Mac Mini (Late 2009) Benchmarks

Apple recently released an update to its Mac mini line of desktop computers. The changes include faster processors, more RAM, and Apple's Snow Leopard operating system pre-installed. Macworld Lab has the two desktop Mac minis, and we put them through our benchmark tests. Our result show that the new Mac minis are impressively faster than the models they replace.

Here's a quick rundown of the changes to the new lineup. There are now two Core 2 Duo processor speeds to choose from, 2.53GHz or 2.26GHz, up from the 2GHz processors previously offered. The new Mac mini models now offer twice the RAM, 2GB in the 2.26GHz $599 model and 4GB in the 2.53GHz $799 model, up from 1GB in the previous $599 model and 2GB in the previous $799 model. The hard drive capacities haven't changed, with a 160GB hard drive in the $599 model and a 320GB hard drives in the $799 model. And of course, you still need to provide your own keyboard, mouse and display.

We are still ironing out the details of Speedmark 6, our overall performance benchmark, but we ran a series of 19 different tests on the new Mac minis as well as the systems they replace to let you know how the new and improved specifications affect performance.

With its considerably faster 2.53GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 4GB of RAM, it's no surprise that the new $799 Mac mini was noticeably faster in our tests. When looking at the time it took to run through all 17 of our timed tests, the new $799 model was 10 percent faster than the $599 2.26GHz Mac mini. Once we configured the 2.26GHz Mac mini with 4GB of RAM instead of the stock 2GB, we saw that performance benefit of the 2.56GHz Mac mini shrink to about 7.4 percent. The 2.53GHz Mac mini was about 9 percent faster in our Photoshop CS4 tests suite than the standard configuration 2.26GHz Mac mini, though adding that additional 2GB of RAM to the $599 model closed the performance gap to around 6 percent. The $799 model was 11 percent faster in our Cinebench test and 28 percent faster in our iPhoto import test, though, again, a significant part of that performance difference was eliminated when we added the memory to the $599 system.

Comparing the new $799 Mac mini to the previous $799 model, the 2.0GHz Mac mini ( Macworld rated 3.5 out of 5 mice ) with 2GB of RAM released earlier this year, we see that the new 2.53GHz Mac mini took 16 percent less time to complete all of the timed tasks we ran on it. The new $799 model was 15 percent faster in our Photoshop tests and 16 percent faster in our Aperture tests. The new 2.26GHz Mac mini was about 7 percent faster overall than the older 2GHz model when tested with the same 2GB of RAM. With Photoshop times on the new 2.26GHz coming in about 7 percent faster, and Aperture a little more than 5 percent faster. The previous $599 model used the same 2GHz processor as the previous $799 model, but came with only 1GB of RAM. And since we test using a minimum of 2GB of memory, we didn't bother re-running as a reference system the $599 2.0GHz Mac mini ( Macworld rated 4 out of 5 mice ) with 1MB RAM  released earlier this year.

Comparing the new systems to a August 2007 Mac mini with 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo processor and 2GB of 667MHz DDR2 RAM, the new 2.53GHz Mac mini completed all timed tests 36 percent faster than the 2007 model and the new 2.26GHz Mac mini with 2GB of 1066MHz DDR3 RAM finished the tests in 29 percent less time. The 2007 model, with its Intel GMA 950 graphics couldn't even run our Call of Duty 4 test.

Also new to the Mac mini line is a server configuration that substitutes a second hard drive for the optical drive. We don't have the Mac mini with Snow Leopard Server in yet for testing, but we're working on it.

Check back next week for our complete review of the Mac minis as well as our unveiling of the new Speedmark 6 test suite.

[James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director.]

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