Apple Mac mini (2012) review
Not all Apple’s additions offer good value, but the hardware is as enticing as ever, and the Ivy Bridge upgrade is worth having
Review Date: 9 Jan 2013
Reviewed By: Mike Jennings
Price when reviewed: £799 (£959 inc VAT)
Features & Design
Value for Money
The latest Apple Mac mini doesn't look any different to the previous model, but it didn’t need updating – it’s still the most attractive small-form-factor PC on the market. Instead, Apple has made major changes on the inside, starting with Fusion Drive – the SSD and hard-disk hybrid that debuted in the latest 21.5in iMac.
The configuration in our review Mac mini is the same as that PC. A 128GB SSD is used to store the OS and frequently used applications, while a 1TB hard disk is employed alongside it for less important apps and files. Over time the system learns which applications and files are used most often, moving them to the faster SSD, and shifting those that are rarely accessed back to the hard disk.
We’ve no way of testing it, unfortunately, as the system is entirely transparent and can’t be configured or turned off. What we can tell you is that it’s a rapid SSD: benchmarking with Xbench showed sequential read and write tests hitting 277MB/sec and 315MB/sec, not far behind the iMac’s drive, which scored 302MB/sec and 364MB/sec.
It’s worth noting, though, that the Fusion Drive system isn’t available to Boot Camp users running Windows. Even if you plan on sticking with OS X, it’s a pricey upgrade, available for an extra £200 and then only on the most expensive model.
The other key hardware change sees Apple replacing Sandy Bridge processors with 22nm Ivy Bridge technology. The Core i7-3720QM in our review model is a quad-core, 2.6GHz part, and it’s the more powerful of the two high-end chips available in this year’s Mac mini line-up – the other option is a 2.3GHz chip, with a cheaper Core i5-based model to round things off. Our Mac mini with its Core i7 scored an impressive 0.93 in our benchmarks, far ahead of the 0.72 scored by the Core i5 chip in 2011’s machine.
Disappointingly, there’s no longer an option to specify the mini with a discrete GPU as there was in the last Mac Mini. Graphics grunt is supplied by an integrated Intel HD Graphics 4000 chip, which scored 57fps in our Low quality Crysis test, ruling out gaming at full detail and Full HD resolution.
Elsewhere it’s business as usual for Apple’s mini marvel. The flat top, curved corners and familiar Apple logo look fantastic; as compact desktop PCs go, there can’t be many that look better than this.
Connectivity is comprehensive, with four USB ports at the rear, all upgraded to USB 3 this time around, HDMI and Thunderbolt display outputs, Gigabit Ethernet and FireWire sockets, an SD card reader and a pair of 3.5mm audio jacks, one of which doubles as an optical S/PDIF output. Underneath, a circular panel can be removed revealing the mini’s two memory sockets. It will take up to 16GB of DDR3 RAM, although we’d counsel against upgrading at the point of sale – going from 4GB to 16GB adds a hefty £240 in the Apple store.
At £959, our Fusion Drive-equipped Core-i7 review model is equally silly money, but the Apple’s lowest-specification model is actually pretty good value. At £499, it costs £30 less than 2011’s base model, and its Core i5 processor is quicker and more efficient. For anyone after a small, capable desktop PC, there isn’t anything that comes close to packing in as much power into as elegant a chassis as this. Plus, for anyone hankering after the full-fat OS X experience, it’s the cheapest way of going about it.
Author: Mike Jennings
Nice review but one question
Nice review Mike but how noisy is it? I am using a core2 duo mac mini as a media centre (I had one spare) but it is very noisy due to the whiny fan. How does this newer model compare? Would it be a suitable replacement?
By barrettj on 9 Jan 2013
Always reviewing custom built macs
Any chance or reviewing off the shelf Macs?
This is the same as the iMac review. A custom built model that isn't representative of the cost or performance most people will actually end up with.
For those not reading the full review or just seeing the link its misleading to say Mac Mini's cost £959.
What value for money score would the £499 mini get?
By krislord on 9 Jan 2013
I've the mid level model and its almost silent. I don't see how you could hear it over the audio from whatever you were watching. Playing video files isn't particularly taxing so the fan shouldn't need to spin up.
By krislord on 9 Jan 2013
I have a 2009 Mac mini with Core 2 processor and it is all but silent.
By big_D on 9 Jan 2013
This is getting silly......
Soooo did you actually test the "cheap" £499 version, or have you simply assumed that its a decent buy? We have a right to know.
PCPro's love of all things fruity is becoming tedious. I don't doubt that the Minimac is an OK proposition, but 4 stars of VFM it ain't....
By wittgenfrog on 9 Jan 2013
@barrettj - noise
I agree that they are all but silent but do bear in mind that watching web video in particular tends to cause all mac laptops and minis to spin up their fans after a while. Still not too noisy but definitely noticeably (particularly compared to their usual near silent operation).
By absolute_dave on 9 Jan 2013
Would be good to get some feedback from absolute_dave...
By kingjulian on 10 Jan 2013
I bought the previous iteration of the base model this time last year so that I could develop iOS apps. OSX lasted 3 months as my main OS before I finally gave up and returned to the warm embrace of Windows 7 via Bootcamp. As a PC it's lovely - almost silent (except when playing videos full-screen) and capable of handling everything I throw at it - including all the Adobe Creative Cloud apps.
Even the base model is more expensive than a desktop PC of equivalent power but its diminutive size and the flexibility of having OSX there for occasional use make it, unusually for an Apple product, good value for money in my view.
So good, in fact, that I see no reason to upgrade. Thanks Apple.
By KevPartner on 10 Jan 2013
HD surround sound?
Does anyone know if this iteration / version finally supports HD surround sound? Previous version did not support passthrough of DTS-HD or the Dolby equivalent.
By TheoB on 10 Jan 2013
The whole point of reviewing Mac Mini
is that it's the cheapest Mac you can buy with £499 price tag. However, you have just defeated the point with more expensive model which most people won't bat their eyes on!
By barnettgs on 11 Jan 2013
For all you grumbling
Sorry, how much are you paying to read this review. If like me, nothing. And yet, you are criticing someone who has taken time to review the top end unit supplied by Apple to PCPro, as if it is your right to have access to what the lower one will do. I agree that it would be nice if the review was able to indicate more what the range of performance is over the different models, to work out how their price to performance varies, but I still think if PcPRo was just to review one model it is right to be this one, since it shows the effect of the Fusion Drive, which is a new feature for this latest edition MacMini, over the 2011 version.
By Jonny_Bingham on 12 Jan 2013
I have the same model...
... and I'm very pleased with it!
I was originally looking at the 27" iMac, but the new iteration wasn't out in time (where I was working qualified for the educational discount, so I wanted to make the most of that before my contract ended), so I went for one of these instead.
Also I have an excellent 24" Dell UltraSharp monitor (WFP 2407) from way back in 2006 which I didn't really want to get rid of (it cost enough at the time!) and more to the point it's a proper matte screen (I really don't like glossy screens) so the two paired up make a great combo.
What clinched it for me, is that Apple have finally put in decent-spec processors in the Mini (quad-core), so I spec'd it up to the max and compared to the equivalent iMac I would have bought, I think I've saved about £1000.
Still, the Mini is an expensive beast though and I was a bit annoyed that I had to buy the SuperDrive separately, but otherwise, I'm glad I paid extra for an Apple keyboard & Trackpad.
Also there was the matter of it not working properly when I booted up the first time I plugged it in, but I booted into Recovery Mode, it hoovered down Mountain Lion down the wire and I was up and running within about 45 minutes, so I was very impressed with that. Apple even had the good grace to give me a freebie as way of an apology so hats off to AppleCare (which is also part of the reason I made the switch).
It's a shame there was no option to include a graphics card to give it more grunt, but I very rarely play games these days, so it's not a problem for me as of yet. However, it's a shame they no longer include it as an option.
I also put in 16Gb (not from Apple!) which cost about £60 and am quite happily running Windows XP, Windows 7 and Windows 8 in Parallels which I have to say are very, very quick... Far faster than my old PC that I've just upgraded from (which was dual-boot XP/7) so I'm pretty pleased with that too.
All in all a good machine and as "My First Mac", I'm very impressed with it.
By mrmmm on 17 Jan 2013
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