Apple Mac mini 2.4GHz (Mid 2010) full review

Just eight months after Apple last updated the Mac mini, we have a new Mac mini in our hands. The Mac mini (Mid 2010), offers modest upgrades while revamping the mini’s design for the first time since the line’s debut.

In place of two non-server Mac mini models, priced at £510 and £663, the new Mac mini comes in a single £649 non-server configuration that offers a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of DDR3 SDRAM, a 320GB SATA hard drive, and nVidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics. (You can upgrade to a 2.66GHz processor as a £123 build-to-order option.)

Apart from the new graphics chip – the previous models used the nVidia GeForce 9400M – the specs of the new model fall somewhere in between those of the previous two models, which included a 2.26GHz processor, 2GB of RAM, and a 160GB hard drive, or a 2.53GHz processor, 4GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive, respectively.

We in the UK seem to have got rather a poor deal compared to the US, even after you add on VAT at 17.5 per cent we are paying just over £100 more than customers in the States. And with the entry level price of the range now starting at £649, rather than £510 – a difference of £139, it’s hard to recommend the new Mac mini.  

The most outwardly obvious change to the Mac mini is its new enclosure. While every previous mini sported a 16.5- by 16.5- by 5cm case, the new model slims down, widens out, and gets a makeover. While still square, the mini is now 19.7cm on each side but only 3.6cm tall. And instead of using a multi-piece body made of white plastic and aluminium, the new Mac mini adopts the all-aluminium Unibody design of Apple’s MacBook Pro line.

Apple Mac mini

With the exception of a black-plastic panel on the back for ports and connectors, and a circular, black-plastic door on the bottom, the body of the mini is machined from a single piece of aluminium. To match the black-plastic pieces, the Apple logo on top of the Mac mini is now glossy black.

Thanks in large part to this aluminium enclosure, Apple claims the new mini is “one of the most material-efficient desktop computers available.” The company also states that the new mini is the most energy-efficient desktop computer on the market, using just over 9W of power when idle but awake, and less than 1.5W when sleeping.

Notably missing from the new Mac mini’s box is the bulky, heavy power brick of previous mini models. As part of the computer’s redesign, and thanks to its lower power usage, Apple was able to reduce the size of the Mac mini’s power supply and hide it inside the computer itself.

Like the Apple TV, the Mac mini now requires only a thin power cord that plugs directly into the back of the computer. Because of this change, the new mini is slightly heavier, at 1.37kg, than the previous model’s enclosure, but once you take into account the weight of the previous model’s external power supply, the new mini is actually lighter overall.

Media-friendly connections

The mini’s back panel hosts all other ports and connectors, and there are some nice additions here, as well as a couple of losses. Perhaps the biggest change is that while Apple has kept the Mini DisplayPort connector that debuted last year, the company has dropped the mini-DVI port in favour of an HDMI output – in some ways an acknowledgment that many people use their Mac mini connected to a TV in a home-entertainment centre, but also a reflection of the fact that HDMI connections are becoming more common on computer displays. Apple includes an HDMI-to-DVI video adapter that passes the HDMI port’s digital video signal (but not audio) to a standard DVI display; a Mini DisplayPort-to-DVI adapter is again a £21 accessory.

As with the 2009 Mac mini models, you can connect two displays simultaneously and use either extended- or mirrored-desktop mode. The HDMI port supports displays up to 1,920 by 1,200 pixels, and the Mini DisplayPort connector supports up to 2,560 by 1,600 pixels. (Apple and other vendors sell Mini DisplayPort adapters for connecting to VGA, DVI, or Dual-Link DVI displays.) The Mac mini’s graphics are powered by the same nVidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics as Apple’s current MacBook line; this chip, which uses a minimum of 256MB of your system RAM, offers notably better performance than the integrated graphics in the previous mini line, and it’s also optimised for HD output.

These are welcome features for those who use the mini in an AV system, although the included Front Row software continues to provide only the most basic of media-centre functionality, and you’ll need to look elsewhere for Blu-ray playback.

The other big addition to the Mac mini’s back panel is a built-in SD-card reader.

The rest of the Mac mini’s crowded back panel is filled with a power button, a power-cord jack, an auto-sensing gigabit ethernet jack, a FireWire 800 port, four USB 2.0 ports (served by two buses), auto-sensing analogue/optical-digital audio input and output minijacks (both of which support Apple’s current iPhone headset with remote and mic), and an exhaust vent for the mini’s cooling system.
Especially attentive readers will notice two back-panel absences compared to the previous Mac mini: a fifth USB port and a security-lock slot.

These were apparently eliminated due to space constraints.

Internally, the new Mac mini provides Bluetooth 2.1 + EDR and 802.11a/b/g/n wireless – Apple didn’t officially support 802.11a on the previous model. Apple says the new model should provide better wireless performance thanks to the placement of its two antennas.

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