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Thursday, January 20, 2005, 05:00 pm PT (08:00 pm ET)

Special Report: Apple\'s Mac mini in-depth

Earlier this month Apple unveiled the Mac mini, a new desktop computer which it says was designed specifically for the consumer and education markets. Through investigations over the past week, AppleInsider was able to elicit several previously unpublished details and specifications of the computer, which can be found in our extensive report, below:

Overview

Weighing in at just shy of 3 pounds and only 6.5 inches square by 2 inches high, the Mac mini has the smallest form factor of any Macintosh ever produced. Its footprint is similar to the Power Mac G4 Cube, but about 1/3 the height and 1/10th the weight. The Cube was also about 1.5 inches wider than the mini, at 8 inches square.

Contrary to popular belief, the mini is not based on the Cube or even the iBook G4. According to sources, the mini is based on the USB 2.0-enabled eMac and shares many of the same technical specifications, including the same processor, system bus, DDR RAM, graphics chipset, USB 2.0, FireWire 400, AirPort, Bluetooth, and an Apple Internal 56K V.92 Fax Modem.

Processor and Bus

Like the eMac, the Mac mini uses a 1.25 GHz (or 1.42 GHz) Motorola PowerPC G4 processor with 512K of Level 2 cache that runs at the same speed as the processor. Additionally, the mini's frontside bus runs at 167 MHz, the same as the eMac.

Storage Options

For storage, the mini employes a 40GB or 80GB 2.5-inch Ultra ATA 100 hard drive featuring fluid dynamic bearing technology (though original specifications imply that the low-end configuration was to contain a 60GB drive). These 2.5-inch drives are 0.37 inches in height and operate at 4200 rpm. The mini includes Apple's standard Combo drive, but is also the first Macintosh to ship with support for a new breed of SuperDrive that now also supports DVD±R/RW media. It is available as a build-to-order option at the Apple Store.

Memory

The mini supports PC2700 DDR SDRAM (instead of PC133 SDRAM) through a single 184-pin DIMM slot. The memory slot supports compatible RAM modules with a capacity of up to 1GB. DDR SDRAM provides a higher level of performance than SDRAM does and is designed to be scalable for future increases in bus speeds and faster processors.

Depending upon supply constraints, Apple may choose to ship the mini with PC3200 DDR SDRAM. According to Apple documentation, this RAM may be reported as 400 MHz in the Apple System Profiler but will still operate at the 333 MHz.

Furthermore, the mini is the first Macintosh computer in several years that does not offer a user-installable option for upgrading RAM. RAM upgrades must be upgraded by an Apple Authorized Service Provider (AASP).

Wireless Technologies

Bluetooth 1.1 and AirPort Extreme options are not part of the standard configurations for Mac mini; instead consumers must order Bluetooth or AirPort Extreme as a configure-to-order option. At the time of purchase, these options can be added separately. However, consumers looking to add these options after purchase will be required to purchase a Mac mini AirPort Extreme & Bluetooth Upgrade Kit, which includes both technologies.

The upgrade kit will be available from an AASP and will include an adapter mezzanine board, a Bluetooth board, a AirPort Extreme card, and antennas for both AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth modules. The kit is not user-installable and must be installed by an authorized technician. According to documentation, the mini's Bluetooth module is located on its own USB bus.

When configured with internal AirPort and Bluetooth modules, the antennas for AirPort and Bluetooth are located in the top of the Mac mini. More specifically, the AirPort antenna is located in the top, rear left-hand corner above the mini's power button, while the Bluetooth antenna is located in the top, front right-hand corner of the computer.

Due to the placement of the antennas, users who stack other computers or displays on top of the Mac mini may experience reduced wireless reception. For the best wireless performance, Apple suggests that users do not rest anything on top of the Mac mini, or stack other Mac mini's on top of one another.

System Software

While its likely that Apple will update the Mac mini's standard system software over time, the first batch of minis to leave Foxconn's manufacturing facilities in Asia are reportedly running a custom build of Mac OS X 10.3.7 (build 7T21). The mini will support Mac OS 9 applications through the Classic environment, but will not boot from a Mac OS 9 volume or display Mac OS 9 volumes in the Mac OS X Startup Disk manager—the same as currently shipping Macs.

Because a large number of minis were produced in December, prior to its introduction, iLife '04 was pre-installed on the hard disks, and the company will include an iLife '05 DVD in the box. In addition to iLife, the mini ships with a Mac mini Mac OS X Install Disc and a Mac mini Mac OS 9 Install Disc.

What else is in the Box?

Inside the Mac mini retail box, users will also find an 85-watt AC adapter, a three prong AC Cord, a DVI/VGA display adapter, and a manual packet. The "getting started" packet includes the Mac mini user guide, Apple logo stickers, proof-of-purchase coupons for both iLife and Mac OS X 10.3, as well as standard warranty and software licensing agreements.

Resetting a Mac mini and Flushing the PRAM

The Mac mini is equipped with a Power Management Unit that controls all power functions for the computer. To resolve a number of system problems, users may need to reset this microcontroller chip. To do so, users must unplug all cables from the computer — including the power cord — wait 10 seconds, and then re-plug in the power cord while holding in the power button on the back of the computer.

Mac mini logic board closeups
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Click images for larger view.
Images taken by macnews.de


Incompatibilities

According to sources, Apple has discovered that a limited number of 22-inch Apple Cinema Displays (with model number M7478LL/A) are not compatible with the Mac mini. If users with this display experience screen tinting and lines when running a screen saver or other visualizer in Full Screen, Apple suggests using an alternative display.

Maintaining Proper Airflow

Because the Mac mini has a large number of components packed very tightly into a small space, Apple recommends that the unit be placed on a hard, flat surface to maximizes airflow into the bottom of the computer. The company also suggests keeping other materials and equipment away from the computer.

All the Rest...

Finally, sources note that the mini's non-standard power connector contains too many leads to serve solely as a power source, and could provide hints of upcoming add-ons, such as a potential iPod dock connector or media station.

Close-ups of the Mac mini motherboard from an educational-based configuration (sans modem) can be viewed above.