Mac mini Core 2 Duo Review

In stark contrast to the fanfare surrounding the new iMac (reviewed on page 44), the new Mac mini model has received very little interest. Clearly, Apple could have made a bigger deal about the new Mac minis – thanks to faster Core 2 Duo processors, the latest models walk all over their Intel-based predecessors.

The latest minis haven’t changed in any way on the surface, but under the hood they now sport Core 2 Duo processors, running at either 1.83GHz or 2GHz. The mini also now ships with 1GB of RAM.

The price of the 2GHz model is now down from £529 to £499, whereas the entry model remains at £399. The Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics chip, which shares the system’s main memory, remains unchanged.

The proof of the Core 2’s advantage can be found in the benchmark results. The new 2GHz model was 24 per cent faster than the old 1.83GHz Mac mini in our Photoshop test, while the new 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo model was 19 per cent faster in that test than the old high-end Mac mini. The new 1.83GHz mini was 20 per cent faster than the old 1.66GHz model. Compressor 3 scores showed even more dramatic improvement, with the new high-end model compressing our movie 35 per cent faster than the old high-end. The new 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo model finished compressing the movie 28 per cent faster than the Core Duo version of the mini running at the same speed and 32 per cent faster than the 1.66GHz Core Duo Mac mini.

The Core 2 Duo chipset can accommodate up to 4MB of L2 cache, which is shared between the processing cores. The upper limit of the Core Duo processors is 2MB of L2 cache. The 2GHz Mac mini includes the full 4MB of L2 cache, while the new 1.83GHz system still ships with the same 2MB found in the old machines. And though the new 2GHz Mac mini was about 8 per cent faster in our system benchmark, Speedmark, with the higher-end processor running about 10 per cent faster than the lower end, it’s hard to figure out how much of the performance difference is attributable to the increased L2 cache.

Regardless, the new systems were faster than the older models across the board, even managing to get about 13 per cent more frames per second in our Unreal Tournament 2004 test against the old high end model and 19 per cent more frames per second than the low-end 1.66GHz model.

In many of the processor-intensive tasks, such as rendering a scene in Cinema 4D or encoding a movie in Compressor, the 2GHz Core 2 Duo iMac and Mac mini were neck and neck. Other tests included in the overall Speedmark score, such as file duplication and importing files into iPhoto, highlighted the disadvantage of including slower, 5,400rpm hard drives in the Mac mini as opposed to the iMac’s 7,200rpm drives.

OUR VERDICT

We’re glad to see Apple not give up on its budget option. The small size and impressive processor ensures that the mini remains a versatile system. The larger hard drive and 1GB of memory are also welcome additions. We would, however, like to see a SuperDrive on the entry-level model, and a better graphics option.

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