Mac Mini For Development

Among the myriad software announcements at Apple's first-ever virtual WWDC, you may have missed the only piece of hardware Apple announced — a beefed up Mac mini aimed for developers.

The Mac mini hasn't had a significant update since 2018 - Apple simply doubled the standard storage in March 2020 - but the Mac mini is still an attractive package and we expect many developers. Jun 12, 2009 Mac Mini is a good cost-effective option for development purposes, especially during financial crunch. Our company bought mac minis to develop iPhone apps. BTW, we use two-input switchable monitors to use the same monitor for PC and Mac computers. The Mac mini enclosure is being reused for the Developer Transition Kit While it may appear to be the same on the outside, one thing that will probably change a bit is the weight, again due to the. Feb 27, 2020 Mac Mini VS 16' Mac Book Pro for iOS development. I used Mac Mini as the main programming machine for about 10 months and now after 16' MBP purchase I'm planning to sell it, but before cleaning it.

Offered as a part of a Mac Developer Transition Kit (DTK) and aimed to get devs up to speed with the ins and outs of Apple's big transition to its own silicon, the Mac mini has an A12Z Bionic chip, 16GB of memory, a 512GB SSD, and 'a variety of Mac I/O ports.'

The program also provides access to beta versions of macOS Big Sur and Xcode 12, as well as access to documentation and forums support.

Mac mini for development system

Given the price of admittance to the program is $500, this sounds like a great deal, especially considering a regular Mac mini starts at half the RAM and half the storage for $799. Sure, you can beef up the regular mini with 16GB of RAM and 512GB of storage, but then the price jumps up to $1,119, which is more than double the price of the DTK mini.

Of course, it's not quite the same, as the A12Z Bionic chip inside the DTK mini probably isn't as powerful as the Intel chip offered in the regular mini. There will almost certainly be many bugs and incompatibilities, too, as the program is aimed for developers who will be testing their apps on this thing.

Still, it sounds so good that even a very casual developer or a commoner like me might think about getting one. But there are many, many catches. First, Apple needs to approve your application, which likely won't happen if you don't have some serious developer experience. Priority is given to applicants with an existing macOS application, Apple says, and availability is limited. Not all countries are permitted; see the list here. And finally, the biggest catch of all: Developers are expected to return the DTK Mac mini at the end of the program. So no, you're not really getting a Mac mini at half the price, at least not to keep.

A potential silver lining for developers who participate: The Next Web reports that last time Apple did a transition of this scale – from PowerPC to Intel chips – it gave Intel-based Macs to developers when they returned the testing kit. There are no guarantees, though.

Mac mini for development methodologies

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If you're an eligible developer and are thinking of participating, you can apply for the program here. Full terms and conditions are available here.


I have been using a Mac mini to port my C++/Qt based code to Mac OS X for the last 3.5 years. This is one of the early PowerPC based Mac minis, upgraded to 1GB of RAM. Being Apple hardware, it is expensive for what you get. But it has served me well. The small form factor (approx 17 x 17 x 5 cm) has also been useful in my cramped office, where I have it attached to the same monitor, mouse and keyboard as my Windows box through a KVM switch. But it is struggling to keep up with PerfectTablePlan’s ever increasing code base. A clean build of the PerfectTablePlan source into a Universal (fat) binary now takes an eye-watering 36 minutes to compile and link on the Mac mini. Building a PowerPC-only debug version still takes nearly half that time. That is painful, even just for occasional porting work.

As my main development environment is Windows, I can’t really justify the cost (or office space requirements) of a Mac Pro. So I decided to buy a new Mac mini, with an Intel Core 2 Duo processor. I did look around to see if I could find one at a discount. However, this being Apple hardware, no-one dares sell at anything significantly less than Apple’s RRP. I bought the smaller (120GB) disk variant and had the dealer upgrade it to 2GB RAM, which tests on my old Mac mini indicated should be plenty for compiling and linking. I didn’t want to do the memory upgrade myself as I know, from experience with my first Mac mini, that removing the case involves putty knives and some very worrying cracking noises.

I had all sorts of problems trying to get the right cables. Firstly I wanted a Firewire cable so I could copy the set-up across from the old machine to the new machine using Apple’s Migration Assistant software. But it turns out that the old Mac Mini has a Firewire 400 6-pin socket, whereas the new Mac Mini has a Firewire 800 9-pin socket. I ordered a 6-pin to 9-pin Firewire cable cable. Then I discovered that there is more than one type of DVI cable. The old Mac mini was attached to my KVM switch with a DVI-I cable. The new Mac mini only accepts mini-DVI or (via a supplied adaptor) DVI-D. So I ordered a dual link DVI-D to DVI-D cable as well.


Once I had the right cables things went relatively smoothly. The Migration Assistant software copied almost all the apps and data across from the old machine to the new one. It even preserved settings for the apps, e.g. the email accounts in my Thunderbird email client. I just had to re-install XCode (which wasn’t copied across) and rebuild my Qt libraries (to avoid copious warnings due to the fact they had been built with an earlier version of XCode/gcc).

To use the migration assistant you simply:

  1. connect the 2 machines with a Firewire cable
  2. start-up the old machine with the ‘T’ key depresses to put it in ‘Target’ mode
  3. start-up the new machine
  4. follow the on-screen instructions

Nice. If only it was was that easy to set-up a new Windows machine.

A quick test shows that the new Mac mini is nearly 6 times faster at compiling and linking a Universal binary of PerfectTablePlan from scratch[1]:

Mac Mini For Development

Mac Mini Uses

The time the new Mac mini takes to compile and link an Intel-only debug release of PerfectTablePlan also compares favourably with a similar build on my Windows 2.13 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo box with 4GB of RAM[2].

This isn’t a fair hardware comparison, as the two machines are using completely different compilers and linkers and the Windows box was running various background services. But it certainly shows that Intel-based Mac minis are worth considering for use as development machines.

Mac Mini For Xamarin Development

[1] The newer machine is using a newer version of XCode/gcc.

Latest Mac Mini

[2] The Windows box is using Visual Studio 2005.