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Apple Delivers Solid Update to Mac Mini

March 03, 2009 | Mel Beckman | Comments 0

By Mel Beckmanmacminifront300x250

A couple of weeks ago I posted my Mac mini wish list. I posited a predictable set of specs and my fantasy wish list. Today Apple announced a new Mac mini lineup, and the comparison with my predictions — based on no foreknowledge on my part — is interesting.

I predicted a 2 GHz processor with a 2.4 GHz option; Apple hit the 2 GHz mark and offers a 2.26 GHz option. I have to wonder why they couldn’t go all the way to 2.4 — an additional .26 GHz hardly seems worth the $150 premium Apple wants.

I also predicted 2 GB RAM standard, with a 4 GB option; Apple announced 1 GB on the entry level Mac mini, 2 GB standard on the $799 model, and a $100 4 GB upgrade from 2 GB to 4 GB (which is an extra $150 to get from 1 GB to 4 GB on the low-end mini). My wild fantasy was for an 8 GB option, which would have made the mini a primo virtualization box — 4 GB is only half way there.

I predicted a 160 GB disk on the low end with a 320 GB option; Apple delivered 120, 250, and 320 GB options. They’re pricey, though, at $100 and $175 for the upgrades, respectively. My desire was for 500 GB and 1 TB disk options; OEMs can get 1 TB for under $100, after all. I sought an eSata port as well, but Apple blew that no-brainer. It’s just a cable, really, and the new mini backplane has tons of empty space on it now that the full-size DVI connector is gone.

Video Surprisemacminiback400x140

Which brings me to a surprise in the video department. I predicted the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with support for 2560 x 1600 displays via an Apple MiniDisplay port, but Apple blessed the new Mac mini with two video ports: a mini-DVI (with the adapter included!), as well as the anticipated Apple Mini DisplayPort. And they can be used simultaneously. This is good news for the homebrew DVR crowd — you can use one port for an HDTV (and low-end 24″ computer monitors with 1080p resolution can be had for under $500 these days). Optionally, you can leverage the two ports in the traditional way with two monitors for a hugely expanded desktop.

Some other minor gifts: Apple added a SuperDrive that can write DL DVDs in the low-end mini, upgraded Firewire 400 to 800, includes five (up from four) USB 2.0 ports, and bumped the system bus from 667 MHz to 1066 MHz. That last item is actually a pretty huge benefit, and it’s probably key to Apple’s claimed five-fold improvement in video performance.

In my most unrealistic expectations, I hoped for an Intel QuadCore option, HD video input, a digital TV tuner, and a BD-ROM option for playing Blu-ray disks. I was also hoping the economic downturn would encourage Apple to return to its original $499 entry level price. No go on any of those daydreams, although to be fair, Apple spent quite a bit of effort making the new Mac mini greener by removing toxic materials, improving recyclability, and cutting idle power drain by 45 percent. Green features cost green money.

The new mini is not the Apple of my eye, but it’s better than a sharp stick!

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About the Author: Mel Beckman is an editor at large for WickedCoolTech, a freelance technology writer, and a network engineering consultant based in Santa Barbara, CA. An unrepentant gadget addict, Mel's personal interests include playing classical and flamenco guitar, flying helicopters, and marine biology -- but not all at the same time.

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