Apple Mac Mini 2.5GHz Mid 2011

Apple kills off the optical drive in its latest version of the Mac Mini, its smallest and cheapest desktop computer, but there's more to this compact little desktop than meets the eye as Kat Orphanides discovers.

The Mac mini has a decent range of ports, assuming you have no interest in eSATA or USB3. The most noteworthy is Thunderbolt, the combined mini-DisplayPort graphics and external PCI Express device connection standard. It is actually of some use for storage now, but only if you have lot of money to burn - the only Thunderbolt external storage peripheral currently available is Promise's Pegasus R6 RAID storage array, which starts at 615 ex VAT for a 4TB model from the online Apple store.

The Mac Mini is aimed at businesses who already have monitors they can use.

Although the Mac Mini is aimed at businesses who already have monitors they can use with the diminutive little Mac, Apple does sell its own 27in Thunderbolt-capable display for 719 ex VAT. A key advantage of this Thunderbolt display is its resolution of 2,560x1,440 pixels, compared to a maximum 1,920x1,080 for a HDMI monitor. However, unless you need this high resolution and want its dual Thunderbolt ports for less fussy cabling, using standard HDMI or DVI displays is both more cost-effective and allows you to use a greater range of monitors. Thunderbolt is backwards compatible with monitors that have mini-DisplayPort, DVI or HDMI ports using adaptors

However, even with its dedicated AMD 6630M graphics chip you'll only be able to connect a maximum of two displays to this Mac Mini - either one to the HDMI port and one to the Thunderbolt port or daisy-chain two Thunderbolt displays. Triple-head displays aren't an option for the Mini, as the HDMI port is disabled when two monitors are connected via Thunderbolt.

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