Mac mini (Late 2009) full review - Page 4

Performance increases

The Mac mini line has always been about size and value, rather than performance. The early-2009 models were prime examples: while they were the first minis that were truly capable of handling the iLife suite and playing processor- and graphics-intensive games such as Call of Duty 4, they performed more like MacBooks than MacPros – or even than iMacs. So even though the late-2009 minis are all about increasing performance, you shouldn’t expect to be wowed by the newest models’ power.

To test these improvements, we ran our latest suite of benchmarks on both new models, as well as on the new £499 model upgraded to 4GB of RAM; the £649 early-2009 model; and the most-recent pre-2009 Mac mini, the 1.83GHz 2007 model, upgraded to 2GB of RAM (our benchmarks require 2GB). We didn’t test the £499 early-2009 mini this time around, as once you upgrade it to 2GB of RAM, the only difference between it and the £649 model is the hard drive. (Note that these new tests aren’t directly comparable to the ones we ran back in March, and we’re still ironing out the details of our Speedmark suite, so we’ll have more benchmarks going forward.)

The new Mac mini models, in their stock configurations, offer decent performance increases over the early-2009 models. While the margin of improvement varied depending on the test, comparing the overall time it took to complete the 17 time-based tests in our battery, the new £649 (2.26GHz) model took about 7 per cent less time than the older £649 (2.0GHz) model, and the new £649 (2.53GHz) mini took 16 per cent less time than its predecessor. Upping the new £499 to the same 4GB of RAM as the £649 model closed the gap a bit: that build-to-order configuration, which costs £499, took about 10 per cent less time to complete the tasks than the previous £649 mini.

Where didn’t the new Mac minis improve significantly on their immediate predecessors? The early-2009 Mac mini we tested actually bested the new 2.26GHz model – and tied the new 2.53GHz mini – in our Finder Duplicate test, which involves duplicating a 1GB folder of files. The older model also slightly outperformed the new 2.26GHz mini in our Movie Import, Finder Unzip Archive, and iPhoto Import tests. These results are likely explained by a slightly faster hard drive in the older £649 model, as these particular tests are largely dependent on hard-drive speed. The new models also showed no improvement, compared to the early-2009 model with 2GB of RAM, in our graphics-card-dependent Call of Duty test.

For those with older models considering an upgrade, a more-useful point of reference is the 1.83GHz 2007 Mac mini. Compared to this model, the late-2007 minis offer major performance boosts: The updated £499 model finished our benchmark tests in 29 per cent less time, with the new £649 mini besting that older model by 36 per cent.

Comparing the two new models directly, the £649 mini was 10 per cent faster than the stock £499 mini in total time to complete our tests; although it was only 7.4 per cent faster once we upgraded the £499 model to the same 4GB of RAM. Indeed, for some tasks, such as the Open Word Document in Pages test, the difference between the two new minis was significantly reduced by upping the RAM on the lower-end model.

Finally, comparing the new Mac minis to other current "consumer" Macs provides some additional perspective on performance. The new white Unibody MacBook was slightly faster than the £499 mini at completing our battery of tests, while the least-expensive new iMac was 28 per cent faster than the new £499 mini and 20 per cent faster than the £649 model.

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