While lacking the *glamour* of the new MacBook Air or the iMac, the new Mac Mini is fast becoming a capable little machine.
Just like last year’s models the 2011 Mini’s range in price from a base of $699 to a premium $899 for the consumer models right up to the $1099 beefed up server model.
That stylish aluminium design remains, but the optical drive slots have been removed. Apple state that these days an optical drive is no longer needed just for every day computing needs, and, perhaps they are right. And this partly lead to the evolution of the smallest gaming laptops in the market, providing more room for the compactness of devices.
It is of course easy to share an optical drive from a PC or Mac over the network, or attach an external drive. The Boot Camp Assistant can create a bootable USB drive – if you want to install Windows – from on ISO Image of the Windows DVD.
At the back the mini DisplayPort socket has become a Thunderbolt Port, apart from that all external connections remain unchanged. You still get a SDXC Slot, HDMI, Gigabit Ethernet, FireWire 800, and 4 USB 2 ports – unfortunately in *Apple-Land* USB 3 still doesn’t exist.
You do get Bluetooth 4 wireless connectivity and dual band 802.11n. Typically you don’t get a mouse and keyboard, but, as long as you don’t mind a few keys being in the wrong places, you can use your existing PC peripherals.
So, let’s take a look inside, the biggest change is the switch from ancient Core 2 Duo CPUs to powerful Sandy Bridge processors. The basic Mini now uses a 2.3GHz Core i5-2410M, while the premium one comes with the choice of a 2.5GHz i5-2520M or a 2.7GHz i5-2620M and the server uses a quad-core 2GHz Core i7-2635QM.
Power consumption remains quite low and more storage has been added. The consumer models now come with a 500GB 5,400RPM drive as standard, up from 320GB.
You can trade up to a 750GB, 7,200RPM drive or, for the premium and server models, a 256GB SSD – sounds good, but the drawback is the price! With prices rising by $200 and an eyebrow raising $400 respectively.
You do need to note that should you require a larger internal drive, they can ONLY be fitted at the factory. If you find later you do need more space you’ll have to be content with either external storage, or use the SDXC slot at the back of the Mini.
The RAM you can easily upgrade yourself, which is great news as the standard Mini comes with a small 2GB and if you want to upgrade to 4GB apple will charge you $120. You can install most third-party modules that will cost less than half the price Apple charge. Simply unscrew the base to access the two SO-DIMM DDR3 slots.
A mini media centre?
It’s small, it’s almost silent and quite energy efficient and comes with a HDMI socket – it could make a great little media centre. However due to the high price tag attached on internal storage you would probably want to attach an external hard drive.
Also if you are looking at adding a DVD drive, or TV tuner, those too would need to be external as well. Unfortunately Apple has removed the Front Row interface from Lion, so, you’d need to look into another third party option – for example Boxee – or switch over to Windows
Unfortunately one area where the Mini’s internals have been cut back is its graphics. The 2010 model came with a discrete Nvidia GeForce 320M GPU; now, the base and server models use the processor’s on-chip graphics, providing only enough power to make Crysis playable at Low quality settings.
The premium model did get an upgrade – an AMD Radeon HD 6630M with a dedicated 256MB GDDR5 frame buffer.
The Mini has never claimed to be a gaming platform, and is of course nothing more than a compact desktop PC with a Sandy Bridge processor inside. While it does of course have its limitations – a larger big box PC gives you more chances for expansion and more power for the money – the Mini is great if you are looking for a basic OS X machine. It is a general purpose low profile desktop. Bottom line; we found it efficient and capable with elegant designs, a great option if that is what you are looking for.
Over and out