Through my experiences in IT, I've often been a little stumped when I see small businesses using a Mac Mini as a server. For anyone who doesn't work in IT, its a little more common than you might think. Its not a terrible choice, but a low-wattage U-series CPU doesnt exactly keep up with some higher-demand server tasks. I see lots of small businesses using a Mac Mini, usually connected via Thunderbolt or USB3 to a 4bay NAS. With an 8-12tb drive configuration, such a setup costs around $2000, and its pretty low in the CPU performance department (this is subjective of course, but find a business running an exchange server, along with several web servers for internal productivity tools, and you will see how far an i5-4260U goes). I know alot of people will think I'm being elitist, but an ultrabook CPU doesn't belong in a server. There I said it.
I've often inquired about their choice of server hardware, and its usually that they have someone in the office who just happens to know the most about computers, and acts as the office IT person. Don't get me wrong, the Mac Mini is a great product. But I think most people who run servers with high CPU demand (outside of the RAID-related resources, because ofcourse, in their situation the standalone NAS handles this). I actually saw a graphic design office last week running an exchange server, and a file server on an iMac running Windows 7 (they made a bulk order, so they figured it was worth it).
Having said all this, the Mac Mini has a few things going for it, that make valid arguments for small servers with appropriate expectations.
- power consumption
- warranty (its only 1 year, but being able to take it to an Apple store appeals to businesses with few/no IT staff)
- small footprint
Its tempting to suggest a NUC would be a better value. An i5 NUC could probably come in about $100 less (configured to 8tb RAM, and an SSD/HDD). But the NUC is still in the same boat with CPU power.
I can think of a few candidate CPUs that would serve well in such a scenario (Avoton C2750, or some of the HQ/MX laptop CPUs like the i7-4700HQ and up).
I'm imagining something about the same footprint as a NUC, with an Avoton C2750, or maybe one of the upcoming Denverton CPUs. Would be nice to have a low-wattage, small footprint server, with room for 4x 2.5" drives. Something like that could be about 5-7" tall. You could even make room for 3.5" drives, and make it 6x6, and 10-12" high.
I know Intel isn't out to defeat Apple, being an Intel partner, but surely a better product can be made for server use when people want something easy to setup, low power, and small footprint.