Test Environments

Pi v.s. Mac Mini

Not really a technical article this time, instead a review of setting up a test environment with Raspberry Pi v.s. a used Mac Mini.

The introduction of the Raspberry Pi has brought low cost computing to the market. These small machines can help set up test environments where high speed and resource hungry systems are not required. I have used these for many years to provide a self contained environment which can possibly allow a debugger to be attached to an embedded development board.

So why the Pi v.s. Mac Mini question?

Raspberry Pi 5

The increasing power of the Raspberry Pi small board computer has also been accompanied by an increasing cost for the boards. The latest model (at the time of writing) , the Pi 5, can cost over £80 plus shipping and this is for the Raspberry Pi alone. A number of other components are also required:

  • Power supply – £10
  • Storage – £10+ for SD card, more for SSD

The following optional components would also be recommended for a self contained test environment:

  • Active cooler – £5
  • Case – £10

Personally, I recommend using a SSD with a USB to SATA adapter as a minimum for storage as these drives tend to be faster and more reliable than SD cards.

Adding all of this together brings the base cost for a usable system that can be used as a test controller to around £140 including shipping (assuming a 256GB SSD).


CEX is a chain of shops in the UK that buy and sell used electronic equipment. Any equipment sold by CEX has a 2 year warranty so there is some peace of mind about the quality of the goods being sold.

So why mention them?

As mentioned at the top of this article, the test test controller does not necessarily have to be very powerful. This means that a 3 (or more) year old machine will be more than capable of doing the job.

Enter the Intel range of Mac Mini computers. These can be picked up from as little as £80 for a low spec Intel edition with higher specification Intel machine available for around £150. These prices more than match those of a current Raspberry Pi 5 with the accessories needed to make the system useful. This is especially true when you consider that the Mac Mini comes with storage and power supply all built into the system.

Long Term Support

The Raspberry Pi Foundation has a history of long term support. The latests operating system release also include support for the original Raspberry Pi released over a decade ago. This is fairly impressive and something not matched by many (if any) other hardware vendors.

The Intel range of Mac Mini computers are fairly well supported but older hardware has ceased to be supported for new operating system releases. Security releases are still made available for older systems but new features are not.

So the question is does this really matter for an isolated tests system? Probably not but if software support is a concern then the Raspberry Pi is the better choice at this price point.


Modern software development requires the use of fairly powerful computers. This article is being written on a modern Mac laptop with a powerful M2 processor and 32 GB of RAM. This sort of power is needed for compilation but is overkill for execution and supervision of test environment for embedded development.

Using used equipment keeps them alive and prevents them going to recycling (at least for a few years) making them environmentally friendly and cost effective.


Tuesday, May 28th, 2024 at 10:07 am • Raspberry PiRSS 2.0 feed Both comments and pings are currently closed.

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