The evolution of the Mac Mini is fascinating. Originally pitched as a "switch" product to lure Windows users over to OS X, the Mini was provided as a stand-alone machine with no keyboard or mouse.
In its ninth revision since 2005, the newest Mini on the block combines impressive engineering with an HDMI port, and a price tag that will make some grimace, especially considering that it still comes with no keyboard or mouse.
The AU$999 base model will get you a Core 2 Duo 2.4GHz machine with 2GB RAM, a GeForce 320M and a 320GB, 5400rpm hard drive. There's also an 8x Super Drive in there, and an SD card reader, although the latter is inconveniently placed at the rear with the rest of the ports.
The Mac Mini server has made a comeback in this iteration as well, removing the optical drive and giving the user two 500GB 7200rpm drives instead. Along with a 2.6GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB RAM, its entry-level model will run you AU$1399.
Last year's Mac Mini on top, the 2010 model on bottom. It's like someone sat on the old one — less height, more width. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
Despite a huge reduction in height, the new Mini has expanded greatly in width, and has done away with the white top. Much like the MacBook pro range, it's now an aluminium unibody chassis, the result being it wouldn't look out of place next to all your home theatre gear.
There's no power brick any more either — the power supply has been moved inside the Mini. While you'd think the increase in GPU power and moving the power supply inside would be a big contributor to heat, even when stressed the Mini never picked up in noise and was cool to the touch.
Also new this time around is a removable plug on the bottom, which feels like some sort of vulcanised rubber and by simply turning it, it gives easy access to RAM ... and that's about it. The hard drive is secreted under hex screws and lord knows what else. Getting the plug back in is a little finicky too, requiring you to line up a dot on the plug with a dot on the case, otherwise it simply doesn't turn.
Easy RAM access: check. Easy hard drive access: not so much. (Credit: Apple)
The extra width of the Mac Mini means that despite the height reduction, a full complement of ports can still fit along the back, including four USB ports, one FireWire 800, gigabit Ethernet, 3.5mm line in and out ports (with optical audio and support for the iPhone headset), Mini-DisplayPort and, of course, the aforementioned HDMI port.
All the ports are there, including the much desired HDMI. Don't stress over the lack of DVI — Apple has included an HDMI to DVI adapter. (Credit: CBS Interactive)
It's the HDMI that's likely to get the home theatre PC (HTPC) crowd excited. While some are happy with Ion-based machines, and others with streamers like the XBMC., the Mac Mini presents a general purpose machine that can not only do a little bit more, but allows the user to install their own codecs or media player such as