Apple Mac Mini Summer 2011 review: Apple Mac Mini Summer 2011

Adobe Photoshop CS5 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  

That value discussion naturally extends to our performance comparison. You can see from our charts that while the new Mac Mini offers a considerable performance boost over the older model, its advantages over a similarly priced Windows PC are more situational. The Mac Mini does well with Apple-made programs like iTunes and QuickTime (the latter in our multimedia multitasking test), but in both newer and older versions of Photoshop, a comparable Windows PC will process the same workload in less time. Windows PCs also boast faster raw multithreaded CPU performance for the dollar. The new Mac Mini is not slow, but if productivity is your chief concern, photo editors in particular would be better off with a different computer.

The Mac Mini boasts a new graphics card as well, but that doesn't change the fact that OS X still offers a very limited gaming library. You can play the current games available for the Mac without difficulty on the Mac Mini, even at higher resolutions, but we wouldn't buy this system for its promise as a gaming platform.

As usual, upgrade options for the Mac Mini are limited to the time-of-purchase choices on Apple's Web site. Upgrade choices are all predictably overpriced, from the $100 2.7GHz dual-core Core i7 chip to the $200 charge for an additional 4GB of RAM. The hard-drive prices aren't as bad as they seem given that they're 2.5-inch models. The good news is that without an optical drive, the Mac Mini now supports a second internal hard drive. The bad news is that the only dual-hard-drive option Apple cares to offer, a 750GB 7,200 rpm mechanical drive and a 256GB solid state drive, costs $750.

We were also concerned that Apple might trim the ports on the new Mac Mini and urge you to use adapters via the Thunderbolt input. We're glad to see Apple hasn't sacrificed any of the inputs from the previous Mac Mini. You still get four USB 2.0 jacks, a FireWire 800 input, Ethernet, HDMI, audio input and output, as well as an SDXC SD card slot.

Juice box
Apple Mac Mini (2.5GHz, Summer 2011) Average watts per hour
Off (watts) 0.36
Sleep (watts) 1.22
Idle (watts) 13.82
Load (watts) 58.53
Raw (annual kWh) 70.2771
EnergyStar compliant Yes
Annual operating cost (@$0.1135/kWh) $7.98

Annual power consumption cost

The new Mac Mini's power consumption scales almost exactly with its performance advantage over the older model. The newer unit is almost twice as fast, and uses almost twice as much power to get there. Intel's second-generation Core chips are remarkably power efficient, so we're a bit surprised to see such a direct speed-to-power correlation. The discrete graphics card could also be a factor here. Regardless, the new model still draws much less power than competing Windows PCs.

Service and support
Apple's phone support receives high customer satisfaction ratings, but, as always, we wish it were available to customers beyond the first 90 days of purchase without having to pay $149 for an AppleCare coverage plan. Apple's network of in-person help via its Genius Bar and its authorized services providers remains unique as well, but for desktop customers in particular, extended phone-based help would be more convenient.

Conclusion
The new $799 Mac Mini brings some welcome updates to Apple's most affordable desktop line, but the absence of an optical drive will give many users pause, particularly those who want to use this system in the living room. And while the Thunderbolt port holds promise, only committed Apple fans and users with specialized data storage needs will find it immediately beneficial. We cannot deny that this new Mac Mini offers nearly twice as much performance as the previous model, but because of its peculiarities, and its suspect value compared with Windows PCs in the same price range, we can only recommend it if you're willing to go along with Apple's vision for the future of computing.

Find out more about how we test desktop systems.

System configurations:

Apple Mac Mini (2.5 Ghz Core i5, Summer 2011)
Mac OS X 10.7; 2.5GHz Intel Core i5; 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB AMD Radeon HD 6630M; 500GB, 5,400rpm hard drive

Apple Mac Mini (2.4GHz Core 2 Duo, Spring 2010)
Mac OS X 10.6.3; 2.4GHz Intel Core 2 Duo; 2GB 1,067MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 256MB Nvidia GeForce 320M; 320GB, 5,400rpm hard drive

HP Pavilion Slimline S5-1060 (Core i5 2310, Summer 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium SP1 (64-bit); 2.9GHz Intel Core i5 2130; 6GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 512MB AMD Radeon HD 6450; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

Lenovo IdeaCentre K330 (Core i5 2500, Spring 2011)
Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit; 3.3GHz Intel Core i5 2500; 8GB 1,333MHz DDR3 SDRAM; 1.5GB Nvidia GeForce GT440; 1TB 7,200rpm Hitachi hard drive

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Where to Buy See all prices

Apple Mac Mini (Lion Server, Summer 2011)

Part Number: MC936LL/A Released: Jul 20, 2011
MSRP: $999.00 Low Price: $80.00 See all prices

Quick Specifications See All

  • Release date Jul 20, 2011
  • Graphics Processor Intel HD Graphics 3000 shared video memory (UMA)
  • Capacity 2 x 500 GB
  • OS Provided Apple OS X 10.8 Mountain Lion / Apple OS X Server 10.8 Mountain Lion Unlimited-Client Edition
  • Monitor Type None.
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