Apple has taken its Mac mini back to the drawing board, and produced an updated model for 2010. This edition is even more attractive than its predecessor and features a range of updated components designed to boost performance and improve efficiency. It comes at a price, though. The entry-level consumer model, reviewed here, will set you back £650. The mini with Snow Leopard Server is available for a starting price of £930, and trades its optical drive for twin hard disks.
Flat like a pancake
The mini has always been a looker, but the latest version is a supermodel. It's the first mini to use Apple's much-vaunted unibody construction method, whereby the entire chassis is hewn from a solid chunk of aluminium. The technique, first used on the MacBook Air and MacBook Pro, gives the mini a classy, contemporary aesthetic that few small-form-factor PCs can match.
The mini also has a new shape. It's wider and longer than its predecessor (197 by 197mm, as opposed to 165 by 165mm), but it's significantly flatter -- just 36mm tall, compared to 51mm previously. As a result, it's closer in design to the Apple TV than previous minis. The extra width and depth has given Apple room to mount the power supply inside the chassis, which adds considerably to the sleekness of the overall package.
The mini's internal components have been spruced up, too. Sadly, Apple hasn't bothered supplying any Core i-series CPUs (we'll probably have to wait until the next refresh for that), but it does provide a choice of 2.4GHz or 2.66GHz Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs, both of which offer performance on a par with mid- to high-end laptops.
The mini has 2GB of 1,066MHz DDR3 memory as standard, spread across two 1GB modules, and it's upgradeable to a maximum of 8GB for a whopping £400. You can choose between a 320GB SATA hard drive or a 500GB unit. The mini also has Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi support.
Let me upgrade you
All the faces of the mini are made of solid aluminium except one. The underside has a plastic, disc-shaped central panel, which resembles the rotating platter from a record deck. Place your thumbs in its handy thumb-shaped grooves, twist the disc in an anti-clockwise direction, and it'll pop open, exposing the machine's inner components.
This means you'll enjoy ludicrously quick access to the mini's memory, which you can swap out in a matter of seconds. Sadly, other components, such as the hard drive and CPU, are more cunningly hidden away in the heart of the machine. Getting access to the hard drive, for example, requires the removal of several screws. If you want storage beyond the 500GB maximum provided by Apple, your best bet may be to purchase an external USB or FireWire 800 hard drive.
The most significant inclusion this time around is an Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics card. According to Apple, this makes the new mini's graphics performance twice as fast as that of its predecessor. Apple has a point -- this GPU lets the mini play 3D games, whereas the integrated Intel graphics processing unit in the previous model was pretty much useless for anything more demanding than watching BBC iPlayer or high-definition YouTube videos.
Any port in a storm
Apple's supplied the mini with an HDMI video-output port for the first time. This lets users connect the device to an external display, such as a 1080p television, without the use of unsightly dongles. It will come in particularly handy for those who download movies via iTunes, or enjoy watching on-demand television services, such as iPlayer.
In another first, Apple's supplied an SD memory card reader, mounted at the rear, which makes it slightly more convenient to transfer media to or from external devices such as a digital camera. The rear of the mini is also home to four USB ports (one fewer than the old model), a Mini DisplayPort, a FireWire 800 connection, and mic and headphone jacks.
The mini's performance is in line with that of a mid-range laptop. Its relatively slow, 5,400rpm hard drive can mean disk-intensive applications and games load rather slowly, but the mini will turn its hand to almost any task.
High-definition content on BBC iPlayer looks silky-smooth and even 3D games, such as Team Fortress 2, run smoothly after some tinkering with the settings. The mini struggles with games such as this at high-resolution and detail settings, but, provided you're willing to scale back the visual gloss, the machine can run most 3D titles available for the Mac platform.
The new Apple Mac mini is a beautifully engineered piece of equipment. Its unibody aluminium chassis is a joy to behold and its upgraded specification means it's a more capable computer than ever, particularly as far as graphics are concerned. It's also more expensive than ever but, if you can spare the cash, it's an investment that'll make you the envy of the nerd fraternity.
Edited by Charles Kloet