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Apple Mac Mini review

Verdict

Apple’s updated box of tricks is faster, cheaper and more tempting than before

Review Date: 11 Aug 2011

Reviewed By: Darien Graham-Smith

Price when reviewed: £583 (£699 inc VAT)

Buy it now for: £616
(see more store prices)

Overall Rating
4 stars out of 6

Features & Design
4 stars out of 6

Value for Money
4 stars out of 6

Performance
4 stars out of 6

The Mac Mini may lack the glamour of the iMac or the stunning new MacBook Air models, but it’s maturing into a very capable little machine.

Like last year’s models, the 2011 Minis come in base and premium consumer models, plus a beefed-up server model. The stylish unibody aluminium design remains, but the optical drive slots have gone: Apple argues an optical drive is no longer essential for everyday computing, and it has a point.

You can, of course, attach an external drive, or share an optical drive from another Mac or PC over the network. If you want to install Windows, the Boot Camp Assistant can create a bootable USB drive from an ISO image of the Windows DVD.

Apple Mac Mini

Round the back, the mini-DisplayPort socket has become a Thunderbolt port, but otherwise external connections are unchanged. You still get HDMI, four USB 2 ports (there’s no USB 3 in Apple-land, alas) plus FireWire 800, Gigabit Ethernet and an SDXC slot.

There’s dual-band 802.11n and Bluetooth 4 wireless connectivity too. As usual, what you don’t get is a keyboard and mouse, but you can use existing PC peripherals so long as you don’t mind a few keys being in the wrong places.

Apple Mac Mini - rear

Internally, the big news is a 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.

These are mobile parts, so power consumption remains low – our review unit idled at around 30W, rising only to 65W under heavy load – but desktop performance is boosted by around 50% over last year’s models. In our benchmarks the 2.5GHz model achieved an overall score of 0.72, pointing to a score of around 0.66 for the base model. That’s enough power to keep everyday computing tasks snappy and responsive.

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User comments

The lack of an optical drive only makes sense when you start looking at online services like iTunes. I have hundreds of DVDs that I can't watch out of the box with this and the HDD isn't big enough to store them all. The mini has always been the most tempting of Apple hardware for me but with more capable, cheaper alternatives like the acer revo 100 it's hard to make a case for it.

By JamesD29 on 12 Aug 2011

Media centre capability?

One of the big draws of the Mac Mini for me was always the ability to use it as a media centre and DVD player. I'd have preferred if Apple had updated the thing with a BluRay drive as this would then have made an excellent media centre machine. Alas, it's not to be.

By Trippynet on 12 Aug 2011

A Mini media centre?

Should it read "the high price of *internal* storage" in the Mini media centre box?

By areluc on 12 Aug 2011

It will just look laughable with an external blu ray player, tv tuner and hard drive. It's quite tricky to call it a media centre, more like an iTunes integrator

By TimoGunt on 12 Aug 2011

4 stars for Value for Money, eh?

£699 for a bog standard non-K i5 processor, 2gb of RAM (that is user upgradable.. er, amazing news?), 500gb 5400rpm HDD, no discrete graphics, no optical drive for any cd or dvd collection, and not even Apple's excellent keyboard and mouse.

So, 4 stars as both an overall score and for "Value for Money"? Compared to what? Can you imagine if a Windows machine came for review with a similar spec?

The Palicomp PC reviewed by yourselves in April, for instance, got awarded an identical 4-star "Value for Money" score even though it costs £50 less and yet comes with a monitor, peripherals, double the ram, double the HDD space, a blue ray drive, discrete graphics card, USB3 and eSATA, and it's all user upgradable!

By all means give this fashion statement a 6 out of 6 for "Features and Design", but anything more than a 1 out of 6 score for "Value for Money" is absurd. Which isn't a criterion that would matter to Apple fans anyway.

I think Lacrobat may have a point when I read reviews like this.

By Overmars on 12 Aug 2011

Still no optical audio out?

By malfranks2 on 12 Aug 2011

Oh, before anyone mentions it's a SFF media machine:

Take a look at the new Asrock CoreHT SFF machine - higher clock speed i5 processor, double the RAM, 7200rpm HDD (but same size), 4x usb 3.0, 4x usb 2.0, eSata port, wireless n, HDMI output and optical s/pdif. Still no discrete graphics unfortunately, but this also has an internal blu-ray drive, and on top of all that it costs £100 less.

Now THAT'S a small form factor media centre PC.

By Overmars on 12 Aug 2011

Apologies, malfranks2 - that's an oversight. The Mac Mini's headphone socket doubles as an optical digital audio output (as it does on most Apple products, including older Mac Minis). I've corrected the specs.

By DarienGS on 12 Aug 2011

Value for Money?

4 out of 6 for value for money!

For who? Premier League footballers maybe.

£700 of my hard earned notes would not be going on something as restrictive as this I'm afraid.

I'd rather buy 70000 penny cola bottles!

By a_byrne22 on 12 Aug 2011

@Overmars

Bear in mind that the Asrock price does not include OS. Or Blu-Ray playback software.
Also, it runs pretty hot when just doing everyday tasks. Stick in a Blu-ray film and, not only does the drive emit a loud hum, but the temps go through the roof, which means the fans kick in.
Now THAT's not something I would consider much use as a media centre PC. If you have to turn up the volume on the telly to drown out the racket from the PC, that's a fail.

As for the Mac Mini? Meh. I don't miss the Bluray aspect, as my home Bluray player gets approximately zero use, but 700 smackeroonies buys quite a lot of laptop these days, much better bet.

By Throbinevans on 12 Aug 2011

What's The Point?

"Apple’s updated box of tricks is faster, cheaper and more tempting than before"

It's innards have been upgraded to provide the speed, but, it's neither cheaper nor more tempting than last year's model.

Being headless and with no ODD, having to share one another machine, only enforces the idea that the Apple Mac Mini is a £700 secondary spare computer.

see also: http://tinyurl.com/2w2c29y

By Duggie on 12 Aug 2011

apple could shove their logo on a tub of lard, call it a Mac Mini and it would still sell. doesn't matter what it does or whether it works or not. if it looks pretty there are idiots that will buy it for that reason alone.

By mr_chips on 12 Aug 2011

Just to repeat, the base model has been reduced in price to £529; its predecessor cost £649 when it was introduced last year, with that price falling to £599 in November 2010.

The model we tested was the premium model with ugpraded components, hence the £699 price shown at the top of the review.

By DarienGS on 12 Aug 2011

Darien its no good

whatever you write, some people won't let facts get in the way of a perfectly 'good' prejudice.!

Folks why does a positive review of a Mac matter so much. It is an inanimate object that is useful for doing stuff. Don't invest your energy in it.

By kaneclem on 12 Aug 2011

@kaneclam

Why didn't you take your own advice and not post a pointless fanboish comment. Don't invest your energy in a reply!

By rjp2000 on 13 Aug 2011

rjp2000

Why?

By lokash20 on 13 Aug 2011

Mr Chips! You are SO RIGHT

..


But the fact of the matter is - most non tech people (especially those with no brains and lots of money) either don't care or don't understand what the real deal or the fuss is - and they'll keep paying to get more if they can - they have been sold the marketing and you can't suck them out of the church - even those at the church of scientology are converting to the church of apple.

By nicomo on 14 Aug 2011

@throbinevans - what about heat?

So, other SFFs have fans to dissipate heat, which make a little noise. Well so does my award winning PVR. But more importantly, given all the overheating problems that iMacs and MacBooks have suffered from for years now, I would rather have a little fan noise than computer that crashes repeatedly in a warm room...

I'm with others here, whatever you think about Mac OSX or Apple's swanky design, this machine scores low on features and very low on value for money.

Add the likely heat problems and you have another stinker of a product.

PCPRO should review each category properly and not just award lots of stars everywhere because they like a bit of aluminium.

By Longfellow on 17 Aug 2011

Apple in a category on their own

You're all absolutely right on the value for money issue. A PC with better specs and cheaper could possibly get a lower mark and that's not right. For an Apple product it possibly is value for money but then maybe they should merit each company on just their product line. So a high price vaio could be value for money when compared to the range of Sony products but not when compared to other makes.

By TimoGunt on 17 Aug 2011

Valur

Any machine that has not got what I want is worthless and that includes a mac without a drive no proper gaming graphics etc and I'm 61

By delturner1 on 18 Aug 2011

I've had a number of mac minis

And they've done their job well.
I personally prefer a very powerful computer with lots of ram as it makes you feel very manly and in control. Apart from that a mac mini does a good job and takes up very little space.

By ptp_producer on 18 Aug 2011

Reliability - Apple vs PC

The following is just the experience of an old computer lag and is not indicative of anything at all ... (allegedly)

One of the companies whose IT systems I look after did a complete hardware refresh (~20 machines) about 18 months ago, and for various reasons bought a roughly equal mix of Macs and PCs. The machines are used all day every day but they live in an airy office with well regulated temperature and humidity and are treated with reasonable care. [In our jargon a type 1 failure is one which prevents the user from using their computer for anything at all (e.g dead power supply) and a type 2 failure is one which causes severe difficulties (e.g failed network connection)]. Since the refresh the Mac users have had 22 type 1 failures and 14 type 2 failures and the PC users have had 1 type 1 failure and 3 type 2 failures. Furthermore, the PCs have proved to be much more robust mechanically than the Macs, which are already looking quite shabby. I took up the issue with Apple - they refused to acknowledge that there was a problem and told me that I was being "over-fussy". I asked if I should consider the disparity in reliability as typical or unfortunate - they declined to comment.

By howardabates1 on 20 Aug 2011

Horses for courses

Some like Apple and generally don't post here; some hate it and do post here. But in addition to ordinary users, I guess this is the kind of place where many sales guys from the many hundreds of organisations that make a living from being wedded to the Windows PC environment push their own ecosystem for fear of losing their livelihood, or even slightly damaging it. I can understand that.

In our office I've ordered a mix of PCs and Macs depending on the jobs that need doing. We're roughly 50/50.

My own personal machine is a Mac mini that is now 4 years old and doing the same job now just as well as it did when it was new. My co-director has a MacBook and a PC.

My mini hasn't put a foot wrong since I've had it, nor have the minis I bought for my kids or the G4 mini I used to dip my foot in the Apple waters in 2005. The minis all run silently, all look good, and are fine for normal office use (everywhere except in the accounts department). The OS has been amazingly productive and helps me generate reports far more easily than I could on Windows.

The lack of downtime or slowdown time for AV software or for minor problems caused by cheap components in the PCs we've used (HP, Acer etc) has given me extra hours per week too.

A friend of mine in the US was CTO for a large National firm which ran 100,000+ computers - a mix of Windows and Macs - and over a five year period the Macs were cheaper to run (fewer replacements, fewer hours of engineer time, less malware etc) and they could extend the length of their repurchasing cycle and got higher resale prices on the old Macs compared to the PCs.

The new Mac minis lack of a DVD/CD drive is a problem, although we do have an external Apple drive which takes up no space at all and I hardly ever use such a drive anyway but since I haven't needed to upgrade my machine, I still have a DVD/CD drive in my mini.

Apple are definitely limiting the minis capabilities regarding being a media centre but if I were going down that route I might use one of the Mac mini server models. At the moment though I just use the Apple TV which was cheap as chips and easy to set up.

At the end of the day, if you don't hate Apple you will at least have a fair look at what the devices bring, but if you have Windows ingrained into your soul no number of facts illustrating improvements available to you by changing to a Mac will work since you would then be undermining your own livelihood (in your own eyes).

Horses for courses.

By SwissMac on 22 Aug 2011

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