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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  • TheAbsintheHare - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    I, like most people around here, build my PCs and honestly this isn't a bad price for what you get. I've been surprised lately at what Apple has been offering for the amount of money they charge compared to a few years ago when their markup was near double. Laptops from other manufacturers with the same specs as the mid range model are $1000+.

    Pricing the parts out if you wanted to build something similar to the low end model yourself (using comparative performance to pick them, since these are all "mobile" type or custom parts), you'd pay about $200 for the CPU, over $100 for a motherboard with similar features, $50 to $100 for a small htpc case, depending on quality, $60 to $80 for wireless, bluetooth and ram, and $30 bucks for the operating system. That's $400 to $500 bucks; is an additional $99 - $199 markup that big of a deal to cover R&D, design, support and all that? There's no way they could make a decent profit selling the midrange model for $499.
    Reply
  • FATCamaro - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    This. Not only that but you don't see Dell/HP falling over themselves to deliver a comparable box at 500. Reply
  • CharonPDX - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Dell has a ROUGH equivalent (the Zino) to the $600 model at $500, but to get the equivalent of the $800 version, you have to pay more than $800. (In Dell's favor, that includes a Blu-ray drive, though.) Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    I don't believe the point here were markup on the default build as much as on BTO options.

    If the default model is perfect for you all is well and good.

    If it isn't you're SOL, as upgrading single components is either prohibitively expensive or flat-out impossible.

    To be fair that's a problem with all Macs though, not just the new mini.

    The Apple tax isn't too bad on brand new, standard equipped, models and second-hand value is second to none. Unfortunately you're all too often stuck with getting an entirely new computer if you want to upgrade anything past the memory and, if you're really lucky, storage.
    Reply
  • TheAbsintheHare - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Yeah, I'll admit the markup on the BTO options is pretty hefty, $150 dollars more for for a 750GB HD? But, if you really want those BTO options and don't want to pay that Apple tax, you can always just buy the parts somewhere else and install them yourself; both memory and the drives are user serviceable, no luck needed. Reply
  • Exodite - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    True, which is why I specifically mentioned memory and storage, though that's not always the case.

    With the SSD 'sleigh' and custom connectors introduced with the new iMac I wouldn't be surprised to hear of similar concern here.

    Also, the MBA has soldered memory rather than modules does it not?

    Not that I'd expect that setup to make it to the mini mind you, just illustrating the point I were making about it not being an isolated issue.
    Reply
  • name99 - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    "Unfortunately you're all too often stuck with getting an entirely new computer if you want to upgrade anything past the memory and, if you're really lucky, storage."

    If only there were a way to sell that old computer and get a decent price. Perhaps some sort of internet auction site...?

    Look, of all the arguments you can give this is the most stupid.
    (a) Apple make it TRIVIAL for you to move your entire world from one computer to another.
    (b) Have you looked at the prices for second hand Apple kit on eBay? They are REALLY good for the seller, really high.

    To any person ACTUALLY wanting to do this (as opposed to whining in blog comments) this is a complete and utter non-issue.
    Reply
  • Exodite - Thursday, July 21, 2011 - link

    I believe I specifically mentioned those exact points. In fact, I'm sure of it.

    Nonetheless the inability to customize your device cheaply and easily, or at all, as well as the need for complete replacement when upgrading remain problematic.

    The excellent second-hand value of Apple hardware mitigates the cost but it doesn't make it any less of an issue.
    Reply
  • gmcalpin - Friday, July 22, 2011 - link

    Upgrading RAM on minis is easy as pie.

    And it looks like in these new ones, upgrading the hard drives is easy enough for anyone here to handle, too — according to iFixit. They do note that you'll need to find another hard drive-to-logic board cable if you want to put in a second hard drive (and didn't order one), but it's just a matter of time before you can get those (if you can't already).
    Reply
  • sviola - Wednesday, July 20, 2011 - link

    Now, you are considering retail pricing. Do you really think that Apple pay those prices for their parts? Looking at their usual profit margin, their cost is probably around half the price they charge. So, they probably have margin to lower the price, if they ever need to.

    As for the R&D, this is a refresh, the most they did is test for thermals, as the rest was already done in the last version (design, etc).

    Not that this isn't a bad option. For the size of it and the specs, it looks very nice.
    Reply

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