from the Apple Community, the probable issue is a dead PRAM battery. I was stumped to learn that the PRAM battery is likely dead in a machine that is only five years old, as you usually see that issue reserved for much older Macs – like the ones from the 1990s. While my MacMini sat unused (and not plugged in) for quite some time, it didn’t sit nearly as long as the 2005 MacMini I used during my internship – and that machine had a PRAM battery that worked fine.

But the incorrect clock setting may suggest that the PRAM battery is going. While a completely dead PRAM battery will typically cause the time and date to be at some strange, off-the-wall date (like 1/1/1958) – the MacMini’s clock is actually a couple hours and minutes fast.

So for those playing along at home: the MacMini is now completely unusable. Doesn’t have an OS, and the PRAM battery may be on its way out. While the PRAM battery *can* be replaced, it requires a lot of tools and time that I don’t have.

Even when the MacMini was in daily operation, I recall some strange things happening where the recommended solution was to reset the SMC. The SMC (System Management Controller) is the device that controls various parameters of the computer. I believe I reset the SMC once or twice, but another recommendation out of the Apple Community was to try to reset it once again.

The Future

Currently, I’m hoping to get the MacMini up and running. I’d like to sell it or trade it in for an iPad.

Because of my classes, job and other things – I’m sorta kinda wanting to transition back into the MacOS. No, I don’t hate Windows. Windows 10 was a huge improvement over Windows 8, and an improvement still over Windows 7. But I noticed some apps that I use on a daily basis didn’t run as smooth under Windows as they do on a similarly-spec’d Mac.

The iPad is the first step for that transition. I love my ThinkPad, but it’s huge size and hefty weight makes it less versatile than a tablet like the iPad. I’ve used an iPad at my job and I just fell in love with the interface and the versatility.

For the MacMini, I was hoping (and still hope to fix the MacMini so that I can) to trade the machine in for credit towards the iPad. Supposedly, Apple would resell the machine at a lower cost – so it’d live on. Unfortunately, Apple recycles (and doesn’t offer credit) machines that won’t boot. I would love to see someone else get as much enjoyment out of this machine as I have.

The late 2014 MacMini, as previously mentioned, has proved its worth for me and paid for itself. I used it to design websites, work on a project for a local organization and complete a huge video project. (Ironically, while writing this post, I actually located some of those video files on the MintTin. The MintTin was used for file storage and disc burning in that project.)

Besides the projects, the MacMini allowed me to get accustomed to macOS (then Mac OS X) and learn its tips and tricks. Now, I use macOS in my classes and at work on a daily basis.

If I can get the MacMini running again well and the Apple website valuation holds true, it’ll pay for just a little over 1/4 the iPad’s cost.

Written partially on the MacBook Air, other parts written and photos edited on ThinkPad W541.