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Mac Mini Adds Faster CPUs and Thunderbolt, Drops Optical Drive

Along with the release of Mac OS X 10.7 Lion, Apple also updated the Mac mini, giving the diminutive desktop Mac new processors, discrete graphics, a Thunderbolt port, and more, while at the same time removing the previous model’s optical drive. The new Mac mini’s industrial design remains the same, and it ships with Lion pre-installed.

More so than other Macs of recent times, the Mac mini comes in three rather different configurations, making the decision of what to get more confusing than in the past. The configurations are:

  • 2.3 GHz Mac mini: The $599 low-end configuration features a 2.3 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, along with 2 GB of RAM (upgradable to 4 or 8 GB for $100 or $300 more), a 500 GB 5400-rpm hard drive (with a 750 GB 7200-rpm drive as an option for $150 more), and built-in Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor that shares 288 MB of RAM with main memory.

  • 2.5 GHz Mac mini: The $799 higher-end consumer configuration of the Mac mini provides a choice of either a 2.5 GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 CPU, or a 2.7 GHz dual-core Intel Core i7 (add $100). It ships with 4 GB of RAM standard (upgradable to 8 GB for $200), and provides a selection of storage options, including the default 500 GB 5400-rpm hard drive, a 750 GB 7200-rpm hard drive (add $150), a 256 GB solid-state drive (add $600), or a 750 GB 7200-rpm hard drive plus a 256 GB solid-state drive (add $750). Along with the faster processors, this configuration includes a discrete graphics processor, the AMD Radeon HD 6630M with 256 MB of dedicated GDDR5 memory. It should increase graphics performance by as much as two times.

  • 2.0 GHz Mac mini with Lion Server: The $999 server configuration of the new Mac mini relies on a 2.0 GHz quad-core Intel Core i7, provides 4 GB of RAM (upgradable to 8 GB for $200 more), and ships with a pair of 500 GB 7200-rpm hard drives. You can trade out the drives for a pair of 750 GB 7200-rpm hard drives (add $100), a 256 GB solid-state drive (add $400), a 750 GB 7200-rpm hard drive plus a 256 GB solid-state drive (add $550), or a pair of 256 GB solid-state drives (add $1000). Since servers don’t generally have significant graphics needs, it too relies on the built-in Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor that shares 288 MB of RAM with main memory. And, of course, it ships with Lion Server pre-installed.

In terms of video specs, the new Mac mini includes a single Thunderbolt port with support for up to 2560-by-1600 pixel resolution on a connected monitor, an HDMI port with support for up to 1920-by-1200 resolution, and DVI output via an included HDMI-to-DVI Adapter. On the audio side, the Mac mini includes an audio line-in minijack, a line-out/headphone minijack, support for the Apple iPhone headset with microphone, and a built-in speaker.

Standard expansion ports beyond the single Thunderbolt port and the HDMI port include a FireWire 800 port, four USB 2.0 ports, an SDXC slot, and a Gigabit Ethernet port. Speaking of networking, the Mac mini supports 802.11n Wi-Fi, along with Bluetooth 4.0. For those desperate for fast storage via Thunderbolt, Apple is selling the Promise Pegasus RAID systems and Thunderbolt cables now; as far as we know, they’re the only Thunderbolt peripherals aside from Apple’s new Thunderbolt Display announced so far.

None of the Mac mini configurations come with an optical drive built-in, but you can add the USB-based MacBook Air SuperDrive for $79. Also still missing are a keyboard and pointing device; you can use existing devices or buy new ones as you wish.

As with most of Apple’s recent hardware updates, the new Mac mini provides welcome changes at the same price points as the previous models, although it’s possible that some people will be distressed by the loss of an internal optical drive. It is a bit surprising that Apple is so thoroughly differentiating the different configurations rather than just enabling customers to configure a base configuration with all the various options.


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Comments about Mac Mini Adds Faster CPUs and Thunderbolt, Drops Optical Drive
(Comments are closed.)

Openreels  An apple icon for a TidBITS Contributor 2011-07-25 18:24
Thanks, Apple, for once again leaping ahead and leaving your loyal users behind! No optical drive? So now everything comes via the internet? At least they didn't drop all the video options too!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 06:06
Interesting - the only software I can think of that I've installed from disc in the last few years is:

Mac OS X
Apple Remote Desktop
Microsoft Office
Adobe Creative Suite

The first four are all available through the Mac App Store now, and while Office and CS5 are not, they're also the sort of thing you only install once, so the CD/DVD Sharing from another Mac would be sufficient if you have another Mac.

I was expecting people to be more troubled by the lack of optical drive for playing DVDs and ripping CDs, since some like the Mac mini as a home media server.
Can't share from another Mac if Mini's your only Mac. Who's making these crazy decisions at Apple????

I don't like the Mac App Store. I like being able to download software from developers. I do it often. However I expect to download the installer that I can save, maybe to a backup drive, maybe to my DVD collection--my choice. Apple is in a fantasy world if they really thing it's a good idea to install directly from the Internet without some glitch [there's always one here] and not have a backup copy. Where's the broadband? Where's MY copy?

Mac App Store = Bad Idea [as it is]. Mac Mini = pointless. Too bad. They took a pretty good computer and ruined it. They took a bad idea [installing from the Internet] and made it part of their business model. Where's the free broadband to make it work [in a broken bad-idea way]? I don't see Apple doing anything about that. GOOGLE! Please come to here and install your superfast broadband like in Kansas City!
I was considering replacing my Intel iMac with a Mac Mini, but not this one. Why have a "Mini" AND a pile of essential peripherals that they left out [without reducing the price--and charging a premium for the superdrive]? What were they thinking? Certainly not about long time Mac users.

Faster processor, better video, Thunderbolt, ***YAWN***. Mini is a real loser. They'll probably sell a lot to people who don't really need computers. My new HP is looking better every day. Now I'd like to run OS X [snow] Leopard on it!
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 06:11
Actually, they did reduce the price by $100 (the previous low end Mac mini was $699, and it's now $599) so even if you buy the MacBook Air SuperDrive for $79, you come out ahead. I should have mentioned that - just lost track in the crunch of the Lion release the same day.

The Mac mini has never included a keyboard, mouse, or monitor - that's sort of the point of it, since many people already have those things and prefer not to pay for new ones that will just gather dust in a closet.
My son's Intel Mac Mini Core 2 Duo was $599 retail, including a superdrive. At that price it was already $100 more than a somewhat comparable PC that included monitor, keyboard and mouse, and you could open and upgrade or repair, slots and all. He bought an HP monitor with the same Philips S-IPS panel and specs as the Apple Cinema display for $700 less, and he already had keyboard, mouse.

Did he REALLY have to pay that much of a premium simply to be able to use OS X instead of Windows? I like OS X--used it since long before it was released, but am losing patience with Apple's disregard for creative professionals in small shops, especially since they discontinued the mid-range towers. I really thought I'd like the Mini, but not this one.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 12:02
The previous low end model was $699; before that, the low end model was $599. It's unusual for Apple to change prices, but in this case they did, and it's now back to $599.

This really isn't the context to debate whether or not Apple is justified in charging more than PCs - they always have, and they probably always will. It's always up to each individual person to decide whether using Mac OS X and Mac applications provides enough of a productivity boost to warrant the extra cost. I think it's safe to say that most people reading TidBITS believe the productivity gain is worth the extra money, since anyone who doesn't believe that should be using Windows.
Paul Albert  2011-07-25 23:50
This computer is a waste of money.
It doesn't even have an optical drive.
What is it good for? Hey for $99 you can buy the apple tuner. Why are they keeping this product.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 06:16
The Mac mini is a computer, whereas the Apple TV is just for streaming digital video to a TV screen and doesn't even have any local storage. So the two are comparable only in the sense that both can be used for home media purposes, and without an optical drive, the Mac mini is more suited toward streaming media as well. I do agree that the Mac mini has gone backwards in the home media space, since it seems clear you'd want an optical drive for that, and probably (for optimal compatibility), a Blu-ray drive.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-26 11:51
Well, this is fascinating. Apple says that the Mac mini is limited to 8 GB from the Apple Store, but Other World Computing is now advertising 12 GB and 16 GB RAM upgrades for the Mac mini. That said, they are wildly expensive (more than the Mac mini itself).
Andrew James  2011-07-27 22:33
While one of the key attractions of the mini is having essential features in one small and aesthetically pleasing package. This is especially true for HTPC (home theatre) applications. However, I've had a several models of mini now and each one has required a optical drive replacement (thankfully most under warranty). You now have the option of getting whatever external optical drive you wish, albeit at the cost of a USB port and perhaps another powerpoint. And yes, you loose that aesthetic benefit.

Hmmm, perhaps I will be seriously thinking about not replacing my current mini with the latest mini when the time comes (especially as my current one has five USB ports, with all used)....
Mark Nagata  2011-07-30 14:44
You wrote 2.3 GHz Mac mini has "a 500 MB 5400-rpm hard drive" -- hmm... that's about the same size as the internal hard disk of Mac IIci of 20 years ago...
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-07-30 19:17
Doh! Too many MBs and GBs and TBs these days... :-) Fixed.
John Baxter  An apple icon for a Friend of TidBITS 2011-07-31 10:26
Two models rather than one with lots of options: lots of options would work for online ordering, but not for stocking in Apple and other physical stores.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-08-01 07:52
It's not clear to me that it is necessary that the Apple Online Store match the configurations offered in the Apple retail stores. If they're going to do configurations at all, it would seem that a single base unit (in a few common configurations that could be easily modified) would be easier all around.
Dennis B. Swaney  2011-08-06 16:37
Apple's recent decisions vis-a-vis Mac OS and the Mac Mini lead me to suspect that after almost 30 years of using Apple computers, my next one will probably be a PC. It is obvious that Apple's intent is to use any revenue profit from Mac and Mac OS sales to support iOS and iDevices before they discontinue Macs and Mac OS. This is the exact same track they followed with the profitable Apple II line supporting the hemorrhaging Mac line in the 1980s. The only difference is that both Mac OS and iOS products are profitable.

What was the last Mac hardware & OS that has the following: FireWire ports, Optical drive, support for Rosetta and Classic? I may stock up on used ones.
Glenn Fleishman  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-08-06 17:37
We die-hards need those things, but most users do not, so it is not that strange that Apple dropped them, no matter how irritating that is to us. And I do find it irritating.
Dennis B. Swaney  2011-08-09 10:51
I still have an external floppy drive in case I need something of an old floppy disk.
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-08-09 12:20
That's what I keep my PowerBook G3 WallStreet around for. :-)
Adam Engst  An apple icon for a TidBITS Staffer 2011-08-08 08:06
This seems like an extreme position to me. Along with many other reasons (like roughly half of the company's revenue), Apple won't be discontinuing the Mac and Mac OS X, for the simple reason that you can't develop for iOS without it.
Dennis B. Swaney  2011-08-09 10:48
Ah, but since they are starting to convert Mac OS into a version of iOS by adding iOS features, I can see them creating a standalone iOS developer that will run under iOS. I expect that future iOS hardware will replace the mini as it has on the Apple TV, and at least the laptops as the iPad is doing now.

Meanwhile my iMac G5 ALS with Leopard works just fine for everything I need. I can't see needing a new Mac at all. The only thing is if future iPhones and iPads won't sync with it; then a cheap PC will suffice (unless Apple stops future iOS devices from syncing with Windows)

I foresee a remake of the 1984 commercial with Steve Jobs face upon the big screen; after all they added an iPod to the gal. ;)

Where is "the computer for the rest of us"? It surely isn't the new Mac Mini and Mac OS 10.7