15 June 2010

New Mac mini

Today marks the date of the 2010 refresh of Apple's diminutive computer, the Mac mini. The computer was introduced back in January 2005, at the annual MacWorld conference, from which Apple defected four years later. The first generation of the Mac mini was also my first OS X-era Macintosh; the other Mac I have at home is a 1990 Macintosh Classic from the days of my dad's graduate studies at Princeton.

The Mac mini served as Apple's lowest-end machine, used to woo Windows users to the land of Apple. Current Mac users used the machine for home theater purposes or as an addition to their current Mac family. Either way, it was priced at a tempting $499 (Intel machines started at $599).

It was a really small and cute computer, but by no means powerful. My machine was equipped with a 1.25GHz RISC processor, 256MB of memory, and 40GB hard drive. However, it served as an excellent introduction to Mac OS X and the rest of the UNIX and digital media creation world. It was on that computer that I experimented with video editing, photo organizing, and website building.

from left to right: PowerPC, Intel rev. a, Intel rev. b (credits: iFixit)

Fast forward five and a half years. The Mac mini has evolved into a beast since the Intel transition. The current machines are at least twice as fast, if not more. They have a dual core processor, plethora of memory and disk space, and a much faster graphics subsystem. Any Intel Mac mini could whip the G4 back into its stable (when running processor-native software, that is).

Today's machine is equipped with a 2.4GHz or a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo, 2-8 GB of RAM, 320 or 500GB disk, and a Nvidia 320M integrated graphics chipset. These specs are identical to those of the MacBook Pro 13". Unlike the MacBook Pro, the new Mac mini got a chassis revision as well -- surprise!

woah! (credits: Apple)

No one expected the spanish inquisition a smaller, thinner, unibody chassis with a removable cover! This is perhaps the biggest upgrade the Mac mini could have received. Previous, to open the chassis, one had to pry the main unit from the aluminum and plastic chassis with a putty knife. The new unit has a round, plastic cover on the bottom that not only is the base of the machine, but also doubles as the port from which the internals of the machine are accessible.
closed (Apple)

opened (Apple)

The machine now features an integrated power supply, which means that it does not require a ginormous power brick to power the machine. Additionally, Apple subtracted a USB port, but added an HDMI port for home theater purposes. An SD reader sits on the rear of the machine for easier photo downloading purposes.
new port layout (Apple)

Also of note is the lowered power consumption. The machine comes with a 85W power supply instead of a 110W unit from the previous Intel units. At idle, the machine sips a measly 10W, making it one of the least power-hogging consumer desktops available. 

Today's announcement is not all good news, however. The price of this entry-level machine hiked northward of $100! This was, too, unexpected. Why would Apple increase the price of their already expensive low-end machine even higher?! All for the upgraded internals and the stunning unibody enclosure? Who knows. 

From perusing MacRumors not long after the new machine was announced, many people rejoiced at the revision, mostly because of the stunning, unbelievably thin enclosure. Others ranted about the lacking hardware, notably the following:
  • No Blu-ray
  • Intel i3, i5, i7 processors missing
  • Thin enclosure prevents the use of cheaper, desktop-sized parts
  • High price for a machine with outdated hardware
Unsurprisingly, the $999 server version did not receive much fanfare. It includes a 2.66GHz processor, 4GB (upgradeable to 8GB) memory, and 2x500GB disks. To me, this is, hands-down, the best better value Mac mini (there are only two Mac mini models this time). I would even go as far to say that this is the best value Mac for me; it comes with an easy-to-use UNIX based server grade operating system without a tremendously bulky case or high power consumption. By stating my preferences, I am placing value on the tiny enclosure and its energy efficiency, which many people overlook. Of course, many people would rather have a large desktop machine for expandability purposes and easy servicing; that is their preferences. I do not know what everyone else wants; I only know what is best for me.

Overall, this is a great computer for anyone looking for a small, efficient, and pretty desktop machine for low to medium powered computing tasks. It should be great for playing 1080p video or some light gaming; it certainly will not handle anything intense. It is also recommended for anyone who needs a light to medium duty web server without extraordinary data storage requirements. I strongly recommend the server model over than the `consumer' model; you would get a much more powerful computer at the same price or one with the same power at a much lower the price, given that you do not mind a louder, bulkier, and more power consuming computer.

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