Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010) full review

Apple has given the casework of its entry-level Mac the full unibody makeover, making the new Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010) the most significant update in the product's history. And revisions to its graphics card plus a new HDMI port will make it even more attractive as the foundation of an efficient media-centre PC

We always thought the original Mac mini design was an understated marvel. Just two-inches high and seven-inches square, it offered so much more than the new wave of under-aspirated nettop PCs. With its aluminium sides wrapping around a plastic top, it was the armour-plated Tupperware box of modern computing.

Like those newer Atom-powered compact PCs, the mini was designed as an easy-to-site desktop computer, only so small and discreet you’d be happy to keep it in the lounge too. And thanks to its essentially silent operation, it made an ideal media centre hub for enjoying DVD films, music and TV (with the help of Elgato EyeTV).

But keeping the size of PCs down has always meant compromising performance. Thankfully significant technological leaps have been made recently, inspired by the massive uptake of portable computing.

Look to the 21st-century laptop: size, performance and thermal design are all carefully balanced. And since laptops now account for the biggest slice of all PCs sold, the components to make high-performance computing in a small chassis have become increasingly easy to source.

The Mac mini started out with a lowly single-core 1.25GHz PowerPC G4 processor back in 2005; but by early last year it had evolved into a minor powerhouse, even the entry-level model earning a speedy 2.0GHz dual-core processor and capable nVidia GeForce 9400M graphics. For the first time, the Mac mini could now even entertain a little gaming too.

Later last year, a 2.53GHz version was offered as the top-spec model.

Now we have a complete makeover for this updated Mac mini – or the Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010) as Apple quietly dubs it.

Like Apple’s professional notebooks, the Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010) now takes a completely aluminium case, milled from solid block just like the unibody design of the MacBook Pro. This new mini sits lower and wider than before, at 7.7 inches along its edges but just 1.4 inches high.

Build quality is, literally, flawless. The selection of raw material quality and final fit-and-finish are so far removed from that of almost any other computer we test, it’s hard to equate this as a PC alongside the rattling Windows boxes we see in the lab for our monthly group tests.

That revised Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010) chassis is hewn from a solid ingot of aluminium by CNC machining, with all components loaded through a circular hatch on the underside.  Think of a high-tech ship in an opaque metal bottle.

Turn this Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010) over, twist the plastic lid a few degrees to the left and the hatch lifts to reveal the mini within. This is an important development over the original mini’s case, which required a putty knife, some dexterous fingers and a leap of faith to prise the lid away as lines of hidden clips became unfastened.

It’s now a doddle to exchange RAM, with only a little more work required to unfasten the grille that covers the hard disk. Included with the unit is 2GB of DDR3 RAM, and this can now be upgraded to a maximum of 8GB.

Also visible here is one of three antennae required for full-MIMO (multiple-input and multiple-output) 802.11n wireless connectivity. Like all Apple Macs, wireless can also operate on the 5GHz band for reduced congestion.

And to save you the hassle of finding a home for the bulky external power supply unit (PSU), Apple has even found space to squeeze a complete 85W switch-mode PSU into the chassis of the Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010). No more trailing power bricks are required, just a thin mains lead with figure-8 plug.

Apple Mac mini (Mid-2010)

Inside the Apple Mac mini (Mid-2010): Airport antenna at top; RAM and cooling fan below

Replacing the previous base model’s 2.26GHz Intel Core 2 Duo is a 2.4GHz processor, joined by an nVidia GeForce 320M graphics controller – the same as fitted to the latest white MacBook and entry-level MacBook Pro.

NEXT PAGE: Performance benchmarks >>

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