Blog Post

The New Mac mini

After months and months of waiting, the new Mac mini turns out to be exactly what all the rumors said it was going to be — the same exterior design with some changes to the ports on the back. And while the visible changes are fairly minor, just about everything inside has been improved significantly. It may even be just the update you were looking for. Here is the rundown on the new Mac mini.


Love Comes Quickly

There’s a lot to like here. Just like we saw all over the internet for the past few days, the Mac mini includes five USB ports (up from four) and two display ports — one mini DisplayPort and one mini-DVI. Also included is FireWire 800 (an upgrade from 400 on the previous model) and gigabit ethernet. From left to right, the ports are [1] power, [2] gigabit ethernet, [3] FireWire 800, [4] mini-DVI, [5] mini DisplayPort, [6-10] USB 2.0.

You can also see audio input and output connections above the USB ports (that’s an opening for a lock above USB port #2). These are both dual optical digital and analog connectors so you can plug in either one. The optical audio out is great for those looking to use the Mac mini in their living room connected to a home theater system because you will be able to get surround sound to your receiver.

You’ve Got the Looks

One of the most exciting changes to the mini is the new graphics system. For the past couple years, the Mac mini has been limping along with Intel GMA950 integrated graphics. The new mini sports the nVidia 9400M discrete graphics processor with either 128 or 256MB of RAM shared with main memory. This is the same system used in the new MacBooks and represents an enormous improvement over the dated GMA950.

I am also really excited about the option for two monitors on the Mac mini. This opens up some interesting possibilities for people that were previously considering an iMac with a second display, or a Mac Pro with two displays. I know a few writers, stock traders, doctors, etc. that really want two displays but don’t really need the power (or expense) of a faster machine.

The support for two displays also makes the Mac mini a little more interesting as a home theater device. It would be possible to use the mini on the desktop and run a longer cable to a TV for watching DVD’s, Hulu, boxee, etc.

We don’t know yet if the 9400M will result in a better TV picture for media applications, but it should be a good machine for that purpose.

I am disappointed that Apple (s aapl) has not released new Cinema displays to go with the Mac mini and Mac Pro upgrades (the 24″ LED Cinema Display has that Magsafe connector for laptops), but 3rd party options are plentiful.

I’ve Got the Brains

The Mac mini CPU has been updated to the latest portable Intel Core 2 Duo running at 2.0GHz with a faster front-side bus speed of 1066MHz. There is a configure-to-order option for the 2.26GHz processor available as well. The Mac mini still has two SO-DIMM slots, but max memory has been increased to 4GB.

If you’re thinking about ordering more RAM, I would recommend getting it from Apple for $150. Yes, you are going to pay more than you would if you bought 3rd party RAM (about $80), but that extra $70 is going to be worth it to many people to have the RAM covered under your Apple warranty or AppleCare protection plan and not have to worry about cracking open your Mac mini to pull the RAM out or put it back in if you ever need to bring in the Mac mini for warranty service.

Being Boring

The new Mac mini has been updated to include wireless and bluetooth as a standard feature in all models. Wireless is now 802.11n capable, so you can enjoy the faster speeds on the updated Airport models that were also announced today. There is not much to say here, except thank goodness that it is finally done.

Always On My Mind

Or at least, always on my drive. The next big option on the new Mac mini is the selection of hard drive capacities. 120GB is standard on the base model and a 320GB drive comes installed on the high-end model. There is a 250GB drive available in the online store too. All of these drives are 5400 RPM 2.5″ laptop drives, so they are not particularly speedy. With the new FireWire 800 connection, I would think most people would be better served by buying an external drive rather than paying to upgrade the internal hard drive. You would get more storage that is both faster and cheaper than the internal drive upgrades.

To put the upgrade cost into perspective, you could buy a 500GB FireWire drive for the same cost as upgrading from 120GB to 250GB, or a 1TB FireWire drive for the cost of upgrading to the 320GB internal drive.

Was It Worth It?

I love the upgrades to the Mac mini. Maybe I am just giddy because we have been waiting so long for this blessed day to come, but I think the new mini deserves serious consideration. The Mac mini is a respectable little machine and the new graphics system and display options really make it a nice choice for many people to use as a desktop computer. I think the main reason to consider getting an iMac would be the speed of the graphics system if you are doing 3D design work or rendering, or if you are using large Photoshop files where the speed of the hard drive would impact your workflow.

The Mac mini makes a nice home theater or media device. You’ve got more display connections and better graphics and more USB ports to connect TV tuners and other devices. I think people will snatch them up for use in the living room.

That’s My Impression

While there are two choices in the Mac mini, I am left feeling like there is really only one choice. The $200 price difference between the two models comes down to 2GB of RAM (rather than 1GB), 256MB of shared graphics RAM (compared to 128MB) and a 320GB hard drive (instead of 120GB). I would definitely get the base model for $599 and upgrade the RAM and buy an external hard drive rather than buy the upgraded $799 model. I think you just get a lot more for your money that way and if you’re going to miss the graphics RAM, you should probably buy an iMac.

23 Responses to “The New Mac mini”

  1. Djorbas

    I found this 2 notes, dunno what this means exactly or if its fact:

    “Extended desktop and video mirroring: Simultaneously supports up to 1920 by 1200 pixels on a DVI or VGA display; up to 2560 by 1600 pixels on a dual-link DVI display using Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter (sold separately)”

    “Mini DisplayPort and mini-DVI output with support for DVI, dual-link DVI, and VGA video via adapters. Connects to up to two external displays with digital resolution up to 2560 by 1600 via Mini DisplayPort to Dual-Link DVI Adapter or 1920×1200 via Mini DisplayPort, Mini-DVI to DVI Adapter, or Mini DisplayPort to DVI Adapter. Analog resolution (VGA) up to 2048 by 1536 using Mini DisplayPort to VGA Adapter or Mini-DVI to VGA Adapter.”

  2. I agree, the $200 price premium on the ‘high end’ model is simply does not deliver proportional value. Apple’s pricing on this keyboard/mouse-less bare-bones box continues to be waaaay overpriced – as it has been ever since the mini was introduced.

    I was hoping for a somewhat radical design change. The mini ‘Plus ought to be a rectangular, slightly W-I-D-E-R box with decent stereo speakers and the $&*%! BRICK of a power-supply INSIDE the case.

  3. If this had been released 2 weeks ago I would have been tempted to get it instead of the white Macbook (with 9400M). Oh well nice having a portable I guess.

  4. MarceloR

    I do have plenty of DVI displays around but no means of using DP as I don’t have a DP to DVI adapter nor a DP display. I might get the adapter tomorrow to test this out — just not leaving the house again today.

  5. @David – be sure to come back and let us know if you get hands-on with the new mini. We’d all love to have this verified.

    @mogosh – The upgrade to 2GB is only $50 (4GB is $150). If you want to spend $200 more, I think you are better off getting the Apple RAM upgrade and buying a 1TB external Firewire drive to increase your storage rather than getting the 320GB internal drive. If you’re hesitating on opening the Mac mini to upgrade the RAM yourself, then don’t. Pay the relatively small premium to Apple and be done with it.

    @houltmac – It should read 802.11n wireless, which is new. I’ll try and get that back in.

  6. MarceloR

    Just got mine from my local Apple store. I’ve been ruunning the last revision Mini for about a year. My only reason for upgrading was the FW 800 port as I have a RAID0 drive hunging from my laptop. Now the laptop and the old mini are going to eBay or CL as soon as get the Mini running.

  7. “The new Mac mini has been updated to include wireless and bluetooth as a standard feature in all models.”

    This has been the case for a while I am afraid. All Intel machines have had Airport and BT as far as I can remember, and all Core 2 Duo machines have had 802.11n also. Other than a couple of early 17″ iMacs which didn’t have BT but that was short-lived and they were mainly free replacements for failed eMacs.

  8. mogosh

    I don’t understand why you would recommend the base mini with the 2GB memory upgrade from Apple? That would be $749. So for $50 more you would get a larger HD and more graphics ram. Why worry too much about a memory warranty when prices are dropping every day?

  9. I’ve called 3 times now, and this last time (after someone else pointing that out on the specs page on TUAW) specifically asked why it says so on the specs page – I was told emphatically that only mirroring is possible, not desktop extension by all 3 people. I’m going to go to an Apple store myself and verify it. If I had a clear answer on this I would have hit the ‘buy now’ button quite a while ago :-)

  10. Unfortunately you are mistaken – the mini still cannot do multiple simultaneous displays. It is one or the other, both ports cannot be active at the same time. I called Apple first thing this morning to inquire about it as I was quite excited at the thought of multi-display on a mini.

  11. @Caronte – fixed

    @Josh – You’re quick. I actually had one more that didn’t make it through edit, “What Have I Done to Deserve This?”

    @SpaceFlightOrange – I don’t know the answer. It would be nice if the hardware would automatically pick up more of the shared memory as you expand the system RAM, but it’s not clear from the initial information released today.

  12. SpaceFlightOrange

    I agree also that it seems the best optio nto go for the lower spec, however my question is this:

    On the website it states that the minimum available shared memory is 128mb for 1GB configuration and 256mb for 2GB configuration, so does this mean that when you stick 2gb in the base model the minimum goes up to 256?

    Also you can increase this i presume, so it doesnt matter anyway?

  13. I’ve been waiting for this for a very long time but decided to buy the Mac Mini about 4 weeks ago (base model with ram upgraded to 2gb) Now that the new version is out im not terribly upset. Whilst everything has been upgraded really nicely, im not a fan of the £100 extra for the base model on the education discount… For what i needed and wanted, £100 cheaper for what i got is definitely sufficient.

    Don’t get me wrong though. Very impressed that Apple have finally upgraded the bloody thing and have upgraded it to how everyone wanted. Dual display, decent graphics and firewire 800 (oh and not a rubbish 80gb internal as standard)

  14. Caronte

    Excelent article, but you mistype the price diference, is $ 200, not 300.

    799-599 = 200.

    I think the same, is better just buy the 599 model and, if you needit, upgrade.