With the Mac Mini it was always thought that size didn't mean sacrifice, however things have changed with the optical drive disappearing. That said while it has created new opportunities, is it a fair exchange?
Apple’s small form factor Mac, which is sold without a keyboard or mouse, has lost its DVD drive. The slot-loading SuperDrive that once dominated the front of the machine is gone, leaving only an IR receiver for the optional remote control in its wake.
Apple Mac mini: Features
What Apple has lost in optical drives and Mini DisplayPorts, it has made up with a Thunderbolt port. It’s a fair swap. While Mini DisplayPort was only for video out, Thunderbolt can handle both video and data, and you can daisy chain up to six devices on a single port. A Mini DisplayPort monitor can be plugged directly into Thunderbolt, and adapters for other types of displays are available. As a data port, Thunderbolt is up to 12 times faster than FireWire 800, and 20 times quicker than USB 2.0.
Apple Mac mini: Specifications
The Mac mini now comes in two models. The cheaper one has 2GB of memory and a 2.3GHz Core i5 processor for £529 (which compares very well with the previous generation’s only model, which cost £612). The high-end, £699 Mac mini we’re reviewing here increases the processor speed to a 2.5GHz Core i5, has 4GB of RAM and a discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor with 256MB of GDDR5 memory. Both models have a 500GB hard drive, which can be upgraded to a 750GB drive if you order at the online Apple Store. This higher-end model can also be configured with a solid state drive instead of, or even as well as, a hard disk drive.
Apple Mac mini: Performance
The processor has undergone a radical change from the previous generation of Mac minis. The ageing Core 2 Duo is gone, replaced by an Intel Core i5, one of the new, second-generation ‘Sandy Bridge’ processors. Although dual core, the new chips’ Hyper Threading feature means two threads can run on each core, for four virtual cores. This means it can run applications written to take advantage of multiple cores more efficiently. In our Cinebench rendering tests, it almost doubled its predecessor’s score.
The Sandy Bridge processors also offer Turbo Boost 2.0, whereby the chips’ clock speed can be exceeded for short periods at times of intense demand, subject to power and temperature considerations.
The space saved by removing the optical drive has allowed Apple to add a discrete graphics processor, an AMD Radeon HD6630M with 256MB of dedicated GDDR5 video memory. This really came into its own in our Doom 3 test, where the new Mac mini ran the game more than twice as fast as the older model.
The new Mac mini’s basic form factor remains unchanged. You can still upgrade the RAM yourself (other parts, such as the HDD, are not user accessible), the transformer is integrated into the case so there’s no cumbersome power brick and the HDMI port introduced with the last refresh is still there; you get a HDMI to DVI adapter in the box too, for connection to a DVI monitor.
Apple Mac mini: Verdict
Some might bemoan the loss of the optical drive, but if you need one, you can get an external Apple SuperDrive for £66. With streaming content becoming ever more popular, the new mini makes an excellent under-the-TV media Mac, and it’s very portable if you need to use the same machine at home and work. New processors and the Thunderbolt port make the 2011 refresh a very welcome update, despite having no DVD drive.
Apple Mac Mini Availability: Out now
Apple Mac Mini price: £699