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Apple Mac Mini (June 2010) review: Apple Mac Mini (June 2010)

The new Mac Mini delights with its size and HDMI port, although the asking price and lack of extras will likely steer many away.

Craig Simms Special to CNET News
Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.
Craig Simms
6 min read

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.

8.0

Apple Mac Mini (June 2010)

The Good

Thinner profile. HDMI. Easily accessible RAM. SD card reader. Quiet. Blends in perfectly with your home cinema gear.

The Bad

No keyboard and mouse for the price is asking a bit much. Don't hold your breath for Blu-ray. SD card reader on the back. iMac is better value for new PC buyers.

The Bottom Line

The new Mac Mini is a desirable bit of kit indeed. The addition of HDMI makes it appealing to the HTPC crowd that wants to retain flexibility, but not custom build a solution. Where it hurts though is in cost and lack of extras — for the same price, you could get a Core i3 Windows 7 laptop.

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.

Ch-ch-ch-changes

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.

Mac Mini top

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.

Mac Mini rear

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)

Screen queen

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 WD TV, 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 XBMC.

Of course, there are still a few areas where the Mini falls short for ultimate HTPC use — there's still no Blu-ray, and it overscans by default, the provided tools to fix this creating a blurry screen and black borders on our test Dell 3008WFP. This can be fixed with the US$12 DisplayConfigX, but this should be functionality built straight into the OS.

Despite digital screens being the norm these days, there are still reasons for overscan as far as broadcasts are concerned, and so 1:1 scaling can potentially get tossed out the window when you connect over HDMI, even when a PC is the source.

In this case, the Mac Mini expects the display to meet it halfway. While the Dell overscanned even when set to 1:1 scaling, our Pioneer PDP-5000EX TV displayed the entire screen perfectly when put in "Dot by dot" mode. An LG 47LE7500 we had in for testing did exactly the same through its "Just scan" mode. Even the built-in OS X scaling tool looked perfectly fine on both TVs, the blurriness visible on the Dell simply not appearing on the Pioneer or the LG.

Our Dell issues disappeared when using the included HDMI to DVI adapter. HDMI alone limits the resolution to 1920x1080, with the adapter it will hit 1920x1200. If you want higher, you'll need to output over Mini-DisplayPort.

Old mother Hubbard would have flashbacks

Apart from the HDMI to DVI adapter, power cable, OS X/iLife install disc and the Mini itself, the box is bare. Apple still doesn't include a keyboard, mouse or remote, which it will all too happily sell you as extras through its site, at a nice premium. It's here that the Mini's value proposition rankles for some, and we can see why.

A keyboard runs an extra AU$69 with or without numpad, or AU$99 for the wireless version. A standard mouse goes for AU$69, while the Magic Mouse goes for AU$99, and a remote will run you AU$29.

If you spec up the Mac Mini to the cheapest iMac, it quickly starts losing its lustre. The iMac 21.5-inch base model has a 3.06GHz Core 2 Duo processor in it, 4GB RAM, a 500GB hard drive, as well as a wireless keyboard, Magic Mouse and IPS-based screen.

You can match the Mac Mini to all the specs except for the processor and screen. The highest processor available on the Mini is 2.66GHz, and the only available monitor option is the 24-inch Cinema Display, which adds a somewhat nuts AU$1299 to the bottom line thanks to being LED backlit.

Even without the display, the upgraded Mac Mini with slower processor comes in at AU$1686.99, the base model iMac AU$1599. That's hard to justify, even with the meatier GeForce 320M inside the Mac Mini.

For whatever reason, the remote runs for a different cost between the two as well. On the iMac it costs an extra AU$25, on the Mac Mini AU$29.

Performance

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.53GHz, spring 2009) 116
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.4GHz, June 2010) 123
  • Dell Inspiron Zino HD 302
  • Asus Eee Box EB1501 606

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.53GHz, spring 2009) 148
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.4GHz, June 2010) 154
  • Dell Inspiron Zino HD 415
  • Asus Eee Box EB1501 813

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.4GHz, June 2010) 441
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.53GHz, spring 2009) 490
  • Asus Eee Box EB1501 2268
  • Dell Inspiron Zino HD 2817

(Shorter bars indicate better performance)

Cinebench test
  • Rendering multiple CPUs
  • Rendering single CPU
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.53GHz, spring 2009) 54192899
  • Apple Mac Mini (2.4GHz, June 2010) 31412402
  • Dell Inspiron Zino HD 23041329
  • Asus Eee Box EB1501 1528537

(Longer bars indicate better performance)

Conclusion

The new Mac Mini is a desirable bit of kit indeed. The addition of HDMI makes it appealing to the HTPC crowd that wants to retain flexibility, but not custom build a solution. Where it hurts though is cost — at AU$999 it has a tough job ahead, both in convincing Windows users to switch (who can get a Core i3-based Windows laptop for the same price), and appealing to those looking for a new computer when Apple's own iMac is so competitively priced.