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Apple Mac mini (Early 2009) review

£499

Manufacturer: Apple

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5 User Rating: Our users rate this 3 out of 10

Mac mini - the starter Apple Macintosh - is now more attractive than ever (REVISED 31 MARCH 2009)

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.

Read more Apple news on our dedicated news page

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.

NEXT PAGE: First review of the Mac mini (Early 2009) from Macworld US >>

Apple Mac mini (Early 2009) Expert Verdict »

2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo P7350
Mac OS X Leopard 10.5.6
120GB 5400rpm 2.5in HDD
1GB (1x1GB) DDR3-1066 RAM
nVidia GeForec 9400M graphics with 128MB shared system RAM
1 x mini DVI, 1 x mini DisplayPort
slot-load 8x DVD±RW DL drive
Gogibit Ethernet
5 x USB 2.0
FireWire 800
line in/line out audio with Toslink S/PDIF
mono speaker
802.11b/g/draft-n
Bluetooth 2.1+EDR
15W (idle) power consumption
165x165x51mm
1.31kg
  • Build Quality: We give this item 8 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 9 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 8 of 10 for value for money
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

While the price of entry to Mac computing may have risen from £391 to £499 with the release of the 2009 Mac mini, the manifold revisions of the new model fully justify the updated starting price. In simple speed terms, there’s faster wireless (11g to 11n), a faster DVD±RW drive with dual-layer support, and faster processors with higher-speed RAM. Then there’s the new ports, namely an extra USB, FireWire 800 and mini DisplayPort. Last and very far from least, a much improved graphics chipset means that gaming once again becomes an option to the Mac mini household. All wrapped up in an essentially silent minimalist package, the Apple Mac mini (Early 2009) makes a great desktop PC, and an even more effective home media hub.

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