In the Apple world of Retina display MacBooks and ultra thin iMacs, is there still a seat at the table for the new Mac Mini?
The concept of the Apple Mac Mini is simple. It’s a small desktop Mac that needs a monitor, keyboard and mouse to function. At £499 for the entry level model reviewed here, it’s the cheapest way of getting OS X Mountain Lion in your life - the next available option is a MacBook Air or the new iMac 2012 with all hardware built into the ultra thin monitor.
The point of the Mac Mini is that it’s, well, mini - we’ve seen bigger hard drives than the modest footprint of the sleek silver box.
Mac Mini 2012: Build
At 7.7 inches square and just 1.4 inches deep, the new Mac Mini won’t strike many as a computer at all. The minimalist design with all sockets hidden at the back mean it’s one of the most stylish gadgets Apple make. As a trendy metallic square for your home office, it looks the part and is rugged.
The only moving part on the body is the removable disc on the bottom of the Mac Mini which manually allows you to upgrade the RAM. Of course, a wireless keyboard and Apple Magic Mouse aren’t included so you’ll need to budget £100 for those extras but connecting your own mouse and keyboard is easy.
There’s four USB ports, a Thunderbolt port, SD card slot and a FireWire port too. In use, it’s near silent and rarely runs hot to the touch.
Mac Mini 2012: Features
The basic model of the new Mac Mini includes a 2.5 Ghz dual-core i5 processor with 4GB of RAM. The processor is a slight step up from last year’s model but the RAM has been doubled which makes a huge difference to programs like Photoshop and general multi-tasking.
The RAM can be upgraded, yielding further leaps in performance and a 16GB upgrade costs an incredible £240 from Apple while buying the same upgrade independently costs just £60.
The 500GB hard drive is standard and the only spec downside is the Intel HD 4000 graphics chip which means gaming will suffer when compared to high-end MacBook Pro products but it’s an acceptable compromise for the price. OSX Mountain Lion is the standard OS and it runs well.
If you’re using it alongside an old MacBook Pro, you’ll feel completely at home and won’t notice any difference in performance when using Safari and apps like Pages and Keynote, even while something like Spotify runs in the background.
For a price vs performance level, this is a compelling machine against a home made PC - you may be able to manage a better spec with a PC but Windows won’t be as fast or as flawless as this desktop OSX Mountain Lion experience.
Following the Mac Mini 2011, there’s no optical drive here - if you have CDs or DVD to rip or burn, you’re going to need to buy an external drive. Similarly, if you have a VGA Monitor rather than one with an HDMI socket, you’ll need an £21 adaptor which is annoying.
Mac Mini 2012: Upgrades
The basic £499 Mac Mini is joined by a quad-core i7 version with doubles the storage via a 1TB hard drive for £679 and a ‘server’ version with a similar spec and two 1TB hard drives. The RAM upgrades are expensive from Apple, costing roughly four times as much as a third party supplier but, curiously, the External SuperDrive for CD and DVD functions is competitive at £65.
With the i7 version of the new Mac Mini, there’s an £80 processor upgrade option which bumps the speed to 2.6 Ghz over the standard 2.3 Ghz i7 chip.
The i7 model also benefits from possible hard drive upgrades which the basic i5 model doesn’t have. An extra £200 changes the 1TB drive to a 1TB Fusion Drive, which basically means there’s 128GB of SSD inside the drive, so the apps and features you access the most will run super fast. £240 increases the SSD partition to 256GB.
Mac Mini 2012: Performance
The latest Mac Mini is a big performance leap. That’s down to a new processor and doubled RAM of course but the OS X Mountain Lion OS works well with the spec while the 2011 Mac Mini struggled at times, getting noisy and warm when asked to do anything beyond the norm.
This is a machine that can hold its own against PCs but now happily sits alongside the MacBook Pro as a desktop companion with similar performance levels for the majority of users.
Running demanding applications will require extra RAM, either 8GB or an impressive 16GB boost and then you’ll really see the performance value of what you can get for half the price of a MacBook Pro.
Mac Mini 2012: Verdict
Small and powerful, there’s little the Mac Mini can’t do for general users and a lot it can do for pro users with a few upgrades through a RAM and Fusion Drive boost. When Apple talks about the ‘post PC’ world, the Mac Mini is a compelling weapon in the war, alongside the new iPad 4.
Some might demand a DVD drive but it might just be an acceptable sacrifice if it’s your second machine. It’s a capable device and all based around the price tag which matches the price of an iPhone 5.
Mac Mini 2012 release date: Out now
Mac Mini 2012 price: £499 (i5, 500GB), £679 (i7, 1TB), £849 (i7, 2 x 1TB, OS X Server)