When Apple refreshed the Mac mini line last summer, the standout model for many was the £699 version with dedicated AMD graphics processor.

But unless you want to play computer games, or need a professional graphics workstation, this component is far from essential.

High-definition 1080p video, for example, will still play smoothly on the basic Mac mini, whether it's decoded by the integrated GPU (for QuickTime files) or by the CPU for other video files (MKV, AVI, etc) when using software such as VLC.

For most home or office users, you can shave a substantial slice off the £699 price by selecting the entry-level £529 Apple Mac mini with Intel integrated graphics.

Apple Mac mini (Mid-2011) Core i5 2.3GHz: Features

There are two other material differences when compared to our Gold award-winning Mac mini. The main processor is a 2.3GHz rather than 2.5GHz Intel Core i5, and the memory complement is 2GB instead of 4GB. The latter can be quickly and cheaply upgraded to 4GB for less than £20; you could even max out the mini with 16GB of RAM if required.

In features and facilities, the 2.3GHz Apple Mac mini behaves just like its faster brother. It’s a very well rounded package, including dual-band Wi-Fi, Bluetooth 4.0, the world’s fastest desktop IO interface with Thunderbolt, as well as legacy ports for USB 2.0 and FireWire 800.

Displays can be attached to either an HDMI port (limited to 1920 x 1200 maximum resolution); or the Thunderbolt port, acting as a Mini DisplayPort, and suitable for screens up to 2560 x 1600-pixel resolution.

The Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor can drive two screens simultaneously, with 288MB of video memory shared from system RAM.

Also ranged across the back panel are a pair of audio jacks – in and out, each with Toslink digital interfaces – as well as gigabit ethernet and an SDXC slot for camera cards.

The power supply of the Unibody is now built-in, so there are no unsightly bricks to hide away.

Missing from the package is any optical drive. If you do need to read or write CDs and DVDs, a USB drive can be connected. You could even plug in a BD drive and use third-party software like Mac Blu-ray Player to enjoy Blu-ray films.

Apple Mac mini (Mid-2011) Core i5 2.3GHz: Performance

The 200MHz shortfall in the processor and reduced RAM inevitably make this Mac mini model slower than the AMD graphics version. But it’s not by any significant amount.

In the Geekbench test – a synthetic benchmark which measures raw processor, memory and pipeline performance – the Intel-only Mac mini averaged 6481 points. The AMD model scored 7038 points, making it only a little less than 9% faster than the entry Mac.

We used Boot Camp to install Windows 7 and run the WorldBench 6 real-world benchmark test. The dearer model scored 123, while this entry-level Mac mini still recorded a healthy 117 points. 

Power consumption was very low for the Intel-graphics Mac mini, perhaps unsurprisingly given the use of more power-efficient graphics that are integrated into the CPU die.

The AMD model was already somewhat ascetic at just 11W – that's around one-third of the best-case results we’ve seen from other small form-factor Windows PCs.

The Intel-only Mac mini was found to require an an incredibly low 9W of mains power at the idle Mac OS X desktop.

When pushed with intensive computing tasks, you can hear the single cooling fan working as it draws air from below and vents through a rear slot. At all other times, the Apple Mac mini is effectively silent, commending its use on the office desk or as a home-media server.


Apple Mac mini (Mid-2011) Core i5 2.3GHz: Specs

  • 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2415M
  • 3MB L3 cache
  • Mac OS X 10.7 Lion
  • 500GB 5400rpm 2.5in SATA HDD
  • 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR3-1333 RAM
  • AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics with 256MB GDDR5 RAM
  • 1 x HDMI, 1 x Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • FireWire 800
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot
  • 3.5mm audio input with Toslink S/PDIF
  • 3.5mm audio output/headphones with Toslink S/PDIF
  • mono speaker
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • infrared remote control receiver
  • HDMI-to-DVI adaptor
  • iLife ’11 (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, GarageBand)
  • 197 x 197 x 36mm
  • 2.3GHz Intel Core i5-2415M
  • 3MB L3 cache
  • Mac OS X 10.7 Lion
  • 500GB 5400rpm 2.5in SATA HDD
  • 2GB (2 x 1GB) DDR3-1333 RAM
  • AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics with 256MB GDDR5 RAM
  • 1 x HDMI, 1 x Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort
  • gigabit ethernet
  • 4 x USB 2.0
  • FireWire 800
  • SD/SDHC/SDXC card slot
  • 3.5mm audio input with Toslink S/PDIF
  • 3.5mm audio output/headphones with Toslink S/PDIF
  • mono speaker
  • 802.11a/b/g/n
  • Bluetooth 4.0
  • infrared remote control receiver
  • HDMI-to-DVI adaptor
  • iLife ’11 (iPhoto, iMovie, iDVD, iWeb, GarageBand)
  • 197 x 197 x 36mm

OUR VERDICT

At £529, the Apple Mac mini is the cheapest Mac out of Apple’s complete line of desktop and portable computers. But its superb build quality and feature set puts it ahead of any other compact PC. While it’s measurable a little slower than the 2.5GHz version, it will never be found wanting in most home and office applications. With an end-to-end computing experience this delightful, it must come highly recommended.

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