No computer is more beautiful than the seamless, aluminium Mac Mini. The 2012 version adds 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.
The real star of the Mac Mini is the Ivy Bridge 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 Mini can be specced up with an i7 – though a 2.3GHz i7 Mac Mini costs $1088, versus $788 for the i5 version.
Not that either is a games machine – both feature the comparatively feeble integrated HD Graphics 4000 processor, which falls short of the AMD Radeon discrete graphics processor available on the previous year's model.
The 2012 model adds the option to swap out the standard HDD for Apple's new Fusion Drive – a combination hard disk and solid-state drive that shuffles your files around, giving you the fastest access to those you use the most. It's pricey, though, with a 16GB Fusion Drive adding $350 to the price of the $1088 Core i7 model.
The USB ports have been specced up to USB 3.0, plus there's a Thunderbolt port for high speed peripherals. If you run a monitor with a higher resolution than 1920x1080, or want to use two screens, you'll need that Thunderbolt port for a display adaptor, as the HDMI port maxes out at 1080p.
Our advice? The Mac Mini trounces all other small form factor machines, and the cheaper option makes sense. However, step up to the $1088 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 $1788 iMac is much better specced.