Apple's Sandy Bridge-Based Mac Mini Review

Article Index

Summary and Conclusion

Performance Summary: The refreshed Mac mini, with its Core i5-2415M (2.3GHz) CPU, is quite powerful for its price point and form factor. But the limited RAM (2GB) and sluggish hard drive (500GB 5400 RPM) are somewhat of a let down. Overall, the machine is responsive and runs OS X Lion without issue, but getting into more advanced photo/video editing and gaming puts a notable strain on the system. That said, it's plenty capable of playing back 1080p content, HD Flash and YouTube material, and all of the Netflix content you can stand to consume. It's also capable of playing older games like Half-Life 2: Episode 2 at 1920x1200 with high details, which isn't bad given its Intel HD Graphics 3000 IGP. If selected with an SSD (available as a $600 upgrade from the $799 model), performance would be significantly better, but that price premium would make the machine a much tougher sell. 

The Mac mini is an interesting proposition. Without an optical drive, it's hard to recommend for use strictly as an HTPC. Not to mention, an Apple TV device can stream content well enough, and it's but $99. There's also effectively no upgradability here with the Mac Mini either. You can't easily access the hard drive, and there's clearly no room internally for any other components. There's no possibility of adding a TV tuner, for example, unless it's an external one. And Apple's lack of support for USB 3.0 means that all four of the USB ports around back are of the slower 2.0 variety. We definitely appreciate the Thunderbolt port, though; that enables easy dual-display setups, and it also gives users the ability to connect to quick storage devices should the need arise.

As a general desktop, the Mac mini does everything a typical consumer would ask it to, and it does them well. It breezes through iLife, handles Office like a champ, and churns through a 10-tab browsing session without a hiccup. It'll also play back high-def multimedia without any issues. If you just need a basic computer that'll run the latest version of OSX Lion as well as Windows, and you need it to be both small and beautiful, there's a case to be made here. But you'll need to bring your own keyboard, mouse and monitor, as none of those are included. In fact, the only things that Apple tosses in are a power cable and an HDMI-to-DVI adapter.

Per usual, the premium that Apple commands for its products is apparent, but possibly more so than with Apple's notebooks. The low-cost, mid-tower PC market is fiercely competitive, and it's easy to find a very nice Windows-based machine for $599 -- including higher-performing machines with more memory that'll ship with accessories, and plenty of expansion possibilities. From a value proposition standpoint, the new Mac mini falters. Without an optical drive, user-replaceable HDD or keyboard/mouse, its $599 price point questionable, and as we stated before, devices like the Apple TV may be a more sensible streaming option for those who would consider this an HTPC.

It may sound like we're nit-picking, but we actually like the Mini for what it is. It's too expensive to heartily recommend as a small form factor PC though. You probably won't find another sub-$600 SFF PC that looks as good, is as small, runs as cool or makes as little noise as the Core i5-based mini, but $600 goes a really long way in the PC desktop world. And when you remove the optical drive and input devices from the equation, it gets tougher to justify. We're unsure what market Apple's hoping to hit here.

If you have the funds, and want an ultra-sleek, small for factor desktop for a college dorm or as a family PC in the kitchen, that can run OSX or Windows, the latest Mac mini is interesting. It performs well, OS X Lion is included, and it's obviously very low profile as far as desktops go. Just be aware that there are concessions to be made and a price premium to be paid for the kind of form factor and aesthetics the Mac mini has to offer.

  • Great overall performance
  • Gorgeous design
  • Ships with OS X Lion
  • Included Thunderbolt port
  • Cool and quiet
  • Robust iLife apps included
  • Pricey
  • HDD is sluggish
  • No optical drive
  • Must purchase adapter cable for Thunderbolt / DisplayPort
  • No USB 3.0 ports

Related content