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Mac Mini - Reborn

June 23, 2010 - Dave Hecei

It’s hard to say what Apple will do and when they will do it. In just over a week, the new iPhone 4 will go on sale. This time around it will be available in several outlets – The Apple Store, Walmart, Best Buy, to name a few. At the 2010 WWDC show I was really hoping to see a new Mac mini or the rumored new Apple TV device. It took an extra week, but at least I got the new mini.

The Mac mini is unique in the Macintosh lineup. While it is one of the smallest ‘full function’ personal computers available, it is also the lowest priced Mac. While there are new netbook based mini computers on the market today, which run on Microsoft Windows 7 or XP, they are fairly low powered systems with no built-in optical drive and low-powered video. The Mac mini uses the same Intel Core 2 Duo processors as the MacBook Pros and iMacs. These Intel chips are much faster than the Intel Atom processors used by netbooks and their desktop siblings.

Today, June 15, Apple released a new Mac mini. The new mini is a drastic reboot of the original mini, which goes way back to the G4 PowerPC days. The new design is now closer to the unibody MacBooks. The case looks like it is machined out of a block of aluminum. The old mini was a 6.5-inch cube that stood 2 inches high. The new mini is a squatter 7.7-inch cube and stands only 1.4 inches high.

The size increase is due to the fact that there is no longer a large external power brick. Coincidentally, or maybe not, the mini is now the same size as the Apple TV, which also does not have a power brick. Apple must have taken a lot of design and component queues from the Apple TV and its internal power supply.

On the outside, the mini looks similar, just a bit flatter. Since it is a unibody design the mini is all aluminum except for the back and bottom cover. Flipping the new mini over we find a large black circle. This cover piece actually comes off allowing super easy access to the RAM slots. This is a huge improvement over the original mini, which was possible to open but it wasn’t for the week of heart.

The back of the new mini looks quite different. It is now dark grey/black with a few new ports. One of the first things you may notice is the two-prong power cord socket for the internal power supply. Like the older mini, there are Ethernet, USB, Firewire 800, mini DisplayPort, USB 2.0, and audio in and out. What’s new is, finally, an HDMI port. To show its lineage, since the mini is more like a 13-inch MacBook Pro than an iMac, there is an SD memory card slot. The only problem with this slot, IT’S IN THE BACK. Why would you put it there?

Inside the new mini is a faster Intel Core 2 Duo processor running at 2.4GHz. Just like the new MacBooks, the mini now has nVidia GeForce 320M graphics. There are 2 slots for memory and comes with 2GB of DDR3 RAM. The mini can accept up to 8GB or RAM. It will ship with a 320 hard drive and a slot-load dual-layer DVD burner. Surprisingly, the mini will ship with an HDMI to DVI converter.

This is the ‘store shelf’ model but you can always do a build-to-order at the Apple Store. Doing so allows you to up the processor to 2.66GHz, hard drive to 500GB, and RAM to 4 or 8GB. Also, just like the previous mini, the new model is available in a server model with dual hard drives and no optical drive, along with Snow Leopard Server OS. Other internals are there from before. It has 802.11n, which can also go a/b/g. Bluetooth 2.1+EDR is also still there. Just like other minis there is no keyboard and mouse.

All of this does come at a price. Since there will only be one mini on the store shelves it is now priced at $699. It really depends how you want to look at it. Either the $799 mini is now $699, or, for you ‘glass half empty’ people, the $599 mini is now $699. For what you now get, I think $699 is a pretty decent price. The mini is smaller, uses less power when idle, is faster with faster graphics, and the power brick is now GONE.


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