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Besides from sounding like a waterproof anorak for children, the Mac Mini is actually quite a good machine. I mean it is small, metallic, can browse the internets and be used a weapon of blunt force trauma easily due to it's weight and size. It is more than a computer, it is a multi-purpose object that is attractive to boot, so after causing a brain haemorrhage you can set it back down again and use it to continue streaming that video of the Panda being shocked by her cub sneezing, with its flawless lines unaffected.
I want you to picture how big it is in your head. You got it? Now erase that from your minds because you are wrong. It is actually smaller than that. How on earth Apple managed to squeeze so much into a form factor so small, only their engineers will know. This thing is no slouch, it has hardware to push them pixels for your HD video playback needs and enough RAM to have the whole thing run smoothly and serenely.
Don't get me wrong, there is plenty wrong with this machine, like for instance how many people despise the fact that it is an Apple device, and I understand because it is priced off its arse, but still Apple managed to shift many of these units. This is because Apple places style over substance, and then charges way too much for the damn things. You could probably get a cheaper or even make your own cheaper Mini Windows PC with equivalent specs if you wanted. With barebones systems available that you could spec up for much cheaper, you would think only vain, idiotic, rich retards would buy this machine.
You're reading the review from one those kind of idiots now, minus the rich part as I bought mine on finance.
I am such a magpie where I would buy something because of how cool it looks or how shiny it is. I perform the same cardinal sin with books where I automatically judge it by its cover and not by its content. I am not like this with people, but with objects I just cannot help it. I saw the Mac Mini and fell in love with it immediately because I knew, deep inside, that no matter how much I spent on a Windows PC, I would never be able to recreate that same slim, small, tiny foot-print, brushed aluminium super wonder box that Apple had made. So I got one.
It was the middle of 2011 and my existing Media Centre Windows PC was basically on it's last legs, so I decided to purchase or set up a new one to replace it. As I searched online for possibilities, the main recommendation from my nerd friends was to avoid Apple at all costs, because Apple were anti-technology and all different kinds of evil. I didn't heed their warnings of course because I saw the Mac Mini and I immediately lusted after it. I bought mine during a strange period when the Mac Mini was going through a state change. I have the 2010 model, but I bought it literally a week before the 2011 was announced and my finance application was still pending. An Apple Agent emailed me and asked if I would like to have the newer model instead of the older one, plus the cheapest new version was cheaper than the cheapest current version. I asked her what the difference was, and I was sold on it for a while, it had better processor, faster graphics, but one thing made me stay with the 2010 version. The 2011 model had no DVD drive. I had to scratch my head at that, why did Apple remove the DVD drive from the machine? This was going to be my living room's main PC, how can it be there without a DVD drive? Sure, the 2011 model is smaller as a result, which was cool, but I have many DVD movies and stuff hat I may want to put inside the machine and watch. The Apple Agent then said I could get the 2011 model and do a thing called DVD sharing where I shared a DVD drive from another Mac computer for the Mac Mini to access. That just blew my mind, they wanted me to buy another Mac computer, one with a DVD drive like the iMac, just to share the DVD drive to my Mac Mini? What nonsense was this? It was simply a ploy to make more money out of us, like them
Front and back
annoying DLC things for games that are simply the work of money grabbing Satanists.
I realised later it was more than just a way to make more money from us, and in fact it was because Apple were pushing for us to use Cloud storage and download more digital media from iTunes so that there can be no more resale of discs in the 2nd hand market. It has become more sinister than just 'buy more of our products', it's now become 'buy more of our products and you are not allowed to sell them on afterwards'.
But I digress, this is about the Mac Mini 2010 model, so despite the setback of a new model being released at the same time when I wanted a Mac Mini, I got the 2010 model. The model with the DVD drive, the model that wasn't as fast but was still more than fast enough for what I needed it for, a model that takes the forced digital only download and DVD sharing bull crap and sticks it where the sun doesn't shine. Most of you reading this are wondering why I put up with this when Apple clearly are a menace to modern technology, but as I mentioned before, I am a magpie, and they did make a really pretty midget machine.
When I got the machine, it was boxed in Apple's typical small white box with large pictures of the machine on the box itself, just in case you didn't know what was inside it or could not read the words Mac Mini superimposed on it. It was packaged very well, not a lot of space was wasted so Apple looked like one of them material saving Angels that they like to advertise themselves as. However, once I got inside the box, I saw the horrible truth, the truth that the machine came with everything you needed, except for one thing. You get the brushed aluminium machine, a figure-8 power cable, a HDMI to DVI adaptor, some manuals and some software DVDs. This machine's main method of displaying video was with aHDMI, and yet Apple saw fit that we did not get the required HDMI cable with the machine. Why? Was it shy of the power cable being longer than it or something?
The machine itself is a wondrous thing to look at, measuring in at 3.6 cm H × 20 cm W × 20 cm D, it was a squat little metallic object of desire. At the front was a thin slot for DVD insertion and the power LED was just to the right of it. There is a black Apple logo on the top of the device, which I felt was wasted because Apple could have fitted a light-emitting one like on their Macbooks. At the back are four USB 2.0 ports, 1 FireWire 800 port, 1 gigabit Ethernet port, an SDXC card slot, a mini DisplayPort, a HDMI port, a mic in, and an audio/earphone out port. As you would notice, no DVI port, hence the need for the HDMI to DVI adaptor to be included. At the bottom of the machine is where it gets interesting as it allows easy access to the RAM modules for self-upgrading if you're so inclined. It sits behind this large, round rubber slab with 2 divots to make it easy to remove. You simply turn it anti-clockwise and it clicks open then you lift it off. The machine takes up to 2 laptop SO-DIMM DDR3 modules, so in theory you could put in 16GB of RAM, if you could afford it.
It is very simple to set up, especially as this was to be my main living room PC, I just had to buy a HDMI cable from Argos for £10, plug it into my TV, put it somewhere discreet (or not if you want to show it off), and then turn it on. Switch the TV channel to the HDMI channel the machine is plugged into, and you're done, it switches on and you can see the intro animation playing on the screen for the first time. It couldn't be easier if they had an engineer over to plug it in for you.
Once the machine had booted into Mac OS X Snow Leopard, it was very fast. It has for its innards a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, a NVIDIA GeForce 320M graphics chip, 2GB of RAM, and a 320GB hard drive. This allows the machine to be pretty swift yet it hardly ever needs the built-in fan to spin up, which amazed me because it meant it was usually very quiet. I needed to look at the power LED to make sure that it was still on during long periods away from the living room (like being at work). Of course, this is partly due to Mac OS X being a fast operating system, but it has good hardware that would play 1080P videos without issue.
First boot up does need 20 or so minutes to set up properly as the display uses a default resolution and the audio playback is using the Mac Mini's built-in speaker, which is extremely weedy and pathetic. For me it was simple as I have spent over 10 thousand pounds on a Computing degree to learn how to navigate and set up systems like this, so of course I did not waste any of that hard earned, loaned money. Simply go to Settings, and the audio and display controls would be available there. For Audio, you simply change the output to HDMI TV and the sounds should start streaming through the HDMI cable to your TV. If you are using a PC, thus using the HDMI to DVI adaptor, then just plug your speakers into the headphone port at the back. The video set up is a little trickier as you get many choices, mainly 720P, 1080P, and a handful of other computer resolutions. You could select the actual TV screen's expected resolution, i.e. like most 720P TVs actually have a full resolution of 1366 x 768, but I tend to go for 720P or 1080P as with them you can perform over or underscanning, which allows you to stretch the video over the areas of the TV that could display something, but isn't due to the TV being anal about the signal.
One of the main benefits of the machine, besides the smallness and the near silent operation is the power consumption. I have one of those British Gas power meter things, and I can report that in idle when not doing anything it takes up about 45W, and when under load it peaks out at about 80-90W. That, my friends, is very little power usage. I have a gaming PC with a 800W PSU, and that, even at idle, uses up 350W, so the fact that the Mac Mini draws hardly 100W and is able to playback 1080P videos just astounds me. Some of you may say that that wasn't a fair comparison, and you're right since they are meant for totally different things, so how about this. I had a Shuttle PC with a 1.8GHz Core 2 Duo once, onboard VIA graphics and 2GB of RAM as well for living room duties, and that used about 150W on idle, plus it stuttered on 1080P playback.
On the whole, after using it for a while, I really liked the machine. Mac OS X Snow Leopard is very easy to pick up, the main thing is that you set aside any Windows related computer preconceptions you're used to and enter the Mac world with an open mind, then you'll find the interface rather easy to use and master. Programs (or Apps I guess as Apple likes to call them) are very easy to install, most of them are literally drag and drop and you're done. Most apps are images that are mounted as drives to the desktop, to unmount them to simply drag them to the rubbish bin at the bottom right hand corner and they are gone. My recommended program is VLC as that plays most of your media files without fail.
Then we get to the flaws of the device, and we do have a few.
The machine is silent, or as near to silent as is possible, but when you insert a disc into the DVD drive, prepare yourself for the loudest, most vibrating noise ever known to mankind. It happens on my gaming PC as well, but that is drowned out by my fans and loud sounds of gunfire, but for this machine it is just deafening. The drive reads very quickly and it is great with DVD movies, but the noise it generates can actually ruin a movie watching experience during low volume dialogue scenes.
Also, the DVD drive doesn't read all recordable media equally. Original pressed DVDs are fine, but for any recordable media lie DVD-R or DVD+R, it depends on the quality of the disc and the quality of the drive that wrote onto the disc. I tried to show some family pictures I had backed up on a DVD-R disc that read fine on all my other computers, but after placing it into the Mac Mini, it span for a while and then spat it out again for no reason. This is very annoying especially when you have no other method of displaying on the TV screen.
My other gripe is the fact that it doesn't come with a method of controlling the machine out of the box. From the design of the machine, it is clear that it was meant to be plugged into a TV as the HDMI port is the only mainstream method of connecting it to a display device without an adaptor. In that case it should have factored this in and provided maybe a remote control for it or something. Instead, if this was your first computer, you would be cursing Apple as you made your way back to the store to buy a keyboard and mouse/trackpad for it in order to set it up. I was lucky as I am one of those computer nerds that sees the world in ones and zeroes, so I had plenty of USB keyboards and mice to set it up, and I had my PS3 bluetooth keyboard/mouse to connect to it afterwards for wireless normal usage. Setting up bluetooth connection was very easy thanks to the Bluetooth Assistant, but my complaint here was that it should have provided something out of the box, or at the very least provided ample warning.
The OS is very fast and easy to use, and as I purchased it during the period of transition from current to new Mac Mini, they gave me a free upgrade to Mac OS X Lion, which was supposed to be better, faster and more brilliant in every way. The thing is, is that it is digital only so you have to download it, and then after it is installed, it slows down your machine immensely because it accesses your hard drive constantly. You would hear the hard drive whirring away for days. Also, programs that used to work before on Snow Leopard, such as Peggle or Plants VS Zombies, all of a sudden stopped working in Lion because of the version change. I hate that, it is just a small step upward in the version 10 series, why remove compatibility to apps made for a slightly earlier version? I downgraded back to Snow Leopard immediately.
Finally, I disliked the fact that only the RAM is easily accessible, but everything else requires a doctorate in molecular engineering to allow you access to it. The hard drive, the DVD drive, these things are hidden away and very difficult to access, so if any one of them goes wrong, you either need spare fingers that get cut off as you try to change them, or take it to an Apple dealer and get charged out of your wallet to repair or replace that part. Yes, it is the price you pay for such a lovely form factor, but if they could make the RAM easy to access... you get my point.
So in conclusion, yes it has its fair share of flaws, but overall I am very happy with the device. It looks good, it is fast and it uses very little electricity. I love the fact that it looks stylish in my living room and not some sort of lump like my previous Shuttle PC. True, it is an Apple device and my inner pro-Windows nerd is telling me that owning one is wrong, but what we have here is a nerd that likes shiny things, and then discovering that it is actually rather user friendly. It's flaws keep it from having a maximum score, but if you gave this machine a go you may find yourselves oddly likely it as well.
So, how much does this little metal box of magnificence cost? Well, it is the old model so you cannot buy it from the website any more, but when I got it, it was £529 for the cheapest model, the one I am reviewing now. I got a further £50 off of it because I complained that it took the Apple Agent too long to reply to my emails, especially since she emailed me first about the newer model, so it actually costed me a little less. I've had a look and you could get one of these for less than £400, sometimes less than £300 now second hand off eBay or Amazon, and at that price you can't complain about it being more expensive than an equivalent mini Windows PC. Besides, even if it was it wouldn't look as good.
Quick note: What's that? Why not buy one of them SMART BluRay machines that uses even less power and lets me watch movies for cheaper? You mean those machines that let you browse the internet effortlessly with HTML 5 support and allows you to play casual games when the mood strikes you? Oh they don't? Exactly.