The Bottom Line
The 2011 Mac mini received performance upgrades involving new Intel Dual-Core i5 or i7 processors. With this upgrade, Apple transitioned its entire product line away from the older Core 2 Duo architecture, and embraced the newest offerings from Intel.
With new graphics options, and dual SSD and hard drive configurations, the Mac mini is no longer the little Mac that thinks it can. It’s the Mac mini we always wanted to see.
- Intel Dual-Core i5 or i7 processors.
- Up to 8 GB RAM.
- Small size takes up little room
- Thunderbolt port for high speed I/O.
- Inexpensive, and easy on energy usage.
- Lacks optical drive.
- Hard drive is not easily user replaceable.
- SDXC card slot remains on the back panel.
- 2.3 GHz or 2.5 GHz Dual-Core i5; custom configurable to 2.7 Dual-Core i7
- 2 or 4 GB RAM, configurable to 8 GB
- 500 or 750 GB hard drive, 256 SSD, 256 SSD + 750 GB HD
- Intel HD Graphics 3000 or AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics
- Thunderbolt port
- HDMI port
- 802.11n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet, Bluetooth 4
- Pre-installed with OS X Lion and iLife '11
- $599, $799 plus the ability to custom configure
Guide Review - 2011 Mac mini Review - This Could Be the Best mini Ever
The 2011 Mac mini is available in three configurations; two are dressed up for desktop use with Lion, and one is a special configuration designed as a small but mighty Lion server.
We're going to look primarily at the two standard Mac mini configurations, which I call Base and Better, but if you're looking for a workgroup or home server, the Mac mini server edition may be a fine choice.
The 2011 Mac mini gained some noticeable improvements, including spectacularly fast Thunderbolt I/O that lets you connect to external devices at blinding speeds. You can easily connect a Thunderbolt RAID array to the Mac mini and have a compact but powerful workstation at your fingertips.
Beyond the Thunderbolt port, the Mac mini offers new processor choices: the Intel Dual-Core i5 (2.3 GHz or 2.5 GHz) or Dual-Core i7 (2.7 GHz) processors. Memory starts at 2 GB, and can be configured at up to 8 GB.
Graphics have also been improved, with your choice of Intel HD Graphics 3000 with 288 MB shared RAM, or, for those of you who need a bit more graphics oomph, the AMD Radeon HD 6630M with 256 MB of GDDR5 RAM.
Storage options include 500 and 750 GB drives. If you opt for the Better model, you can replace the hard drive with a 256 GB SSD, or even configure your Mac mini with both the SSD and a 750 GB hard drive.
Say Goodbye to the Optical Drive
While Apple added many nice features to the Mac mini, it also took one away. Gone is the built-in optical drive. At first this was a bit of a disappointment, but I suspect Apple is going to remove the optical drive from all of its Macs as new models appear. With Apple embracing software distribution via the Mac App Store, the need for an optical drive continues to fall. Of course, if you really want one, you can always purchase an external optical drive from Apple or a third-party vendor. If you have a Mac or PC nearby, you can also use CD/DVD sharing, a built-in OS X feature that lets you use a remote Mac or PC's optical drive as if it were connected directly to your Mac mini. If you're concerned about having bootable media to perform repairs and install the OS, remember that all Intel Macs can boot from the USB port, and that USB flash drives are very inexpensive. You can even create your own Lion bootable Flash drive.
The Mac mini's HDMI port can handle displays up to 1920x1200 resolution; the package includes an HDMI to DVI adapter. If you have something a little larger in mind, you can use the Thunderbolt port to drive displays up to 2560x1600 resolution. Both ports are active and can be used to drive multiple displays. In addition, you can daisy-chain the Thunderbolt port among devices, letting the port drive a display, as well as other external devices.
The Mac mini remains the least expensive new Mac you can purchase. The 2011 model easily outperforms last year's model, with twice the processor performance and up to twice the graphics performance. The 2011 Mac mini's performance more than meets the needs of casual Mac users, and has enough left over for spirited game playing or hobbyist photo and multimedia use.