Consumer media centre meets business server
Designwise, the 2011 Mac mini hasn’t changed much compared with its predecessor. It’s still a small, aluminium square that sits modestly on your desk.
The change that does stand out – and may influence your buying decision – is that the Mac mini no longer has a SuperDrive. If you want to burn music CDs or DVDs, or read data from an optical disc, you need to get an external optical drive, such as Apple’s SuperDrive, which costs £66. If you absolutely want an internal SuperDrive in your Mac, opt for a MacBook Pro or an iMac, but beware, the optical drive’s days are numbered as far as Apple is concerned.
The Mac mini now has a high-speed Thunderbolt port, it also has an HDMI port, which hints at its suitability as a TV-attached media centre. There’s also a FireWire 800 port, four USB 2.0 ports, a Gigabit Ethernet port, an SDXC Card slot, and analogue/optical-digital audio input and output minijacks.
The £529 Mac mini has a dual-core 2.3GHz Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and Intel HD Graphics 3000 integrated graphics. The £699 Mac mini has a dual-core 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and AMD Radeon HD 6630M discrete graphics. You have to supply your own keyboard, mouse, and display.
There is also a server version of the Mac mini for £849, which is perfect in a home or work environment with multiple clients to be managed as well as files to be shared.
The 2011 Mac minis are significantly faster than the previous year’s model. The £529 Mac mini is 32 per cent faster, and the £699 Mac mini is 61 per cent faster. However, they are still the slowest of all Apple’s Macs, hampered by their slow hard drives, limited RAM, and integrated graphics.
The Mac minis lag significantly behind the iMacs, but for general-purpose use and editing of moderate-size videos and photos, the Mac mini will do fine.
Macworld’s buying advice The Mac mini continues to be a nice, affordable computer for new Mac users and people on a budget. It has enough power for everyone except professionals who demand top performance. Be sure to shop around for an external disc burner if you really need an optical drive, which may be the case if you were planning to use the Mac mini as a media centre device.
As for the Mac mini server, Apple stresses the personal server aspect of the Mac mini, describing potential uses in small businesses, classrooms, design studios, and so on. There’s a more powerful option in the Mac Pro Server but at a basic price of £2,450, that comes in at almost three times the Mac mini server’s £849. In most cases, the Mac mini server is more than enough.