Mac mini reviews: Much better, still not good enough

Mac mini reviews: Much better, still not good enough

Summary: There's more to the changes in the updated Mac mini than meets the eye. The small form-factor desktop looks exactly the same, but even the $599 base model now includes much better graphics, a faster Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of memory, a larger hard drive, 802.

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TOPICS: Apple, Hardware
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There's more to the changes in the updated Mac mini than meets the eye. The small form-factor desktop looks exactly the same, but even the $599 base model now includes much better graphics, a faster Intel Core 2 Duo processor, 1GB of memory, a larger hard drive, 802.11n wireless and a DVD burner. Look closely and you'll also notice it has a whole new set of ports including five USB 2.0, FireWire 800, and Mini-DVI and Mini-DisplayPort.

All of this adds up to much more capable SFF desktop, according to several recent reviews. The graphics performance is many times better than the old Mac mini. It can handle two displays or even drive the 30-inch Apple Cinema Display at its full 2560x1600 resolution (though I'm not sure how many people would pair a $599 desktop with an $1,800 display). The 5,400rpm drive still slow things down a bit, but overall the new Mac mini is clearly a much better multi-tasker. Finally, though it's tough say whether it's really the "world's most energy-efficient desktop," as Apple claims, based on testing by CNET.com and PC Magazine, it is certainly right at the top of the list.

Of course you'd expect major improvements from a desktop that was last updated in August 2007. The question is how it stacks up to current Windows PCs. This depends on how you look at it. If you think of the Mac mini as a nettop that competes with the likes of the Asus EeeBox PC, it looks pretty good. The Mac mini costs more than most netttops, but it also has far better features and performance than any Atom-based desktop.

Mac Mini Comparison

If you compare to other SFF desktops, however, the Mac mini doesn't stack up as well. For the same price, you can get an Acer Aspire X1700 series with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo E7300, 4GB of memory, Nvidia GeForce G100, 750GB hard drive, DVD burner, 802.11n and Windows Vista. (I chose a similar model for ZDNet's Holiday Gift Guide.) And with the Mac mini you'd still need to a keyboard and mouse, for $98, and a set of speakers, which start at $50 on Apple's site. Throw in the Apple Remote--now a $19 option-and the total system price for the base Mac mini is $766. Of course, it almost goes without saying that you'll get a lot more for the money with a standard tower PC than with any SFF desktop including the Mac mini.

Apple knows all this, and that is why the company positions the Mac mini as the least expensive way to get your hands on Mac OS X and the recently-released iLife '09--the first time the Mac mini has been "truly capable of handling the iLife suite," according to Macworld. So like with most Macs, the decision really comes down to how much value you attach to the Apple software.

Apple Mac mini reviews:

Topics: Apple, Hardware

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14 comments
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  • Thanks for the info on the competing products

    The Mac Mini was about the only Apple product that actually interested me. Now that you've shown me how superior the alternatives are, I guess there isn't a single Apple product that could be considered better than the competition.
    NonZealot
    • I doubt very seriously

      the Mini interested you at all. And for you, buying anything but apple is
      your over-riding religious motivation, so Apple could give away minis for
      free and you would still find a reason not to get one.
      frgough
      • Actually for free

        it will make a good doorstop
        Mectron
        • He'd complain about scratches if he used it as a door stop. [nt]

          [nt]
          olePigeon
  • RE: Mac mini reviews: Much better, still not good enough

    I gathered from Adrian Kingsley-Hughes' blogs that some people also use it for a quiet, small footprint, headless server. Once again going with other hardware vendors and operating systems may yield less expensive systems which provide the same functionality, though, as you suggests, it comes down to a decision over whether the whole package, hard, soft, assembly, sourcing, and design elements in combination, suggests a better value to the buyer.

    I was frankly surprised that people were using it and were reporting their happiness with it, even applying some skepticism about what we read here in TalkBack land. Apple keeps offering them, so someone must be buying.
    DannyO_0x98
    • Form and visual appeal

      are very important factors in the consumer space. Something other PC
      makers have been very slow to catch on to, and something that propellor
      heads who frequent sites like ZDNet generally find incomprehensible.
      frgough
    • Why the surprise?

      Despite the trolls' statements above, it's a fully functional, capable
      computer, in a VERY small package. While certainly usable as a doorstop,
      as suggested, that'd be a waste of computing power. The only units I can
      find of a similar size are a very underpowered Shuttle, and the Dell
      Studio Hybrid, which is more expensive.

      I bought a mini for my mother-in-law, who has limited space for a
      computer, and I have one in my office, which is also quite cramped.

      Sometimes size does matter.
      msalzberg
  • The mini as an SFF desktop

    is a bit of a stretch. All SFF desktops are notably larger
    than the mini. In the consumer market, style and form are
    important considerations driving purchases, so a better
    assessment would be to weigh the Mini's price against the
    form factor as well as the OS X experience.

    And, just as an aside, your $96 for keyboard and mouse is
    a bit misleading, since you can buy any USB keyboard and
    mouse on the market to use with the device. That also
    becomes part of the whole style, OS X, and cost mashup.
    frgough
    • It is ZDNet

      Much better, still not good enough for ZDNet.

      Only ZDNet would compare the Acer Aspire X1700 to the Mac Mini

      Compare for yourself;

      http://www.apple.com/macmini/

      http://us.acer.com/acer/seu4e.do?
      LanguageISOCtxParam=en&link=ln56e&CountryISOCtxParam=US&kco
      nd5e.c2att92=450&sp=page5e&kcond7e.c2att101=55003&ctx1g.c2a
      tt92=450&ctx2.c2att1=25&acond24e=55003&ctx1.att21k=1&CRC=1
      217836377

      Surprised one is more expensive;-)
      Richard Flude
      • If you want a Mac nothing compares

        The Apple haters will never get it. It is like trying to explain Art to a
        dog.

        I laugh every time someone says that Apples hardware is the same as
        a Windows PC, just because they now use the same CPU.
        That is like saying a XBox is the same as a G5 Mac tower. The Chip set
        was so similar that the G5 Mac Pro was the development platform for
        the Xbox. (Microsoft placed the largest single order of G5 Macs Pros)

        But unlike the XBox Apple's Mac pro never had a heat sink separate
        from the GPU causing the GPU to over heat. (the cause of the ring of
        death)
        Most PC hardware is not built much better then the Xbox.

        Apple may use the same Intel processors but the way it is assembled
        is Apple's design not Intel's Never mind that they are simply
        beautifully designed.

        Just because tech specs on paper are the same does not mean the
        system is the same.

        There are PC makers that also make nicely designed products (Like
        Sony) but most of the PCs that are as well designed are also just about
        the same price.

        Apple's Hardware is not perfect no ones is but over all Macs have
        shown over the years to have a longer usable life span then PCs.
        Just for the record I do not like every thing Apple comes out with. The
        white Mac books were never up to the style level of the other Macs.

        Although it is very nice to look at I just do not understand the
        MacBook Air. The Mac book pro is not that thick and it has a Optical
        drive and more ports. But I suppose for someone the Air is their
        dream laptop. (just not mine)

        And the new shuffle I hate why did it need to be smaller? it was
        already so small it was way to easy to loose and to put the controls on
        the head phones means you can't connect it to the AUX port on a
        stereo or car stereo. yes I know the market for the Shuffle is people
        on the go but what if I want better headphones and not ear buds?
        Michael Fournier
        • Right you are Mac is in it's own Class, Top Dollar Always!

          Your generalizations about the quality of PC's running Windows being no better than the quality of an XBox are obviously based on ignorance. This is a typical Apple fan attitude you express. It appears to be typical of the buyer's of Apple products. You assume because it is made by Apple it is superior and therefore worth the high prices you pay. Sometime it is worthwhile other times it is not.

          There have been a number of Apple products that have failed to live up to their high prices in the last several years.

          RE the new shuffle.

          I personally believe that the decision to relocate the controls is to force customers to buy only Apple Headphones or Ear buds at a much greater expense, you are locked in to their products if they ever become available. Your choices are limited to what has the proprietary controls.

          This type of marketing is characteristic of Apple. You can only use Apple ___(fill in the piece of hardware you want). It has been this way since the very beginning of Apple they choose to keep you captive so that they can charge extremely high prices for their products. I wonder if you are one of the Apple fans that is willing to pay the high multiple for the ram the Apple store sells or do you go the aftermarket route? And merely pay retail for the same or better products.

          Are you looking to buy a better set of aftermarket headphones (less expensive as well) or are you waiting for Apple to bring out a better, more expensive set of headphones with the controls?

          I remember when it was only Apple Keyboards, Apple Mice, etc. That would work with Apple products.

          Not long ago I had a girlfriend who had a G4 Dual Core that only work with one DVD writer. One that quit working right when Apple released a patch to OS X and then Apple was very slow to release a patch to allow this proprietary hardware to run again, in my research it was revealed that the reason only this one DVD RW would work was due to Apple specific firmware. What a shocking idea for a Windows PC user.

          I recall this well as I spent hours both trying to fix the hardware adn then researching this on the web and finally discovered in Mac Forums that is was a problem for pretty much everyone that upgraded their G4's.

          The solution was to build a really nice PC with Windows XP so she could do her Photoshop work. She has never looked back as the new machine was not only much quicker it was also more reliable and easier to use then the G4. She had been an Apple fan for many years before I introduced her to this dual core PC running windows XP, which cost a fraction of a comparable Apple PC.
          krisstarr13
    • Should compare it to other Micro ATX PCs like the Shuttle. [nt]

      [nt]
      olePigeon
  • MacMini stacks up much better than Acer Aspire X1700

    In fact, the MacMini will actually stack. You put one Acer
    Aspire X1700 on another Acer Aspire X1700 and you have
    a disaster waiting to happen.

    They question is, when playing Spider, Freecell, pinball,
    surfing the web, reading email... Will you notice the
    speed?

    Nope.

    Will you notice the MacMini is an order of magnitude
    smaller?

    Yes.
    Bruizer
  • Mac vs PC - WHO CARES ?

    More Importantly - does it do what you need it to do? If you're looking for a media centre (Blu-Ray) with TV input, and HDMI output, the answer is- no.

    Even if you compromise on the HDMI connector, and use an external USB TV receiver, the lack of Blu-Ray support is a deal-breaker for me. This is before the OS even comes into consideration.
    alan_r_cam