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The Lenovo ThinkCentre M720q Tiny: Possibly the Best Mac Mini Alternative

TLDR; The Lenovo M720q has dimensions, performance, and capabilities almost exactly the same as the mac mini at a more affordable price. You do lose Thunderbolt 3 connectivity as well as having to use an external power supply, but the flexibility the unit gives outweighs these compromises.

Like many people, I was also waiting for Apple to update the Mac Mini. The Mac Mini was my second Apple computer (the first was the 2011 Macbook Air) and I bought it primarily because it was the cheapest mac that Apple had to offer. So it was a bit of a mix of relief and disappointment that Apple announced the Mac Mini specs – which was a really big jump from its previous incarnations – and its price, which was also a big jump from its previous incarnations.

I’ve been thinking about purchasing the Mac Mini for many days, and I’ve been trying to consider alternatives. A couple of years back I bought the Intel NUC 7i5BNH which was the very first NUC that had Thunderbolt 3 capabilities, and is really easy to hackintosh. I thought that if I were to get a new machine, it’s not gonna be an ultraportable with long battery life (I’ve already got the T480 for that), nor is it gonna be a gaming laptop (I’ve already got a Clevo P651 for that, plus I have the 1070 version), nor is it gonna be a full desktop (I’ve already got a i7-3770 that I’ve converted into an unRAID server to store old files and videos).

If I were to get a new machine, it’s gonna be either the Mac Mini, or something very similar in form factor.

Intel NUC beside the ThinkCentre Tiny Small devices with really good performance

After looking around, I found the ThinkCentre Tiny line of products by Lenovo and I was hooked. I’ve had a really good experience buying my first modern ThinkPad online, and I thought that maybe I’d go ahead and get myself one of these small form factor PCs.

Mac Mini and ThinkCentre Tiny side by side I don’t have the latest Mac Mini but I was able to borrow one of the older generation Mac Mini’s from the office to have a visual comparison.

The Lenovo purchase process couldn’t be more different from that of Apple’s. Whereas the choices are quite straightforward (if not limited) with the Mac Mini:

Mac Mini Order Page Choose your processor, your memory, your storage, your wallet; pick three

You are given a whole boatload of choices with the ThinkCentre Tiny in comparison (and take note that that’s just one of the three possible configurations of a Tiny; there’s the M920q and the P330 models as well with their own sets of possible configurations):

ThinkCenter Tiny Order Page How many choices do I have? Over 9000.

The ThinkCentre Tiny is so similar to the Mac Mini that it’s difficult not to make comparisons:

PriceRM 3450 (USD 800)RM 3650 (USD 810)
Processor3.6GHz quad-core Intel Core i3
6MB shared L3 cache
2.4GHz hexa-core Intel Core i7
Turbo Boost up to 4.0GHz
12MB shared L3 cache
Ports4 thunderbolt ports
1 headphone jack
1 HDMI 2.0
1 Ethernet
2 USB-A 3.1 gen 1
1 USB-C 3.1 gen 1
1 USB-A 3.1 gen 1
1 headphone/mic combo jack
1 mic jack

1 Display Port
1 HDMI 2.0
2 USB-A 3.1 gen 1
2 USB-A 3.1 gen 2
1 PCIe x4 low profile
(with card giving 2 USB-A 3.1 gen 1)
Memory8GB of 2666MHz DDR4 SO-DIMM memory
(dual channel, as configured)
8GB of 2666MHz DDR4 SO-DIMM memory
(single channel, as configured)
Storage128GB PCIe-based SSD512GB NVMe SSD
WiFi/BTMurata 339S00458 802.11ac BT5.0RealTek RTL8822BE 802.11ac BT4.2
Size19.7cm x 19.7cm x 3.6cm18cm x 18.5cm x 3.6cm (bare unit)
Weight1.3kg1.32kg (as configured)

Then there are those hardware and features that don’t usually make it to the spec sheets:

  • The Mac Mini has an internal power supply, so all you need is a power cable. The ThinkCenter Tiny requires an external Lenovo Slim-Tip power supply. One can argue of course that having it external makes it easier to replace/repair if it breaks.
  • The Mac Mini needs some specialized equipment to open so you can replace the RAM modules. The ThinkCentre Tiny doesn’t even require any tools if you configure it with the Tool-less option (which is for free by the way; I’m guessing the option to have it with tools is there for the business customers who wouldn’t want the end users to be able to open the unit without IT support).
  • The Mac Mini’s SSD is non-replaceable; the ThinkCentre Tiny’s SSD is.
  • Although the Mac Mini has 4 Thunderbolt 3 ports, the ThinkCenter Tiny has full PCIe capability (as long as you have the correct riser card; mine came only with a x4 riser whereas the P330 can come with a x16 riser to accommodate a low profile RX560).
  • The Mac Mini comes in recycled Space Gray Aluminum. The ThinkCentre Tiny comes in Black Steel.
  • The Mac Mini’s wifi antenna is internal. The ThinkCentre Tiny’s wifi antenna is external.

ThinkCentre Tiny on top of the Mac Mini No shortage of ports for both of them

My unit came with the Rambo DVD drive which increases the height a bit, but it’s optional. I’m not sure if I want to keep it inside though as it makes the whole thing a lot heavier. Then again, it was only an extra $10 or so :P

The ThinkCentre Tiny with the Rambo DVD Drive The Ramb DVD Drive adds about an extra 2cm to the height of the whole unit. It adds some VESA mount points as well.

I’ve just finished setting it up and will be running benchmarks to check for performance soon. They’re all not done yet, but the initial numbers are looking pretty good :)