Nothing has changed design-wise. The 2012 Mac mini has the same aluminium body as the 2011 model. Still no DVD player, still no Blu-ray player. If you have a huge DVD/Blu-ray collection at home and are looking for a small-form-factor computer to play them on, you'll have to go with something else. Then again, now that most drivers and software are available online, many users won't even miss it.
But everything else is the same: FireWire 800, two optical mini-jacks (audio in and out), an RJ45 Ethernet port, a memory card reader, an HDMI out and a Thunderbolt port.
The Mac mini is sold without a keyboard or mouse, but you can buy those separately. Expect to pay £40 to £59 for one of Apple's mice and £40 to £57 for a keyboard. If you want to add an external DVD burner, the USB SuperDrive will cost you £65. These are about the same prices as when the Mac mini 2011 was released.
Please Note:The model we were sent to review is one of the most powerful models of the Mac mini, featuring an Intel Core i7-3720QM processor, 4 GB of RAM, an Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset and a Fusion Drive that combines a 1 TB hard drive (5400 rpm) and a 128 GB solid-state drive. Whereas the comments above refer to all models of the 2012 Apple Mac mini, the observations below apply only to the configuration we tested, as each model has different specifications (see inset). Individual components may also vary depending on the country/region you live in.
In 2011 the Mac mini left the world of desktops designed for productivity and home cinema only and began offering good processing power beefy enough to please the most demanding users. The Intel Core i7-3720QM processor (the same one used in some of the 15" MacBook Pro models) gives wings to this new generation. For tasks that are optimised to distribute the workload to each of the processor cores, such as 3D modelling, the eight virtual cores (4 x 2 with hyper-threading) are a real blessing. On average, they make for a roughly 60% increase in processing speed compared to the last Mac mini, giving it similar processing power to the 15" MacBook Pro with Retina Display.
The storage system has also made a major leap in responsiveness. As with the 21.5" iMac, Apple used a Fusion Drive that combines a 1 TB hard drive and a 128 GB solid-state drive. Like the Express Cache used on certain laptops, here the SSD is inaccessible to the user. The system uses it autonomously as a buffer for storing the files and apps you use most, effectively slashing a few seconds off the launch time for certain apps that otherwise would be slowed down by the 5400 rpm HDD.
Here it's the exact opposite. Probably to avoid overheating, Apple had to kiss the AMD HD 6630M bye-bye and replace it with an Intel HD 4000 graphics chipset. Except on the odd older, smaller game, the 2012 Mac mini barely treads water with video games.
Worth noting, sometimes when you plug the Mac mini into a second monitor via HDMI you lose the image for a second or two. We only ran into this twice while testing the mini, once the first time we booted the computer and once while running Cinema 4D. A quick tour of the online forums will show you that this seems to be a recurring issue when using the HDMI out on this generation of the Mac mini.
All the audio components are the same as in 2011. It has a quality audio out (with excellent dynamics and very little noise) and an audio in without the slightest trace of hiss.
Unfortunately, the speakers still deliver the same mediocre sound as in 2011. We highly recommend getting an external speaker system to go with the Mac mini. These ones are only worth using if you really have nothing better. That said, most mini-PC makers don't even bother putting speakers in at all, so...
Power Use and Heat: Hot Tamale!When asleep the 2012 Mac mini consumes just about as much energy (18 W) as the 2011 Mac mini. However, it uses just 0.3 W when turned off and 20 W while playing 720p HD video.
With most uses, the Mac mini is almost completely silent—you can only really hear it if you put your ear right up next to the machine. When you execute processor-heavy tasks, however, such as 3D modelling, the fan becomes anything but discreet at 54 dB(A).
Looking at these heat readings, it's no surprise that the fan kicks in so hard. The temperature inside the chassis goes above 70° C (158° F)! Actually, it's a good thing Apple didn't use a dedicated graphics card, because then the other components just might turn into molten lava.
So, going back to our 2011 assertion that Apple would have to rethink its heat management on the mini, let's just say they avoided total disaster, but that's all.