Saturday, March 04, 2006

Mac Mini Core Solo has arrived

Today I came home to find a plain cardboard package sitting on the floor of my living room. A tell-tale barcorde sticker with the Apple logo told me it was my new Mini! Apple's online store had delivered earlier than their ETD, only two days after I placed my order, and three days after Apple announced this new model. That's one thing Apple does very is well is insure it's newly launched products are really available when they are launched (as they should be).

Inside the shipping carton, we find the Mac Mini box with it's carrying handle. Let's open it up...

Here it is next to my older 1st generation G4 Mini. Can you tell which is which? From the top, both look identical, only my older Mini looks slightly more yellowish and the grey Apple logo is slightly softer, but that's probably from being exposed to the sun for over a year now.

From the front, if you look carefully you can see some difference. The disc slot is wider on the New Mini, and hidden on the right side is a tiny IR receiver for the new remote. The tiny hole for the power LED is also very slightly smaller an has moved a little.

From the back the difference is more significant. Notice the reduced overall width of the exhaust vents. This allows an extra 2 USB ports to be added along with an audio in port. Both audio ports now support regular analog as well as digital signals. For those looking carefully, my old Mini has a RJ-11 port for the modem which was already dropped on newer G4 models.
Overall he bottom remains pretty much unchanged except the row of text that used to be at the top has now been moved to the bottom. Also minor changes to the formatting of their product identification label up top.

The external AC adaptor power brick looks exactly the same, but looking carefully at the spec it has now increased to 110W over the previous 85W. I assume this would be to accomodate the more powerful Core Duo model?
Here we see the little remote used for Apple's Front Row home media interafce. On the right is a iPod Nano (sold seperately).

The Nano is actually a little thinner than the remote, but slightly wider and longer.

Well I haven't had much time with the my new Core Solo Mini, but here are my initial impressions. Comparing both units side by side, the new 1.5ghz Core Solo Mini versus my old 1.25ghz G4 Mini, both with 512MB RAM, a 40G Samsung IDE notebook harddisk in the G4 and a 60G Fujitsu SATA2 notebook harddisk in the Core Solo:

The startup time of the new Mini takes half the time of my old Mini (around 20 seconds faster). On my old Mini, there is a short pause of around 15 seconds before the Apple Logo will display which accounts for most of this difference. Opening up apps is also faster on the new Mini on the most part. Interface-wise (ie menus, selecting options, etc) though the new Mini doesn't feel any faster.
For 720p H264 playback (Ice Age 2 Trailer using Quicktime), the new Mini had no problems and was very smooth. The old Mini however had a lot of trouble, only managing 12fps out of the encoded 24 fps for much of the clip.
Running Cinebench, the new Mini was faster approx 60% on the CPU rendering test, 90% on the Cinema4D shading test, and 150% faster in the OpenGL Software lighting test. Interestingly the OpenGL Hardware lighting test showed the old Mini slightly faster by 10%.
I also had an old version of Xbench lying around, but the results seemed very misleading and I suspect that for such an old program, much of the tests especially involving low level commands would not be appropriate for the new Intel based OS X. However some of the tests which aren't so CPU specific maybe relevant. The disk benchmark gave the new Mini a faster 85 score compared with the old Mini 51. Also OpenGL on the new Mini was 229 compared with 108. User interface though was rated at only 92 compared with the old mini's 214. Maybe the added processing power of the Core chip makes the onboard Intel GMA950 video (using shared memory) acceptable in most usage, but having a seperate video processor like the 9200 with dedicated memory (although not a lot) in the old Mini still has some advantages?

We couldn't go through without looking at this. I used a clamp meter to measure the total AC power draw from the outlet.
Actually the power draw for the new 1.5ghz Core Solo Mini was very similar to my old 1.25ghz G4 Mini. During startup, peak consumption was around 38W. Idling for the G4 was slightly lower at 21W compared with the Core Solo at 25W. In Cinebench, both peaked around 41W (slightly lower for the G4). The only significant difference I found was in sleep mode. Here the G4 Mini has neglible power draw (below the 2W that my meter can measure), but the new Mini draws 7W. I assume this is to power the circuitry that will allow it to check the IR receiver and wake when the remote is pressed.
I'm actually not familiar enough with Macs to know the best tools to run for maximum CPU/system loading, and seeing Cinebench didn't even spin up any fans, the system probably wasn't being fully taxed. Also the HDD and optical drives weren't being loaded either, nor any external Firewire/USB devices connected . In anycase though, the 110W AC adaptor does seem to be overkill, at least for the Core Solo.

Heat-wise, both put out warm-to-hot air via the back vents. I didn't take any temp readings, but neither one felt hotter or cooler. The top of the case of the new Mini however did get warm (not hot) whereas the old G4 remained cool to the touch. Possibly the Core Solo is putting out a litte more heat, but with the very close power consumption figures I wouldn't guess the difference to be too big. The smaller vent size on the new Mini probably means the hot air is not as easily vented out so the case gets warm, or maybe Apple has managed to better make use of the case to help dissipate the system heat. Which brings us to the next topic...

Apple claims that their New Mini is "even quieter", is it true? Well from my initial impressions I will have to say it is. Maybe it's the reduced vent size managing to keep more of the noise inside, or maybe they have also slowed down the fan speed somewhat (maybe also why the case gets warmer). My old Mini has a louder whoosing sound, whereas the new Mini is a softer sound but with a very slight hint of whining when listened to with my ear next to it (similar to the kind of whining when you spin a small fan very slowly). I must point out though that my old Mini seems louder than I remember it, as before the fan/exhaust was not as audible as it is now. I will have to double-check this, maybe being placed on my desk is making it sound much different then it's usual perch ontop of a loudspeaker or something was jostled when I moved it?

Well I haven't had time to put my putty knife to it yet, but others have done so. Macworld opens one up and also Applefritter's Take Apart Guide. For the RAM it seems that the DDR2 RAM is actually notebook sized and not desktop sized as I originally imagined, but there are two slots.

Good question. There have been many people trying to get their Intel iMacs to boot Windows, but so far no success stories. I don't suspect it will be any easier with the Intel Minis, but given some time someone will figure out a workaround...

Macworld also has some more extensive benchmarking here.

Next - Mac Mini 2 - 1st update

Back to impressions of the G4 Mac Mini


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