Apple's Sandy Bridge-Based Mac Mini Review

Introduction and Specifications

Apple's Mac mini hadn't seen a substantial update for about a year, but with Intel's second generation Core processor family arriving in 2011, it was only a matter of time before one of those chips found favor with Apple's tiniest desktop. The Mac mini design really hasn't changed in the year or so it took the folks in Cupertino to swap out the Core 2 Duo for Intel's new Core i line of processors. In terms of volume and dimension, it's almost exactly the same as the 2010 edition, but with a major addition--that port between the HDMI socket and those four USB 2.0 ports. It's a Thunderbolt port, a lightning-fast interconnect jointly designed with Intel. With the addition of Thunderbolt on the new mini, Apple's growing their list of supported machines, which also includes the latest MacBook Pro, MacBook Air and iMac.

For many, this is the least expensive way to enter the world of OS X. And with OS X Lion shipping on the mini, it's also the cheapest way to get a new system with Apple's minty-fresh operating system. This new mini is also $100 less than the entry-level mini of last year. So for $599, you get a 2.3GHz dual-core Core i5-2415M CPU, 2GB of DDR3 RAM, Intel's HD Graphics 3000 and a Thunderbolt socket; what you won't find, however, is an optical drive. Last year's mini Server shipped sans an optical drive too, but this year, both the consumer model and the Server edition ship with no slot up front.

Apple Mac Mini (Core i5)
Specifications & Features (as tested)

  • Mac OS X 10.7 (Lion)
  • 2.30GHz Intel Core i5-2415M (dual-core; 3MB shared L3 cache)
  • 2GB of 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM
  • 500GB Hard Drive (5400rpm)
  • Intel HD Graphics 3000 
  • No optical drive
  • AirPort Extreme Wi-Fi (802.11a/b/g/n)
  • Thunderbolt I/O Port (Up to 10Gbps)
  • Four USB 2.0 ports (Up tp 480Mbps)
  • FireWire 800 Port (Up to 800Mbps)
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC Card Reader
  • Full-size HDMI Output
  • DVI output using HDMI to DVI Adapter (included)
  • Gigabit Ethernet Jack
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • Built-in speaker
  • DVI output using HDMI to DVI Adapter (included)
  • Audio line out/headphone minijack (digital/analog)
  • Built-in power supply (maximum draw of 85-watts)
  • 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4" (Dimensions)
  • 2.7 pounds
  • 1-Year Warranty
  • Optional: 750GB HDD, SSD, AMD Radeon HD 6630M (256MB)

Direct Price: $599 (as tested)

We had the opportunity to take a look at the base Core i5 Mac mini, which retails for $599. There's also a $799 model with double the RAM (4GB) and a discrete GPU (AMD's Radeon HD 6630M). That one is obviously far more capable for the gamers out there, but if you're looking for a Mac desktop, chances are that gaming isn't a top priority. There are far cheaper PCs in the Windows realm that'll handle games with more poise and performance.

So, what's the real selling point with this tiny rig? As we've mentioned, the price includes the latest version of OS X and iLife, as well as the Mac App Store, but it's sleek design and ultra small form factor mean that it can slide into just about any decor. Is it right for you? Have a look at our full review in the pages to come.

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