Apple Mac Mini 2010
Makes other SFF PCs look like towers
Review I’ll admit up front that I’ve always liked the Mac Mini. I used one as my main office computer for a couple of years before retiring it to my living room where it’s hooked up to my HD TV and makes a terrific little media centre.
Apple's Mac Mini: the new Apple TV?
So I was delighted to see that the new model not only sports an even sleeker, more compact, more living room-friendly design but also leads the way by being the first Apple computer ever to include an HDMI port.
And the new Mini now sports the same brushed metal design as the rest of the Mac range - and, perhaps not coincidentally, especially given the addition of HDMI, the Apple TV.
It’s actually a little wider than previous models, measuring 197mm wide and deep, compared to 165mm for the one in my front room. However, they’ve shaved almost 20mm off the height of the unit, bringing it down from 55mm to a svelte 36mm.
Now with HDMI and SD Card support
The reduction in size is even more impressive when you realise that Apple has managed to squeeze the AC adaptor inside the box too. The Mini does now get warm when it’s running, but you can still lay your hand on it without any discomfort. The only noticeable noise comes from the occasional whirring of the on-board DVD drive.
If you flip the Mini over, you’ll see that the base plate can be removed, so that you no longer need to perform open-heart surgery with a putty-knife in order to perform a memory upgrade.
The insides are more accessible than before
Peering around the back you’ll see a Mini DisplayPort interface alongside the HDMI, and Apple also includes an HDMI-to-DVI adaptor in the box so that you can use it with a DVI monitor. Don’t forget that the Mac Mini is sold without monitor, keyboard or mouse. Apple clearly feels the new Mini is going to sit on desktops as well as the space next to someone's TV.
Another newcomer is the SD card slot – inconveniently positioned on the rear – alongside a set of four USB ports, Gigabit Ethernet, Firewire 800 and digital audio in/out.
But while Apple has really gone to town with the engineering and aesthetic aspects of the Mini, a closer look at the spec sheet shows that it has cut a few recessionary corners in other areas. The Mac Mini released towards the end of 2009 was available in two configurations: the entry-level model cost £529 with 2.26GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of Ram, or you could increase the processor speed to 2.53GHz and double up to 4GB Ram for £649.
In contrast, this new model is available in just one main configuration that costs £649 with a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo - no Core i3 or i5 here - and 2GB of memory, albeit 1066MHz DDR 3.
Yes indeed, the processor has actually been downgraded and the memory halved. The hard disk is still 320GB, but its sluggish 5400rpm performance proves to be a bit of a liability in the PCMark Vantage test suite.
Fortunately, there is one major component upgrade, in the shape of Nvidia’s new GeForce 320M graphics-integrated chipset. We don’t have performance numbers for the previous version of the Mac Mini, but the 320M allowed this model to achieve a respectable 45fps when running Far Cry 2.
PCMark Vantage Results
Longer bars are better
Far Cry 2 Results
High Quality, 1280 x 800
Average Frames per Second (f/s)
Longer bars are better
Dell’s Inspiron Zino HD – which is perhaps the Mini’s closest counterpart in the PC world, and reviewed here – is similarly priced, but trails behind the Mini graphically, running only to 30fps in Far Cry 2. The Mac Mini also beats the Zino HD in most of the PCMark Vantage tests – although, as mentioned, the 5400rpm hard disk lets it down. However, the Zino HD that we reviewed did include a Blu-ray Disc drive
Peripherals not included
Incidentally, there is also a new ‘server edition’ of the Mac Mini, which comes with Snow Leopard Server pre-installed. This costs £929 with 2.66GHz processor, 4GB of Ram and twin 500GB hard disks. However, this model lacks an optical drive altogether.
The design of the new Mac Mini speaks for itself – it makes most ‘small form-factor’ PCs look like bloated heaps of junk. The long-overdue addition of HDMI finally acknowledges the Mini's media centre credentials, while the improved graphics performance means that it can handle HD video with ease, and manage some decent gaming action too.
But the price is high. Apple used to say that the Mac Mini is intended as the low-cost entry-level Mac – the desktop counterpart of the popular white plastic MacBook laptop. In fact, its price and design are really more comparable to the premium-priced, ultra-portable MacBook Air.
If you convert the US price of $699 into sterling - it's about £480 - and then add VAT, the price comes to about £570. At that amount, it’d be a no-brainer upgrade for the Mini that is currently sitting in my living room. At £649, however, my brainer does find itself thinking twice. ®
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