The Mac mini is the only Apple desktop that costs less than $1,000. Two versions are available and both review well, although critics prefer the 2.5 GHz version, with its 4 GB of RAM and discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630M graphics processor, over the 2.3 GHz version (*Est. $600 and up) that comes with 2 GB of RAM and graphics integrated into the CPU. Each has a 500 GB hard drive. Experts say the inclusion of second-generation Intel "Sandy Bridge" Core i5 processors has drastically improved the mini's performance capabilities, and it can now even assume the role of a household's primary PC.
The Mac mini's HDMI output makes it a good addition to a home theater, but the lack of an optical drive upsets many reviewers. The 2.5 GHz version can hold its own playing mainstream games -- a first for the mini -- thanks to its discrete GPU. Even with the improved performance, some critics question the mini's overall value, especially considering that you can find small-scale PCs for less. The fact that you have to buy a keyboard, mouse and display separately doesn't help the value proposition. If you prefer a PC, reviewers say the Acer Revo RL100-UR20P (*Est. $570) looks like it belongs in an entertainment center and includes tons of features that make it a great option for media streaming and light computing, although it isn't really a gaming computer. Pluses include a Blu-ray drive, a slate-type wireless remote and an even larger 750 GB hard drive
Numerous reviewers have tested and evaluated both versions of the latest Mac mini. AnandTech.com, PCMag.com, Macworld and CNET have the most detailed reviews of the 2.5 GHz model, while SlashGear.com offers commentary on its use as a home theater system. BestBuy.com and Amazon.com users offer their opinions on the desktop, as do users who responded to PCMag.com's annual user satisfaction survey.
Dan Frakes pens a long, detailed review covering every aspect of the 2011 Mac mini. He conducts extensive benchmark testing and finds that the 2.5 GHz mini vastly outperforms the 2010 model, especially in tasks that require heavy CPU utilization. He gives the diminutive desktop a 4 out of 5 star rating, but says that the entry-level iMac (*Est. $1,200) may be a more worthwhile Apple purchase if you need to buy peripherals for the peripheral-less Mac mini.
Review: New Mac minis Deliver Serious Performance, Dan Frakes, Aug. 3, 2011
The Mac mini receives an Editors' Choice award from PCMag.com. Joel Santo Domingo says "The new iteration is now powerful enough to take over as that primary PC in your house." He reports significantly improved benchmark scores over last year's model.
Review: Apple Mac mini (Thunderbolt), Joel Santo Domingo, Sept. 22, 2011
The new Mac mini earns a favorable, but not enthusiastic, review from Rich Brown at CNET. He admits the 2011 model's CPU upgrade gives it a much-improved performance boost, but dislikes the lack of an optical drive and points out that the mini "offers suspect value compared with Windows PCs in the same price range."
Review: Apple Mac Mini (2.5GHz Core i5, Summer 2011), Rich Brown, July 20, 2011
The Mac mini gets very favorable reviews from Amazon.com users; the vast majority gives the desktop a perfect 5-star score. Users love the system's performance, quietness and small form factor. They don't seem as disturbed by the lack of an optical drive as many reviewers are.
Review: Apple Mac Mini MC816LL/A Desktop (Newest Version), Contributors to Amazon.com
The Mac mini reviews at BesyBuy.com aren't quite as numerous as the ones at Amazon.com, but they are just as enthusiastic. Users say the mini is fast, silent and small, and the overwhelming majority one would recommend the product to a friend.
Review: Apple - Mac mini / Intel Core i5 Processor / 4GB Memory / 500GB Hard Drive, Contributors to BestBuy.com
In this spirited commentary, Don Reisinger argues that the Mac mini is still the best choice for a home theater PC despite its lack of an optical drive. He argues that the mini delivers a better combination of media and computing use than straightforward media streamers like the Roku player or Apple TV and says that many people already have devices in their living rooms that can already play optical discs, such as Blu-ray players and video game consoles.
Review: The New Mac Mini is Still Best Choice for the Living Room, Don Reisinger, July 21, 2011
PCMag.com's annual survey is a good indicator of user satisfaction with devices from manufacturers. Although the mini's results aren't specifically cited, Apple comes out tops in every reviewed category, including percentage needing repairs, tech support strength, and overall satisfaction. However, writer Ben Gottesman notes that Apple users are less satisfied with their repairs than they were in last year's category, despite Apple's first-spot ranking in the category.
Review: Readers' Choice Awards 2011: Desktops and Laptops, Ben Gottesman, April 27, 2011