Apple Mac Mini Core Duo (1.83GHz) review: Apple Mac Mini Core Duo (1.83GHz)

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MSRP: $799.00

The Good Compact size and great looks mean the Mac Mini can be put practically anywhere in your home; built-in wireless card; ships with same software bundle as pricier Macs; vocal Mac community means you can find help online for almost any problem.

The Bad Meager standard memory allotment must share resources with integrated graphics; no media card reader; small, slow hard drive; free phone support runs out after only 90 days.

The Bottom Line The Apple Mac Mini is an unquestioned winner among budget desktops, but HP has a small-form-factor PC whose feature set will woo many would-be Mac Mini buyers.

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7.7 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 8
  • Performance 6
  • Support 5

Lost among the news of the emergence of the Intel-based Mac Pro and the iMac getting a boost with new Intel Core 2 Duo CPUs was the Mac Mini receiving a CPU jolt of its own. The low-end $599 model tossed aside its Core Solo processor for a Core Duo, and the $799 Mac Mini now ships with a faster 1.83GHz Core Duo processor. While the slight tick up in clock speed is appreciated, we wish the baseline configuration included 1GB of memory. The other two weak spots for the $799 Mac Mini are its relatively small hard drive and the integrated Intel GMA 950 graphics that borrows resources from the already limited main memory. The Mini's charms, however, are abundant. It remains a marvel of PC design, wireless networking and Bluetooth come standard, and its software bundle is unmatched by any desktop in its class. These features make the Mac Mini a great choice if you are looking for an affordable way to dip your toes in the Mac waters. It's also become a popular choice for home theater owners looking to add a little computer muscle to their living room, and rightfully so: as configured, it has more than enough oomph to carry out home-theater tasks, provided your gaming comes courtesy of an Xbox 360 or the soon-to-be-released PS3. We'd say it's the best general-purpose small-form-factor desktop, too, if not for the HP Pavilion Slimline S7600e.

Priced at $975, our HP Pavilion Slimline s7600e review system is $175 more expensive than the baseline $799 Mac Mini. We think that the added features--more memory; bigger, faster hard drive; media card reader; PCI slot; TV tuner; LightScribe DVD burner; keyboard and mouse; and better warranty terms--add up to more than the difference in price. In the Mac Mini's favor is its superior design and software bundle, which includes the unparalleled iLife '06 suite and the simple yet effective Front Row app for easy navigation from the sofa. Both computers ship with comparable dual-core hard drives and a remote control.

The Mac Mini's design remains unchanged from past models'. The 6.5-inch square sits just over 2 inches tall and is a bit more compact than HP's Slimline. And with its glossy, white Lucite top and brushed-aluminum sides, it's certainly better looking than the Slimline, which looks like a shrunken yet still boring midtower PC.

The Mac Mini loses out on features and, to a lesser extent, upgradability. The Mac Mini uses smaller and slower notebook drives. The standard drive is an 80GB, and you can upgrade to a 120GB or 160GB drive; all three drives are 5,400rpm, 2.5-inch notebook drives. The HP Slimline features a 7,200rpm, 3.5-inch desktop drive in sizes up to 250GB. Both the Mac Mini and the HP Slimline start you off with 512MB of DDR2 SDRAM, though the Mac Mini uses faster 667MHz memory. Our Slimline review system included an upgrade to 1GB of memory, which is a slightly cheaper upgrade than what Apple charges for the same amount of memory. Still, we recommend at least 1GB in either system since both use integrated graphics, which borrow from the main system memory.

Continuing through the feature sets, the HP Slimline also boasts a handy multiformat media card reader and the option to add in a TV tuner. While you can add both features to the Mac Mini via external USB peripherals, it's nice to have them integrated on the case, particularly if you plan to hide the system among the home-theater components in your living room. Both systems feature a DVD burner, but HP's is a LightScribe drive that lets you create laser-etched labels on CDs and DVDs. We admit that's a small victory for HP, given the time it takes to create just a somewhat blurry, grayscale label.

Neither SFF system offers much in the way of expandability, which isn't a surprise given their dimensions. It's easier to get inside the HP Slimline, however, and it offers a PCI slot.

Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Adobe Photoshop CS2 image-processing test
Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple iTunes encoding test
Note: Tunes for Windows version; iTunes for Mac version 7.0.1
Cinebench 9.5
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs
Rendering single CPU

Both the 1.83GHz Apple Mac Mini and the HP Pavilion Slimline Ss7600e reside at the upper end of the budget desktop category, and both serve up performance that will meet the needs of mainstream users. The Mac Mini put up an uninspiring Photoshop score, but that's because it must run the app through the Rosetta translation software. Until Adobe releases a universal binary version of Photoshop for Intel-based Macs, you'll have to slog through Photoshop on any Mac. Conversely, Macs enjoy an edge on iTunes because it's built for the Mac OS. The higher-end Mac Mini enjoys a 9 percent advantage over the lower-end $599 model, thanks to its increased clock speed. It's 24 percent slower than the $999 17-inch iMac, which shows you what the Core 2 Duo processor can do for performance. CineBench 9.5 puts Macs and PCs on equal ground, and the 1.83GHz Mac Mini trailed the HP Slimline by the slightest of margins, an impressive showing considering it has half the memory and a dual-core processor that clocked slightly slower.

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