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2006 Mac mini Review

Apple updated the Mac mini in September 2006 with new Core Duo processors and more expansion options. The low-end $599 Mac mini now includes a 1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor, while the high-end $799 model uses a 1.83GHz Intel Core Duo CPU. Both models include support for up to 2GB of RAM, feature four USB 2.0 ports, a FireWire port, Gigabit Ethernet, as well as digital optical and analog audio in/out.

Mac mini Model Chart:


1.83GHz Intel Core Duo processor
2MB L2 Cache
667MHz Frontside Bus
80GB Serial ATA hard drive?
Double-layer SuperDrive
Built-in AirPort Extreme & Bluetooth 2.0
Apple Remote

sku MA608LL/A

MSRP $799


1.66GHz Intel Core Duo processor
2MB L2 Cache
667MHz Frontside Bus
60GB Serial ATA hard drive?
Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW)
Built-in AirPort Extreme & Bluetooth 2.0
Apple Remote

sku MA607LL/A

MSRP $599

Mac mini Core Duo

by Charles W. Moore

The Mac mini currently holds the dubious distinction of being the Mac model that has gone longest without a significant specification enhancement, and the last that hasn't been updated to Core 2 Duo or better Intel CPUs, the mini's most recent refreshment being a speed bump of the now more than a year-old Core Duo models that was announced September 6, 2006.

The $799 Mac mini includes a 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo processor and the $599 model comes with 1.66 GHz Intel Core Duo processor, both with 512 MB of RAM standard. Both models support up to 2GB of RAM, have four USB 2.0 ports, one FireWire 400 port, Gigabit Ethernet, and digital optical plus analog audio in/out.

The Intel Core Duo, which is pretty much last year's CPU news, powers the the Mac mini to run up to four times faster than earlier G4 powered minis. According to testing conducted by Apple in August 2006 using preproduction Mac mini units with 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo; all other systems were production 1.42 GHz G4 units. Estimated SPECint_rate_base2000 score: 30.8. Estimated SPECfp_rate_base2000 score: 26.3. SPEC is a registered trademark of the Standard Performance Evaluation Corporation (SPEC); see http://www.spec.org for more information. Benchmarks were compiled using the IBM and Intel compilers for Mac OS. Aside from last year's processors, the mini is hobbled in the video department by Intel's kludgy Graphics Media Accelerator 950 video technology, that annexes up to 80 MB of the computer's system RAM for video support. This cost-reducing scheme, disparagingly referred to by some as "vampire video," results in comparatively pedestrian video performance.

Inside its charmingly diminutive 2-inch tall, 6.5-inch square anodized aluminum enclosure, Mac mini houses the Intel Core Duo processor, a 60 or 80GB hard drive, slot-loading Combo or SuperDrive, as well as built-in wireless.

The Mac mini actually has a lot more in common with the MacBook than its desktop Mac stablemates. For instance, the mini has a laptop-type 2.5 hard drive, a typical laptop array of I/O ports, a laptop-style optical drive, and the mini CPU weighs a pound and a half less than the lightest laptop Apple ever made.

The thematic concept behind the Mac mini is that it facilitates an economical way to switch to the Mac platform from a Windows PC or upgrading an older Mac desktop setup, while retaining the investment you have in a monitor, keyboard, pointing devices, and other peripherals, which can just be plugged into the mini CPU module and you're good to go. If you don't already have a desktop computer setup, the economics are more dubious, especially given the mini's current rather anaemic specifications.

The 1.66 GHz dual core Mac mini starts at $599, and Apple's wired keyboard & Mighty Mouse Kit is $78. Apple's cheapest 20" Cinema Display sells for a whopping $699, but you can get a plain vanilla 17" flat panel display from Philips, Sony, Dell, or Acer for around $200 which would bring you up up to just $877 - or $122 less than the base $999 1.83 GHz iMac, which comes with a really nice built-in 17" display, has a 160 GB 3.5" desktop hard drive, and a 24x Combo drive. It's not hard to divine where the value lies in this saw-off. While I really like the Mac mini concept, it really doesn't compete with its iMac sibling on a value per dollar basis if you have to buy a monitor and input devices.

And if your wallet will stand it, an even better value is the $1,199 2.0 GHz 17" iMac, which comes with a real ATI Radeon X1600 graphics processing unit with 128MB of dedicated video SDRAM plus a DVD-burning 8X SuperDrive.

If you're a laptop aficionado, the Mac mini does offer as close to the laptop virtues as we've seen yet in a desktop computer. The latest category trend in automobiles is the crossover - a sort of melding of the SUV concept with conventional sedans and station wagons. Arguably, the Mac mini represents a computer crossover category - the transportable computer.

Whether a Mac mini is for you will depend on your individual needs and tastes, but my advice would be to take a good hard look at one of the iMacs before taking out the plastic.

Mac mini At a Glance

• 1.66 GHz or 1.83 GHz Intel Core Duo processor
• 2MB L2 Cache
• 667MHz Frontside Bus
• 512MB memory (667MHz DDR2 SDRAM) expandable up to Up to 2GB
• 60GB or 80 GB Serial ATA hard drive
• Combo drive (DVD-ROM/CD-RW) or Double-layer SuperDrive (DVD+R DL/DVD±RW/CD-RW)
• Built-in AirPort Extreme and Bluetooth 2.0
• Apple Remote with Front Row
• Intel GMA 950 graphics processor
• DVI connector, VGA adapter
• Built-in Gigabit Ethernet
• Analog and digital audio
• Expansion via USB and FireWire
• iLife ’06, Mac OS X Tiger

For more information, visit: http://www.apple.com/macmini/

Mac mini photos: http://www.apple.com/macmini/gallery/