I bought the 2011 Mac mini server to replace the lowest end 2007 Mac mini. My 2007 Mac mini had been maxed out with 2GB of memory (though technically you can install 4GB and address a maximum of 3GB) and a third party 160GB drive (originally it had a little 80GB drive), but the machine had become painful to work with when running applications like Photoshop, and Xcode simultaneously with a few Chrome tabs open. I might have tried to wring another year or two out of it, had it not been for the inability to increase the memory.
Before even turning the 2011 Mac mini server on for the first time, I replaced one of the HDDs with a SSD (OWC 120GB Mercury Pro 6G) and used the recovery mode to reinstall Lion. I set the SSD to be the system disk and the other drive to be used as additional storage. As a result I never got a feel for the performance of the system without the SSD. Had I know that I would be writing a review, I might have done a comparison; I don’t write reviews that often unless I’m deeply disappointed or exceptionally pleased.
With the 2011 quad core Mac mini server, I’m exceptionally pleased.
Before I go on and talk about my likes and dislikes about this computer, I’ve got to say that this thing has a gorgeous design. Like most Apple products, it’s got a clean industrial shape. I’m sure you already knew this, and it contributes nothing to what it throws up on your monitor, but it is a nice looking “thing”. It seems like such a waste to hide it away, as is often done with small form factor computers. If I could change anything about its appearance I would remove the apple logo; I hate how Apple (and nearly every other company…to be fair) plasters their logo on everything they make.
But I digress….
The 2011 quad core Mac mini seems like an entirely different beast when compared to the 2007 low end model. I didn’t realize how glacial my old machine was until I got this one. This thing does not so much as stutter with anything; I’m beginning to forget what the spinning beach ball looked like. The 64-bit geekbench score I recorded for the 2011 mini server was 9489, while the 2007 mini achieved a score of 2774. See the end of this post for details on those scores.
The sound produced by the fans from the 2007 mini and the 2011 mini server is also quite a bit different. As I sit here writing this review both of these Macs are idling, the 2011 is three feet to my right and the the 2007 mini three feet to my left. By comparison, the 2007 mini sounds like a wind turbine (ok, that’s a little exaggerated). That is not to say that I can’t hear the 2011 mini; I just have to turn off the 2007 mini to do so. Under load, however, the 2011 mini sounds louder than the 2007 idling. I should clarify that the 2007 is not loud at all; the 2011 mini is just less so.
I can’t speak to how well games run on this, but I’d imagine this wouldn’t be the machine you’d buy if gaming was important, as the machine does not have a discrete video card like the other 2 core Mac mini models. The integrated Intel HD 3000 video chipset seems fine for what I do which is photoshop, coding, web browsing, watching youtube etc, but then again, the GMA 950 in my old 2007 mini did those things fine as well.
Regarding connectivity there are plenty of usb 2.0 ports (4 ports), and the single firewire 800 port will likely be sufficient (since you typically chain firewire devices together). There is also a SDXC card slot on the back, but because it’s on the back (i.e. a pain to use) I’ll never use it. There is also one of those new-fangled thunderbolt ports on the back. I’ve yet to test the thunderbolt port with anything, but I have a 12″ Wacom Cintq that I’ll eventually plug in, at which point I’ll update this review. From other online accounts of people trying this, it should work with a displayport to dvi adapter.
Like other reviews have noted, the lack of a DVD drive is a bummer. If you want to get around this issue and have another computer (Mac or PC) you can remotely “share” that DVD/CD drive over your network with the mini. You can also, obviously, purchase an external usb DVD drive if the idea of your mini being dependent on other machines bugs you or have no other computer.
Another thing I dislike is the unnecessarily difficult process required to replacing the hard drive(s). Check out a video on youtube of the procedure involved and you’ll know what I mean. Apple, clearly, did not intend for end users to swap the hard disks. At least the memory is easy to replace.
Speaking of disks, If you end up buying your mini “built to order” with an SSD on Apple’s website, you might want to reconsider paying for Apple’s SSDs. Apparently (from what I’ve read) the Apple SSDs run at SATA II speeds, even though the mini’s SATA controller can support SATA III. I bought my SSD through Other World Computing (OWC). This is the first product that I’ve purchased from them and so far I haven’t had any issue. I will certainly update this review if that changes.
Overall I’m very pleased. A DVD drive and improved accessibility to the hard drives would have been nice, but the bliss of moving from a low end 2007 Mac mini to a high end 2011 overshadows those disappointments by many orders of magnitudes.
- Fast, 4 core processor (Intel Core i7-2635QM)
- Capability to drive dual monitors
- HDMI port and sufficient USB ports
- Memory replacement/upgrade is easy
- No DVD/CD drive
- All ports are on the back. Would have been convenient to have the SDXC slot and/or a single usb on the front.
- Hard disk replacement is not easy.
2007 Mac Mini (Macmini2,1 / MB138*/A ):
Processor integer performance: 2503
Processor floating point performance: 3968
Memory performance: 1808
Memory bandwidth performance: 1484
Geekbench Score: 2774
2011 Mac Mini Server (Macmini5,3 / MC936*/A ):
Processor integer performance: 8278
Processor floating point performance: 14615
Memory performance: 4911
Memory bandwidth performance: 4949
Geekbench Score: 9489
Performance Multiplier : 2007 Mac Mini to 2011 Mac Mini Server:
Processor integer performance: 3.30
Processor floating point performance: 3.68
Memory performance: 2.72
Memory bandwidth performance: 3.34
Geekbench Score: 3.42