Apple Mac mini (2011)

Eric Ernest 2011-10-18
80 Very Good
Price: Rs 44,900

Full Review

The 2011 product line-up from Cupertino seems to be following the formula of replicating the physical appearance of that particular product's earlier iteration's. At the very same time, Apple has been upgrading the hardware section all of its units - namely the iMac 21.5-inch, and MacBook Air units. In this respect, Apple's latest Mac mini is no different. It could quite easily pass of as a modern-art kind of decoration that you could find in someone's living room's shelf.

The current Mac mini comes in a space-saving, elegant, portable, single slab aluminium form factor that its 2010 predecessor came in - the uni-body construction seems to have more or less become Apple's main design mantra, as most recently seen in the Apple MacBook Air unit's design. As it was with the 2010 version, the Mac mini occupies as little space as possible - you can either have the unit rest horizontally on its base or place the unit vertically by resting it on one of its sides. It's 3.6 cm thin, has curved edges, and has a sturdy build quality. The mini sports the black Apple logo on its top section, and the ports, as well as the power button are located at its rear. The black matte rear and the protruding black plastic removable base, provide for an eye pleasing contrast to the greyish-silver finish of the rest of the mini's body.

Weighing in at 1.22kg, it is lighter than its 2010 predecessor. A point to keep in mind is that you will have to already own, or consequently purchase, a monitor, keyboard and mouse to be able to use the Mac mini - not to mention, even an external optical drive. The power button is located at the left end, at the rear of the mini. There is an exhaust vent that is located at the lower central section of the Mac mini's rear - place right under the FireWire port. Along with the Mac mini, you also get a HDMI to DVI Adapter and a power cord - the Mac mini features an internal power supply.

This unit features an Intel second generation Sandy Bridge Intel Core i5-2520M  processor (2.50 GHz), 4GB DDR3 RAM, a 500B HDD (5400 RPM) and for graphics processing, you have the AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor with 256MB of GDDR5 memory (the 2010 model featured Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics). This unit can be configured to feature a 2.7GHz dual-core Intel Core i7proc, 8GB RAM, 750GB (7200-rpm) hard drive - or alternatively a 256GB solid-state drive or even have both a 256GB SSD and a 750GB (7200-rpm) hard drive.

In terms of the connectivity options that are available on the Mac mini, Apple, luckily enough, doesn’t replicate its minimalist design policy - in other words, there are a good number and variety of ports. At the rear, starting from the left side, there is a power socket, a Gigabit Ethernet port, a FireWire 800 port, an HDMI port, a Thunderbolt port, 4 USB 2.0 ports, a SDXC card reader,and audio-in and audio-out jacks. The mini also features Wi-Fi 802.11 n and Bluetooth 4.0 wireless connectivity.

As I have mentioned in my other Apple 2011 product reviews, including a Thunderbolt port is a very future proof attribute, but at as of now, there are not too many vendors who sell peripherals that utilize its high-speed general purpose I/O interface - the Thunderbolt port provides support for both video and data connections.

My only complaint on the hardware configuration front is that Apple did away with the Slot loading optical drive that was present in the 2010 iteration of the mini. Couldn't Apple have just included that feature - given that the dimensions of the mini's body have not really changed that much, it just makes this particular choice, of omitting an optical drive, even more baffling. Apple could have also done with one or more USB 3.0 ports.

The Mac mini line-up features 3 models - the cheapest unit, featuring a 2.3GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, 500GB of storage, Intel HD graphics 3000 and 2GB of memory, comes for Rs. 33,900; a similarly spec'd model (relative to the previously mentioned version) features a  2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5, AMD Radeon HD 6630M, 4GB of RAM and comes for Rs.44,900; and also a Mac mini, with Lion server, that comes for Rs.54,900 and features a 2.0GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 and Dual 500GB 7200-rpm hard drives.

More details can be seen on this review's "Specification" page.

Apples' Mac Mini comes pre-installed with Mac OS X Lion (10.7). The software featured Mail, Address Book, iCal, the Mac App Store, iTunes, Safari, Time Machine, FaceTime, Photo Booth, Mission Control, Launchpad, AirDrop, Resume, Auto Save, Versions, Quick Look, Spotlight, QuickTime and the iLife suite.

If you have a partiality to Windows, you can always install a Windows OS using Apple's Boot Camp feature.

We installed Windows 7 and ran our various benchmarks on the Mac mini. The Apple unit recorded a very good score of 117 on the Worldbench 6 benchmark. This is indeed quite an improvement over the 2010 Mac mini's score of 91 in the same benchmark - not as great a jump as seen between the scores notched by MacBook Air units from 2010 and 2011. This Worldbench statistic means that the Mac mini should be able to deal with most memory and processor intensive tasks, let alone your daily chores like Web browsing and listening to music, in a comfortable manner - you can even play games at lower, yet respectable, levels. During synthetic testing, the Apple unit's hard disk recorded an average read speed of 57.1 MB/s and the laptop recorded a PC Mark Vantage score of 7021.

When connected to an appropriate display unit, via HDMI, the Mac mini shouldn't really have any problems handling 720p and 1080p videos. As I previously mentioned, you can game on this system at respectable levels. When I benchmarked FarCry 2 at 1024x768, DirectX 10 mode, AA 2x, and 'Ultra High' settings, the average frame rate recorded was around 24.26 fps. Similarly, for Metro 2033, when benchmarked at 1366x768, DirectX 11, Very High Quality, AAA, AF 4X, and all settings maxed out, the average registered was 6.67 fps. Now with these kinds of scores, a casual gamer should be able to enjoy gaming at lower resolution and settings.

Generally, under normal usage, the Apple Mac mini did a good job of keeping itself cool. However during higher workloads, the unit, especially towards the rear, does become quite warm to the touch. The unit also gives a good account of itself in the system noise levels area - it was barely audible during operation.

The task of opening up this Apple unit was one of the easiest 'lid-removal' jobs I have yet undertaken. The removable base lid just needs to be turned around slightly in a counter-clockwise direction for the inner components to be accessed - no-screws is always good news. Once you open the base out, the RAM modules are about the only easily accessible components in the inner side, and that's about it. Having to upgrade any other components, such as the hard drive would require you to explore much deeper, and this is not an approach that I would suggest for regular users. 

Bottom Line

As it is with most Apple products, this is not one that will appeal to everyone's tastes and likes. While this might be Apple's answer to folks looking for an 'Apple HTPC', the fact that an optical slot drive that was featured in the 2010 version is not included in the current model might weigh heavily on those prospective consumers who will use a lot of CD's and DVD's. Say what you may about the optical drive, it has not yet gone the way of the floppy drive - the operative word here being 'yet'.

The Mac mini is a good performer, and its hardware upgrade does give it a good boost over its 2010 predecessor. So if you are an owner of an older Mac and already have a mouse, keyboard, monitor, not to mention an external optical drive, that are just waiting to be connected to a new media centre unit, then the Mac mini won't disappoint.

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