The Mac mini is yet another Mac to be updated with Intel’s Sandy Bridge CPUs and Thunderbolt. The Mini saw its last update on June 15th 2010 so a refresh was widely expected and also a bit overdue. There are no major chassis changes to the new Mac mini (sans the missing CD/DVD slot). Like the previous generation, there are three models: two consumer and one server. The Mac mini lineup has been like this since late 2009 when the server model was first introduced.

Let's get to the specs:

2011 Mac Mini Specifications
  Low-end High-end Server
Processor i5-2410M (2.3GHz dual core) i5-2520M (2.5GHz dual core) i7-2635QM (2.0GHz quad core)
Graphics Intel HD 3000 with 288MB of shared DDR3 AMD Radeon HD 6630M with 256MB of GDDR5 Intel HD 3000 with 384MB of shared DDR3
RAM 2GB 1333MHz DDR3 (up to 8GB) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (up to 8GB) 4GB 1333MHz DDR3 (up to 8GB)
Storage 500GB 5400rpm 500GB 5400rpm 2x500GB 7200rpm
Ports Thunderbolt, HDMI, FireWire 800, 4x USB 2.0, SDXC card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, audio in/out Thunderbolt, HDMI, FireWire 800, 4x USB 2.0, SDXC card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, audio in/out Thunderbolt, HDMI, FireWire 800, 4x USB 2.0, SDXC card slot, Gigabit Ethernet, audio in/out
Connectivity 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0 802.11a/b/g/n, Bluetooth 4.0
Dimensions (WxDxH) 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4" 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4" 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4"
Weight 2.7lb 2.7lb 3.0lb
Price $599 $799 $999

The most obvious change is a drop in price: the entry-level Mini is now $599 and the high-end is $799, instead of $699 and $849 like the previous generation. The 2011 Mac Mini in fact adopts the old pricing model as before the 2010 update, the Minis were priced $599 and $799 respectively. The server model retains its $999 price tag. This is definitely good news.

As for the hardware updates, the two most obvious ones are Core i5 and Core i7 Sandy Bridge CPUs and Thunderbolt. Every Mini now comes with one Thunderbolt port as well, which replaces the Mini DisplayPort, just like in the 2011 MBPs. A smaller update is that all models now come with 1333MHz DDR3, similar to the rest of the Mac lineup. The consumer models also come with 500GB HDDs instead of 320GB while the server model’s storage remains unchanged (2x500GB 7200rpm).

Now the unexpected changes. First, the high-end Mini now comes with a discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630M GPU. This is the first Intel Mac mini to adopt a discrete GPU. The old PPC Mac minis used discrete GPUs but since the transition to Intel CPUs in 2006, the Mac mini has been stuck with IGPs - first Intel GMAs and then NVIDIA since early 2009. It will be interesting to see how Apple has managed to find space for the dGPU and its cooling, especially because the Thunderbolt controller is a discrete chip as well. We applaud the move though. While Intel HD 3000 was great improvement from Arrandale graphics, it’s still not all that great for gamers.

AMD 6630M is actually based on the same Whistler core as 6750M and 6770M found in MacBook Pros and iMacs. What you get is 480 shaders at 485MHz, which is 115-240MHz (19-33%) less than 6750M’s and 6770M’s. Thus the graphics performance won’t be as good as in iMac and MBP but 6630M will still be a huge step up from nVidia 320M and Intel HD 3000. There's no word on GPU clocks.

The second intriguing aspect of new Mac minis is the server model: It now comes with a quad core CPU. This appears to be the same i7-2635QM as found in $1799 15” MacBook Pro. The previous generation server model came with a 2.66GHz Core 2 Duo so this will be a huge upgrade in CPU performance. It will again be interesting to see how Apple has handled the extra heat as i7-2630QM has TDP of 45W compared to P8800‘s 25W.

Third, there is no more SuperDrive (ODD)! Apple is distributing nearly all of their software through Mac App Store now (including new OS versions), reducing the need for an optical drive.. This move is logical and I wouldn’t be surprised to see MBPs following Mac mini. There is always the option of an external ODD if you really, really need one.

Some of the BTO options are also new. The base model gets the option for a 750GB 7200rpm HDD but the high-end and server model can sport a 256GB SSD. That alone isn’t a big deal but the high-end Mini has an option for a 750GB HDD + 256GB SSD. That's not a big surprise given that the ODD is gone now so there is space for a second 2.5” HDD. Whether there will be a second SATA port in one-drive configurations is still unknown but that would leave the option of a 3rd party SSD as a boot drive. The high-end Mini also offers an optional i7-2620M (2.7GHz dual core).

All in all, the 2011 Mac mini update is a good one. There are several welcome additions to the lineup, such as a discrete GPU. The prices are a lot more reasonable now too. Before, it made very little sense to buy Mini because a few hundred more got you an iMac with better specs and IPS panel. At $599, the Mac mini makes sense and is a great option for a first time Mac buyer.

The updated Mac mini comes with Lion pre-installed (Lion Server in server model) and is available from the Apple Online Store with estimated shipping time of 24 hours.

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  • erple2 - Saturday, July 23, 2011 - link

    1) I posit that a terrible piece of additional hardware that forces you to buy a better of the same means that piece of hardware isn't worth including as a positive. Besides, I already have a high-quality 24" screen monitor.
    2) I'm with Broheim with that one - though I do rip the occasional CD that I find in buried in a box in my basement. Once it's ripped, it goes back into that dungeon, though.
    3) See note 1. The keyboard on those two laptops is ... terrible.
    4) there's no mouse on either of the two models - terrible trackpads - see note 1.
    5) Once you have kids, and far away, reasonably tech-savvy parents, you'll realize the incredible value of that webcam - grandparents LOVE to see their grandkids on a regular basis. My parents are over 2000 miles away, but they have Skype and a webcam. So I give this as the ONE advantage those laptops have over the Mac Mini.

    Note also that the Mac Mini is smaller than those laptops :)
  • gorash - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    This costs $599 U.S. dollars and it doesn't even come with Blu-Ray.
  • web2dot0 - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    I know ... it sucks ... yeah ... you are making me yawn. Your constant complaining and asking for prices they are not selling is useless. You don't like it, don't buy it. It's that simple. If there's enough people not buying it, Apple will change the pricing and feature set.

    If the product is successful, why should they care about you specifically? It's no secret that Apple does their homework on feature set and pricing, so who are you to question them given their track record of making record profits?

    Are you saying that they should make less money? You obviously don't work in the real world ....

    Objectively speaking, compared to what's available on the market today, there's really nothing that compares to Apple Mini in their form factor. Everything else out there are either much bigger or is in a laptop format. They have built themselves a niche product with no obivous competitors to dethrone them. That's why they price their product the way it is .... the lack of competition.

    Show me a product with the same spec and dimensions. I dare you. And no, don't throw me a netbook or a ITX box. They are still much bigger than the mac mini.
  • sprockkets - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Steve's been dying to get rid of the optical drive - it tarnishes his perfect computers with that unsightly hole.
  • TheAbsintheHare - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    I have to agree with him, though. Do we even have a need for them anymore? I download all my games from Steam, OS installs can be done from the Mac Store, movies come from Netflix, Amazon or the iTunes store, backups get done to the cloud or external drives, and thumb drives out trump any optical disc in size and speed for moving files from computer to computer.

    Hell, the only thing I've used my optical drive for in the last 3 years or so is to burn games for my Xbox, and that's not exactly a legit use XD

    Don't want to be one of those guys that still buys a 3.5" floppy drive for all his new builds because it's "still essential"!
  • silverblue - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    There's still definitely a use for optical drives, besides illegal burning of course. ;) There is still going to be a difference between the quality of some film you download as compared to the Blu-Ray original and not everyone has a hefty connection without limits or ridiculous traffic shaping policies. Still, there's nothing stopping people having an external optical drive for such a machine.
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    To upgrade the mid-range model from a single 500 GB hard drive to a single 750 GB hard drive costs $150.

    To upgrade the server model from TWO 500 GB hard drives to TWO 750 GB hard drives costs $100.

  • TheAbsintheHare - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    It's because the midrange model's default drive is a 5400 rpm drive, and the upgrade is a 7200 rpm drive, while the high end's default is already a 7200 rpm drive. The price itself is gouged to hell and ridiculous, but the reasoning as for why it's more expensive to upgrade a single slow drive to a larger fast drive being more expensive than upgrading two fast drives to two larger fast drives is sound.
  • LordConrad - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    I think Apple is being very shortsighted in removing the optical drive from the Mac mini. I know many people who send and receive discs with home movies and/or slideshows on them. Getting an external drive defeats that nice clean Apple look, but then Steve Jobs has never been known for thinking about the needs of others.
  • TheAbsintheHare - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Both of these items are small enough to be sent via email. Just because a few people still use something that isn't necessary doesn't mean we should avoid progress for their sake. The majority of people don't use their optical drive because there are faster, more efficient options available. I don't want to have to pay extra for an included optical drive just because grandpa doesn't understand how thumb drives work, and if you really need one, you're the minority and that's why the option to buy an external one exists.

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