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ArsTechnica Reviews The Intel Mac Mini (Core Solo) 58

phaedo00 writes "Ars Technica has put together a review of the recently announced Intel-powered Mac mini. The model reviewed was the public's first look at a Core Solo desktop from Apple and the results are promising: 'Up until Apple's "fun" announcement on the last day of February, there was really no indication of how Apple's low-end Intel offerings would be presented. Now that Apple has disclosed the specification and price points for their entry-level machines, we can get a better idea of where Apple is trying to take their product line. For those people who might be unaware, two new Mac Mini models were released and by most accounts, the products have been well received aside from a few quibbles over specifications.'"
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ArsTechnica Reviews The Intel Mac Mini (Core Solo)

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  • Upgradable (Score:5, Informative)

    by tak amalak ( 55584 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @10:24AM (#14857921)
    I'm happy it's al least processor upgradable. See here [xtremesystems.org]. Upgrading the processor would speed the internal graphics as well. Not a bad little bugger.
    • If you were going to go to all that trouble you could almost build a mini-itx system with the specs you wanted instead. You wouldn't get OS X I know, but don't all slashdoters replace that with linux anyways?
      • Re:Upgradable (Score:3, Informative)

        by Binestar ( 28861 )
        You wouldn't get OS X I know, but don't all slashdoters replace that with linux anyways?

        You're behind the times. No, most slashdotters won't replace OS X with linux. Hell, most slashdotters use windows.
      • Re:Upgradable (Score:4, Interesting)

        by BenjyD ( 316700 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @10:38AM (#14858084)
        I think a lot of Slashdotters are going in the other direction, linux to OSX.
        • I did.

          which is not to say that I don't have Linux on my powermac, but it certainly gets used a lot less than OS X.

      • by NDPTAL85 ( 260093 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:08AM (#14858372)
        The thing is, OS X is like Linux only without the headaches and politics.

        Linux is like OS X, without the ease of use and reality of actually getting things done in a timely manner.
      • by tigersha ( 151319 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:23AM (#14858539) Homepage
        No, I know one Slashdotter who decided to splurge on a Powerbook after Suse screwed him over for the nth time and X was still not working. Me.

        And he will never go back to Linux on a Desktop.

        Linux is free as in beer. Not bloody likely. Linux is free as in Syphilis.
        • Linux is free as in Syphilis.

          ROFL.. QFT!
        • Well I know someone else who was convinced to buy a PowerBook, and he ended up running Linux on it because he couldn't stand OS X. Having played with OS X86 myself I can see why.
          • Don't buy into the new microtroll game, Linux vs Apple. Microsoft is clearly coming under more and more preassure and there is plenty of market to go around for both Linux and Apple, as microsoft is losing control (everybody is realising that microsoft has no customers, just victims).

            Currently both OS's complement each other as they target different markets, it's just that they both target markets microsoft is in.

            There is even the future possible oppurtunity to load the Apple GUI on top of the Linux ker

    • by snuf23 ( 182335 )
      "Upgrading the processor would speed the internal graphics as well."

      The graphics chip will not gain any new features. The only video operations that will be faster are things that are CPU dependant, where the CPU is your bottleneck. The bus speed stays the same after the upgrade which means the video chip has the same bandwidth to the system memory.
      • You are correct. I was under the impression that the internal graphics was partially dependant on the CPU. Thanks for clearing that up.
  • by Hamster Lover ( 558288 ) * on Monday March 06, 2006 @10:31AM (#14858021) Journal
    I have a 1.42 G4 Mac Mini with 512 MB and was very impressed with the Intel version. Apple managed to counter every complaint with an improvement -- SPDIF audio in and out, additional USB ports, SATA hard drive, etc. I expect to buy one within the next few months and retire my G4 to the living room for use a VLC media centre.

    My only disappointment was the integrated video. I was hoping for something better than the Intel chipset, and it's shared video memory to boot.

    Someone convince me I am wrong...
    • by Golias ( 176380 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @10:44AM (#14858153)
      Someone convince me I am wrong...

      Wish I could. It seems to be everybody's "only problem" with the machine. It would be a sweet little media unit if they even managed to slap in fair-to-middlin' 128 MB video card.

      As it is, it's an awesome li'l feller for a lot of headless tasks (as an example, my old G4 mini has been rack-mounted as an audio processor, and is only accessed via VNC on the Airport card), but it still falls just barely short of being a media center "dream system."

      Lucky for me, with my projector at the back of the room and a re-arranged coat closet next to it, I have plenty of space for a dual-G5 tower... but I feel a little sympathy for mac-heads who need something small and unobtrusive in their living-room TV cabinets, yet still want full HDTV resolutions and maybe the occasional 3D gaming experience. The new mini seems to come about 90% of the way to meeting their needs.
      • I thought the max resolution was 1920 x 1200, with max HD resolution being 1920 x 1080.

        I'm planning to buy one, and if this is wrong that's a deal-breaker.

        -Peter
        • It can display at that resolution, sure, but it's a question of performance when decoding H.264 files (or naked MPEG-2 files) on the fly.

          It's also a question of what frame-rate and resolution it can handle when playing games.

          The bump in CPU power over the old mini is significant, but the hit to the system from having a shared-memory GPU is a step in the opposite direction, where anything video-intensive is concerned.

          I'm waiting to hear what happens when somebody hooks up an EyeTV 500 to it, and pulls up the
          • Intel claims the GMA 950 (I think that's the one in the mini) can do hardware MPEG-2, but no mention of hardware h.264. That was my biggest surprise - if Apple is going to push h.264 as hard as it seems they (and everyone else) will, you'd think they'd put a h.264 hardware card in there, like any of ATi's X-00 and X1-00 or nVidia's 7000 series (and maybe the 6000s).
          • by heinousjay ( 683506 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @02:57PM (#14860832) Journal
            I'm not sure how you picked up an informative mod, since you asked questions and provided no information, but such is Slashdot.

            Anywho: I couldn't tell you how it would do with an MPEG-2 stream at 1920x1080, but I do know my Core Duo mini plays 1080p H.264 QuickTime movies at full resolution with no frame dropping.

            So far as games: who buys a Mac to play games in the first place? And when people do buy a gaming PC, do they typically go for the lowest end machine available? Personally, I'd have to answer no to both of those questions, so the gaming contention doesn't really make sense here.
    • From the reviews I've seen it isn't any worse than the previous Mac Mini's performance. Indeed the Intel GMA950 has quite good specs (for integrated graphics) on paper, but typical reviews on Windows have shown the real world performance (drivers?) to suck. Are the drivers Apple's created/adapted just as bad though?

      However for most uses beyond a surf/email box, it seems the 1GB upgrade is a must now, as the GPU will eat quite a bit.

      And for 720p/1080i/1080p the Core Duo variant seems to be a safer choice tha
      • On the old G4 mini, my experience was that Quicktime generally out-performed VLC (which seemed to out-perform MPlayer). YMMV.

        I was always under the impression that the problem with integrated graphics was that the cooperative sharing of memory between the CPU and GPU created a performance hit. That's not really something you can get around by writing "better drivers." It's just the nature of the beast.
    • My only disappointment was the integrated video. I was hoping for something better than the Intel chipset, and it's shared video memory to boot.

      That was my initial reaction as well, having dealt with shared memory video of yore. But I noticed this one shares 667MHz DDR2 memory, so it's going to be a "less bad" shared memory implementation if it's even bad at all. I realize there are certain games for which no video memory bus or GPU is fast enough, but I've outgrown those particular needs myself. OK, wel
  • The only really important thing to me is that they improved on the atrociously poor HDD of the original Mini. About 80% of the beach-ball-spinning I've had to endure would just go away, and videos wouldn't immediately start stuttering whenever any other program at all touched the HDD. Compiling software should also be much quicker, which is another gripe I have.
    • by Slashcrap ( 869349 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:18AM (#14858488)
      Compiling software should also be much quicker, which is another gripe I have.

      I expect that's exactly why they put a faster HDD in there. I bet Apple were just sick of getting thousands of support calls from first time buyers about how slowly Emacs was compiling.

      In fact, that's probably why they sacrificed a better graphics chip. They just had to get those compile times down for the end user.
  • Interesting article (since I'm a potential buyer :-), however, they didn't included the new Mac Mini CoreDuo for most of their benchmarks, only the new Mac Mini CoreSolo. I don't understand why, but that's clearly a limitation of the review.
    • You can infer the performance of the Core Duo from iMac and MacBook Pro reviews. The benchmarks also highlight the MBP and iMac, so there really was no need to talk about the Mac Mini Core Duo.

      However no such review of a Core Solo machine exists because, as far as I know, there are no other Core Solo machines.
    • I'd have liked to see that to, plus some "Fly-By" FPS benchmarks for a few popular games.

      Right now, the integrated graphics thing looks like a deal-breaker, and I was actually waiting for Ars, of all people, to do a decent, unbiased, comprehensive review that would at least answer the question. As it was, I don't feel any better informed having read it.

  • A couple weeks back I ordered a refurbished Mac Mini (I buy all my Apple stuff as refurbished--I think the "new car price" is significantly too high) and was very disappointed. It was a G4 1.4GHz with 512MB of RAM and ran as slow as molasses. I understand that this is a "low end" machine, but the machine was so slow as to be barely usable. Despite the fact that the processor speed is close to that of my PowerBook (at 1.5), startup, opening apps, and performing routine tasks was excruciating. There was a per
    • Your input is quite useful, but if you spent $x on a machine and weren't happy with it, why would you spend MORE money buying something else from the same company?
      • Several points:

        1. I'm not sure why the current Mini had problems: The G4 was older tech and had limited memory. In addition, it was a refurb, so it's possible that the problem was something that wasn't resolved before it was sent out again. I had hoped that it would suffice for a living room media PC, despite the former. I haven't had problems with refurbs before, so I wasn't expecting the latter. From some research I've done, it seems most likely that my experience is unusual, so I suspect that this is a m
        • Have you tried running XBench on your Mini? A particularly low score in some area might indicate a specific hardware problem. On one of my PCs, one hard disk has slowed incredibly, despite still reading and writing (apparently) correctly.
    • by Anonymous Coward
      My mini has the same specs as you except double the RAM, and it's fairly snappy (not as nice as my G5 tower with 1.5 GB RAM, but still very usable). I think it's most likely just insufficient memory. I've had bad luck in the past with Apple's "minimum RAM" configurations.
    • I've got a G4 mini with 512MB and it's running fine. I've got Azureus, Adium, Colloquy, iTunes, and Firefox open and none of them slow down (except when azureus fills it's cache and hits the HD). Azureus and Firefox did take 8 and 5 bounces to start up, but then they run great. I could also probably fire up VLC and watch an episode of Lost with no problems. Either something is wrong with your machine or you're expecting too much.
  • Ohmygod (Score:2, Funny)

    by zpok ( 604055 )
    Ohmygod, more hype!!!!!!!!!!!!!! ;-)
  • by frankie ( 91710 ) on Monday March 06, 2006 @11:33AM (#14858632) Journal
    ...is that the OLD mini G4 had damn poor graphics of its own. Remember, we're comparing to a 32MB (yes, 32) ATI 9200.

    For example, MacWorld's game benchmark results. In UT 2004 (at default quality settings) the new mini gets a pathetic 10-12fps ... whereas the old mini got 14fps, gee so much better.

    Also, the new mini will get FASTER in the months ahead. For starters, upgrading to paired DIMMs will use the dual-channel bus, which is always a boost for shared-memory IGPs. Secondly, the Intel compilers for Mac are on the way.

    Sure, a mini with GF 6200 or Radeon X200 would be better, but GMA950 is not the apocalypse some have been claiming.
    • > For starters, upgrading to paired DIMMs will

      They ship paired anyway.

      > the Intel compilers for Mac are on the way.

      Nope... they've been around for months.
    • Neither the Intel compilers nor the DIMMs will make any difference (Apple is using GCC and the DIMMs are already paired.)

      That's not to say they will not get faster. They will. Applications that use Rosetta, right now, will crawl on the Core Solo and look "Ok, but nothing spectacular" on the Duo. In time, more and more such apps will become Universal Binaries.

      As far as the UT2004 comparison you make, it's worth noting that comparison is:

      Core Solo: 10.4fps, vs
      G4 1.25GHz: 13.9fps

      That puts the G4 as ov

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