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Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini Q&A - Revised November 9, 2012

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What are the differences between the "Mid-2010" Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini and the "Polycarbonate" Mac mini models replaced?

Please note that all models mentioned in this Q&A have been discontinued. The "Mid-2010" Mac mini models were replaced by the "Mid-2011" Mac mini models on July 20, 2011. For more recent comparison Q&As, please refer to the main Aluminum Mac mini Q&A page.

With even a quick glance, it is readily apparent that the "Mid-2010" Aluminum "Unibody" Mac mini models -- the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.4 (Mid-2010) and 2.66 Server (Mid-2010) -- have a number of major differences when compared to the "Late 2009" Mac mini -- the Mac mini "Core 2 Duo" 2.26, "Core 2 Duo" 2.53, and "Core 2 Duo" 2.53 (Server).

External Differences

Both lines have small "cuboid" cases, but the "Late 2009" Mac mini uses a polycarbonate case that essentially is the same as all earlier Mac mini models whereas the "Mid-2010" Aluminum Mac mini models introduce a new case design milled from a single piece of aluminum.

In addition to material, the case dimensions are different as well. The polycarbonate models are 6.5 inches across and deep and 2 inches tall and the aluminum models are wider and shorter -- 7.7 inches across and deep and a miniscule 1.4 inches tall. The below images are not precisely to scale, but should provide an idea of the difference.


Photo Credit: Apple, Inc (Aluminum - Left, Polycarbonate - Right)

The aluminum case design, delightfully, is much easier to upgrade as well, with a "spin off" black plastic base on the bottom that can be removed quickly to access the RAM slots, compared to the earlier polycarbonate models which require inelegantly prying open the case with a putty knife.

Identification Differences

These two systems are easy to differentiate based on case design alone when sitting side-by-side. However, as both lines share identical cases with previous or subsequent systems, respectively, detailed information can be quite helpful for precise identification.

Externally, both lines share Model Number with other systems. The "Late 2009" Mac mini line has model number A1283 on the bottom, but the "Early 2009" line shares this model number as well. The "Mid-2010" Mac mini line has has model number A1347 on the bottom, but shares this model number with several subsequent systems.

However, these lines can be identifed externally by EMC Number, and it is convenient to use for identification. Specifically, the "Late 2009" Mac mini models have EMC number 2336 on the bottom of the case and the "Mid-2010" models have EMC number 2364, but this only is visible upon removing the bottom "spin off" panel to the right of the memory slots (with the ports pointing toward you).

In software, the "Late 2009" Mac mini models share the Macmini3,1 Model Identifier with the similar "Early 2009" Mac mini models, whereas the "Mid-2010" Mac mini models share the Macmini4,1 Model Identifier.

EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Lookup feature -- as well as the EveryMac app -- also can identify all Mac mini models by their Serial Numbers.

Connectivity Differences

Another major point of differentiation is connectivity. Both lines have a Firewire "800" port, Gigabit Ethernet port, combined digital optical audio input and output minijacks, AirPort Extreme (802.11a/b/g/n), Bluetooth 2.1+EDR, and support a remote via IR (although a remote must be purchased separately for either).

However, the "Late 2009" line has five USB 2.0 ports compared to just four on the "Mid-2010" line and display connectivity is substantially different -- with a Mini-DVI and Mini DisplayPort for the "Late 2009" series and an HDMI port and Mini DisplayPort capable of passing an audio signal as well as video for the "Mid-2010." The "Mid-2010" line has an SD card slot too (and although Apple does not formally mention it, the SD card slot is SDXC capable).

Internal Differences

Internally, the "Mid-2010" models have an internal power supply rather than an external "brick" like their predecessors, but with the exception of graphics processors, the underlying technology between the lines is quite similar. The "Mid-2010" line swaps the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M provided by the the "Late 2009" line with a faster NVIDIA GeForce 320M, but both graphics processors share 256 MB of memory with their respective system.

Both lines also have Intel "Core 2 Duo" processors with a 3 MB on-chip level 2 cache, a 1066 MHz frontside bus, and support a maximum of 8 GB of 1066 MHz PC3-8500 DDR3 SDRAM (the "Mid-2010" line officially supports up to 8 GB of RAM, although the "Late 2009" line unofficially does as well).

The server configurations from both lines swap the optical drive for a second hard drive -- and have a revised "slotless" case design -- and ship, or shipped, with a pre-installed copy of Mac OS X 10.6 "Snow Leopard" Server rather than the standard version of Mac OS X.

Comparison Charts

The precise differences in processor speed, pre-installed memory, hard drive, optical drive, and price for each "Late 2009" and "Mid-2010" Mac mini are summarized below.

Regular/Non-Server Models

The two "regular" configurations of the "Late 2009" Mac mini were consolidated into a single "Mid-2010" configuration with a US$100 higher price of entry:

 
"Late 2009" Mac mini

"Mid-2010" Mac mini
Processor Type: Core 2 Duo (P8400, P8700) Core 2 Duo (P8600)
Processor Speed: 2.26, 2.53 GHz 2.4 GHz
Standard RAM: 2 GB, 4 GB 2 GB
RAM Access: Putty Knife No Tools
Hard Drive: 160 GB, 320 GB 320 GB
Optical Drive: 8X DL "SuperDrive" 8X DL "SuperDrive"
Video Type: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M NVIDIA GeForce 320M
Integrated VRAM: 256 MB† 256 MB†
USB Ports: 5 (2.0) 4 (2.0)
Display Ports: Mini-DVI, Mini DisplayPort HDMI, Mini DisplayPort*
SD Card: No SDXC
Power Supply: External Internal
Dimensions (In): 6.5" x 6.5" x 2" 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4"
Case Material: Polycarbonate Aluminum
Apple Order No: MC238LL/A, MC239LL/A MC270LL/A
Apple Model No: A1283 A1347
EMC No: 2336 2364
Original Price: US$599, US$799 US$699


Server Models

The server configuration is a modest "speed bump" with the aluminum case design at the same price point:

Server
"Late 2009" Mac mini

"Mid-2010" Mac mini
Processor Type: Core 2 Duo (P8700) Core 2 Duo (P8800)
Processor Speed: 2.53 GHz 2.66 GHz
Standard RAM: 4 GB 4 GB
RAM Access: Putty Knife No Tools
Hard Drive: 500 GB x2 500 GB x2
Optical Drive: None None
Video Type: NVIDIA GeForce 9400M NVIDIA GeForce 320M
Integrated VRAM: 256 MB† 256 MB†
USB Ports: 5 (2.0) 4 (2.0)
Display Ports: Mini-DVI, Mini DisplayPort HDMI, Mini DisplayPort*
SD Card: No SDXC
Power Supply: External Internal
Dimensions (In): 6.5" x 6.5" x 2" 7.7" x 7.7" x 1.4"
Case Material: Polycarbonate Aluminum
Apple Order No: MC408LL/A MC438LL/A
Apple Model No: A1283 A1347
EMC No: 2336 2364
Original Price: US$999 US$999

* The Mini DisplayPort on the "Mid-2010" models is capable of passing an audio signal as well as a video signal.

† Both the NVIDIA GeForce 9400M and GeForce 320M graphics processors are "integrated" and share a minimum of 256 MB of RAM with the system for video function.

Comparison Summary

Ultimately, those who need a relatively inexpensive desktop Mac -- particularly for television connectivity via the HDMI port -- or an inexpensive server, a "Mid-2010" Mac mini is a solid choice. For those on a tighter budget, Intel-based "polycarbonate" Mac mini models like the "Late 2009" line remain well worth consideration, too.

Site sponsor PowerMax has new and used Mac mini models available for sale free of sales tax.

Please refer to EveryMac.com's Ultimate Mac Comparison feature to dynamically compare any Mac mini model to any other G3 or later Mac.



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