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This bighugenerd has had the privilege of receiving two of the new 2011 Mac minis over the last few weeks, and has some (strong) feelings about both. There's nothing especially scientific here, - this is more of a general overview of performance and thoughts on the little fruits. Call it the Apple Way, - not getting too bogged down in specs and numbers, but focusing rather on the user experience. Feel free to tap/click/slam the hyperlink below if you need a little help!

The two models in question here are the 2.3Ghz Core i5 system ($599), and the 2.5Ghz Core i5 system ($799).

The 2.3Ghz system features 2GB RAM, a 500GB 5400rpm hard drive, and the Intel HD3000 graphics chip. The 2.5Ghz system features 4GB RAM, the same 500GB hard drive, and an AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics. So let's take a quick look at both...

2.3Ghz mini ($599)

1.) Very zippy. Easily usable for most people as a desktop. No perceivable speed loss from the 2.5Ghz model. Markedly faster than the 2010 Mac minis. 
2.) 2GB RAM is madness in 2011, though easily upgradeable to 4GB/8GB etc in minutes. For casual users, 2GB RAM may not even be an issue...
3.) CPU runs much cooler than the 2.5Ghz model. The iStat Pro widget reads 46-48C for an idling CPU on the 2.5Ghz model, and 36-38C on the 2.3Ghz model. We're not sure if it's just the CPU speed causing the difference, or the more beefy AMD GPU warming up the mini's internals considerably, causing the temperature difference.
4.) With 8GB RAM, the Intel HD3000 GPU on the base mini is allowed 512MB memory, up from 288MB with 2GB RAM installed. We're pretty sure this has no noticeable effect on graphics performance.
5.) No random display flickering connected to a 27" late-2009 iMac (as of yet).


2.5Ghz mini ($799)

1.) Very zippy. Easily usable for most people as a desktop.
2.) 4GB RAM standard is nice, and should be.... standard!
3.) Random flickering from (GPU-related?) connected to my iMac and TV. A thread on Apple's discussion boards details numerous others with the same issue.

We won't beat around any bushes here, - the base mini is the best value out there of all the baby Macs. We'd wager that most Mac mini owners aren't the gaming types, so the upgraded AMD GPU likely isn't necessary. The Intel HD3000 does a fine job for general usage at resolutions up to 2560x1440, with no rendering slowdown that we noticed on graphically-intensive web pages, plus it had no trouble with full 1080p videos, Adobe Flash etc. 

If you need a gaming computer, go elsewhere, honestly. You don't buy a Mac for gaming! That doesn't mean you CAN'T game on a Mac, but really... get an XBOX 360 or a Playstation 3. If you insist on gaming on your Mac, no question the AMD GPU model is the better bet, but don't expect to play Call of Duty: Modern Warfare 3 maxed out at 1920x1080p resolution, even on the higher-end mini...

Verdict:

For the rest of you, buy a 2.3Ghz mini and upgrade the RAM to 8GB for under $50 from Amazon. There's no trouble playing full 1080p videos etc in Plex. The base mini doesn't even break a sweat, and despite our best efforts, aside from sterile benchmarking tools like Geekbench we couldn't tell any performance difference between the minis.

We upgraded both minis to 8GB RAM with fast SSDs, and they both fly. But we just can't see any reason to pick the $799 model over the $599 mini. Especially with some of the graphical glitches noticed on the $799 model. Even with the glitches (hopefully) fixed in a software update, unless you're a "gamer," save your money and pick up the $599 mini.

Andy Barker
1/9/2012 08:57:48 pm

Great straightforward review of the Mac MIni the first I have come across(and I have looked).
Looks like the 2.3 version for me.
Thanks
Andy B

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With 8GB RAM, the Intel HD3000 GPU on the base mini is allowed 512MB memory, up from 288MB with 2GB RAM installed. We're pretty sure this has no noticeable effect on graphics performance.

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