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Wednesday, July 07, 2010, 04:00 am PT (07:00 am ET)

Review: Apple's aluminum Mac mini and Mac mini Server (2010)


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The New Mac mini in Review

The Mac mini Server configuration appears to be better value than buying a Mac mini as a desktop PC or a home theater appliance, where there are much cheaper alternatives and slightly more expensive options that deliver a lot more.

For example, as a general purpose computer, Apple's comparably fast MacBook is just $300 more and includes a display, keyboard and mouse (a $100 option on the Mac mini), portability and a battery backup. For just $500 more, you can get a 21.5" iMac that is significantly faster, has more RAM and hard drive capacity, a big display and $100 worth of Apple's keyboard and mouse. Both examples make the Mac mini look overpriced for only being a core computer, unless you plan to use it to swap out an existing PC and can reuse an existing display, keyboard and mouse; that's also the target audience of the Mac mini, so it makes sense that's the case.

It's still the cheapest new Mac you can buy, it just isn't super cheap, and certainly not as good of a deal nor as attractive to new users as the original $500 Mac mini was, or even last year's $600 model. This appears to shift the Mac mini from its debut as a practical, entry level Mac — essentially a conservative resurrection of the Power Mac G4 Cube — and back toward a higher-end and premium priced, nice looking appliance, which is what the Cube originally delivered, albeit without much commercial success.

iMac Cube mini


As a home theater appliance, the Mac mini looks even more expensive, particularly when compared to Apple's limited-duty, $229 Apple TV. The new Mac mini might make sense if you want a device to drive your living room HDTV that can also play games, DVDs, work as a DVR and run other third party applications. However, you'd probably also want to check out the availability of a used, late-modeled Mac mini for such a job, too, unless you're sold on the sharp new appearance of the unibody case.

Apple's newest redesign definitely makes the latest Mac mini more esthetically attractive, and also makes it slightly better suited to a variety of tasks from running the HDTV to replacing a PC to driving server applications for a small office. If cost isn't your primary concern, the model is a solid, well designed device. It's also tiny, making it a viable option for embedded installation in applications such as in-car integration. It's just got a price tag that isn't likely to impress bargain hunters.

There is one last factor that might attract buyers to Apple's premium Mac mini product: its efficiency and responsibly sustainable design. Apple notes that the Mac mini "achieved a Gold rating from EPEAT in the U.S., Canada, France, Germany, and the UK," and that it's BFR-free, Lead-free, PVC-free internally, built with a "highly recyclable aluminum enclosure," meets Energy Star 5.0 requirements and "uses 68 percent less plastic than the previous generation."

Apple also notes that the new Mac mini incorporates a 90% efficient 85 watt power supply rather than the 110 watt power brick the previous model used, and "uses less than 10 watts of power when idle." According to PC comparison tests performed by CNET, the new Mac mini now slurps just 33 watts under load, 7 watts when idle, and just 1.2 when sleeping. That's half the overall power consumption of last year's model, and much less (a quarter to a sixth) the power consumed by competing mini-PCs, even those powered by an anemic Atom processor.

Apple's efforts to target efficiency and sustainability are likely to help woo exactly the type of consumers the company is attracting to boutique retail stores, who care more about environmentally friendly design and efficiency than their neighbors who shop for deals in a big-box retail store.

Rating

Mac mini

4-stars


Pros
Attractive, compact and solid
Good overall performance
Easy to setup and use
HDMI for home theater applications
Environmentally friendly design

Cons
Premium priced, limited specs
No Blu-Ray
Hard to upgrade beyond RAM

Mac mini Server

4-stars


Pros
Compact appliance server
Includes faster hard drives
Bundles $500 copy of Mac OS X Server
Reasonably priced server package

Cons
Harder to upgrade beyond RAM
Limited-duty design

Where to Buy

Below is a table of Mac mini prices from leading Apple Resellers that was extracted from AppleInsider's MacPriceGuide.

Mac mini
Amazon MacMall B&H Photo & Video OnSale.com Adorama
Discount
2.50GHz 2Core i5/4GB/500GB $594.00 $579.99 $549.99+ $499.99 $99.01
2.30GHz 4Core i7/4GB/1TB $794.00 $769.99 $739.99+ $699.99 $99.01
2.30GHz 4Core i7/4GB/2x1TB Server $969.99 $963.15 $949.99+ n/a $49.01
2.60GHz 4Core i7/4GB/1TB n/a n/a yet n/a yet n/a $20.00
2.30GHz 4Core i7/4GB/256SSD n/a n/a yet n/a yet n/a $0.00
2.60GHz 4Core i7/16GB/1TB Fusion n/a n/a yet n/a yet n/a $0.00
2.30GHz 4Core i7/4GB/2x256SSD n/a n/a yet n/a yet n/a $0.00



More on the 2010 Mac mini

First look: Apple's new unibody Mac mini

New Mac mini folds in Apple TV features (photos)