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How fast are the "Late 2009" Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" models compared to the Mac mini models replaced?
When Apple released the "Mid-2007" Mac mini models the company confidently declared that the systems could "do everything up to 39% faster" than the models replaced. When the Apple released the "Early 2009" Mac mini models, the company promoted the systems as as able to provide graphics performance "up to 5x faster".
For the "Late 2009" Mac mini models -- the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.26, "Core 2 Duo" 2.53, and "Core 2 Duo" 2.53 (Server) -- Apple's marketing department more quietly notes "better, faster performance" with "twice as much memory as previous generations". The "twice as much memory" statement is referring to the default 4 GB of memory installed in the "Late 2009" models with 2.53 GHz processors rather than memory capacity.
Quickly review a comparison of the "Late 2009" Mac mini models to the "Early 2009" Mac mini models replaced and it is immediately apparent why Apple's marketing department is more modest regarding the performance increase. All of these models have Intel "Core 2 Duo" processors with a 3 MB on-chip level 2 cache, a 1066 MHz frontside bus, support for 1066 MHz DDR3 SDRAM (PC3-8500), and a NVIDIA GeForce 9400M graphics processor with "integrated" graphics.
As the "Late 2009" Mac mini models have 2.26 GHz and 2.53 GHz processors and the "Early 2009" Mac mini has a 2.0 GHz processor of the same type, one would expect the "Late 2009" models to be faster, but not dramatically so. However, the precise performance increase really only can be determined by "real world" testing.
While the margin of improvement varied depending on the test, comparing the overall time it took to complete the 17 time-based tests in our battery, the new [US]$599 (2.26 GHz) model took about 7 percent less time than the older [US]$799 (2.0GHz) model, and the new [US]$799 (2.53GHz) mini took 16 percent less time than its predecessor. Upping the new [US]$599 to the same 4 GB of RAM as the [US]$799 model closed the gap a bit: that build-to-order configuration, which costs [US]$699, took about 10 percent less time to complete the tasks than the previous [US]$799 mini.
Site sponsor Other World Computing also hit the "Early 2009" and "Late 2009" Mac mini models with comprehensive Photoshop, After Effects, Halo, Cinebench, and Geekbench tests with each system configured with 2, 4, 6, and 8 GB of RAM and an SSD as well as the stock 5400 RPM hard drive. These test results make it easier to determine which upgrades will most improve the performance of tasks you regularly perform.
Ultimately, the "Late 2009" Mac mini models are faster than the "Early 2009" Mac mini in line with expectations for systems with faster processors but the same general architecture. Nevertheless, the Mac mini remains an entry-level system for those more interested in size and ease-of-use than performance.