The first major redesign for the Mac mini is smaller but more powerful than ever before. Is the extra cost worth it?
To make it through five and a half years without a major redesign is an unusual achievement in gadgetland. Not only has Apple's Mac mini just passed that mark, it's remained as iconic and fresh looking as the day it first appeared. If only the same could be said for other proponents of the small form factor, like the Shuttle PC or Sony's Vaio TP1.
It's time, though, for the Mac mini's metamorphosis. In its brand new 2010 guise it's smaller, more powerful and even better looking than before: a delicate defence of the tiny PC territory against aggressive newcomers like the Dell Zino HD, Mesh's Cute and the many Atom-based miniatures from Asus and Acer.
Unibodies all round
The new look is a slightly squashed interpretation of the old one. From the top down, it's a fraction under 20cm square, giving it a slightly larger footprint than the outgoing mini. The crucial difference, though, is the height. A centimetre and a half has been lopped off, making it less than half as tall as Mesh Cute and almost invisible on the desktop.
In keeping with the current Apple look, the mini's shell has been replaced by an aluminium unibody. Like previous versions, it's distinguished at the front only by a DVD-RW slot and a small power LED.
The rear connections poke out through a strip of black plastic and include an SD card slot and both a mini-DisplayPort connector for video and an HDMI-out.
That means it's as happy sitting in the lounge as the Apple TV, even if a Blu-ray option would have given it a bit more clout as a media centre.
The disappointment, though, is with the price. Once the mini was both beautiful and a bargain, now it looks like Apple is hoping to cash in on iPad converts who want to buy into the OSX system. Not only is it expensive, but it doesn't have the latest Intel processor inside and the 500GB hard drive is decidedly cramped.
For only £200 more you can buy a MacBook with exactly the same specifications – the mini uses entirely notebook parts inside – and a screen and keyboard built-in. The Dell Zino HD is more powerful and cheaper.
On the other hand, it's hard to complain about the real-life performance. It'll happily run the best Mac games, like Valve's Half-Life 2-based line up, and has no problem with HD video editing.
Review continues after the break…
Improve your memory
If you want a bit more power, there's a round plastic panel on the bottom, which provides access for memory upgrades. It upsets the seamless design, but is a welcome extra if you don't want your computers hermetically sealed.
And it has the edge over nearly every other small form factor PC in that it's as audibly discrete as it is visually. Silence may not be golden, but it is worth a premium.
Aside from the retrograde pricing, then, the new look mini is the exception to the old 'if it ain't broke' rule. No-one we know has fallen out of love with the old mini yet, but everyone likes the new one more.
UPDATE: No computer is more beautiful than the seamless, aluminium Mac Mini. The 2012 version has Ivy Bridge processors (in dual- or quad- core varieties), Apple's new Fusion Drive tech and faster graphics. The whisper-quiet operation and high price tag remain unchanged.
Apple Mac Mini 2010 review
The mini's makeover has been a long time coming, but it was worth the wait