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Apple Mac mini (Mid-2011) Core i5 2.5GHz review

£699 inc VAT

Manufacturer: Apple

Our Rating: We rate this 4.5 out of 5

We expected to see faster performance from the Apple Mac mini (Mid 2010) now it's finally received the Intel Core-series Sandy Bridge upgrade. But we weren't prepared for these lab results.

Performance

By skipping a generation of CPU, the performance delta looks particularly impressive. We tested the 2.53GHz Mac mini using our usual raft of Windows benchmark tools, after installing Windows 7 Home Premium 64-bit.

(Setting up Windows with Boot Camp was always quite straightforward. It’s now even easier in the post-optical age, as Apple offers to make a bootable Windows USB stick out of your Windows .iso, adding in all the necessary device drivers which can be downloaded from Apple whenever required.

With the ready availability of all the necessary drivers in one installer, it’s easier to install Windows on a Mac than it is on a Windows PC).

Last year’s 2.4GHz model with Intel P8600 scored 93 points in WorldBench 6, indicating a relatively quick PC able to take on some creativity without forcing you to wait around too long.

This Mac mini has dramatically raised its game – all the way up to 123 points in WorldBench 6. That’s a 32% score increase, more than enough to move this desk-hugging slug of aluminium into the performance-PC realm.

We tried the venerable FEAR game to test the AMD Radeon HD 6630M’s mettle, setting the detail quality to Max. It played at a smooth 53 fps, up from the 29 fps of the previous nVidia’d Mac mini.

And with the gaming world’s still excited by Microsoft’s revised DirectX 11 gaming API, we loaded our usual Stalker: Zov Pripyati game benchmark. Using our Test Centre’s lower preset (1280 x 720, Medium detail), the Mac mini could average a decent 32 fps.

Going higher slowed the action, of course: our ‘hi-spec’ test of 1920 x 1080, Ultra detail and tessellation on, gave an unplayable 14fps. Nevertheless, this AMD processor, a successor to the popular AMD Radeon HD 5650 found in high-end laptops, proved a worthy graphics-wrangler for gaming.

It even played our lo-spec Crysis test (1024 x 768, High quality, DirectX 9) at a not-bad-at-all 27fps.

For Mac OS X benchmarking, we found Xbench would fall over in the thread test; and since the app is not Hyper-Thread-aware, it no longer gives accurate results here anyway.

But turning to Geekbench we saw a six-run average score of 7049 points when running OS X. This suggests close to a 40% increase in memory and processor performance over last year’s comparably clocked MacBook Pro 15in (2.53GHz Core i5-540M: 5073 Geekbench points).

Apple was always proud of the vanishingly low power consumption of its Mac mini, yet failed to publish any figures for this model.

There’s little to worry about here though, despite all the extra performance. Looking again at the faster 2.5GHz Mac mini with its dedicated graphics processor, we still saw only a 11W power consumption at the idle OS X desktop, rising to a worst-case figure of 57W, in Windows, playing Crysis

Apple Mac mini (Mid-2011) Core i5 2.5GHz Expert Verdict »
Apple Mac Mini MC816B/A (2011) Scores 9.2 out of 10 based on 25 reviews
2.5GHz Intel Core i5-2520M
3MB L3 cache
Mac OS X 10.7 Lion
500GB 5400rpm 2.5in SATA HDD
4GB (2 x 2GB) 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
1216g
  • Build Quality: We give this item 10 of 10 for build quality
  • Features: We give this item 8 of 10 for features
  • Value for Money: We give this item 8 of 10 for value for money
  • Performance: We give this item 8 of 10 for performance
  • Overall: We give this item 9 of 10 overall

We’re always looking for a true contender to take on the Apple Mac mini as the perfect discreet desktop PC, or as a stylish, compact and quiet media centre PC for the lounge. There are still no true rivals, and the latest slew of performance updates just widens the gap with the competition further. A new, lower price of £529 for the entry Apple Mac mini simply sweetens the deal.

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