Apple updates Mac mini with faster processors and storage

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While Apple introduced major upgrades to its iMac and MacBook Pro lines at Tuesday’s media event, the company also refreshed the Mac mini, offering faster processors and storage options.

The new Mac mini looks nearly identical to its predecessor on the outside, with the only external change being upgrades to the computer’s four USB ports—the mini now uses the USB 3.0 standard. Apple senior vice president Phil Schiller noted that the big changes to this version of the Mac mini can be found on the inside. The entry-level $599 model now gets a 2.5GHz dual-core Intel Core i5 Ivy Bridge processor (up from 2.3GHz last year) and a faster Intel HD Graphics 4000 (compared to HD Graphics 3000 last year). It continues to include a 500GB hard drive.

The $799 Mac mini model now uses a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (up from a 2.5GHz dual-core Core i5 processor last year). It also now uses Intel HD Graphics 4000, compared to a discrete AMD Radeon HD 6630M in the 2011 version. It continues to include a 1TB hard drive.

The $999 Mac mini Server now ships with a 2.3GHz quad-core Intel Core i7 processor (up from 2.0GHz last year) and the Intel HD Graphics 4000, dual 1TB 5400rpm hard drives (compared to 750GB 7200rpm last year), and 4GB of RAM. It also replaces the USB 2.0 ports with USB 3.0.

All models still sport 4GB of RAM, gigabit ethernet; Thunderbolt, FireWire 800, and HDMI ports; an SDXC card reader; and audio input and output jacks. Apple claims the new processors and graphics chips offer performance that’s up to 65 percent faster than with last year’s Mac mini models.

Apple will also offer a unique build-to-order option for the $799 Mac mini: The company’s new Fusion Drive, which combines 128GB of flash storage and either 1TB or 3TB of traditional hard-drive on a single drive. The operating system and stock apps are initially stored on the flash storage, but as you use the computer, OS X determines which apps and files you use most frequently and moves those file onto the flash storage.

Apple says the new Mac mini starts shipping Tuesday.

Updated 11:30am to add information about the $799 Mac mini model, ports, and Apple’s performance claims. Updated 1:55pm to note that the Fusion Drive option is available only for the $799 mini, and to correct the speed of the Server version's hard drives.

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