When Apple quietly introduced the Unibody Mac Mini, many people wondered if it was the perfect HTPC. Considering that it packs a HDMI-port (a first for Apple) and is housed in a sleek design, it just may be.
The new aluminium case carries with it all of the uber-industrial charm common to the iMac, the MacBook Pro, and the iPhone 4. At 3.6cm thick and 19.7cm square, the new case takes up slightly more desktop space than the older 15.2cm-square model, but it also shaves 1.3cm off its height. Its dimensions also match those of the Apple TV and Apple's Time Capsule networked data backup device.
The first thing you'll notice about the new Mac mini is its box. Or, more specifically, how small that box is-60 percent of the size of the previous container. Open the box, and you'll immediately see why: the new Mac mini, while wider than the previous model, is only 1.4 inches thick. And something else is missing-the power supply. Instead of the heavy, bulky, white power brick that's shipped with every mini since the line was introduced, the newest mini comes with only a thin power cord and a video adapter. In the process of redesigning the Mac mini's enclosure, Apple was able to shrink down the power supply and fit it inside the mini itself.
...flipping the mini over reveals a circular access door, which you can twist off to get at the RAM. It's hard not to marvel at the sheer Apple-ness of the panel the first time you interact with it — other companies simply don't make computers like this. Unfortunately, you can't get at anything other than the RAM once the panel is off, as the hard drive isn't user replaceable. That's pretty silly, in our opinion...
It's entirely likely that Mac mini users will be plugging in ever-increasing external hard-drives, and so boosting the interfaces accordingly would seem like a sensible plan. An eSATA port is the most obvious [exclusion], though Apple points to their FireWire 800 port as an alternative, and for that matter we wouldn't have argued with USB 3.0 rather than 2.0.
The [Mac] Mini is a great option if you want to connect your living-room TV to the Internet and your collection of movies, music and photos. A few months ago, I looked at several PCs for this role, and concluded that the Mac mini of the time was great, except that it lacked an SD card slot and an HDMI jack for easy connection to the TV and/or receiver, and that the power button was in the wrong place. The new model addresses two of those three concerns. It has an SD slot, which makes it much easier to transfer photos and camcorder footage to the hard drive, and it has an HDMI jack.
The new 2.4GHz Mac mini is about 13.5 percent faster overall than that older 2.26GHz Mac mini model. Again, the new nVidia GeForce 320M graphics helped the 2.4GHz Mac mini display about twice as many frames per second as the 2.26GHz model. The 2.4GHz mini was 18 percent faster than the 2.26GHz mini in our Aperture tests and 14 percent faster in the iMovie export test. Performance as compared to the latest 2.4GHz MacBook ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) is very similar, with the MacBook scoring just one point higher in our Speedmark 6 test suite, and most tests just a few seconds off from each other.
A new Nvidia GeForce 320M graphics chip helps with the video chores, and we found that the system was able to handle HD video in QuickTime, as well as from Amazon Video on Demand, Hulu, NetFlix, and YouTube. Apple also provides a convenient underscan slider bar in the display settings, which lets you adjust for the size differences between TVs and standard computer monitors. We had luck connecting the Mac Mini to two different HDTVs via HDMI.
Where the Mac mini surprises is at the 3D tests, I tested the system using 3DMark Vantage, Crysis, and World in Conflict in Windows 7 under Boot Camp. The Mac mini blew away the nettop competition, including the Dell Inspiron Zino HD. The Zino was able to muster single-digit scores at both Crysis and World in Conflict (5 fps each). However, the Mac mini was almost playable at World in Conflict (24 fps), and not far behind at Crysis (21 fps). It's notable that the Mac mini can actually process 3D animation at more than a rudimentary level. It more than doubles the 3D performance from the previous Mac mini (2.26-GHz Core 2 Duo).
Apple is heavily pushing the Mac Mini as a power miser, and our initial tests bear this out. Apple claims that at idle, the Mac Mini should consume less than 10 watts of power. We were able to confirm this in anecdotal observation. Monitoring the Mac Mini's power usage using a Kill-A-Watt power meter, we saw the readout fluctuate between 7 and 8 watts when the system was sitting at idle. When running our CPU-intensive Cinebench test, the power consumption was pegged at 26 or 27 watts.
Once you factor a monitor and peripherals into the equation, Apple's entry-level MacBook offers similar specs and better value, and you can always have it output to your TV just the same.