Apple’s tiny but perfectly-formed Mac mini makes no claims to be a media centre PC. It requires a little work to setup as a media centre, but its minuscule dimensions, minimal power consumption and flawless design make it more than a little tempting to do just that.
At only 197mm by 197mm square and 36mm high, it’s small enough to place just about anywhere. Apple made it so small by designing a custom logic board hosting laptop technology. Take a look at Chillblast Fusion Galaxy review.
Our review model was fitted with a quad-core 2.3GHz Intel Core i7-3615QM mobile processor with turbo boost up to 3.3GHz and supporting up to eight threads via Hyperthreading. Go to Group test: What's the best media centre PC?
Unlike many Apple products, the Mac mini is easy to open for upgrades and maintenance. Just twist off the bottom cover to reveal user-replaceable memory chips and an easily removable fan. It comes fitted with 4GB of DDR3 RAM and a 1TB notebook hard drive but you can configure different options via the Apple store, including an SSD or the new Fusion Drive which combines HDD and SSD technology.
The use of mobile componentry has an extremely beneficial effect on power consumption. Under full load, the Mac used the least power of the group at only 49.7W; more impressively this dropped to only 11W when idle – less than half the consumption of its nearest rival. Despite the built-in fan, we heard not a peep out of the Mac mini during testing.
Apple has found room for plenty of connectivity, including four USB 3.0 ports, dual-band 802.11n WiFi and gigabit ethernet. You also get FireWire 800 and the fastest interface available, Thunderbolt. You can hook it up to a TV easily via the HDMI port and an SDXC card slot makes reading your digital camera memory cards a doddle. Toslink digital audio is also baked in.
So the hardware is nearly perfect, but the main issue with using the Mac mini as a multimedia entertainment system is that you’ll have to find your own media-centre software. One option is to install Windows via Bootcamp, an easy task, and use Windows Media Center. But you could also use free software such as XBMC or Plex inside the Mac’s OS X. Watching live broadcast TV only requires you to attach a USB or network TV tuner; and if you want Blu-ray support you’ll need an external USB drive. Blu-ray films can be ripped first and played from file or played directly with Mac Blu-ray Player software.