Lab Report: Huge speed gains for new Mac mini

Based on Macworld Lab's benchmark results, the new Mac mini models provide a great leap in processor performance over the previous generation. The new Mac mini was unveiled on Wednesday, and Macworld Lab has been testing the new machines that come with Lion and Core i5 processors.

The new Mac mini is available in two standard configurations: a $599 model with a 2.3GHz Core i5 processor, 2GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and an integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000 processor; and a $799 model with a 2.5GHz Core i5 processor, 4GB of RAM, a 500GB hard drive, and discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630 graphics. These two models replace a single $699 Mid-2010 Mac mini ( ) model that had a 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo processor, 2GB of RAM, a 320GB hard drive, and Nvidia GeForce 320M integrated graphics.

We’re busy putting together a new version of our Mac system performance suite, Speedmark, but its not quite ready yet. The current version, Speedmark 6.5, was created using Snow Leopard and uses older versions of applications. New Macs ship with Lion, so instead of downgrading the new Macs to try and run Snow Leopard (if that’s even possible), we have updated 10 of our tests to run on Lion using the latest versions of the applications that make up Speedmark.

It should come as no surprise that the new Core i5 Mac minis beat the pants off the 2010 Core 2 Duo Mac mini in processor tests. With Hyper-Threading and Turbo Boost in the Core i5, the new 2.5GHz Core i5 Mac mini was more than twice as fast the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini in our Cinebench CPU test and HandBrake MP4 encode. The new 2.3GHz Core i5 Mac mini was 46 percent faster than the older 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini on our Cinebench CPU and 45 percent faster in our HandBrake encode test.

Our iTunes AAC to MP3 encode test also showed significant improvements, with the 2.5GHz Core i5 Mac mini 37 percent faster and the 2.3GHz Core i5 Mac mini 30 percent faster than the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini. When exporting an iMovie project using the iTunes Mobile presets, the 2.5GHz Core i5 Mac mini was 47 percent faster than the 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini; the 2.3GHz Core i5 Mac mini was 30 percent faster.

Importing a large Word document into Pages was also much faster on the new Mac minis, with the new high- and low-end models besting the older Mac mini by 43 and 31 percent, respectively.Compressing a 4GB folder was 32 percent faster on the high-end model and about 30 percent faster on the low-end model.

Benchmarks: New Mac minis (Mid 2011)

Duplicate
2GB
folder
Zip
4GB
folder
Unzip
4GB
file
iTunes 10
AAC to
MP3 encode
Import
movie
archive to
iMovie '09
Mac mini/2.3GHz Core i5
2GB RAM (Mid 2011)
65 249 144 93 119
Mac mini/2.5GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Mid 2011)
66 241 149 83 113
Mac mini/2.4GHz Core 2 Duo
2GB RAM (Mid 2010)
79 353 165 132 118

Benchmarks: New Mac minis (Mid 2011)

iMovie '09
export to
iTunes 10
for iPhone
HandBrake
0.9.5
encode
Cinebench
R11.5
graphics
Cinebench
R11.5
CPU
Call of
Duty 4
frame-
rate
Mac mini/2.3GHz Core i5
2GB RAM (Mid 2011)
103 212 12 160 27.3
Mac mini/2.5GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Mid 2011)
78 186 24.6 143.2 59.5
Mac mini/2.4GHz Core 2 Duo
2GB RAM (Mid 2010)
148 384 12.9 296.4 38.9

Call of Duty 4 and Cinebench graphics results are based on framerate; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. References models in italics. Best result in bold.

We duplicated a 2GB file, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 2GB files and then unzipped it. In iMovie ’11, we imported a camera archive and exported it to iTunes using the Mobile Devices setting. We converted 135 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Handbrake 0.95 to encode a single chapter from a DVD previously ripped to the hard drive to H.264 using the application's Normal settings. We recorded how long it took to render a scene with multiprocessors in Cinebench and ran that application's OpenGL, frames per second test. We ran a timedemo in Call of Duty 4 at a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 4X anti-aliasing turned on.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, Mauricio Grijalva, and William Wang.

Graphics test results were a bit surprising, however. The 2.3GHz Core i5 Mac mini, with its integrated Intel HD Graphics 3000, wasn’t as fast as the older 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini and its integrated GeForce 320M graphics. The older mini was able to display 42 percent more frames per second in Call of Duty and 7.5 percent more frames per second in Cinebench OpenGL test. The 2.5GHz Core i5 Mac mini, with its discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630 graphics, showed a vast improvement; compared to the old 2.4GHz Core 2 Duo Mac mini, it was able to display nearly twice as many frames per second in Cinebench’s OpenGL test, and 53 percent more frames per second in our Call of Duty tests.

Hard drive-intensive tests showed the new Mac minis to be faster than the older Mac mini. But since both new Mac minis use the same 5400-rpm 500GB hard drives, their results were similar to each other, and not that far off from the results of the 5400-rpm 320GB hard drive in the older Mac mini.

Comparing the new Mac minis to the entry-level 13-inch 2.3GHz Core i5 MacBook Pro ( ), we see both of the new Mac minis outperforming the laptop in hard drive tests and iTunes MP3 encoding. The MacBook Pro’s iMovie test results landed directly in-between the results of the two new Mac minis, while its Cinebench, Call of Duty and HandBrake results were nearly identical to that of the 2.3GHz Core i5 Mac mini.

Benchmarks: New Mac minis (Mid 2011)

Duplicate
2GB
folder
Zip
4GB
folder
Unzip
4GB
file
iTunes 10
AAC to
MP3 encode
Import
movie
archive to
iMovie '09
Mac mini/2.3GHz Core i5
2GB RAM (Mid 2011)
65 249 144 93 119
Mac mini/2.5GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Mid 2011)
66 241 149 83 113
13-inch MacBook Pro/2.3GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Early 2011)
70 271 180 99.7 116
21.5-inch iMac/2.7GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Mid 2011)
46 190 85 72 74

Benchmarks: New Mac minis (Mid 2011)

iMovie '09
export to
iTunes 10
for iPhone
HandBrake
0.9.5
encode
Cinebench
R11.5
graphics
Cinebench
R11.5
CPU
Call of
Duty 4
frame-
rate
Mac mini/2.3GHz Core i5
2GB RAM (Mid 2011)
103 212 12 160 27.3
Mac mini/2.5GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Mid 2011)
78 186 24.6 143.2 59.5
13-inch MacBook Pro/2.3GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Early 2011)
87.5 210 12.5 161 27
21.5-inch iMac/2.7GHz Core i5
4GB RAM (Mid 2011)
46 190 85 72 74

Call of Duty 4 and Cinebench graphics results are based on framerate; higher results are better. All other test results in the above chart are in seconds; lower results are better. References models in italics. Best result in bold.

We duplicated a 2GB file, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 2GB files and then unzipped it. In iMovie ’11, we imported a camera archive and exported it to iTunes using the Mobile Devices setting. We converted 135 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Handbrake 0.95 to encode a single chapter from a DVD previously ripped to the hard drive to H.264 using the application's Normal settings. We recorded how long it took to render a scene with multiprocessors in Cinebench and ran that application's OpenGL, frames per second test. We ran a timedemo in Call of Duty 4 at a resolution of 1024 x 768 with 4X anti-aliasing turned on.—Macworld Lab testing by James Galbraith, Mauricio Grijalva, and William Wang.

When comparing the new Mac minis to a $1499 2.7GHz Core i5 iMac ( ) with 4GB RAM, a 7200-rpm 1TB hard drive, and AMD Radeon HD 6770M discrete graphics (we are working on Lion test results with the entry-level $1199 iMac), the results show the iMac beating the new Mac minis in every test. On the iMac, duplicating the 2GB folder was about 30 percent faster, zipping the 4GB folder was 21 percent faster, and unzipping the compressed file was 43 percent faster than the new high-end Mac mini. Importing the Word document into Pages was 16 percent faster on the iMac than on the 2.5GHz Core i5 Mac mini, while importing a camera archive into iMovie was 34 percent faster. Exporting the iMovie project to the iTunes Mobile preset was 21 percent faster on the iMac than the new 2.5GHz Core i5 Mac mini, 38 percent faster in our HandBrake encode, and 33 percent faster in the Cinebench CPU test. Graphics tests also showed the iMac to be superior, with 48 percent higher frame rates in Call of Duty and nearly twice as many frames per second in Cinebench’s OpenGL tests.

Check back soon for more tests including all of the new MacBook Air models. And if you have suggestions for tests you’d like to see be included in Speedmark 7, we’d love to hear them.

[James Galbraith is Macworld's lab director.]

To comment on this article and other Macworld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.