The Mac Mini has always been that runt you might buy if you couldn't afford any other Apple computer. Which is to say: it was the Apple computer you bought when you should've picked up a budget Dell or something. No longer. The 2012 model is a fantastic, affordable, and small.
In models past, the Mac Mini was an underpowered joke, best used to serve up media or pull down your torrents in the background: an auxiliary computer. But the new Mac Mini can be a few different things, all of them worthy. Starting at just $600, it can be a budget computer that still packs great guts and, of course, OS X. For a few hundred more, you can stick in massive storage, gobs of memory, and a quad-core CPU that'll more than handle any normal computing tasks you throw at it. We priced ours out at around a grand—a decent price for a desktop—and took it from there, using a keyboard, mouse, and LCD display we had sitting around.
What Is It?
A small (about 8x8 inches) desktop Macintosh computer. BYO mouse, keyboard, and monitor.
Who's It For?
Anyone who wants a new computer, doesn't need a monitor, and wants to save a little cash.
It's like a big Apple TV. The same compact puck idea is at work here. Important ports are stuck in the back, and that's a real screwup for anyone with hands.
It is completely silent, however, and that's great.
Plug your peripherals in and go—the screw-off hatch on the bottom is a wonderful touch, giving you the option to swap out guts in mere minutes.
The Best Part
Performance. If you're not planning on heavy gaming or video editing, there's little reason to buy an iMac over this. I was able to play multiple 1080p videos simultaneously, which is absolutely pointless, but shows how much processing power this thing has inside.
The graphics. You're stuck with an integrated chipset, which precludes hardcore gaming with titles from the last several years.
This Is Weird...
Apple: why did you make something so beautiful and good, yet stick the often-used headphone, USB, and Thunderbolt jacks in the back of the computer? It's a crowded mess, and this will be a daily annoyance for anyone who regularly swaps accessories.
- If you care about synthetic benchmarks, the Mac Mini scored an 11,761 on Geekbench. My mid-2011 MacBook Air with a Core i7 at 1.8 GHz hit 6,189, and a 2.7 GHz Core i5 iMac pushed 8,797.
- On the PC side, browsing Geekbench's public listings shows the $1,100 Dell XPS 8500 closely matching or beating the Mac Mini—but it's a full tower computer. The $500 Inspiron 660 cranks about 2/3 of the Mac Mini's Geekbench score.
- Some gaming is definitely feasible. Half Life 2 (I know, I know, an old game) ran at 1920x1080 with every setting maxed out. Sure, not so impressive. But the notoriously resource hoggy Civilization V ran decently with settings turned all the way up.
- It's hard to measure how much of a difference the Fusion Drive makes, given that it helps in certain areas and not others without letting you know, but read and write speeds were both quite good: 301 MB/sec average write, 428 MB/sec average read. Frequently-used programs like Safari bounced open in less than a second.
Should You Buy It?
If you're OK with a Mac whose specs are less than top of the line, and don't want the design grace of an all-in-one iMac, the answer is absolutely yes. This is a small, fast, affordable thing. But be warned: you will find the rear-positioned jacks a rear pain.
Apple Mac Mini (As Tested)
• CPU: 2.3 GHz Quad Core Intel Core i7 (Up to 2.7 GHz)
• Memory: 4 GB (Up to 16 GB)
• GPU: Intel HD Graphics 4000
• Hard Drive: 1 TB Fusion Drive
• Ports: 1 Gigabit Ethernet, 1 FireWire 800, 1 HDMI, 1 Thunderbolt, 4 USB 3, SDXC slot, Audio-In, Audio-Out
• Wireless: 802.11 a/g/b/n
• Price: $1,050 (as configured)
• Gizrank: 3.5