Benchmarks: New Mac minis

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The Mac mini, waiting patiently on the sidelines for the past 17 months, was finally refreshed with an update this week. The new systems appear identical to the previous Mac mini ( ) on the surface, but there are some important changes internally—changes that have a positive impact to the tune of a 21 percent increase in overall system performance, according to our testing.

Mac mini

The two standard Mac mini configurations both come outfitted with 2GHz Intel Core 2 Duo processors and either 1GB of RAM and a 120GB hard drive for $599, or 2GB of RAM and a 320GB hard drive for $799. The new Mac mini now has a 1,066MHz system bus, as well as 1,066MHz DDR3 memory, up from the 667MHz bus and DDR2 RAM in the previous Mac mini. The new systems support up to 4GB of RAM; the previous Mac mini only officially supported 2GB, though some folks reported getting the older Mac mini to recognize up to 3GB. The new Mac mini has 3MB of shared L2 cache.

The new Mac minis represent the end of the Mac’s Intel GMA 950 integrated graphics era, as the Mac mini adopts the Nvidia GeForce 9400M graphics chip. Though still integrated, the new Mac minis share either 128MB or 256MB of main memory, depending on whether you have 1GB or 2GB RAM (or more) installed. The previous Mac minis maxed out at just 64MB of shared memory.

Mac mini benchmarks

Speedmark 5 Adobe
Cinema 4D
XL 10.5
Compressor iMovie HD iTunes 7.7 Quake 4 Finder Finder
Mac mini 2GHz Core 2 Duo
320GB Drive
202 1:08 1:04 2:07 0:57 1:13 39.1 5:31 1:19
Mac mini 2GHz Core 2 Duo
120GB Drive
189 1:15 1:04 2:07 0:58 1:14 38.7 5:45 1:41
Mac mini 2GHz Core 2 Duo
(Aug. 2007)
167 1:22 1:07 2:25 0:57 1:09 5.6 5:30 2:02
Mac mini 1.83GHz Core 2 Duo
(Aug. 2007)
154 1:27 1:13 2:40 1:07 1:21 5.6 5:58 2:06
MacBook 2GHz Core 2 Duo
(White, Current)
186 1:14 1:03 2:08 0:58 1:13 30.1 5:35 1:34
>Better <Better <Better <Better <Better <Better >Better <Better <Better

Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics.

Speedmark 5 scores are relative to those of a 1.5GHz Core Solo Mac mini, which is assigned a score of 100. Adobe Photoshop, Cinema 4D XL, iMovie, iTunes, and Finder scores are in minutes:seconds. All systems were running Mac OS X 10.5.6 with 2GB of RAM. The Photoshop Suite test is a set of 14 scripted tasks using a 50MB file. Photoshop’s memory was set to 70 percent and History was set to Minimum. We recorded how long it took to render a scene in Cinema 4D XL. We used Compressor to encode a 6minute:26second DV file using the DVD: Fastest Encode 120 minutes - 4:3 setting. In iMovie, we applied the Aged Film Effect from the Video FX. menu to a one minute movie. We converted 45 minutes of AAC audio files to MP3 using iTunes’ High Quality setting. We used Quake's average-frames-per-second score; we tested at a resolution of 1,024 by 768 pixels at the Maximum setting with both audio and graphics enabled. We duplicated a 1GB folder, created a Zip archive in the Finder from the two 1GB files and then Unzipped it.To compare Speedmark 5 scores for various Mac systems, visit our Mac Hardware Guide.—MACWORLD LAB TESTING BY JAMES GALBRAITH, CHRIS HOLT, AND HELEN WILLIAMSON.

Speedmark 5 requires a minimum of 2GB of RAM, which means we had to increase the RAM on the entry-level Mac mini, eliminating the graphics advantage of the higher-end model. Predictably, both Mac minis turned in virtually identical frame rate scores in the three games we tested. When we tested those same games with the standard 1GB of RAM installed in the entry-level Mac mini, it suffered about a 15 percent performance hit compared to the same system running with 2GB of system memory, which allows access to the full 256MB allocation of memory for graphics.

Even with just 1GB of RAM installed, the new Nvidia graphics performed much better than the Intel graphics of the previous Mac mini. The older Mac mini couldn’t even run our Call of Duty test, and struggled to get just 5.6 frames per second in our Quake 4 test. The new Mac minis, with 2GB of RAM installed, were able to push through nearly 7 times as many frames per second in that test.

Mac mini graphics benchmarks

Quake 4 Call of Duty Unreal
Mac mini 2GHz Core 2 Duo, 320GB Drive 39.1 35.6 63.0
Mac mini 2GHz Core 2 Duo, 120GB Drive (2GB RAM) 38.7 35.7 61.3
Mac mini 2GHz Core 2 Duo, 120GB Drive (1GB RAM) 32.5 30.0 53.0
Mac mini 2GHz Core 2 Duo, (Aug. 2007) 5.6 n/a 21.9
>Better >Better >Better

Best results in bold. Reference systems in italics.

All tests were run at 1,024x768 screen resolution. We ran the net timed demo in Quake 4 with high quality settings and multiprocessing enabled. We used Unreal Tournament 2004’s Antalus Botmatch average-frames-per-second score; we tested at the Maximum setting with both audio and graphics enabled. We played a self recorded demo file with antialiasing off and other settings at game defaults.

With the identical processors and the same 2GB of RAM installed for our testing, the difference between the two new Mac minis comes down to the hard drive. (Upgrading the entry-level Mac mini to 2GB of RAM is an extra $50.) And though you’d think that might make for some pretty similar performance results, it turns out that the different hard drive helped the high-end Mac mini post a nearly 7 percent higher Speedmark score. Many scores were nearly identical, like the aforementioned 3-D graphics tests, as well as processor-intensive application tests like Cinema 4D and Compressor encoding. But in disk-related tests like duplicating and uncompressing files and folders, the high-end Mac mini was much faster—26 percent faster at duplicating a 1GB file and 22 percent faster at unzipping a compressed 2GB folder.

The new high-end Mac mini was 21 percent faster overall than the previous high-end Mac mini, which had a 120GB hard drive. The biggest differences between the two Mac minis were in 3-D game performance, of course, but drive tests and even the Compressor and Photoshop tests show some real improvement in this new generation.

Comparing the new entry-level Mac mini to its predecessor, a 1.83GHz model with a 80GB hard drive, we see a performance gain of 23 percent in our Speedmark 5 score, with the new Mac mini beating the older model in every test we ran.

The performance of the new low-end Mac mini and the entry-level white MacBook 2GHz ( ) are very similar. With just 3 Speedmark points separating them, the two systems finished within a second or two of each other and the majority of our tests.

We’re still testing the new Mac minis as well as the new iMacs and we’ll include the results in Macworld’s full review. it will be interesting to see how the new desktop systems compete.

[James Galbraith is Macworld’s lab director.]

[Editor's note: Updated 3/6/09 at 9PM PT to correct specifications.]

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