A key revision for the Early 2009 model of the Apple Mac mini is a new graphics chipset. Out goes an Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics solution, replaced by Apple's favoured nVidia 9400M graphics solution, as found in new MacBooks. With this graphics adaptor, there is a real potential to play 3D games, not to mention a potential reduction in CPU load, by offloading the processing of high-definition video within QuickTime to the GPU.
We tested the £499 version of the Apple Mac mini, in its stock configuration with 1GB RAM. We used Boot Camp to install Microsoft Windows Home Premium 64-bit on a 80GB partition of the 120GB drive, and then ran our usual real-world performance benchmark: WorldBench 6. This gave a score of 72, a little behind the 79 points recorded by the revised 2GHz MacBook (Early 2009 nVidia) we recently reviewed.
It's worth noting that navigating Vista with 1GB RAM is not a recommended experience. The machine became too slow to manage the simplest of tasks. To establish what the Mac mini could achieve in Windows with more RAM, we used a 4GB DDR3 RAM kit from Crucial Technology. This time, we recorded a much more impressive result of 83 WorldBench points, and the Aero interface became as usable as you could expect of Windows Vista.
Moving to 3D graphics capabilities, we measured the Mac mini with our standard FEAR test - before and after the RAM upgrade. With only 1GB RAM installed, the nVidia 9400M chipset can utilise up to 128MB from installed system RAM. With 2GB or more, 256MB is made available for video graphics.
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In standard 1GB RAM trim, the Mac mini played FEAR at 11 frames per second (Maximum quality settings, 1024x768). Dropping the quality to High and Medium, 29fps and 49fps, respectively, was possible.
With 4GB of physical system RAM, and up to 256MB RAM now available for video, the Mac mini could turn in figures of 14fps, 37fps and 60fps at the three different quality settings. To summarize: based on these FEAR results, you can expect an increase in 3D graphics performance of up to 27% once a healthy amount of RAM is installed.
Apple also flashed its green credentials by claiming that the new Mac mini is the most energy efficient desktop in the world. We couldn't quite match the ‘less than 13W' draw promised in the press release, but did measure 15W idle power consumption - which still makes it the lowest consumption computer we've ever tested.
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