Mac mini 2.0GHz: 120GB 2009 edition (Mac only) full review - Page 4

Which Mac mini to get?

Unfortunately, the £499 model’s paltry 1GB of RAM can hamper its performance considerably, even if you mainly use your computer for Web browsing, e-mail, and an office suite such as Microsoft Office or Apple’s iWork. (And the £499 model’s slower hard drive makes it that much more painful, compared to other desktop Macs, to get into heavy virtual-memory disk swapping.) Using iMovie, I was able to get similar performance to that of the £649 model only if I quit all other programs first. And Call of Duty 4’s overall performance was considerably degraded: the automatically-configured settings provided lower-quality video, and I experienced frustratingly frequent stutters and pauses.

Which to get?

While the Mac mini’s tiny size has many advantages over larger computers, this design also makes it the most difficult Mac to upgrade.

Unless you’re skilled with putty knives and spudgers, and comfortable forcing little plastic and metal pieces to do things they don’t appear to be willing to do, the mini isn’t a machine you’ll want to take apart. (Apple’s policy has always been that as long as you don’t break anything in the process, you’re free to upgrade your Mac mini yourself. The company confirmed to Macworld that this is still the case.)

And there’s the rub with the Mac mini: The otherwise-attractive £499 model offers a meager 1GB of RAM and only 160GB of hard-drive space - disappointing specs for a computer that’s more than capable of handling movie and photo editing using the included iLife suite.

Opting for the £649 model alleviates these issues to some degree, giving you 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive, but these are its only improvements, and they’re ones that would cost you less than $100 if you installed them yourself. Yet by making the Mac mini so difficult to upgrade, Apple has ensured that many users will pay the £649 mini’s £150 premium.

Thankfully, Apple will upgrade the £499 mini to 2GB RAM for only £40, a fair price considering that Apple performs (and warrants) the installation. And the new mini’s plentiful expansion ports mean you can always add more external storage. In fact, as noted above, by adding (and booting from) an external FireWire drive, the £499 mini’s performance can surpass that of either stock model.

With 750GB and 1TB FireWire 800 drives available for under $150 these days, unless you’re using your mini in a location where you can’t have an external drive attached, you’ll get far more value for your money going this route.

[Dan Frakes is a Macworld senior editor.]

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