Apple updated the Mac mini last week, keeping the form factor of the diminutive desktop Mac the same, but expanding most of the specs in what appears to be a successful effort to keep the Mac mini a compelling low-end desktop machine.
Although it will never compete with Apple’s beefier desktop Macs, the new Mac mini now offers the choice of a 2.0 GHz or a new 2.26 GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processor, dropping the previous 1.83 GHz option. The new model sports a frontside bus speed of 1066 MHz (up from 667 MHz) and 3 MB of on-chip L2 cache that will help boost performance. Oddly, the latter spec is down from the previous 2.0 GHz Mac mini model, which offered 4 MB of L2 cache, though the previous 1.83 GHz model had only 2 MB of L2 cache.
The Mac mini also now comes with an Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics processor, much like the new MacBook line, leading to claims of improved graphics performance of up to five times over the previous Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics. However, the video card’s memory is still shared with the main memory, which reduces performance. Also like the new MacBook line, the new Mac mini features a Mini DisplayPort, but it also has a Mini-DVI port, and includes a Mini-DVI to DVI adapter (a Mini-DVI to VGA adapter is sold separately). The two ports mean that the Mac mini can now drive two monitors, one at 1900 by 1200 on the DVI port, and another at up to 2560 by 1600 through the Mini DisplayPort connection, though driving such a large monitor on the latter requires a separate Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter.
You can now put up to 4 GB of RAM in the Mac mini, and a new 320 GB hard drive option joins the previous 120 GB option; 80 GB is no longer offered. The new model also trades FireWire 400 for FireWire 800, and adds a fifth USB 2.0 port to the back panel. Bluetooth 2.1+EDR and Gigabit Ethernet remain standard, but Apple bumped the new Mac mini’s wireless capabilities up to 802.11n. A slot-loading SuperDrive is now standard, eliminating the Combo drive option.
Apple is also pointing out that the Mac mini now uses less than 13 watts of power when idle, supposedly making it the world’s most energy-efficient desktop computer. Pricing on the new Mac mini starts at $599, and even maxing out the processor, RAM, and hard drive options brings it only to $1,049.
With this update, Apple has done a good job of addressing most of the compromises and criticisms of the previous Mac mini. Sure, it won’t compete with the iMac in terms of performance, and attempting to mimic the iMac’s specs with a Mac mini would likely cost more in the end for a slower Mac, but the Mac mini plays in a different sandbox. For anyone who already has a monitor and keyboard, or wants an inexpensive Mac to run a media center or home server, the Mac mini no longer feels underpowered.