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The original Mac Mini caused a huge stir on its release. It was revered by Mac fans as the ultimate small form-factor computer, and although Windows PC users criticised its lack of power, it remained an attractive proposition thanks to its great looks and affordability.
The second-generation Mac Mini aims to address the criticisms of its predecessor. Like the latest MacBook Pro laptop and iMac desktop, it uses Intel components in the hope of improving performance, but do the changes really make that much difference? Or is it too little, too late for Apple's baby PC?
The latest Mac Mini is physically identical to its predecessor, but that's no bad thing, as it remains one of the most desirable desktops on the market. It's just 165mm square and 51mm high, so you can install it just about anywhere in the home.
The Mini's clean lines are aided in no small measure by its slot-loading DVD drive and the fact that all its ports and buttons are positioned to the rear. The only notable inclusion at the front is a white power LED, which stays illuminated during normal use, and pulses slowly while the system is suspended -- a stylish touch.
The rear of the Mac Mini sports the aforementioned power button, an AC port, four USB ports and a 16-pin FireWire port. There's also a DVI port for digital video output, an Ethernet adaptor, and mic and headphone sockets.
The Mini doesn't ship with a monitor, keyboard or mouse, but we'd recommend wireless peripherals in order to cut down on the clutter. We'd also recommend using an Apple display, to avoid the possibility of the Mac Mini's silver and white chassis clashing with more commonplace beige, silver or black TFTs.
The ITX form-factor motherboard inside the Mini uses Intel's 945 chipset -- the same one you'll find in the latest laptops, such as the Acer Travelmate 8204WLMi or MacBook Pro. This is paired with the Intel Core Duo L2300 processor, which runs at 1.66GHz.
This may not seem like a particularly impressive clock speed in comparison to that of the previous Mini's 1.42GHz G4 CPU, but Apple boasts that its dual-core architecture (that is, two CPUs on a single die) offers a (roughly) 5x performance increase in terms of number-crunching speed. (See Performance for our verdict.)
A slower, cheaper version of the Mac Mini is also available (using a 1.5GHz Intel Core Solo processor and costing £449), but both models ship with 512MB of DDR2 SDRAM. The previous low-end Mac Mini only shipped with 256MB, and prompted a rash of DIY upgrade projects, complete with voided warranties.
The new Mini still carries the legacy of poor graphics capabilities. Its integrated graphics chip, supplied by the chipset, is an improvement on previous Mac graphics hardware, but it's desperately slow in comparison to the ATI Mobility Radeon X1600 in the high-end Intel-equipped MacBook Pro.
The Mini is touted as a great multimedia desktop, and we're inclined to agree, thanks to the inclusion of a fairly large hard drive. Our review sample shipped with 80GB of storage, which can accommodate around 40 hours of movies, but there's a 120GB option (add £90) for more demanding file hoarders.
The basic Mac Mini has an ordinary DVD-ROM/CD-Rewriter combo drive, but our high-end sample features a dual-layer DVD rewriter, which is a far better solution for creating file backups. It's very slow -- just 2.4x for DVD+R DL discs and 8x for DVD-R discs -- but should be fine for most users.
Like most laptops, the Mac Mini has an internal speaker, which is a handy addition -- provided you're not a keen audiophile. It's fine for listening to radio broadcasts streamed off the Web, but we'd recommend buying a multi-channel speaker system to get the best audio experience.
Unlike the previous Mac Mini, you now get an integrated 802.11g Wi-Fi adaptor, and there's an Enhanced Data Rate (EDR) Bluetooth adaptor that can achieve data transfers of up to 3Mbps. The unit also features a very quick 1,000Mbps Gigabit Ethernet adaptor, but you'll need to buy a separate USB modem if you're still accessing the Internet via a dial-up provider.
The Mac Mini is fairly quick in practice. Its dual-core processor helped it cope admirably with everyday tasks such as Web browsing and office productivity, and it even chugged its way through image and video editing tasks with aplomb. It managed to import a 1.45GB Quicktime movie in 9 minutes 47 seconds, so although it's not hugely quick, it should be fine for the average home user.
The Mini certainly isn't a games machine. It'll struggle to run modern titles, but most Mac users probably won't care, as there are comparatively few games available for the platform. As ever, you'll ned to look to a PC or a console if you're serious about games.
One aspect of its performance that isn't in dispute is its quiet operation. The Mini is barely audible during ordinary use, and barely pipes up when asked to carry out more strenuous tasks.
Edited by Mary Lojkine
Additional editing by Nick Hide