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Review: Apple Mac Mini 2012

Nice media centre, shame about the HDMI glitches

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Update On 10 December 2012, Apple posted the called for Mac Mini HDMI-centric firmware update, after this review was written and published. We will be testing the machine with the new code, and will report back here shortly.

I should say right up front that, much as I quite like the Mac Mini’s form-factor, looks and, more particularly, its operating system, I can’t really recommend the latest version, at least not to anyone hoping to hook it up to an HD TV by HDMI, perhaps for media centre duties.

The thing is, you see, the new Apple’s HDMI performance is crap. Hook the Mini up to an ordinary 1080p TV – as I did – through an HDMI cable and you’ll think you’ve gone back in time to the 8-bit VGA era: dithered colours, jagged curves and diagonal lines, the lot. Some folk have said their HDMI output flickers too - something that past models have, some say, been afflicted by - but I didn’t see that, just the poor colour quality.

Apple Mac Mini 2012

Apple's Mac Mini: compact and stylish

The irony is that the Mac Mini was Apple’s first computer to support HDMI, though it built one of the ports into the first-generation Apple TV set-top box too. I have one of these old ATVs, hacked to run the open source XBMC media centre software, which it runs a treat. It also generates an HDMI image that’s just fine. So I know the new Mini’s woeful HDMI output is nothing to do with either HDMI or my television.

And it may not even be Apple’s fault, at least not directly. Owners of 2012 Mac Minis currently blame the matter on Intel, the chip maker whose Core i5 powers the Mac and delivers the computer’s graphics through the Intel HD 4000 core integrated into the CPU. Intel has confirmed there are issues with the chip which it can address through its driver software.

While updated code has been pushed out to PCs based upon the HD 4000, and Intel has passed details of the changes on to Apple, the Mac maker has yet to update the Mini’s firmware to implement the changes. Until it does, it would be unwise to upgrade from an older Mini or any other machine to this new one if you want to use HDMI.

Apple Mac Mini 2012

Avoid HDMI for now, but Thunderbolt should be fine

Fortunately, you have a choice. The Mini also sports a Thunderbolt port, so it can be hooked up to Thunderbolt and DisplayPort monitors. And, in a very rare moment of generosity on Apple’s part, there’s an HDMI-DVI adaptor BUNDLED IN THE BOX. I had to shout that, I was so surprised – Apple doesn’t give away accessories with its other products. Even iPads no longer come with a screen cloth. The adaptor's not available on its own, only bundled with the Mini.

Alas, El Reg lacks a Thunderbolt monitor – even a DisplayPort job – but I understand from folk with one that the new machine's Thunderbolt output is exactly as it should be. I hooked up the Mini to a monitor with the in-the-box DVI adaptor to a DVI-equipped monitor and found the results to be perfectly acceptable. Likewise, when I connected the computer using a DVI-DisplayPort adaptor. Readers have, however, reported issues with the HDMI-DVI option, though they say the results aren't as poor as they are with a pure HDMI link.

It's good to know the Mini works with certain connections, but that's not very helpful if you were planning to connect it to a TV by HDMI.

Apple Mac Mini 2012

Shiny set-top

5 things you didn’t know about cloud backup

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