Review: Apple Mac mini 2012, Still King?

Our score: 4/5
Reviewed: February 15, 2013 2:00 PM
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Published: February 15, 2013 2:00 PM
By Alexandre Botella
Translated by: Hugh Ehreth
After years in existence, the Mac mini has been given yet another update with new, more powerful components. When we reviewed the 2011 Mac mini, we said, "Apple will have to rethink the heat management on the forthcoming generations." So, needless to say, that's one of the main things we were waiting to see on this new model.

Design


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.

Apple Mac mini (2012)
All the connectivity is still at the back of the machine, which isn't necessarily the easiest place to reach. One thing has changed, however: the four USB 2.0 ports of last year's model are now all USB 3.0.

Apple Mac mini (2012) - ports

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.

 

Processor Power


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.

 

Graphics


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.

Audio


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).

Apple Mac mini (2012) - heat

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.

4/5 Apple Mac mini (2012) DigitalVersus 2013-02-15 15:00:00

Pros

  • Processing power
  • Quality design and materials
  • Great audio in/out

Cons

  • No DVD (let alone Blu-ray) player
  • Lower graphics capabilities than 2011 model
  • Keyboard and mouse not included
  • High heat levels
  • Minor HDMI bugs (screen goes black for a couple of seconds)
  • No Fusion Drive (HDD + SSD) on the basic model

Conclusion

Even after losing its dedicated graphics card (which makes it basically useless for gaming), the 2012 Mac mini is still one of the most powerful mini-computers around. And the design is still as stylish and well-built as they come. Its low graphics capabilities are really the only reason it didn't get five stars. How 'bout an upgrade, Mr. Cook?

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