The Good The new Mac Mini boasts Apple's usual design leadership, as well as new internal components that nearly double its performance compared with that of the older model.
The Bad Some users will find the lack of an optical drive too forward-looking, and may struggle to understand the benefits of the Thunderbolt port. The new Mac Mini also offers suspect value compared with Windows PCs in the same price range.
The Bottom Line Apple's new $799 Mac Mini demands that you abandon disc-based media, and that you surround it with potentially expensive extra hardware to realize its full benefits. It makes most sense for committed Mac users, those who need it for a specific niche-case, or for those who value design over functionality for the dollar.
Apple Mac Mini Summer 2011
Editors' note (October 23, 2012): The 2011 Mac Mini reviewed here has been replaced by a modestly updated 2012 model that offers a newer Ivy Bridge CPU and USB 3.0.
Apple's new Mac Mini features some welcome updates and a controversial omission, but overall it remains in the same competitive middle ground as its earlier incarnations. No other system in its price range comes close to the Mac Mini's pleasing, compact design, and this $799 model brings some welcome performance improvements, along with the still-developing potential of its Thunderbolt port. Competing slim-tower PCs from the Windows side of the aisle offer more features for the same price, among them optical drives, which Apple has left off its new small form factor desktop. That decision makes the Mac Mini more of a niche computer than ever before. If you're a member of a niche who might benefit from owning an affordable Mac desktop with decent performance and a promising new input standard, the Mac Mini is a reasonable deal. Value shoppers and living room PC enthusiasts with large DVD collections, this is not the desktop for you.
The only major design change to the new Mac Mini comes to the front panel, which now has a continuous aluminum face instead of a slot for Apple's SuperDrive DVD burner. We expect that some potential buyers would happily sacrifice the new clean look for an optical drive, but with or without the slot, the Mac Mini remains one of the best-looking computers available. As with last year's edition, which debuted the new Mac Mini chassis, a plastic piece on the bottom twists off to allow user memory slot access.
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