Mac mini 2.0GHz: 120GB 2009 edition (Mac only) full review - Page 3

Mac mini performance

The Mac mini has never been about performance; rather, it’s an affordable computer with a good array of features in a tiny package. (Apple told us the mini is designed to be the most affordable way to get a computer with Mac OS X and iLife.)

The latest models don’t change that: While our benchmark testing shows a notable jump in Speedmark scores since the August 2007 Mac mini models, individual tasks that aren’t graphics-intensive show more modest gains. This makes sense, as the mini’s processor speed hasn’t increased at all for the £649 model, and by only 0.17GHz for the £499 mini.

Rather, most gains in non-graphics-intensive tasks are the result of newer processor architecture and faster bus and memory speeds.

New Mac minis Speedmark scores

Longer bars are better. Blue bars in italics represent reference systems. Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, Chris Holt, and Helen Williamson.

Larger gains over the previous models are found in tests of hard-drive performance. For example, in our Finder Unzip Archive test, which is largely dependent on the performance of the hard drive, the new models are 17 and 35 per cent faster than the previous top-of-the-line mini.

Interestingly, the difference in Finder performance between the two new models - the £649 mini is 22 per cent faster - is largely a result of the top-end mini’s hard drive outperforming the one in the £499 model. (Although both new minis use 5,400 rpm drives, there are other factors that affect drive speed. For example, the 120GB drive is a single-platter model, whereas the 320GB drive is a dual-platter.)

Still, it’s worth noting that the relatively slow laptop drives used in the mini line remain among its limiting factors compared to a traditional desktop Mac. In fact, when we ran the same Finder tests on the £499 Mac mini while booted from a FireWire 800 drive, the results were notably better than with either stock mini; for example, our Finder Unzip Archive test came in at just 1:01 (compared to 1:19 and 1:41 for the two minis booted from their stock drives).

It’s in the graphics department that the new models really shine - at least compared to older Mac minis. Thanks to the GeForce 9400M GPU, the new £649 mini’s performance (measured in frames per second) was seven times that of its predecessor in our Quake 4 test, 39.1 versus 5.6. Similarly, in our Unreal Tournament 2004 test, the new mini’s framerate (63.0) was nearly three times that of its predecessor’s (21.9).

Perhaps most telling, the new mini was able to generate 35.6 frames per second in Call of Duty 4; the previous mini couldn’t even run the game. (When equipped with comparable RAM [2GB] the £499 mini produced similar results; with the stock 1GB RAM, performance was reduced by roughly 17 per cent in the same tests.)

Benchmarks aside, the new mini is also a decent performer in real-world testing. I played the first few levels of Call of Duty 4 on the £649 mini, using the game’s automatically configured (“Optimal System Settings”) graphics settings. While those settings obviously provided lower-quality visuals than you’d get with the newest iMac or Mac Pro, and the frame rates wouldn’t satisfy hardcore gamers, the graphics looked good and the game was more than playable, bogging down a bit only in the heaviest firefights.

I also imported a number of 720p video clips into iMovie ‘09 and was able to use all of iMovie ‘09’s features with reasonable performance. Finally, I was able to run multiple Microsoft Office programs along with Safari without problems.

NEXT: Which Mac mini to get?

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