Review: Apple Mac Mini (2011)
So farewell optical media (1982-2011). What joy you brought us, with your CDs and high definition videos. How you lit up students’ lives when they threw you in the microwave to see what would happen.
Apple is reprising its role as Auger of Doom for a dying format. Just as the iMac shocked the world by arriving without a floppy drive, so the new Mac Mini has no front loading slot for DVDs. Have the Oracles of Infinite Loop got their timing right again?
This isn’t the first PC or laptop to dump discs, and the Mini arrives with the online simplicity of iCloud and the App Store designed into its Mac OS X Lion desktop. But if you want to install software you bought just a couple of months ago, or watch a DVD, you need to spend an extra US$80 on a USB Superdrive. Maybe not such an issue with the lower-spec model but that could grate if you’ve shelled out US$900 for the more powerful sibling.
It must have caught the Lion developers off guard too: in a rare moment of sloppiness, the Eject Disc button and Burn To Disc menu option still sit sadly on the desktop and main menu.
The removal of the optical drive wasn’t a design-led decision; the 2011 Mac Mini is exactly the same size as the 2010 one. It’s still incredibly small but there’s no physical compensation for the loss of the drive.
The USB ports are all old fashioned USB 2.0. There’s a Thunderbolt port for high speed peripherals, but USB 3.0 external hard drives are widely available and inexpensive whereas Thunderbolt ones are not. If you run a monitor with a higher resolution than 1920×1080, or want to use two screens, you’ll need that Thunderbolt port for a display adaptor, as the HDMI port maxes out at 1080p.
But that’s the griping over. The real star of the new Mac Mini is the Intel Core i5 processor. This may ‘only’ be a laptop chip, but it’s plenty powerful enough for everything up to and including video encoding. What’s more, it’s so efficient that the fan is barely audible, the case never gets warm and it only draws more than 25-35W of power if you’re gaming or encoding video. If you want substantially more power, the US$900 Mini can be specced up with an i7 for an extra US$100
Not that either is a games machine. The entry level Mini has integrated graphics which aren’t up to much, and even the Radeon graphics in the US$900 option struggle to get even Half-Life 2 based games to run at respectable settings.
Our advice? The Mac Mini trounces all other small form factor machines, and the cheaper option makes sense. However, step up to the £700 model and you don’t get enough tech for your money. A MacBook Air is more flexible for not a lot more, and the basic US$1,200 iMac is much better specced.
Still a beautiful computer, but USB 2.0 and no DVD feels obstinate rather than clever