Apple Mac Mini (2009)

Apple's newest Mac Mini is set to be a hit, being both small and powerful. We suspect that if Apple had managed to squeeze Blu-ray support in there, it would take a large chunk of the home theatre PC market.


8.5
CNET Rating
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User Rating

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About The Author

CNET Editor

Craig was sucked into the endless vortex of tech at an early age, only to be spat back out babbling things like "phase-locked-loop crystal oscillators!". Mostly this receives a pat on the head from the listener, followed closely by a question about what laptop they should buy.


Design
You'd be forgiven for thinking you're looking at the last generation Mac Mini. Not to mention the last one before that. It's still the same 165.1x165.1x50.8mm dimensions, with the thick aluminium sides, and the pearl white top with grey Apple logo in the middle. A small white light in the bottom right tells you it's turned on, while the slot of the DVD+-RW is the only defining feature in this minimalist PC.

Where things have changed a bit is on the rear panel. The Mini is now loaded with five USB ports, a Mini DisplayPort, a Mini DVI port, FireWire 800 and gigabit Ethernet jack.

The dual display ports enable the Mac Mini to use two monitors, while the Mini DisplayPort should allow it to power 30-inch monitors at a resolution of 2560x1600 — something the Mini DVI jack can't, limited to 1920x1200. It also plays nicely into Apple's attempt to create a walled garden around its products, however, enough adapters are offered to sate most needs, with Apple offering DVI (AU$45), Dual Link DVI (AU$149) and VGA (AU$45) at its store. It seems HDMI is not part of Apple's plans for the Mini, keeping it firmly attached to Apple TV.

The rear is the biggest hint the Mac Mini has been updated. (Credit: Apple)

Features
A look inside the box reveals the real changes. The motherboard and GPU have been upgraded to bring the Mini in line with the rest of Apple's computing products, basing it on Nvidia's GeForce 9400M chipset. This gives it a lot more 3D grunt than the previous Intel option, not to mention less CPU heavy video acceleration capability.

With the 9400M and DisplayPort, the Mac Mini is perfectly aligned for HD video playback — and so it's a little disappointing that a Blu-ray option hasn't been sorted out yet. We can only assume it's still considered a "bag of hurt", but with any luck the recently loosened licence requirements will eventually get the high-definition format into Apple's machines.

Our review sample otherwise featured an Intel Core 2 Duo 2.0GHz, 2GB DDR3 1066MHz RAM, a Hitachi 320GB hard drive, Bluetooth, and 802.11n wireless modules.

The "overpriced" concerns voiced online puzzle us — the US price on the higher-end Mini is US$799 without tax. Taking into account exchange rate (at time of writing, AU$1 = US$0.65) and adding GST, this comes to AU$1,352, a whole AU$47 lower than Apple Australia's list price. Given the fluctuations in currency, this isn't too bad at all. Next to its competitors (the Dell Studio Hybrid for example), it also comes out rather well.

The Nvidia chipset and GPU would also drive the price up, as would the additional ports offered — which to our mind justifies the increase. As far as we can see the only overpriced aspect is the leap between the entry-level Mini and the step up, the extra capacity on the hard drive and RAM meaning an AU$350 differential, when a user could pick it up for around AU$200 from stores (and have a spare 1GB stick and 120GB drive as a result). For Apple, overcharging on upgrades is nothing new, and wherever it doesn't void the warranty, we recommend the user do it themselves.

Performance

Adobe Photoshop CS3 image-processing test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
HP Pavilion Elite m9500y
134
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 320GB)
165
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 120GB)
168
Dell Studio Hybrid
221

Apple iTunes encoding test (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Dell Studio Hybrid
169
HP Pavilion Elite m9500y
177
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 120GB)
198
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 320GB)
201

Multimedia multitasking (in seconds)
(Shorter bars indicate better performance)
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 320GB)
501
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 120GB)
593
HP Pavilion Elite m9500y
622
Dell Studio Hybrid
908

Cinebench
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Rendering Multiple CPUs
Rendering Single CPU
HP Pavilion Elite m9500y
9,586
2,466
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 120GB)
4,365
2,224
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 320GB)
4,352
2,305
Dell Studio Hybrid
4,329
2,270

Power consumption (Watts)
(Longer bars indicate better performance)
Load
Idle
Apple Mac Mini (2.0GHz Intel Core 2 Duo, 320GB)
29.7
13.24
Acer Aspire X1700-U3700A
95.6
70.9


Show benchmark system configurations

Conclusion
The updated Mac Mini gives the aging platform a much needed shot in the arm, although it seems Apple's still holding out on merging the Apple TV and Mac Mini lines. Admittedly they currently serve two different markets, not to mention entirely different business models. Still, we're disappointed Apple hasn't leveraged the Mini's potential to go further as a media centre, closed eco-systems aside.

This is not to say it's not great — it now runs faster than before, especially in the graphics department, and yet still remains amazingly quiet even when heavily taxed. If you prioritise space and aesthetics, and want a machine that will cover most day-to-day needs, it's still the tiny platform of choice.



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Joey Jojo
8
Rating
 

Joey Jojo posted a review   
Costa Rica

Thanks Craig, I would amend my comment, but unfortunately I can't.

Fair point with the HDMI/Sound, it would be more convenient, second preference would be TOSLink. But again, you just need a different cable, or in this case, 2 different cables to achieve the same result as HDMI. As for the Blu-Ray playback, i'm still not convinced. Guess it won't take long before someone tests it with an external Blu-Ray player.

 

Craig Simms posted a comment   
Australia

Joey, DVI > HDMI does not carry sound. Not exactly a perfect situation.

I was referring to a TOSLink port. Of course you can also buy an adapter here. I've amended the review to cover this.

The 9400M also has H.264 and VC-1 decode acceleration onboard. Given that platform can decode H.264 on an Atom CPU with only a few hiccups, I'd imagine the Core 2 Duo in the Mac Mini would keep up just fine.

Joey Jojo
8
Rating
 

Joey Jojo posted a review   
Costa Rica

The Good:Good product. The hardware wouldn't be able to handle decoding blu-ray movies, so i don't see the point of adding the drive and paying $300 more.

The Bad:Bad review.

Craig: It does have an optical out, read the specs "Combined optical digital audio output/headphone out (minijack)". Also what's the point complaining about the lack of a HDMI port when it has DVI out. Just get a DVI to HDMI cable! You really need to know more about a product for your review to be credible. Stop focusing on how much things cost and review the PRODUCT!

AWOL
4
Rating
 

AWOL posted a review   

Was holding out for one and praying they came to their senses and put a Blu-ray player in it. Would easily dominant the market allowing people to hook them up to their LCD TVs but instead they persist with this "bag of hurt" BS. Oh well, wont be getting one now.

Stew
4
Rating
 

Stew posted a review   

Cancelled my order, concerned re overscan issues (does not fill screen) on Plasma based on Macbook Pro, cannot play HD movies via itunes on mac mini, crippled version of Front Row (cannot rent movies through front row like Apple TV). Tiny itunes icons and fonts cannot be easily read on Plasma screen (even when large fonts used), and there s nothing wrong with my eyes. Apple TV cannot view items like ABCs iview - What a mess, this whole thing needs sorting out. I guess Apple want me to buy two boxes, I bought nothing in the end.

lukecsale@gmail.com
3
Rating
 

lukecsale@gmail.com posted a review   

Way overpriced




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User Reviews / Comments  Apple Mac Mini (2009)

  • Joey Jojo

    Joey Jojo

    Rating8

    "Thanks Craig, I would amend my comment, but unfortunately I can't.

    Fair point with the HDMI/Sound, it would be more convenient, second preference would be TOSLink. But again, you just ..."

  • Craig Simms

    Craig Simms

    "Joey, DVI > HDMI does not carry sound. Not exactly a perfect situation.

    I was referring to a TOSLink port. Of course you can also buy an adapter here. I've amended the review to cove..."

  • Joey Jojo

    Joey Jojo

    Rating8

    "Craig: It does have an optical out, read the specs "Combined optical digital audio output/headphone out (minijack)". Also what's the point complaining about the lack of a HDMI port when it has DVI ..."

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