Apple Mac Mini (Mid 2011) review
The Mac Mini is the budget option – by Apple standards – and good starting place if you want to join the cult of Mac, but the lack of a disc drive is enough to rule it out for many users.
Review Date: 22 Jul 2011
Price when reviewed: £699
Reviewed By: Kat Orphanides
It's a familiar routine: Apple releases a new PC and a new version of Mac OS X, prompting massive excitement among its fans and knee-jerk derision from its opponents. However, the new Mac Mini has introduced a number of genuinely interesting features. We'll be looking at Mac OS X 10.7 Lion properly in a dedicated review, but it's certainly snappier than OS X 10.6 Snow Leopard.
It terms of hardware, the outside of the Mac Mini looks very much like the previous version. Inside, it's been upgraded significantly, but there is one glaring omission: there's no optical drive. This goes hand-in-hand with Apple's introduction of the Mac App Store, but downloading all your software will be a pain for anyone with a slower net connection or limited bandwidth, and you can't rip CDs for use on your MP3 player. This also means there's no restore disc - instead there's an emergency OS you can boot into, where you can access an internet restore partition. Again, not ideal if you're in an area with slow ADSL speeds.
The Mac mini has a decent range of ports, assuming you have no interest in things like eSATA or USB3. Of course, there's Thunderbolt, the combined mini-DisplayPort and super-fast storage device connection port. Unfortunately, not many devices are currently available and they're very expensive. Apple Thunderbolt monitors, with a pass-through port for storage, are also available, although prices are high: a 27in model costs £899 and a cable costs £39. It's hard to imagine Thunderbolt taking off among average consumer users in the immediate future.
There's also an HDMI port, which most of us will be using to connect our monitors. The graphics adaptor can output resolutions of 1,920x1,080 via HDMI and up to 2,560x1,600 via Thunderbolt. Thunderbolt is backwards compatible with mini-DisplayPort, which slightly increases the range of supported monitors.
Alongside, you'll find four USB ports, a mini-FireWire port - handy if you have older DV cameras - and a card slot capable of handling SDXC cards. There's also a Gigabit Ethernet port, as well as dual-band 802.11n Wi-Fi. Audio ports include just one 3.5mm headphone output and a similar mic input - audio can also be output along with video via HDMI. There's little room for more on the Mini's compact 36x197x197mm chassis, but the available ports adequately cover the basics.
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