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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  • repoman27 - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    And apple is selling to you, the consumer, as a retailer... and so they mark up like a retailer... after buying at wholesale prices... that is how it works.

    BTO's have an additional cost associated with them, plain and simple. Are Apple's RAM upgrade prices ridiculous? Yes. But $150 for a 750 GB 7200 RPM 2.5" drive is not that ridiculous. The drive itself currently costs $114.98 from Newegg, who run on average far lower margins than Apple does. Apple install it for you, and then push a system image to the drive so you have Lion and iLife '11 on it. I installed one of these drives in a brand new 2010 Mac-mini, and I can attest to the fact that it is not a trivial task like replacing the RAM. Had it been a BTO option for $150 at the time, I wouldn't have hesitated.

    As for being a refresh, please point out one component on the logic board of the 2011 Mac-mini, besides perhaps the ports on the back, that were present on the 2010 model. Just because the enclosure is roughly the same physical dimensions and made from aluminum, does not mean that this isn't an entirely new beast. New OS, pretty much 100% new internals, nearly double the TDP of the previous generation in the same form factor... So yeah, I guess the engineering just pretty much took care of itself then.
  • madseven7 - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    "But $150 for a 750 GB 7200 RPM 2.5" drive is not that ridiculous. The drive itself currently costs $114.98 from Newegg, who run on average far lower margins than Apple does."
    That's way to much. They are not giving you an additonal drive they are just swapping your 500 GB drive to a 750GB drive. So they keep your old drive and use it in another system raising their margins.
  • repoman27 - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Setting aside the $55 difference in retail price between the two drives... Generally when you're selling something you set the price to a desired balance between volume and profit margin. BTO options are often expensive because the manufacturer doesn't really want to encourage them, unless they've got excess inventory they're trying to dump. There are only two models of 2.5", 750 GB, 7200 RPM drives on the market, and Apple's supply chain is likely to be somewhat constrained, so it wouldn't make sense for them to make this a no penalty upgrade.

    If you can't buy one of these yourself and pay an authorized tech to install it for you for considerably less, you'll still probably just go with the Apple option. If you're the type of person who can't bear spending an extra $95 for an upgrade that you could do yourself, you'll buy the base model and DIY. This is exactly what Apple is shooting for.

    BTO's do not raise overall margins, in general they lower them due to the loss of efficiency in producing relatively small quantities of custom configurations.
  • GotThumbs - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Yes! Its too much....... and they just cleared around 9 billion in revenue.....because others ARE willing to give their money away.
  • madseven7 - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    "There's no way they could make a decent profit selling the midrange model for $499"
    If that were the case, then you wouldn't see laptops selling for $499 including a screen and 750GB hard drive if there was no profit to be made.
  • TheAbsintheHare - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Um... I already pointed out that laptops with the same tech specs as the mid range model sell for $1000+; specifically the Sony Vaio. Find me a laptop with those specs that's $499. You can't just base a price tag on the vagueness of "It has the same size hard drive!". What kind of drive is it? Is it a slow 5400rpm drive? Is it a 6gbps SATA drive, only 3, or god forbid, an PATA drive? What kind of GPU and CPU does the laptop have? Memory speed? Peripheral connections?
  • teladoy - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    I agree actualy a lesser hackintosh was quoted at $600 but the real price I check was $670 to built a core2duo so expecting to get $499 is a dream something I suspect quicksilver does a lot.
    A mac mini with sandy bridge and no hassle kill the hackintosh movement from the root, I know I been one of them for 4 years.
    Also the hackintosh gurus were all windows user and OS X blow them to Mac.
    The reality is that is nothing there better than a Mac right now and that hit hart some people.
  • Uritziel - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Your 'reality' is hilarious. False, but hilarious.
  • quiksilvr - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    Uh, YES it IS a bad price for what you get. Why would you want laptop parts for a DESKTOP computer? If you wanted mobile parts, you would get a mobile computer.

    And you are spouting out prices that us lowly consumers get charged by the companies, not what they have to pay to make it.

    Right now you can get a lower end model laptop with specs that DECIMATE the Mac Mini for $20 less:

    More RAM, a 15.6" screen, a webcam, microphone, a keyboard and trackpad. Yeah, there's no Bluetooth but you can get USB dongles for that for under $10 now.

    As for the mid range model?

    A whopping $120 less and comes with a faster CPU and GPU, a bigger HDD, and an even bigger 17" screen.

    Mac Minis doesn't come with:
    1) A screen
    2) A dvd drive
    3) A keyboard
    4) A mouse
    5) A webcam

    And you're telling me, this isn't that bad of a price? It's an improvement from before, sure, but it's still a complete rip off.
  • Broheim - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    1) both those screens are terrible.
    2) who honestly use their dvd drive anymore, I have only used this one for OS install and nothing else.
    3) both comes with a terrible keyboard.
    4) none of those laptops comes with a mouse...
    5) again both have terrible webcams (and who really needs webcams anyway?)

    you say the first acer you linked decimates the low-end mini, but the only difference in performance between the two is 2GB of memory (which is user servicable on the mini is you can just throw another stick in there if you want to)

    and your assumption that the 480M is faster than the 2520M based solely on clock speed is laughable.

    the mini offers thunderbolt, but the Acers don't even offer USB 3

    and I'm not even taking quality (both build and parts) into account.

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