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.

We've covered the Mac App Store before which feels like a cross between Ubuntu's package manager and the iTunes store. It's an effective and easy-to-use way to get new software.

The Mac Mini has a lot of potential, and it's almost reasonably priced by Apple standards.

We used it to download Xcode, the OS X development and build environment. In a change from the last version, the Lion edition of Xcode is now free. Unfortunately, it's a 3.17GB download, which is a lot if all you want is a couple of basic compilers. These can be vital if you need to carry out in-house builds of specialist POSIX applications. Despite early teething problems with missing libraries, developers have been quick to produce packages and correct build instructions for Lion, so applications such as ImageMagick and Ruby on Rails are now functional under the new operating system. This fast pace will please both businesses that require the ability to compile software to their own parameters and those who wish to use the Mac as a development platform.

Although it's expensive, the Mac Mini has a lot of potential, and it's almost reasonably priced by Apple standards. Lion is a great operating system, although a certain number of teething problems is inevitable. The system is fast to boot, fast to sleep and consumes remarkably little power. It gets rather hot when running, but is very quiet, making it a great choice for close-packed offices where you'd rather not sacrifice too much space or be disturbed by the turbine-like hum of a cooling system.

So what's our verdict?

Verdict

The lack of an optical drive, very limited upgradeability and the comparatively small base 500GB hard disk won't be ideal for some users. However, these are common traits of Apple's systems; but if your business requires the efficiency of a system where the OS is designed to work with exactly the hardware it runs on, it's easy to make a few compromises. Mac OS X continues to be the default choice for serious design, illustration and layout software largely because of the predictability and stability of both hardware and OS. This latest version of the Mini continues to develop those strengths, with the added benefit of a major performance boost. As ever, you pay a premium for Apple products, but this entry-level option is ideal if you need Mac stability without the painfully high costs associated with iMac models.

Processor: Intel Core i5-2520M, 2.5GHz Memory: 4GB 1,333MHz DDR3 RAM Graphics: 256MB ATI Radeon HD 6630M Hard disk: 500GB hard disk Features: mono speaker Connectivity: Bluetooth 4.0, 802.11a/b/g/n Wi-Fi, Gigabit Ethernet Ports: 4 x USB2, 1 x HDMI output, 1 x Thunderbolt/Mini DisplayPort, 1 x FireWire 800, 1 x SDXC memory card slot Dimensions: 197x197x36mm (WxDxH) Warranty: one year C&R or customer carry-in warranty OS: Mac OS X 10.7 Lion Part code: MC816B/A

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