Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo review: Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo

  • 1
  • 2
  • 3
  • 4
MSRP: $599.00

The Good Best design among budget desktops; decent performance for its price; best performance-per-watt on the market.

The Bad 160GB hard drive too small at this price; no HDMI port.

The Bottom Line The lower-cost Mac Mini offers respectable budget performance and Apple's usual compelling design, but a puny hard drive and a lack of HDMI hurt this system's value and overall potential. It's actually more versatile next to its budget-priced Windows competition than the higher-end Mac Mini, but this entry-level Mac is still best left to Apple loyalists.

Visit for details.

6.6 Overall
  • Design 9
  • Features 5
  • Performance 6
  • Support 5

We didn't love the higher-end model from Apple's most recent round of Mac Mini updates, but we're a bit more positive about this $599 version. A reasonably capable desktop, the entry-level Mac Mini will provide suitable day-to-day performance, wrapped in a familiar, still-attractive plastic and aluminum case. That combination makes this Mac Mini a sound jack-of-all trades computer, which we can recommend to anyone in need of such a system who's not dependent on Windows. Comparatively weak features for its price and a lack of HDMI hold the Mac Mini back from a higher rating.

Apple has stuck with the same exterior design for the Mac Mini since the system first debuted in 2005. We have no qualms with Apple retaining a design that works, but we continue to find it surprising that in the ensuing five years, no Windows PC vendor has come close to matching the Mac Mini's compact industrial class. The only thing that has changed on the Mac Mini's exterior between iterations is the array of ports on the back. As with the $799 baseline model, the $599 Mac Mini gets you five USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire 800 jack, mini-DVI and mini-DisplayPort outputs, an Ethernet port, and headphone and audio jacks.

You may find the absence of a media card reader on the Mac Mini annoying, but we find Apple's reliance on adapters to interface with the two miniaturized video outputs more problematic. Unlike recent small, low-cost offerings from Dell and Gateway, the Mac Mini has no traditional HDMI port. Worse, the only adapter included in the box is a mini-DVI-to-full-DVI port, to accommodate standard desktop monitors. Still worse, even if you buy one of the third-party adapters to jury rig an HDMI output, you'll need to pay $50 or more for an HDMI adapter that supports audio output over the HDMI signal, and only then by way of a second cable that eats up one of the Mac Mini's USB or audio ports.

In other words, despite the fact that the small, attractive Mac Mini practically begs you to bring it into the living room, and even though it has the horsepower to play video content up to 1080p quality from every major online video source, actually connecting the Mac Mini to an HDTV is made far more difficult by Apple opting for DisplayPort over HDMI. DisplayPort very well could surpass HDMI in popularity someday, but with HDMI reigning comfortably as king of the HDTV input, that day is not now. With so many Windows PCs in the same price range offering HDMI, its absence in the Mac Mini is a missed opportunity to expand this tiny system's appeal.

  Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz, 160GB, Fall 2009) Gateway SX2800-01
Price $599 $510
CPU 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7550 2.33GHz Intel Core 2 Quad Q8200
Memory 2GB 1,067 DDR3 SDRAM 4GB 800MHz DDR2 SDRAM
Graphics 256MB (shared) Nvidia GeForce 9400M integrated graphics chip 32MB (shared) Intel GMA X4500 integrated graphics chip
Hard drives 160GB, 7,200rpm 640GB, 7,200rpm
Optical drive dual-layer DVD burner dual-layer DVD burner
Networking Gigabit Ethernet, 802.11n Gigabit Ethernet
Operating system Apple OS X Snow Leopard 10.6.2 Windows Vista Home Premium (64-bit)

Gateway's SX2800-01 set the standard for budget PCs in 2009. A new, Windows 7-based version has been out since the fall (we have a new model on the way to review), but for now we'll stick to comparing the Mac Mini with the older model, since that's the one we've actually laid hands on.

From a features perspective, the two have some important differences, and the balance doesn't look great for Apple. The Gateway offers literally four times as much hard-drive space as the Mac Mini, and although the Gateway is somewhat larger, it also has a built-in HDMI output, making it much more flexible out of the box. The Mac's only advantage is that it comes with 802.11n wireless networking. Given that this Mac Mini costs $100 more than the Gateway, and suffers from a deficit in drive space and connectivity, we need more than Wi-Fi to justify the extra cost.

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz)

(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering multiple CPUs  
Rendering single CPU  
Gateway SX2800-01
HP Pavilion Slimline s5220y
Apple Mac Mini (2.53GHz)
Apple Mac Mini (2.26GHz)
Dell Inspiron Zino HD

We dinged the higher-end Mac Mini for not distancing itself far enough from its less expensive Windows-based competition. We're more forgiving of the Mac Mini in this regard since it costs $200 less. Yes, the Mac Mini falls behind the utterly lame $480 HP Pavilion Slimline s5220y on three of our four benchmarks, but Apple's system is still within reasonable striking distance, and it's not so slow that it would seriously hinder anyone trying to get through an average day of office work. We also give credit to the Mac Mini for its multitasking performance, the one test on which it outpaces its competition.

Because of the similarities in design, we should also compare the Mac Mini with Dell's new Inspiron Zino HD. The Dell system is larger than the Mac Mini, and with a slower AMD CPU it can't compare on performance. Dell is making a more directed run at a living room PC, however, and the Zino's wireless networking, HDMI port, and 320GB hard drive suggest that it might be better suited for such a task than the Mac Mini. The problem with our Dell review config is that it couldn't handle 1080p video, or even standard-definition content from Hulu. Dell offers a graphics chip upgrade for an extra $75, which would likely help its video performance, but even then its application performance would remain at a serious deficit to the Mac Mini.

If we had to choose either the Zino or the Mac Mini for the living room, we'd pick the Dell. It's more affordable, even with the graphics chip upgrade, and its HDMI port makes connecting it to a TV simple. On the other hand, if you want a small, low-cost desktop to both serve up media and handle basic productivity tasks, the Mac Mini is the winner hands down because of its faster performance.

Best Desktops for 2020

All best desktops