Mac mini 2.3GHz quad core Intel Core i7, late 2012

KEY INFO
Manufacturer: Apple Inc
Price: £679

SPECIFICATIONS
Processor: 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7
Graphics: Intel HD Graphics 4000
Memory: 4GB 1600MHz DDR3

The new Mac mini looks identical to the old one, but packs great new processors.

From the outside, the Mac mini remains the same. Its brushed aluminium unibody case is identical to the mid-2011 model, with the transformer housed within the casing so there’s no bulky power supply to carry around if you use it as a portable Mac. The connectivity ports are the same, with four USB, Gigabit Ethernet, Thunderbolt, FireWire 800, HDMI and an SDXC card slot. It looks the same from the front too, with an IR receiver and sleep indicator light the only features on this otherwise-bare face. The optical drive was removed with the previous refresh, and it doesn’t make a return here. But while the new Mac mini is outwardly identical to its predecessor, there’s some great new technology under the hood.

The processors have been upgraded to Ivy Bridge chips, the third generation of Intel’s Core series. The cheaper model uses a dual-core Intel Core i5 running at 2.5GHz. At times of high need, it can run at up to 3.1GHz using the processor’s Turbo Boost feature. The more expensive Mac mini has a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 chip, which can Turbo Boost to 3.3GHz.

The new processors boast an improved integrated graphics chipset, namely Intel HD Graphics 4000. It’s up to 65% faster than the HD Graphics 3000 chipset used in the previous generation’s processors. The USB ports are more powerful too. They’re now high-speed USB 3.0, which is around 10 times quicker than the 2011 Mac mini’s USB 2.0 ports. The onboard memory has had a boost, with 4GB of 1600MHz DDR3 RAM now included as standard. The cheaper model has a 500GB hard drive, with a 1TB drive for the high-end version. A number of configuration options are available if you buy at the Apple Online Store. You can boost either model’s memory to up to 16GB, and if you opt for the high-end version, you can replace the processor with a 2.6GHz chip or swap the hard drive for a 256GB SSD or a 1TB Fusion Drive, Apple’s exciting new hybrid which includes 128GB of solid state memory for faster access.

Unlike the high-end 2011 Mac mini, this one has no discrete graphics chip, off the shelf or as a custom option. But the performance increase with the integrated graphics and the step up from 2011’s dual-core Intel Core i5 to this year’s quad-core Intel Core i7 means you don’t miss it as much as you’d expect. The late 2012 mini takes the pint-sized powerhouse from strength to strength.

Verdict

A solid step up in performance for Apple’s most affordable Mac. Don’t be fooled by the familiar case.